Asian carp; ag certainty; African groundwater

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.

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$800,000 fine is latest in Ethanol crackdown
A Minnesota ethanol plant has been hit with an $800,000 pollution penalty, the latest in a multi-year regulatory crackdown that state officials say appears to be changing the industry’s ways.

Bushmills Ethanol Inc. of Atwater, Minn., was fined for illegally discharging salt-laden wastewater into a ditch and then lying about it, the state Pollution Control Agency said.

It is the third-highest penalty against a Minnesota ethanol producer in six years, a period when 13 of the state’s 21 plants got caught polluting the air or waterways, and sometimes both. Altogether the penalties have exceeded $5.1 million.

Yet as the state collects the latest fine, a top state regulator said he is hoping the industry’s chronic environmental problems are behind it. “We don’t have any other large enforcement actions going against ethanol plants,” said Jeff Connell, manager of compliance and enforcement for the MPCA’s industrial division. “They may have turned a corner, or at least we are hopeful they have.”
–The Star Tribune

Frederickson, Aasen, Baloun praise  ‘certainty’ 
Read a Star Tribune op-ed on agriculture and water quality written by Dave Frederickson, the Minnesota commissioner of agriculture; Paul Aasen, the commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency; and Don Baloun, state conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The op-ed praises a “certainty” agreement between state and federal agencies that will offer a guarantee to participating farmers who meet certain still-to-be-developed conservation standards  that they will not be obliged to meet more-rigorous standards over a 10-year period if stricter standards are adopted by state or federal agencies.

Feeding the world without destroying it, Part I
Read a Fortune Magazine transcript of a conversation between Greg Page, CEO of Cargill, and Mark Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy. The conversation at the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference was about sustainability and feeding a growing world population.

Feeding the world without destroying it, Part II
Jon Foley of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment in on a quest for answers to how we can feed the world without destroying it. Read and comment on a blog about Foley’s work by Dave Peters of Minnesota Public Radio.

The Nature That We Make
Read an intriguing essay on conservation, environmentalism and human beings’ role in nature. The essay — The Nature That We Make — was published as an Earth Day 2012 reflection in the American Spectator. It was written by G. Tracy Meham III, an Arlington, Va., consultant who served in the Environmental Protection Agency under both Presidents Bush.

Another Asian carp caught in St. Croix 
A bighead carp was caught Monday (April 16) on the St. Croix River at Prescott, a sobering reminder that while millions of dollars and years of planning have been focused on keeping the invasive fish from Lake Michigan, Asian carp have been in waters along Wisconsin’s western border since at least 1996.

A commercial fisherman netting for buffalo and common carp caught the 27-pound bighead just north of the St. Croix’s confluence with the Mississippi River and contacted the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Minnesota DNR officials held a news conference in St. Paul to announce the catch. The fish, all 34 inches of it, was iced and on display.

It was the sixth bighead carp found in Wisconsin-Minnesota border waters since 2003; the first was caught in 1996. Most of the invasive fish have been caught in or near Lake Pepin. Minnesota fisheries officials said the fish caught was likely a “loner” that swam north this spring during high water.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Great Lakes lawmakers offer anti-carp bill
Great Lakes lawmakers in both chambers of Congress introduced bipartisan legislation to prevent Asian carp and other invasive species from entering the Great Lakes and destroying the Lakes’ ecosystem.

In the Senate, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), lead sponsor, Rob Portman (R-OH), lead Republican sponsor, and cosponsors Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Carl Levin (D-M), Robert Casey (D-PA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Al Franken (D-MN) introduced the Stop Invasive Species Act to require the speedy creation of an action plan to block Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes through a number of rivers and tributaries across the Great Lakes region. Congressman Dave Camp (R-MI) and Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) introduced similar legislation in the House.

A bipartisan bill introduced last year, the Stop Asian Carp Act, required the Army Corp of Engineers to develop an action plan to permanently separate Lake Michigan from the Chicago Area Waterway System, long seen as the carp’s primary entry point to the Great Lakes. This bill goes further to require a plan to stop Asian carp at all potential entry points.
–Minnesota Ag Connection

Wisconsin slow to enforce phosphorus rules 
Wisconsin is not fully enforcing strict phosphorus limits adopted two years ago to reduce lake-algae blooms that make people sick, a Gannett Wisconsin Media review has found.

That’s despite the Department of Natural Resources secretary’s alarm at foul conditions in at least one Wisconsin lake last summer.

The state Legislature in 2010 approved DNR regulations intended to cut down on the amount of phosphorous running into waterways, where it causes algae to grow so thick that the water turns to green soup. The regulations are aimed at wastewater treatment plants, paper mills and factories — which are required to reapply for permits at five-year intervals.

But, only 19 permits with stricter limits have been issued since September 2010. The DNR still is evaluating applications from 201 municipal facilities and 155 industrial facilities, while hundreds more must apply for permits in the coming years.
–Gannette Wisconsin Media

Greenpeace takes on ‘cloud’ computing
In their race for the cloud, tech companies are leaving a trail of pollution from dirty energy sources, Greenpeace said in a report that accused some of the world’s biggest tech companies of failing to make clean energy a priority.

Cloud computing allows users to store and access data, programs and more on remote servers, preserving computing power. To offer this service, however, requires massive data centers that suck up electricity around the clock. Three tech companies with popular cloud offerings were singled out in Greenpeace’s report for using coal and other fossil fuel energy for their data centers.

“Three of the largest IT companies building their business around the cloud — Amazon, Apple and Microsoft — are all rapidly expanding without adequate regard to the source of electricity, and rely heavily on dirty energy to power their clouds,” Gary Cook, senior IT policy analyst at Greenpeace International, wrote as the first key finding in his report.
–The San Jose Mercury News

EPA issues air pollution rules for fracking
Oil and gas companies will have to capture toxic and climate-altering gases from wells,  storage sites and pipelines under new air quality standards issued by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The rule is the first federal effort to address serious air pollution associated with the natural gas drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which releases toxic and cancer-causing chemicals like benzene and hexane, as well as methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

The standards were proposed last summer in response to complaints from citizens and environmental groups that gases escaping from the 13,000 wells drilled each year by fracking were causing health problems and widespread air pollution. Industry groups said meeting the proposed standards would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and slow the boom in domestic natural gas production.

The original proposal was significantly revised, giving industry more than two years to comply and lowering the cost.
–The New York Times

Senate Ag Committee acting on Farm Bill 
The U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee kicked off the massive undertaking of crafting a new farm bill on Friday (April 20), proposing to overhaul the current subsidy program as part of a broader effort to cut $23 billion in spending.

The U.S. farm law, which covers everything from food stamps and conservation programs to direct payments, expires Sept. 30.

Lawmakers in the Senate are expected to debate and then vote on the 900-page bill beginning Wednesday (April 25) in Washington. Even if the bill passes the Senate Agriculture Committee as expected, it is uncertain if the U.S. House, which has targeted cuts of as much as $33 billion including reduced spending for food stamps, will act this year.

Lawmakers in the House have not said when they will move forward on their bill.
–The Des Moines Register

 Africa’s groundwater mapped
Scientists say the notoriously dry continent of Africa is sitting on a vast reservoir of groundwater.

They argue that the total volume of water in aquifers underground is 100 times the amount found on the surface. The team have produced the most detailed map yet of the scale and potential of this hidden resource.

Writing in the journal Environmental Research Letters, they stress that large scale drilling might not be the best way of increasing water supplies.
–The BBC World Service

‘Saturated buffer’ cuts nitrogen loss 
Directing tile water through a grass buffer can significantly improve drainage water quality. This new conservation drainage practice, called a “saturated buffer,” removes nitrates from subsurface drainage water at low cost – without affecting farm field drainage.

A 1,000-ft. saturated buffer along Bear Creek in Story County, IA, removed 100% of the nitrate N that was diverted into it, says Dan Jaynes, a soil scientist at the USDA National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames. That amounted to 550 lbs. nitrate that never reached Bear Creek.

“We’re more than pleased,” Jaynes says. “The practice was more effective than we expected.” These are the results from the first year in a three-year saturated buffer study by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.
–Corn and Soybean Digest

2011 weather hurt Chesapeake Bay 
Heavy spring rains, a hot summer and two major storms caused the Chesapeake Bay’s overall health to worsen last year, scientists said, though there apparently was a slight improvement in the Baltimore area’s Patapsco and Back rivers, long considered among the bay’s most degraded tributaries.

The beleaguered bay saw its ecological grade slip from a C- in 2010 to D+ last year in an annual report card drawn up by the University of Maryland and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It was the second decline in as many years, with North America’s largest estuary getting its second-worst health score, 38 percent, since scientists began making annual assessments in 1986.
–The Baltimore Sun