Minnesota and Mississippi river plans

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.

Public comments sought on two major TMDLs
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is taking public comment on two long-awaited reports on sediment pollution in the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers.

Public comment period began Feb. 27 and runs through April 27 for draft Total Maximum Daily Load studies on the Minnesota River and on the Mississippi, from its confluence with the Minnesota at Fort Snelling to Lake Pepin. The studies attempt to calculate the amount of pollution the rivers can sustain and still meet water-quality standards.

Sediment – much of it from bluffs collapsing into the Minnesota and its tributaries, from erosion in deep ravines and from runoff from farm fields – currently sends about 700,000 metric tons of sediment down the Mississippi each year. Three-quarters of the total comes from the Minnesota. The reports call for 50 percent to 60 percent reductions in the sediment flowing from the Minnesota.

Both reports are available on the MPCA web site. Comments on the draft Minnesota River Turbidity TMDL may be sent to Larry Gunderson, MPCA, 520 Lafayette Rd. N., Saint Paul, MN 55155. For more information, contact Gunderson at larry.gunderson@state.mn.us or  651-757-2400. Comments on the South Metro Mississippi Total Suspended Solids TMDL may be sent to Robert Finley, MPCA, 12 Civic Center Plaza, Suite 2165, Mankato, MN 56001. Contact Finley at Robert.finley@state.mn.us or 507-344-5247.

Three big events this week and next month
You can still register to take part in three important events:

  •  A lecture Thursday, March 1, by Mindy Lubber, an international leader in efforts by investors to pressure corporations to become more sustainable in the water they use and the carbon they emit. The lecture is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences.
  • A Watershed Solutions Summit sponsored March 17 by the Minnesota division of the Izaak Walton League. The event will include discussions of the Great Lakes Water Compact and the 2012 federal Farm Bill.
  •   A conference March 29 on precision conservation. The conference, sponsored by the Freshwater Society, will examine technology and decision-making strategies for targeting conservation practices to places on the land where runoff, erosion and pollution are disproportionately bad and the potential for improvement is disproportionately great.

Groundwater pumping depletes White Bear Lake
New research from the U.S. Geological Survey shows White Bear Lake water levels are falling because communities north of the lake are pumping too much water from an aquifer connected to the big lake.

The water level at White Bear Lake has dropped five feet in the last decade.

Dry weather accounts for just a small part of the drop, said USGS hydrologist Perry Jones. Jones said growth in suburbs north of the lake has led to greater demand on the Prairie du Chien-Jordan aquifer. When the aquifer depletes, lake water trickles from higher elevation to replenish it.

“There was probably always some water from White Bear Lake leaving and going down into the lower aquifers,” Jones said. “But what’s happened is that by increasing the amount of pumping, you actually lower the water levels in that lower aquifer, so it exacerbates the amount of water leaving the lake.”
–Minnesota Public Radio

Take a carp to lunch 
Don’t forget to observe this week – Feb. 26 through March 3 – as National Invasive Species Awareness Week.

Minnesota moose herd continues decline
 Minnesota’s moose population continues to decline, dropping from an estimate of 4,900 in 2011 to 4,230 in 2012, according to the annual aerial survey by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

“Estimates from the survey and results from research using radio-collared moose both indicate that the population has been declining in recent years,” said Mark Lenarz, DNR forest wildlife group leader. Minnesota’s moose population was estimated at 8,840 in 2006 and has trended downward since then.

The causes of moose mortality are not well understood. Of 150 adult moose radio-collared since 2002 in Minnesota, 119 have subsequently died, most from unknown causes thought to be diseases or parasites. Ten moose died as a result of highway vehicle accidents. Two were killed by trains. Only 11 deaths were clearly the result of wolf predation.

This year’s aerial survey, however, showed some positive trends. The number of cows accompanied by calves and twin calves increased in 2012, which means more calves can potentially mature into adults. But the cow and calf ratio,estimated at 36 calves per 100 cows in 2012, remains well below 1990s estimates that likely contribute to a peak population in the early 2000s.
–DNR News Release

Texas court says landowners own groundwater 
In a ruling with possible wide-ranging effects on water regulation, the Texas Supreme Court sided with two Von Ormy landowners who objected to the Edwards Aquifer Authority’s power to limit the pumping of groundwater on their ranch.

“The water underneath your property belongs to you,” Joel McDaniel, who brought the lawsuit more than 10 years ago, said about the ruling. “This changes everything for everyone who owns a well.”

In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Nathan Hecht, the court ruled ownership of groundwater should be considered no differently than that of oil and gas. “We held long ago that oil and gas are owned in place, and we find no reason to treat groundwater differently,” Hecht wrote.

While ownership rights are the same, regulation of water should not be, the court found. “Unquestionably, the state is empowered to regulate groundwater production,” the opinion states. “In many areas of the state, and certainly in the Edwards Aquifer, demand exceeds supply.”
–The Houston Chronicle

Research: Farmers support conservation
A new research paper finds that most farmers support the long-standing conservation compact that has helped protect the rich soil and clean water that sustain food, farming and public health.

Conservation Compliance: A Retrospective…and Look Ahead by conservationist Max Schnepf concludes through a comprehensive review of public opinion polls that the farming community has consistently supported the historic deal between taxpayers and farmers that was struck in the 1985 farm bill. Under it, growers agreed to keep soil from washing away and chemicals out of waterways in return for generous taxpayer support.

Seven polls taken in the last 30 years show that a solid majority of farmers believe that bargain is a fair one.

“The conservation compact was a godsend for agricultural and conservation groups and farmers,” Schnepf writes. “In the 10 years following the 1985 farm bill, farmers did more to curb soil erosion than at any time since the infamous Dust Bowl years of the 1930s.”   Schnepf notes that Environmental Working Group’s 2011 report, Losing Ground, found that high prices, intense competition for farmland leases and ethanol mandates have put unprecedented pressure on land and water. As a result, the historic gains in soil conservation the compact achieved are being lost.
–Environmental Working Group News Release

DNR seeks frog counters
logo of frog and toad surveyThe Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Nongame Wildlife Program is looking for volunteers to participate in its ongoing Minnesota Frog and Toad Calling Survey. The survey is part of the nationwide North American Amphibian Monitoring Program.

“Without the dedication of generous volunteers, this project would not be possible,” explained Rich Baker of the DNR Nongame Wildlife Program. “Many frog and toad species are indicators of habitat quality and provide valuable information on the condition of Minnesota’s wetlands.”

New volunteers receive a kit that includes a CD of calls by Minnesota’s frog and toad species, a poster of Minnesota’s frogs and toads, a map of a predefined route in an area of their choice. Route availability and past survey results are on the DNR web site, as are directions on how to run the route. A vehicle is required to travel between stops. Read a 2009 Freshwater article on the frog survey. –DNR News Release

Iowa measuring groundwater reserves 
Iowa may have trouble coming up with enough water to fill taps and meet industrial needs in coming decades. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is worried that underground water supplies in some areas might not be able to quench the future thirst created by urban sprawl and the state’s growing biofuels industry.

Geologists already wonder if the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City area, one of the fastest growing parts of the state, will have enough water to go around decades from now. That’s especially true of Marion, which may have to find new sources or pipe in water from another system, said state geologist Robert Libra.

Those concerns are emerging from the DNR’s four-year-old effort to inventory and measure how much water remains in Iowa’s network of aquifers. It’s the first large-scale effort of its kind, and one that some say is long overdue.
–The Des Moines Register

Feds reject Colorado water pipeline
Conservationists are casting a project to pipe water from Wyoming to Colorado as dead after federal authorities nixed an entrepreneur’s pitch for a preliminary permit.

“The Flaming Gorge Pipeline is a zombie. It’s just staggering around looking for anything to latch onto to keep it alive,” said Stacy Tellinghuisen, a Western Resources Advocates energy policy analyst.

But entrepreneur Aaron Million said he’s undaunted and soliciting bids after investing millions in planning the pipeline. He’ll submit new engineering and pipeline details within two weeks.

And Parker water manager Frank Jaeger is moving ahead with a rival project to divert water from Wyoming. Jaeger said he has 19 water utilities committed — mostly in southern suburbs dependent on depleted underground aquifers.
–The Denver Post

 Environmentalists rip ballast rule 
Ships entering the Great Lakes should be made to kill all the creatures that hitch a ride in their ballast tanks, environmental groups said, challenging as too lax a proposed government standard to combat invasive species.

Zebra mussels, spiny water fleas, round gobies and other invaders brought into the lakes in ships’ ballast water have damaged the Great Lakes’ $7 billion fishery and allowed algae – some that produce toxins that foul the world’s largest body of fresh surface water – to flourish.

Researchers at the University of Notre Dame put the annual cost of dealing with invasive species such as clearing mussels from clogged water intakes at $200 million. The mussels and other invaders have filtered out plankton at the base of the food web, hurting lake fish species and allowing more sunlight to fuel algae growth.

Environmental groups said they may go to court for a fourth time since the 1990s to get the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to tighten its restrictions on ballast discharge.

Mixed ruling on Florida water standards 
A federal judge has upheld a 2009 formal determination by the Environmental Protection Agency that numeric nutrient standards are necessary for Florida’s waters, but invalidated certain aspects of the water quality criteria the agency developed.

Judge Robert L. Hinkle of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida in a mixed decision Feb. 18 said EPA was correct in determining that standards were needed. Hinkle upheld the criteria for lakes and springs, but invalidated the criteria for streams, saying they were arbitrary and capricious.

Moreover, he upheld the decision to adopt downstream protection criteria and upheld some, but not all, of the criteria EPA set.

The judge also backed the EPA administrator’s decision to allow site-specific alternative criteria and the procedures for adopting them. He also upheld a March 6 deadline, or an extended date approved by the court, for the validated portion of the rulemaking. –Bloomberg