Legacy spending, invasives, wolves

The Freshwater Society blog publishes a digest of important regional, national and international articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles in their entirety where they originally were published.

Merriam questions spending’s impact
Ensuring water projects funded through the state’s Legacy Amendment are making a difference — and proving it to the public — is a major challenge, conservationists and those who oversee Legacy money acknowledged.

Freshwater Society president Gene Merriam
Gene Merriam

About 300 Legacy stakeholders, including conservation groups, legislators and state officials, gathered in St. Paul to hear how Legacy money has been spent so far on clean water, the outdoors and parks. The annual forum’s goal is to ask whether Legacy money is going to projects and programs as voters expected.

Most of the attention was directed at the Clean Water Fund, which receives about a third of the sales tax revenue generated from the constitutional amendment approved by Minnesota voters in 2008.

Gene Merriam, president of the Freshwater Society, pointed to several reasons to question whether past funds for water projects are being spent effectively. That included a failed cleanup plan on Lake Independence and a report by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency showing only moderate improvements on the Minnesota River over the last 20 years, he said.

“That report tells us we have spent hundreds of millions of dollars and have very little to show for it,” Merriam said. “We need to do better over the next two decades and better target our resources.”
–Minnesota Public Radio

EPA says air rules will save lives
The EPA estimates that new air-quality standards that limit emissions of mercury and other toxic substances from power plants will prevent up to 150 premature deaths in Minnesota. Read an EPA news release on the standards.

DNR plans crackdown on invasives
Minnesota plans to crack down on boaters, anglers and waterfront landowners who transport non-native invasive species among the state’s cherished waters.

Officials with the Department of Natural Resources announced a major increase in action – including roadside checkpoints for motorists hauling boats and piers – as well as a change in attitude about consequences.

“Warnings are going to come to an end,” said Col. Jim Konrad, the agency’s head of enforcement. “It’s time to step up and get people’s attention. I have instructed our officers that the appropriate action to take if there’s a violation is to write a citation.”

Last year, the DNR stepped up its enforcement around certain waterborne invasives, most notably zebra mussels, but Konrad said that it wasn’t enough.

In 2011, the DNR tripled its number of citations and warnings, Konrad said. Often, a warning was all that was issued for a motorist who was, for example, transporting a boat without its drain plug removed, as the law requires. Fines might not have been levied, but the DNR still tracked the data, he said, and the data showed an unacceptably lax public.

“Some of these laws have been on the books for 15 years,” Konrad said. “We found an 18 percent violation rate. That’s unacceptable.”
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

DNR plans late-season wolf hunt
Minnesota wildlife officials have begun to plan for a limited gray wolf hunting and trapping season in late 2012.

This action follows last month’s announcement that wolves will return to state management Jan. 27 following roughly 35 years of federal protection.

Tom Landwehr, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said the agency is taking a “deliberate and science-based” approach to implementing initial wolf hunting and trapping seasons.

Dan Stark, DNR large carnivore specialist, said the DNR proposal would manage wolves as a prized and high-value fur species by setting the season when pelts are prime, limiting the take through a lottery and requiring animals be registered.

This approach, he said, is different than simply allowing hunters to shoot a wolf as an “incidental take” while primarily pursuing another species such as deer.
–DNR News Release

UM research puts $ value on nature
Scientists in Minnesota are trying to do something that may be impossible: put a dollar value on nature.

Nature performs many important functions that benefit humans — not just offering beauty but cleaning water, taming floods and pollinating crops. Some researchers think it’s time to put a dollar value on those natural processes.

University of Minnesota economic researcher Steve Polasky is building on ideas first presented in the field of applied economics back in the 1960s. The idea is kind of a merger of ecology and economics to identify services that nature provides, and assign a monetary value to those services.
–Minnesota Public Radio

UM prof seeks invasive species research center
Beating back invasive species with boat inspections, dams or bubble barriers only buys time at best, a University of Minnesota professor told a legislative panel..

Instead, he said, let’s outthink ’em.

That was fisheries researcher and carp expert Peter Sorensen’s message to the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee when he recommended that a world-class invasive species research center be developed at the U to study not only how to keep leaping carp, clinging zebra mussels and other weird critters out of the state but also how to get rid of those already here.

“Every species has a weakness,” he said.”Nothing is perfect. We need to find weaknesses and target them.”
–The Star Tribune

Ohio ‘quakes linked to wastewater disposal
The 4.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Youngstown Saturday (Dec. 31) occurred at an almost identical location to one a week before, a seismologist who studied the quakes said. Both earthquakes occurred close to the bottom of a 9,200-foot-deep disposal well where for months, brine and other liquid waste from natural-gas wells had been injected under pressure.

They were the 10th and 11th earthquakes to occur near the well since March, but the first to be precisely located. The finding provides further evidence to support what some scientists had suspected: that the waste, from the drilling process called hydraulic fracturing that is used to unlock natural gas from shale rock, might have migrated from the disposal well into deeper rock formations, allowing an ancient fault to slip.

Similar links between hydraulic-fracturing disposal wells and earthquakes have been suspected in recent years in Texas and Arkansas.

John Armbruster, a seismologist with Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, part of Columbia University, said that the epicenter of the quake was about 100 meters, or 110 yards, from that a 2.7-magnitude quake on Dec. 24. There were a few reports of minor damage from the earthquake, but none from any of the earlier quakes.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources reached an agreement with the owner of the disposal well, D&L Energy, to halt operations indefinitely and issued a moratorium on further development of disposal wells in the area until the analysis of the 4.0 quake was completed.
–The New York Times

Forestville park expanded
Add 454 picturesque acres of limestone cliffs, cold-water trout streams and rare habitats to Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park in southeastern Minnesota.

The Department of Natural Resources announced the state bought the addition to the 2,973-acre state park for $1.75 million, culminating five years of collaboration with the Nature Conservancy and a local family that has owned the land since 1947.

The park is about 45 minutes southeast of Rochester in the driftless bluffland region that escaped glaciation, giving the area a steep topography unlike any other in the Midwest. In addition, the park lies in the porous-rock karst region, and its namesake Mystery Cave – with more than 12 miles of subterranean passages – owes its existence to eroded limestone.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

MPCA urges low-salt diet for roads, sidewalks
For years doctors have told people to stick to a low-salt diet. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, our waters should follow the same advice.

When snow and ice start to accumulate on Minnesota roads, parking lots, and sidewalks, one of the more common reactions is to apply salt, which contains chloride, a water pollutant. When snow and ice melt, most of the salt goes with it, washing into our lakes, streams and rivers. Once in the water, there’s no way to remove the chloride, and it becomes a pollutant.

According to Brooke Asleson, MPCA project manager for the Twin Cities Metro Area chloride project, “Salt is a real threat to water quality. It only takes one teaspoon of road salt to permanently pollute five gallons of water. We are trying to spread the word that less is more when it comes to applying road salt because at high concentrations, chloride can harm the fish and plant life in our waters.”
–MPCA News Release

Army Corps weighs in on Asian carp debate
A new Army Corps of Engineers study of Chicago-area waterways has stirred the debate over whether to sever the connection between Lake Michigan and inland waterways that was created by the construction of canals a century ago. The study is part of the Corps’s nearly decade-long process aimed at preventing invasive species, including voracious Asian carp, from spreading between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River ecosystems.

But how to achieve that environmental goal has become bound up with varying predictions of what the future of shipping in the Midwest, and even farther South, will be.

Advocates of separating the waterway system from Lake Michigan said that the study bolstered their case because it found that in 2008 only 12 percent of Chicago-waterways cargo moved between Chicago-area waterways and the lake, the great majority of it to and from industries in nearby northwest Indiana. Opponents have argued that closing off the lake would block a vital shipping route.
–The New York Times

Scientists train a big gun against the round goby
Scientists want to know if an underwater cannon can protect valuable Great Lakes fish from a greedy predator.

The round goby (GOH’-bee) is an exotic species that hangs around spawning beds, gobbling up eggs of native varieties such as lake trout and whitefish that are important to the fishing industry.

Biologists plan to use a seismic gun to chase gobies from several Lake Michigan reefs that are popular spawning areas. The experiment is to begin next fall.

Researchers hope the shell-shocked gobies will stay away long enough for native fish eggs to hatch and escape.
–The Associated Press

Meetings set on impaired waters
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will hold a series of public meetings throughout the state in January to discuss the more than 500 impairments that are proposed to be added to the draft list of the state’s impaired lakes and stream segments.

The meetings will be held:

  • Wednesday, Jan. 11, 1-3 p.m., MPCA Office, 714 Lake  Ave., Detroit Lakes
  • Thursday, Jan. 12, 1-3 p.m., MPCA Office, 520  Lafayette Road N., St. Paul
  • Wednesday, Jan. 18, 1- 3 p.m., MPCA Office 7678 College Road, Baxter
  • Thursday, Jan. 19, 1-3 p.m., MPCA Office, 525 Lake  Ave., Duluth
  • Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2-4 p.m., McKinneys on Southside,  300  14th St. S., Benson
  • Wednesday, Jan. 25, 1-3 p.m. Blue Earth County  Public Library, 100 E. Main St., Mankato

Updated every two years, the draft 2012 list contains 2,171 impairments that require Total Maximum Daily Load “cleanup” studies. The inventory of all impaired waters now totals 3,638, which includes impairments in need of TMDLs, those with completed TMDLs that have not yet been restored, and impairments due to natural sources.

Four impairments are proposed to be removed from the list as a result of water-quality-improvement activities in the watershed.

The proposed 2012 Impaired Waters list and methodology for listing will be available on the MPCA’s Impaired Waters web page  before the first public meeting. The list will be formally on public notice from Jan. 23 through Feb. 27, 2012. Submit questions, comments, or requests for additional information to Howard Markus at MPCA, 520 Lafayette Road N., Saint Paul, MN 55155, call Markus at 651-757-2551, or email him at howard.markus@state.mn.us.
–MPCA News Release

Report: Chesapeake clean-up not a job-killer
A report by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation concludes that storm water and sewage plant upgrades intended to help nurse the environmentally-battered bay back to health would create nearly 250,000 jobs.

The report is aimed at countering claims that the multi-state, multi-billion restoration directed by the Environmental Protection Agency will be harmful to the economy and result in job losses, the foundation’s president said.

“That is not borne out by the facts,” William C. Baker said in a statement. “Whether the target is EPA or the bay pollution limits, it is essential that the public understand that environmental regulations will create jobs to reduce pollution, and sustain jobs that depend on clean water.”
–The Associated Press

 Ford sets 30% water reduction goal
Ford enters 2012 with plans to further reduce the amount of water used to make vehicles and continue showing efficiency is not only inherent in its vehicle lineup, but also in its manufacturing practices.

A new goal calls for Ford to cut the amount of water used to make each vehicle 30 percent globally by 2015, compared with the amount of water used per vehicle in 2009.

Ford is also developing year-over-year efficiency targets as part of its annual environmental business planning process and has established a cross-functional team spanning several divisions to review water usage more holistically.
–PR Newswire

San Francisco gets bargain on Yosemite water
The going rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is about $2,500 a month. That’s the same amount the city pays to use eight miles of Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park as a reservoir.

The $30,000 annual fee was set by federal law in 1913 and has not been changed since. But now, as the federal government struggles with budget problems, a Central Valley congressman is pushing to increase the city’s Hetch Hetchy rent by a thousandfold, to $34 million a year.

Representative Devin Nunes, a Republican from Tulare, said the current low rent amounts to a federal subsidy for San Francisco’s water and electricity supply and is unfair to farmers in his heavily agricultural district, whose water supply is diminished.
–The New York Times