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.
List of impaired Minnesota waters grows
Minnesota is adding another 500 lakes and stretches of river to its list of impaired waters.
This new list brings the total number of impaired rivers and lakes to more than 3,600. Impaired means the waters have excess nitrogen, phosphorus, mercury, bacteria or other pollutant to support activities like swimming or fishing, or even to provide healthy habitats for fish and wildlife.
Listing these lakes and rivers is the first step in attempts to fix them. But some critics say the state isn’t doing what it takes to clean up the pollution.
Once they’re on the list, the state works with local governments and citizen groups to design clean-up plans. So far, researchers have found that about 40 percent of Minnesota’s waters are impaired. The federal Clean Water Act requires states to update their list of impaired waters every two years. Minnesota is one-fifth of the way through surveying its nearly 12,000 lakes and nearly 70,000 miles of rivers and streams.
In the nearly twenty years these efforts have been under way, about 900 clean-up plans have been approved or are being developed. But only 15 water bodies have been removed from the list because of actual clean-up.
–Minnesota Public Radio
Data base shows greenhouse gas sources
The EPA has posted a new searchable data base of greenhouse gas emissions last year. Go to it and explore the power plants and other sources of Minnesota’s 47 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and carbon dioxide- equivalent emissions. Read a New York Times article about the new trove of pollution data.
Research: Cut soot, methane to slow warming
Simple, inexpensive measures to cut emissions of two common pollutants will slow global warming, save millions of lives and boost crop production around the world, an international team of scientists reported.
The climate-change debate has centered on carbon dioxide, a gas that wafts in the atmosphere for decades, trapping heat. But in recent years, scientists have pointed to two other, shorter-term pollutants — methane and soot, also known as black carbon — that drive climate change.
Slashing emissions of these twin threats would be a “win-win-win” for climate, human health and agriculture, said NASA climate scientist Drew Shindell, who led the study appearing in the journal Science. “Even if you don’t believe climate change is a problem, these things are worth doing.”
Previous studies have noted the benefits of reducing methane and soot. But the new study looked at the specific effect of about 400 actions policymakers could take. Of those, just 14 interventions — such as eliminating wood-burning stoves, dampening emissions from diesel vehicles and capturing methane released from coal mines — would offer big benefits.
–The Washington Post
Investors push water sustainability
Jonas Kron is worried about water. The investment adviser at Trillium Asset Management, a $900 million fund manager that focuses on environmentally sustainable investment, fears the world’s dwindling supply of fresh water is hurting the companies he has invested in. For most of the year, Kron has led a shareholder challenge to J. M. Smucker, the strawberry jam maker that also owns Folgers coffee. Kron says the company hasn’t demonstrated it’s prepared for the market changes that are sure to come as climate change reduces the size of the world’s coffee growing area.
The conversation has been difficult in part because corporate leaders still seem unaware they need to factor water risk into their financial projections, says Kron. “We’re not talking about charity here,” says Kron. “These are investors seeking to have the company address the risks in its supply chain.”
Smucker’s says it’s hedging against potential increases in raw material prices, but Mother Nature, Kron points out, can defeat any hedge. “At a certain point, you need to deal with the fundamental, underlying fact that these are crops grown with soil, sunlight, and water, and you can’t escape the laws of nature.”
Most companies act as if the water they have today will be there tomorrow, says Brooke Barton, who runs water programs at Ceres, an environmental group in Boston that worked with Trillium and others to create an online checklist aimed at helping investors and companies assess efforts to manage water risk.
3M counter-sues Met Council over pollution
The 3M Co. has a new tactic to defend itself against a lawsuit filed by the state of Minnesota and the Metropolitan Council: If we polluted, so did you.
In a counterclaim, the company said that if it is found liable for polluting the Mississippi River, the Met Council also should pay. That’s because, 3M says, the planning agency for the seven-county Twin Cities area dumps chemicals into the river from its seven waste treatment plants.
The court document is a new twist in the legal battle over PFOS, or perfluorooctane sulfonate, found in the river. The state sued 3M in December 2010, saying its chemicals had damaged the environment. The Met Council joined the suit 11 months later. But 3M now argues that the chemicals are coming from treated sewage and other sources.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press
Cellulosic biofuels go missing
When the companies that supply motor fuel close the books on 2011, they will pay about $6.8 million in penalties to the Treasury because they failed to mix a special type of biofuel into their gasoline and diesel as required by law.
But there was none to be had. Outside a handful of laboratories and workshops, the ingredient, cellulosic biofuel, does not exist.
In 2012, the oil companies expect to pay even higher penalties for failing to blend in the fuel, which is made from wood chips or the inedible parts of plants like corncobs. Refiners were required to blend 6.6 million gallons into gasoline and diesel in 2011 and face a quota of 8.65 million gallons this year.
“It belies logic,” Charles T. Drevna, the president of the National Petrochemicals and Refiners Association, said of the 2011 quota. And raising the quota for 2012 when there is no production makes even less sense, he said.
Penalizing the fuel suppliers demonstrates what happens when the federal government really, really wants something that technology is not ready to provide.
–The New York Times
Climate change, elk reduce tree cover
Climate change in the form of reduced snowfall in mountains is causing powerful and cascading shifts in mountainous plant and bird communities through the increased ability of elk to stay at high elevations over winter and consume plants, according to a groundbreaking study in Nature Climate Change.
The U.S. Geological Survey and University of Montana study not only showed that the abundance of deciduous trees and their associated songbirds in mountainous Arizona have declined over the last 22 years as snowpack has declined, but it also experimentally demonstrated that declining snowfall indirectly affects plants and birds by enabling more winter browsing by elk. Increased winter browsing by elk results in trickle-down ecological effects such as lowering the quality of habitat for songbirds.
The authors, USGS Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit scientist Thomas Martin and University of Montana scientist John Maron, mimicked the effects of more snow on limiting the ability of elk to browse on plants by excluding the animals from large, fenced areas. They compared bird and plant communities in these exclusion areas with nearby similar areas where elk had access, and found that, over the six years of the study, multi-decadal declines in plant and songbird populations were reversed in the areas where elk were prohibited from browsing.
“This study illustrates that profound impacts of climate change on ecosystems arise over a time span of but two decades through unexplored feedbacks,” explained USGS director Marcia McNutt. “The significance lies in the fact that humans and our economy are at the end of the same chain of cascading consequences.”
–USGS News Release
Farm Bureau call to end direct subsidies
The American Farm Bureau Federation meeting in Honolulu has voted to adopt an Iowa proposal that would recommend the end of direct payments to farmers as part of the new farm bill to be written this year.
The Iowa Farm Bureau’s county delegates shook the agricultural world in August 2010 when they voted to recommend the end of direct payments, which in 2010 put $495 million into the hands of Iowa farmers. The 2011 American Farm Bureau Federation convention in Atlanta declined to follow the Iowa resolution, largely because of resistance from Southern delegates. But during the year, it became increasingly evident that direct payments, which have long been a target of opponents of farm subsidies, were vulnerable as Congress looks for ways to reduce the federal budget deficit.
“This week our national delegation of farmers agreed: The time is right to take a stand,” said Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Hill of Milo.
–The Des Moines Register
Washington works to clean Potomac
Washington is starting to dig deep in a $2.6 billion underground solution aimed at helping clean up the polluted Potomac River and the ailing Chesapeake Bay, the biggest U.S. estuary.
In the U.S. capital’s biggest public works project in more than 40 years, work started this fall to cut about 16 miles (26 kilometres) of tunnels to keep overflow sewage and stormwater from running into the Potomac. The project, designed to be finished in 2025, is seen by environmentalists as part of resolving the next great water pollution challenge facing the United States — keeping fouled runoff out of lakes, streams and rivers.
The vast dig “is a dramatic piece of the puzzle to improve the water quality in the Potomac,” said Carlton Ray, head of the District of Columbia’s Clean Water Project.
Permits required for lake service providers
Training and permitting requirements for people who install and remove docks and other water recreation equipment will be implemented by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources this summer.
The Minnesota Legislature passed a number of new laws in 2011 related to prevention and management of aquatic invasive species. The laws apply to not only boaters and property owners, but also lake service providers and others involved with transportation of water-related equipment.
Service providers are individuals or businesses hired to install or remove water-related equipment such as boats, docks, boat lifts or structures from waters of the state. They are now required by state statute to obtain a permit from the DNR before providing any services. The DNR will begin to implement and enforce this during the 2012 open water season. All service providers must complete invasive species training and pass an examination in order to qualify for a permit.
–DNR News Release