Forest fires, a special grazing rule and Mojave water

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.

Forest Service changes let-it-burn policy
The U.S. Forest Service is temporarily shelving its let-it-burn policy toward forest fires. Read Duluth News Tribune environmental writer John Myers’ article on the change. Myers reports the renewed commitment to fighting small fires in remote areas is intended to conserve firefighters, money and aircraft and keep them available to fight fires near populated areas rather than battling wilderness blazes that start small and grow out of control.

Haying, grazing OK’d on conservation land in 70 counties
Farmers and ranchers in 70 Minnesota counties are now free to graze animals or harvest hay from land they own that is covered by Reinvest In Minnesota conservation easements.

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources made the announcement Aug. 2 in response to drought in significant parts of the state.

Permission for the haying and grazing extends only until Sept. 30, and the BWSR action requires farmers and ranchers to maintain at least half of each easement in cover for wildlife. Stream banks and wetland basins are excluded from the relaxation of the normal rules.

Some land covered by RIM easements also are enrolled in federal conservation programs. In those cases, federal rules apply.

Read the BWSR news release. View a U.S. Department of Agriculture state-by-state list that identifies the 70 affected counties in Minnesota.

Massive Mojave water diversion inches forward
One of the West’s most ambitious private water marketing proposals has taken a step forward with the environmental approval of Cadiz Inc.’s plans to sell massive amounts of Mojave Desert groundwater to Southern California.

The board of the Santa Margarita Water District, which serves 155,000 customers in south Orange County, voted 5 to 0 to sign off on the project’s environmental impact report under state law. The board also agreed to buy one-tenth of the project’s proposed annual yield.

The actions are a boost for Cadiz, whose owner, British-born entrepreneur Keith Brackpool, has been trying for 15 years to make money off the aquifer that lies beneath his desert holdings 200 miles east of Los Angeles.

But Cadiz has many more hoops to jump through before Brackpool’s dream becomes a reality. The project, with a preliminary price tag of $225 milion to $275 million, lacks financing. It faces legal challenges and the possibility that it may still have to win approval from the federal government.
–The Los Angeles Times

U.S. approves water pipeline for Las Vegas
Federal regulators have signed off on a plan to pipe groundwater to Las Vegas from across eastern Nevada, but they left out a valley on the Utah border where the project has met stiff resistance.

After roughly seven years of review, U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials are recommending access across federal land for water pipes and power lines extending roughly 300 miles from Las Vegas to Spring Valley in White Pine County.

But the Southern Nevada Water Authority would not be allowed to extend its multibillion-dollar pipeline into neighboring Snake Valley under the preferred alternative as part of BLM’s review of the project.
–Las Vegas Review-Journal

Judge: EPA over-stepped authority on mining
Dealing another blow to the Obama administration’s crackdown on mountaintop removal, a federal judge threw out new federal guidance that aimed to reduce water pollution from Appalachian coal mining operations.

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency overstepped its authority under federal water protection and strip mining laws when it issued the water quality guidance.

Walton also found that EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson “infringed on the authority” of state regulators to govern their own pollution permit and water quality standard programs.

The guidance in question aimed for tougher permit application reviews, including more detailed studies of whether mining impacts can be avoided or reduced, new testing of potential toxic impacts of mining discharges, and recommended limits on increases in pollution-related electrical conductivity, a crucial measure of water quality.
–The Charleston Gazette

N.C. suit alleges pollution by pork farm
The North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, Waterkeeper Alliance and Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation have filed a lawsuit in federal district court against a North Carolina hog farm and its owners alleging water pollution of the Neuse and Trent rivers.

The lawsuit asserts that Taylor Finishing, Inc, Trenton, NC, and its owner are in violation of the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, by illegally disposing of animal waste into creeks, rivers, ditches and lands surrounding the facility.

According to the lawsuit, analyses of water samples taken from around the facility from 2008 to the present reveal unacceptably high levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and fecal coliform.
–Pork magazine

DNR, conservation groups sign prairie pact
A coalition of conservation groups and agencies, including the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, took a significant step forward in the protection, restoration and enhancement of the state’s prairies, restored grasslands and prairie pothole wetlands.

They signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work together for the benefit of prairie landscapes under a document called the Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan.

The document outlines a 25-year strategy to protect the state’s remaining 235,000 acres of native prairie; restore and conserve and grasslands and wetlands; to connect and buffer prairies and wetlands; and enhance prairies and grasslands through prescribed burns and livestock grazing.

DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr signed the MOU along with representatives from: Ducks Unlimited, Audubon Minnesota, Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, Minnesota Prairie Chicken Society, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Pheasants Forever, The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
–DNR News Release