Aquatic invasives draw legislative flurry

Invasives spur rare unanimity at Capitol
From electric barriers to a proposed research center at the University of Minnesota, aquatic-invader legislation is gaining traction at the state Capitol. Millions of state dollars are almost certain to follow.

More than a dozen bills have been introduced so far this session to address a looming problem for boaters and other water enthusiasts: the spread of invasive creatures such as Asian carp and zebra mussels into lakes and rivers. Those and other invaders on the horizon can alter aquatic ecosystems and disrupt popular activities, including fishing, boating and waterskiing.

The state has responded to the threats before, but never with so much muscle or variety.

With genetic evidence of silver carp found in two Twin Cities-area rivers last year and three Asian carp caught earlier this month in the Mississippi River near Winona, a renewed sense of urgency has taken hold. The recent netting was the farthest upstream that a silver carp has been caught.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Anti-carp bills seek review of closing locks
Five members of the Minnesota congressional delegation introduced legislation aimed at slowing the spread of invasive Asian carp in state waters.

Their proposal would order the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct feasibility studies on both the temporary and permanent closings of the Upper St. Anthony Falls Dam and to complete the studies within six months and a year, respectively, of the bill becoming law.

Depending on the findings, the corps would then be given broader authority to close the navigation lock at the Minneapolis dam. If Asian carp were found nearby, it would require the dam to be closed until effective controls were put in place.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Dayton calls for $$ for Coon Rapids Dam
Read an op-ed in the Outdoor News in which Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton calls for state spending to repair the Coon Rapids Dam as a deterrent to Asian carp migration up the Mississippi River.

Three important dates
Mark your calendar for three important upcoming events:

 On Saturday, March 17, the Minnesota Division of the Izaak Walton League will sponsor a Watershed Solutions Summit at Normandale Community College in Bloomington. Protection of the Great Lakes and the federal Farm Bill are among issues on the agenda.

 On Thursday, March 29, the Freshwater Society and a number of co-sponsors will host a conference on precision conservation.

 On Thursday, March 12, Freshwater will host an Ice Out/Loon In party and fund-raiser. There will be music, food, drink, a silent auction and a loon-calling competition.

When will the ice break up on Lake Minnetonka? 
The winter we had, and the temperatures we’re getting, are bringing us closer to the breakup every day.

The surest indicator of an early ice-out is a balmy winter in December, January and February. And the 26.3 degree average temperature we had in those months makes it the fourth-balmiest winter on record.

In ice-out records going back to 1855, the earliest ice-out on Lake Minnetonka was March 11, and the latest was May 8. Last year, ice-out came on April 14, the median date for ice-out.

Check out a year-by-year record and a calendar showing how many times ice-out has occurred on specific dates.

Give some thought to water beneath our feet
 Did you know that this week – March 11 through 17 – is National Groundwater Awareness Week? Spend a few moments to learn more about this precious resource.

Firm to phase out coal tar driveway sealant 
Coal-tar residues that can contaminate stormwater ponds may become a thing of the past thanks to a voluntary phase-out by Eagan-based Jet-Black International, one of the nation’s larger franchisers of pavement seal-coating services.

The company decided to voluntarily phase out coal-tar-based sealers late this winter in response to scientific data showing that coal-tar-based sealers are an important source of contamination to stormwater-collection systems in Minnesota.

The switch to an asphalt-based formulation will help keep harmful chemicals out of Minnesota’s surface waters. The phase-out calls for all 25 of Jet-Black’s Minnesota franchises to voluntarily phase out coal-tar-based sealants in 2012, with a complete change to an asphalt emulsion sealant by the start of the 2013 season.

“Jet-Black stepped up and took action to phase out coal tar in their sealant,” MPCA Commissioner Paul Aasen said. “When an industry leader embraces science-based recommendations like this, it really helps.”
–MPCA News Release

EPA to re-test ‘fracking’ pollution 
 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to work with the Wyoming state government to retest water supplies after a federal report last year concluded natural gas drilling likely polluted a local aquifer.

The EPA has been investigating an aquifer near natural gas drilling in Pavillion, Wyoming, for years after residents complained their drinking water smelled and tasted odd. It concluded in a December draft report done without broad input from the state that chemicals including benzene, alcohols and glycols likely migrated up into the aquifer from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, operations.

Wyoming politicians and the oil and gas industry criticized the report when it came out. Matt Mead, the governor of Wyoming which produced 10 percent of U.S. natural gas in 2010, called for more sampling, more data, and more participation in the study by state regulators.

Wisconsin iron mine plan dropped 
The state Senate rejected mining legislation, prompting a prominent mining company to say it was abandoning a project after months of often bitter debate that pitted conflicting claims of economic development against environmental protection.

“Senate rejection of the mining reforms . . . sends a clear message that Wisconsin will not welcome iron mining. We get the message,” said a statement from Bill Williams, president of Gogebic Taconite LLC. “(We are) ending plans to invest in a Wisconsin mine.”

Top Republican leaders said they considered the measure dead. At stake were an estimated 600 to 700 jobs at a large open pit mine in northern Wisconsin. Bob Seitz, a lobbyist representing Gogebic, said: “This isn’t an attempt to negotiate anything because that’s done.” He said that the company made numerous concessions, and wasn’t willing to go any further.

“We let something slip away,” said Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon). His comments came shortly after Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) voted with all Democrats to reject the bill, 17-16.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Climate change and groundwater demand
Climate change has been studied extensively, but a new body of research guided by a San Francisco State University hydrologist looks beneath the surface of the phenomenon and finds that climate change will put particular strain on one of our most important natural resources: groundwater.

SF State Assistant Professor of Geosciences Jason Gurdak says that as precipitation becomes less frequent due to climate change, lake and reservoir levels will drop and people will increasingly turn to groundwater for agricultural, industrial, and drinking water needs. The resource accounts for nearly half of all drinking water worldwide, but recharges at a much slower rate than aboveground water sources and in many cases is nonrenewable.

“It is clear that groundwater will play a critical role in society’s adaption to climate change,” said Gurdak, who co-led a United Nations-sponsored group of scientists who are now urging policymakers to increase regulations and conservation measures on nonrenewable groundwater.

The scientists recently released a book of their research, titled “Climate Change Effects on Groundwater Resources,” that is the result of a global groundwater initiative by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). They will soon make their case to international policymakers at the March 12-17 World Water Forum in Marseille, France.
–Science Codex

Some good news on world drinking water
Close to nine out of every 10 people in the world now has access to clean, safe drinking water, finds a report issued by UNICEF and the World Health Organization. The new statistic means that the world has achieved the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water in advance of the 2015 deadline.

The safe drinking water target is part of the Environmental Sustainability Goal. Between 1990 and 2010, more than two billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources, such as piped supplies and protected wells. By 2010, 89 percent of the world’s population, or 6.1 billion people, used improved drinking water sources, exceeding the target of 88 percent.

“Today we recognize a great achievement for the people of the world,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “This is one of the first MDG targets to be met. The successful efforts to provide greater access to drinking water are a testament to all who see the Millennium Development Goals not as a dream, but as a vital tool for improving the lives of millions of the poorest people.”
–Environmental News Service

Conserving Mower County – one farm at a time 
One could say Justin Hanson has a full-time job in persistence. Without that trait, he would likely be doing something else. As a man who persuades farmers to retire farmland for conservation projects, he’s no stranger to the word “no.”

“We spend a lot of time failing,” Hanson said about his job. “It’s like baseball — you miss more than you hit.” So he keeps swinging.

Hanson is a resource specialist with the Mower Soil and Water Conservation District, and though he’s all about preserving the land and protecting the water, he knows he wouldn’t have a job without farmers. His job relies on their land, which is also why his job may become increasingly difficult.
–Austin Daily Herald

Even Antarctica beset by invasive species 
Alien species are invading Antarctica from as far away as the Arctic — and could fundamentally alter ecosystems in the world’s last relatively untouched continent, an international team of scientists has reported.

The risks from these biological interlopers — seeds and plant material carried in on the shoes and clothing of well-meaning scientists, ecotourists and support staff — will increase as the icy content continues to thaw because of climate change, the scientists reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

People think of Antarctica as a pristine wilderness, but that is fast changing, said lead author Steven Chown of Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

Over the last few decades, human activity there has increased dramatically. During the 2007-08 summer season, about 33,000 tourists and 7,000 scientists (including support personnel) made landfall there, bringing unintended ecological consequences, Chown said.
–The Los Angeles Times

EPA underestimated cost of Florida water rule 
Federal environmental officials underestimated the cost of implementing their new water pollution rules for Florida, just as critics have been saying, a National Research Council panel concluded in a report.

The committee of scientists was not asked to offer its own estimate but wrote that whatever the expense turns out to be it would be small compared to the ultimate cost of restoring Florida’s waters.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which commissioned the study, issued a statement saying it already is incorporating some of the report’s recommendations in its economic analysis. It noted that the scientists also found critics’ estimates of much higher costs also were faulty.
–The Associated Press

Anti-mining petition delivered by dog sled
A former Minnesota legislator finished a 360-mile dog-sled trip to the State Capitol and delivered anti-sulfide mining petitions to Gov. Mark Dayton.

Frank Moe, a former DFL state representative from Bemidji, began the trip March 1, and ended it with an event on the State Capitol steps.

He said Dayton accepted the petition, which contained almost 13,000 signatures, and asked several questions about it.

State, federal and other operations are preparing a detailed environmental review of a proposed copper-nickel mining project in northeastern Minnesota.

Environmental groups pointing to problems elsewhere with such sulfide-mining operations oppose allowing it in the region because it could pollute watersheds leading to the federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Lake Superior. But supporters of PolyMet’s proposal argue that safeguards can be added, allowing crucial jobs to be created in that area.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press