UN calculates ag pollution's worldwide cost

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.

Save these dates:

  •  March 29. The Freshwater hosts a conference on precision conservation, the science and philosophy of putting conservation practices into place at spots on the landscape where are most effective and provide the most return on investment. Learn more.
  • April 12. The Freshwater Society’s Ice Out/Loon In party and fund-raiser celebrates spring. Get info at www.freshwater.org. The event will be from 5:30 to 8;30 p.m. at the Lafayette Club in Minnetonka Beach. There will be music, food, a silent auction and – where else can you find this? – a loon-calling contest.

UN report: Ag pollution costs billions worldwide 
Water pollution from agriculture is costing billions of dollars a year in developed countries and is expected to increase in China and India as farmers race to increase food production, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said.

“Pollution from farm pesticides and fertilizers is often diffuse, making it hard to pin down exactly where it’s coming from,” Kevin Parris, author of a report from the Paris-based organization, said in an interview in Marseille. “In some big agricultural countries in Europe, like parts of France, Spain and the U.K., the situation is deteriorating.”

In some regions of China, pollution of waterways from agriculture may already have reached the point where it may trigger health problems in people, he said.

The OECD report is part of a series of studies published to coincide with the World Water Forum in Marseille. Ministers, industry representatives and non-government organizations are discussing resource management, waste, health risks and climate change at the meeting. Pollution from farming is gaining prominence as the global population increases, raising demand for food and putting strain on water resources.

EPA sued over Mississippi R. pollution
A number of environmental groups, led by the Gulf Restoration Network and the Natural Resources Defense Council, filed two lawsuits to force the Environmental Protection Agency to set and enforce water quality standards for the Mississippi River. The lawsuits, filed in New Orleans and New York, target nutrient pollution from farm fields and sewage treatment plants. The pollution contributes to the massive “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.

Read a Reuters report on the two suits. Read a Des Moines Register article focusing on Iowa and the Midwest. Read the court filings.

California nitrate pollution worsens 
Nitrate contamination of groundwater in some of the state’s most intensely farmed regions has grown worse in recent decades and will continue to spread, threatening the drinking water supplies  of more than 250,000 people, according to a new study.

The research, conducted by UC Davis scientists, underscores the complexity of dealing with nitrate pollution, which is largely the result of nitrogen leaching into aquifers from fertilizers and manure applied to cropland.

High nitrate levels have been linked to cancer and reproductive disorders and can be lethal to infants. Examining groundwater data from the southern San Joaquin and Salinas valleys, the authors concluded that even if all farming operations ceased, nitrates would remain in water supplies and continue to spread for decades.
–The Los Angeles Times

Conference March 18 and 19 on aquatic invasives 
A two-day conference in St. Paul will present state and national speakers discussing the threat of aquatic invasive species – both plants and animals. The conference, sponsored by the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District and a number of partners, will be held Monday and Tuesday, March 19 and 20, at the Kelly Inn, near the state Capitol.

The first day will focus on aquatic invasive plants such as flowering rush and curly leaf pondweed, include an update on AIS initiatives during the 2012 Minnesota legislative session and an appearance by U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, who has introduced federal legislation to curb the spread of Asian carp. The second day will focus on aquatic invasive animals such as Asian carp and zebra mussels.  Learn more and view an agenda.

EPA review discounts fracking complaints
Federal environmental regulators say well water testing at 11 homes in a northeastern Pennsylvania village where a gas driller was accused of polluting the aquifer failed to show elevated levels of contamination. The Environmental Protection Agency is sampling well water at dozens of homes in Dimock, Susquehanna County.

The agency said  it received initial test results for 11 homes. Regulators say water samples from six of the 11 homes showed sodium, methane, chromium or bacteria, but at safe levels. Arsenic was found in the well water of two homes but at low levels.
–The Associated Press

 Climate-driven flooding imperils millions 
About 3.7 million Americans live within a few feet of high tide and risk being hit by more frequent coastal flooding in coming decades because of the sea level rise caused by global warming, according to new research.

If the pace of the rise accelerates as much as expected, researchers found, coastal flooding at levels that were once exceedingly rare could become an every-few-years occurrence by the middle of this century.

By far the most vulnerable state is Florida, the new analysis found, with roughly half of the nation’s at-risk population living near the coast on the porous, low-lying limestone shelf that constitutes much of that state. But Louisiana, California, New York and New Jersey are also particularly vulnerable, researchers found, and virtually the entire American coastline is at some degree of risk.
–The New York Times

Ogallala restrictions worry Texas farmers
J. O. Dawdy, who has been a farmer for 36 years, is so worried about getting enough groundwater that he is considering a lawsuit to protect his right to it.

As sleet pounded his West Texas farmhouse one recent afternoon, Mr. Dawdy and three other farmers said that new regulations — which limit the amount of water they can withdraw from the Ogallala Aquifer and require that new wells have meters to measure use — could have crippling effects on their livelihoods.

“We view it as a real property-rights violation,” said Mr. Dawdy, who grows cotton. If the restrictions had been in place last year during the drought, he said, his land would not have produced a crop.

Water is a contentious issue across Texas, but tensions have been especially high in a 16-county groundwater conservation district stretching from south of Lubbock into the Panhandle, an area considered part of America’s “breadbasket.” There, farmers reliant on the slowly diminishing Ogallala are fighting to maintain their right to pump unrestricted amounts of water.
–The Texas Tribune

Study evaluates all-renewable power future 
If you’ve ever driven past the wind farms in southern Minnesota or seen a house with solar panels, maybe you’ve wondered how much of the state’s total electricity demand wind and solar power could support.

According to a study released March 13, the answer is 100 percent. All of Minnesota’s electricity generation could be met by a combination of wind and solar energy, as long as it’s combined with big energy storage and grid improvements that dramatically reduce demand, the study by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research says.

In the end, electricity would cost about 3 cents more per kilowatt hour than today’s statewide average of about 10.6 cents for residential customers, the study by the Takoma Park, Md.-based think tank concluded.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Lowly eelpout may be in decline 
The eelpout or burbot, that beady-eyed freshwater cod widely known as the “ish of fish” for its unsightly appearance, doesn’t get a lot of attention, but fisheries managers in Minnesota and North Dakota say the species is in decline.

“It’s almost more of an anecdotal thing,” said Tom Heinrich, large lake specialist for the Department of Natural Resources in Baudette, Minn. “They’re not all that vulnerable to gillnets, which are our primary lake assessment gear. Most of the information is based on what you see on the ice. People just aren’t catching nearly the ’pout they used to.”
 –Grand Forks Herald

MPCA seeks citizen water quality monitors
Do you live near a lake or stream in Minnesota, or visit one regularly? If so, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency needs your help!

Join more than 1,500 Minnesotans who track the health of their favorite lake or stream through the Citizen Lake or Citizen Stream Monitoring Programs.

These volunteers measure water clarity in their lake or stream weekly throughout the summer months, using simple equipment provided by the MPCA. Water clarity, or transparency, is an important indicator of the health of a lake or stream. The MPCA uses water clarity data to track water quality trends and make decisions on watershed protection and restoration. For some lakes and streams, data collected by volunteers is the only data available, making this work very valuable.

To become a volunteer or learn more about the program, visit the MPCA’s website, or  call 651-296-6300 (Twin Cities) or 800-657-3864 (Greater Minnesota). Read a 2009 Freshwater Society article about the lake and stream monitoring programs.
–MPCA News Release

Sewage effluent cools Google in Ga. 
The data center has become the coal-fired power plant of the tech industry – the most visible symbol of the online world’s environmental impact. And in recent years, Apple, Facebook, Google and other Silicon Valley giants have undertaken efforts, voluntarily and under pressure from groups like Greenpeace, to slash their massive electricity consumption and secure power from renewable energy sources.

Now Google has opened a new front on a less-noticed impact of data centers – water consumption. Like power plants, data centers, with their acres of servers, suck up millions of gallons of water a year for cooling (as an alternative to using electricity-hogging mechanical chillers).

Google said it had switched to using recycled water at its Douglas County, Ga., data center rather than continue to tap drinking water as it had when the facility opened in 2007.

“But we soon realized that the water we used didn’t need to be clean enough to drink,” Jim Brown, Google’s data center facilities manager, wrote in a blog post. “So we talked to the Douglasville-Douglas County Water and Sewer Authority (known locally as the WSA) about setting up a system that uses reuse water – also known as gray or recycled water – in our cooling infrastructure. With this system in place, we’re able to use recycled water for 100% of our cooling needs.”