Water, science and the environment

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.

Register now to attend Oct. 4 lecture on nitrogen pollution
Food production – the vast gains achieved over the last century, and the still-greater gains needed to feed a growing world population — is dependent on the availability of nitrogen in a chemical form that food grains and other plants can readily use.

Sources of reactive nitrogen
Millions of metric tons of reactive nitrogen entering the U.S. environment each year. Source: Reactive Nitrogen in the United States…A report to the EPA Science Advisory Board.

Paradoxically, the synthetic manufacture and application of nitrogen fertilizer causes significant water and air pollution. Burning fossil fuels releases the same form of nitrogen and causes the same problems for the environment and human health.

A 2011 report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said:

“Excess reactive nitrogen compounds in the environment are associated with many large-scale environmental concerns, including eutrophication of surface waters, toxic algae blooms, hypoxia, acid rain, nitrogen saturation in forests, and global warming. In addition, reactive nitrogen is associated with harmful human health effects caused by air pollution and drinking water contamination.”

On Thursday, Oct. 4, the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences will sponsor a free public lecture on the excess nitrogen issue.

Otto Doering, a Purdue University agricultural economist who chaired the committee of scientists that wrote the 2011 report to the EPA’s Science Advisory Committee, will deliver the lecture. His talk is titled Excess nitrogen: A Confounding Problem for Energy Use, Food Production, the Water We Drink and the Air We Breathe.

Register to attend the lecture. Read a q-and-a interview that Freshwater conducted with Doering. Read a PDF of the 140-page report from the EPA committee he led.

Save the dates: Public meetings on the environment set
Between Nov. 27 and Dec. 14, the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board will hold six meetings around the state to seek comment from citizens on the environment, environmental review and the state’s economy.

In an executive order last November, Gov. Mark Dayton directed the EQB to “evaluate and make recommendations for improved environmental governance and coordination.” Dayton also directed the EQB to prepare an “environmental and energy report card” examining the state’s performance and progress on protecting air, water and land.

In February, the EQB is planning to host an Environmental Congress that will examine that report card and recommend future policy.

As part of that whole process, the EQB has scheduled public-comment sessions in Rochester, Bloomington, Duluth, Worthington, St. Cloud and Moorhead. Learn more about the process and get the schedule of the meetings.

Plant life returns to fire-ravaged area of BWCA
A year ago the Pagami Creek fire roared across a trail to the canoe landing at Isabella Lake, an entry point on the southern edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, as 40 mph wind gusts drove the blaze an unprecedented 10 miles in one day.

Last summer’s fire scorched 145 square miles of forest, mostly in the Boundary Waters area. In the fall, the burn area was filled with charcoal-black trees and soil, but tiny blades of grass had started to poke through the ash.

Today, the trees still stand like black pipes, their exposed roots clawing the ground. But the forest floor is lush and colorful, with moose maple and wild sarsaparilla.

Despite a striking amount of new growth, forest managers have major concerns, among them a huge loss of organic matter and the presence of invasive plants that already are taking root.
–Minnesota Public Radio

An iconic valley, a historic dam, a looming vote
It is one of the oldest environmental battles in the United States, and it involves one of the country’s most famous national parks, one of its most liberal cities, leaders of Silicon Valley and a perennial source of conflict in California: water.

In 1913, Congress approved the construction of a dam and an eight-mile-long reservoir, called Hetch Hetchy, in the northwest corner of Yosemite National Park to supply cheap water to San Francisco.

But the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which submerged a valley that many have likened to Yosemite Valley in its grandeur and is credited with giving birth to the modern environmental movement, has lost none of its power to arouse strong emotions.
In November, San Francisco will vote on a measure that could ultimately lead to the draining and restoration of Hetch Hetchy Valley — and force the city to look elsewhere for most of its water.
–The New York Times

U.S., Canada renew Great Lakes pact
The U.S. and Canada renewed a 40-year-old Great Lakes environmental pact, pledging stepped-up efforts to reduce pollution, cleanse contaminated sites and prevent exotic species invasions.

The updated Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement binds both nations to continue a cleanup and restoration initiative begun when the freshwater seas were a symbol of ecological decay. Many of their beaches were littered with foul algae blooms and dead fish. The Cuyahoga River, which flows into Lake Erie in Cleveland, was so choked with oil and chemicals that flames erupted on its surface in 1969.

The pact calls for further action on problems that inspired the original agreement three years after the embarrassing river fire and a second version in 1987. It pledges to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity” of the five lakes and the portion of the St. Lawrence River on the U.S.-Canadian border.
–The Associated Press

California groups sue to stop Mojave project
Four environmental groups filed a lawsuit  against San Bernardino County and an Orange County water district to challenge a controversial groundwater mining project in the Mojave Desert.

The crux of the lawsuit is the question of which agency should serve as lead on the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project, which would pump 16 billion gallons of groundwater per year from ancient aquifers.

The Center for Biological Diversity, National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club San Gorgonio chapter and the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society contend the county should have led the environmental review of the project, not the Santa Margarita Water District in Mission Viejo, which has signed on as a future buyer of the water from Cadiz Inc.
–The Riverside Press-Enterprise