Scott County's Credit River off 'impaired' list

Scott County’s Credit River gets cleaner 
John Hensel, who oversees all of the metro area’s watersheds for the state of Minnesota, had brought a camera along to remember this by. On the riverbank he peered down into the flashing current and said, “It looks spring-fed!”

Apparently it didn’t look quite that clear a few years ago.

The Credit River in Scott County for years has been listed as one of Minnesota’s thousands of polluted bodies of water. But now, it is one of a handful to be removed from that list — to be credited, so to speak, as unimpaired.

There are more theories than absolute surefire answers as to why it’s in so much better shape, experts say. But what is known for sure is that people all along its length — often just stray citizens — worked in a host of ways to counteract what could have been causing the problem.
–The Star Tribune

Conservation groups praise Farm Bill votes
Conservation groups across the country are applauding the Senate Agriculture Committee for its decision to maintain a strong conservation component in the 2012 farm bill.

The bill passed out of committee with bipartisan support, but the timing for a full vote on the Senate floor is uncertain.

Besides the Conservation Reserve Program, the farm bill includes a conservation easement program with a strong wetland component, a regional partnership program aimed at improving water quality and a Sodsaver provision.

Sodsaver aims to protect native grasslands by reducing federal support on any new cropland acres put into production as a result of breaking grassland with no previous cropping history.
–The Grand Forks Herald

Research looks at organic ag’s potential
Can organic agriculture feed the world?   Although organic techniques may not be able to do the job alone, they do have an important role to play in feeding a growing global population while minimizing environmental damage, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and McGill University.

A new study published in Nature concludes that crop yields from organic farming are generally lower than from conventional agriculture. That is particularly true for cereals, which are staples of the human diet – yet the yield gap is much less significant for certain crops, and under certain growing conditions, according to the researchers.

The study, which represents a comprehensive analysis of the current scientific literature on organic-to-conventional yield comparisons, aims to shed light on the often-heated debate over organic versus conventional farming.

Some people point to conventional agriculture as a big environmental threat that undercuts biodiversity and water resources, while releasing greenhouse gases. Others argue that large-scale organic farming would take up more land and make food unaffordable for most of the world’s poor and hungry.

“To achieve sustainable food security we will likely need many different techniques – including organic, conventional, and possible ‘hybrid’ systems – to produce more food at affordable prices, ensure livelihoods to farmers, and reduce the environmental costs of agriculture,” the researchers conclude.

Overall, organic yields are 25% lower than conventional, the study finds. The difference varies widely across crop types and species, however. Yields of legumes and perennials (such as soybeans and fruits), for example, are much closer to those of conventional crops, according to the study, conducted by doctoral student Verena Seufert and Geography professor Navin Ramankutty of McGill and Prof. Jonathan Foley, director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.
–University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment News Release

Climate change moving Corn Belt north 
Researchers have found that climate change is likely to have far greater influence on the volatility of corn prices over the next three decades than factors that recently have been blamed for price swings — like oil prices, trade policies and government biofuel mandates.

The new study, published  in the journal Nature Climate Change, suggests that unless farmers develop more heat-tolerant corn varieties or gradually move corn production from the United States into Canada, frequent heat waves will cause sharp price spikes.

Noah S. Diffenbaugh, a climate scientist at Stanford and an author of the study, said he was surprised by the notable effect of climate change on price volatility for corn, the country’s largest crop. “I really thought climate would be a minor player before we did this analysis,” Professor Diffenbaugh said.
–The New York Times

MPCA approves BWCA haze rules 
The Citizens Board of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency approved a plan to reduce haze in Voyaguers National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The plan is required by the federal government, which wants states to clean up the air in the nation’s biggest natural areas. The haze in Minnesota’s northern wilderness areas is the result of a complex and ever-changing mix of pollutants. But the MPCA is focusing on taconite plants and coal-fired power plants which have — up to now — escaped other pollution regulations.

In March, the MPCA staff presented a plan to the citizens’ board that would reduce emissions. Cliffs Natural Resources said it would have trouble meeting the standards assigned to its plants in Hibbing and Eveleth. The citizens’ board told its staff to negotiate with the company. The result is a new plan, which gives the company more flexibility and less stringent standards.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Asian carp forum set in Stillwater 
With news coming out that another invasive Bighead carp was caught near Prescott in the St. Croix River, a public forum to discuss the issue will be held May 16 in Stillwater.

The St. Croix River Association is sponsoring a public forum from 7-9 p.m. on Wednesday, May 16 at the Water Street Inn for river users to learn more about the carp, what the invasive fish could mean for the St. Croix and what can be done to control their spread.
–Stillwater Patch

USGS: Look to cancer model to fight invasives 
Lessons learned from the medical community’s progress in fighting cancer can provide a framework to help prevent the introduction and spread of  harmful aquatic invasive species, according to a study released in American Scientist.

With more than 6,500 harmful non-native species causing more than 100 billion dollars in economic damage each year in the United States, more effective methods of confronting them are essential.

In the study, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center outline five integrated steps used in cancer prevention and treatment that could be adapted to use in battling invasive species: prevention, early detection, diagnosis, treatment options and rehabilitation.
–USGS News Release

EPA faces decision on 2,4-D-resistant corn
To Jody Herr, it was a telltale sign that one of his tomato fields had been poisoned by 2,4-D, the powerful herbicide that was an ingredient in Agent Orange, the Vietnam War defoliant.

“The leaves had curled and the plants were kind of twisting rather than growing straight,” Mr. Herr said of the 2009 incident on his vegetable farm in Lowell, Ind.

He is convinced the chemical, as well as another herbicide called dicamba, had wafted through the air from farms nearly two miles away. Mr. Herr recalled the incident because he is concerned that the Dow Chemical company is on the verge of winning regulatory approval for corn that is genetically engineered to be immune to 2,4-D, allowing farmers to spray the chemical to kill weeds without harming the corn stalks.

That would be a welcome development for corn farmers like Brooks Hurst of Tarkio, Mo., who are coping with runaway weeds that can no longer be controlled by Roundup, the herbicide of choice for the last decade. But some consumer and environmental groups oppose approval of Dow’s corn, saying it will lead to a huge increase in the use of 2,4-D, which they say may cause cancer, hormone disruption and other health problems.
 –The New York Times

USDA planning water-quality credit trades 
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Office of Environmental Markets (OEM) is developing a nationwide network of water quality trading (WQT) programs, slated to become operational in September.

It will consist primarily of projects that earn a share of up to $10 million in targeted Conservation Innovation Grants that the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service will award that same month.

Roughly 25 programs are currently under review, and grant recipients will be announced in July.
–Ecosystem Marketplace

Twin Cities air gets worse
For the first time in nearly two decades, air in the Twin Cities is dirty enough that it might violate federal health standards, the American Lung Association said in an analysis.

That could lead to more health problems for Twin Cities residents and more hospitalizations for heart attacks, asthma and other lung disorders that can be triggered by the higher amounts of microscopic particles such as soot from leaf blowers, generators, diesel trucks, auto shops, light industry and, most of all, cars.

Ramsey County, one of seven counties tracked for particulate matter, got an F for the first time since the Lung Association began compiling the annual report. Air monitors there measured dangerously high levels of particulate matter 10 times between 2008 and 2010. Hennepin and other metro counties fared about the same as last year, but those counties also experienced several days with high levels of particulate matter in the air.

State pollution officials said that air quality in the Twin Cities metro has been declining for some time and that this summer it could routinely reach levels considered unhealthy by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
–The Star Tribune

Anoka County well testing set May 7-11 
The thirteenth annual Well Water Wise (3W) week promotion will be held on May 7-11 to encourage residents to check the safety of their private (home or cabin) well.

The Anoka County Community Health and Environmental Services Department, in cooperation with 13 municipalities, sponsors the 3W program to provide testing services to residents throughout the year. County residents may pick up a well water test kit at participating city and township offices or in the county’s Environmental Services office, Suite 360, of the Anoka County Government Center, 2100 Third Avenue in Anoka.

The well water testing kit includes water collection and submission instructions. Water samples can be submitted to the county’s Environmental Services office of analysis every Monday from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. and Tuesday from 8 a.m. to noon.

A laboratory fee of $30.00 will be charged for bacteria and nitrate-nitrogen analysis.

During Well Water Wise Week 2012: the Environmental Services office will accept samples Monday, May 7 to Thursday, May 10 from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. On Friday, May 11 samples will be accepted from 8 a.m. to noon.

Washington County nitrate tests set
Washington County, in partnership with the Washington Conservation District and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, will offer a free nitrate water-testing clinic 4-7 p.m., Tuesday, June 5, at Scandia City Hall.

Nitrates are the most common contaminants in Minnesota’s groundwater. Experts recommend that private well owners who get their drinking water from wells should test their water regularly.

To participate in the testing, collect at least one-half cup of water in a clean plastic or glass container. Run the water for 5-10 minutes before filling the container. Do this within 24 hours of the clinic and keep it refrigerated. Homeowners with water treatment equipment (other than a softener) should take two water samples – one before and one after the treatment process. This will determine if the system is working.

Label the container with name, phone number, if the sample is before or after a treatment system, and a well identification number if more than one well is sampled. Samples will be analyzed on the spot – the process usually takes less than five minutes – and results will be given directly to the homeowner. For questions about the clinic or how to take a water sample, contact Wendy Griffin at 651-275-1136, Ext. 24.
–Forest Lake Times