Feeding a planet, fighting pollution

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.

Feeding a planet, fighting pollution
Can we have enough to eat and a healthy environment, too? Yes—if we’re smart about it, suggests a study published in Nature by a team of researchers from the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and McGill University in Montreal. The research predicts that strategic use of fertilizers and water can dramatically increase crop yields worldwide, while reducing some of the water pollution and other environmental damage that agriculture currently causes.

Read the University of Minnesota news release on the research. Read the abstract of the article in Nature.

Wild rice research crucial to mining decision
In canning jars, cattle troughs and 100 lakes across Minnesota, scientists are working at breakneck speed to unravel the relationship between the state’s iconic wild rice plant and something called sulfate.

As wild rice enthusiasts in canoes harvest this year’s crop across the Northland, researchers are looking to see how much sulfate is too much for wild rice. The results will help determine whether the state should relax its longstanding limit on sulfate for lakes and rivers where rice grows.

The sulfate limit may help plot the future of the state’s mining industry — both for planned expansions of taconite mining and processing and development of one of the world’s largest deposits of copper and nickel.
–The Duluth News Tribune

MnDOT, contractor fined for pollution 
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has penalized the Minnesota Department of Transportation and its contractor for construction stormwater violations along 18 highway miles in Koochiching County.

MnDOT, the state agency responsible for operating and maintaining highways and transportation infrastructure, was the owner of the Trunk Highway 11 project.

Construction work included widening, realigning, and resurfacing the highway and adding bridges and culverts in the section between Frontier and Indus, Minn. Northstar Materials Inc., (doing business as Knife River Materials) a Bemidji-based construction contractor, was hired to perform general contractor duties for the project.

After receiving a complaint about possible stormwater violations in September 2010, MPCA staff conducted five site inspections.

Agency inspectors determined the regulated parties had committed violations of their state construction stormwater permit that regulates discharges to state waterways. The construction site is parallel to, and within one mile of, the Rainy River. It also has three streams and 70 unnamed drainages flowing through it.

The violations included discharging excessive amounts of construction-related sediment to surface waters, failing to have or implement a required stormwater pollution prevention plan, and, failing to implement appropriate erosion- and sediment-control best management practices across the site.
–MPCA News Release

Hurricane reverses Mississippi’s flow 
Strong winds and storm surge from Hurricane Isaac’s landfall forced the Mississippi River to flow backwards for nearly 24 hours on August 28.

The USGS stream gauge at Belle Chasse, La., showed the Mississippi River flowing upstream at 182,000 cubic feet per second, surging to 10 feet above its previous height. Average flow for the Mississippi River at Belle Chase is about 125,000 cfs towards the Gulf of Mexico.

Although it doesn’t happen often, hurricanes can cause coastal rivers to reverse flow. Between the extremely strong winds and the massive waves of water pushed by those winds, rivers at regular or low flow are forced backwards until either the normal river-flow or the elevation of the land stop the inflow.
–USGS News Release

Residents frustrated by invasives’ spread 
After a summer of watching invasive species spread to more lakes, Minnesota lake property owners worry the Department of Natural Resources and local governments are not doing enough to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species.

About 100 people packed a meeting in Detroit Lakes to express their frustration with how the inspections are going and what to do next.

Some people challenged the DNR to do more. Others called for more state spending and tougher laws to slow the spread of invasive species. Some challenged state officials, local government and lake residents to work together and pool resources.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Wasting food wastes water 
World Water Week — an annual conference in Stockholm dedicated to discussing the management of global water resources—opened with a message about cleaning your plate. Food waste, according to experts at the conference, accounts for significant water waste.

A third to a half of all food grown globally either sits untouched on our plates or rots before it even gets there.

A new report from the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) states that 40 percent of food purchased in the U.S. is thrown away.
–National Geographic

Disney suspected in water pollution 
Federal and state regulators are investigating whether a vintage air conditioning system at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank played a role in contaminating groundwater with chromium 6, a cancer-causing heavy metal widely used in aerospace manufacturing and other industries.

A consultant hired by the Environmental Protection Agency recently identified the Disney property among a list of facilities being “investigated as potential sources of chromium contamination in groundwater,” according to an April 2012 report recently posted on the agency’s website.

Authorities have long been aware of chromium 6 contamination in San Fernando Valley groundwater and have already identified a number of companies responsible for contamination, including aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin Corp. Lockheed paid $60 million to settle claims with roughly 1,300 residents in 1996 alleging that exposure to chromium 6 and other toxins at its former aircraft manufacturing plant left them with cancer and other maladies.
–The Los Angeles Times