A report card and good news on the Minnesota R.

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.

Minnesota environment gets a report card
Walleye and cisco populations are down. Lake trout and brown trout are up. Over the last decade, a fourth of the Minnesota lakes and streams tested for water clarity have gotten better. Nine percent of those water bodies are murkier than they were 10 years ago.

And, even as scientists get around to testing more and more of the state’s surface waters, the share of them that remain too polluted for fishing and swimming or too polluted to support healthy aquatic life remains stubbornly high: 40 percent.

Those are some of the facts in a draft Minnesota Environment and Energy Report Card presented to the Environmental Quality Board. Read the draft report card, which was commissioned by Gov. Mark Dayton. Learn more about the report card and a series of public meetings around the state being held to solicit citizen comments on the report. The meetings begin Nov. 27 in Rochester.

Forum set Dec. 13 on Red River, Lake Winnipeg
Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba receives water draining from four Canadian provinces and for U.S. states, including Minnesota. The lake – the world’s 10th largest – faces serious environmental challenges. Those challenges include algal blooms and depleted oxygen levels resulting from farm fertilizers and other nutrients, invasive species competing with native plants and animals, contamination by new or newly worrisome chemicals of many kinds and the effects of climate change.

Minnesota water bodies in the Red River Basin, including the north-flowing Red River, face the same challenges.
On Thursday, Dec. 13, the Consulate General of Canada will sponsor a free, public forum on the threats facing all those waters and on the work being done – and still needing to be done – to protect them.

The forum at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute is intended for scientists, teachers, students, policy-makers, public officials and anyone interested in learning about the health of the Red River Basin and the Lake Winnipeg Watershed.

The forum, which will run from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., is free and open to the public, but registration is required. Learn more and register. Get directions to the Humphrey Institute.

Phosphorus pollution drops in Minnesota River
Water quality in the last 20 miles of the Minnesota River has improved markedly over the last decade, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced. The improvement in the amount of oxygen dissolved in the water, a key indicator of the river’s ability to support plant, fish and other organisms, is largely the result of tens of millions of dollars spent to reduce phosphorus discharged into the river by sewage treatment plants. Read Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio reports on the MPCA’s announcement of the results of a new round of tests on the river.  Read a Pioneer Press op-ed column by MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine on the new phosphorus results for the river

U of M provides tool for estimating water’s value
If you’ve eaten fish, gone for a boat ride or even taken a drink from the tap, you know clean water is a valuable commodity. But just how valuable? That’s always been a tough question for policy makers to answer as they weigh the worth of clean water against societal needs that compromise it, such as the need to grow food or produce fossil fuels.

Now, however, their ability to do so has been greatly enhanced by a new policy-making framework developed by a team of scientists led by Bonnie Keeler, research associate at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.

The framework, published in the Nov. 6 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides a tool for assessing and valuing the many services clean water provides –  from recreation and beauty to navigation and hydropower – and incorporating them into policy decisions.

“After repeated requests for information on the value of water quality, we realized that there was a huge gap between the demand for economic values of water quality and our ability to provide tools to estimate those values. This gap limits our ability to make informed decisions,” Keeler said. “We provide a framework that describes the numerous pathways in which changes in water quality affect our health, recreation and livelihoods and the economic value of those changes. This yields a far more accurate picture of the costs and benefits of decisions.”
–University of Minnesota News Release

EPA criticizes Iowa on livestock pollution
In a draft report, the federal EPA accuses the Iowa Department of Natural Resources of going too easy on livestock feedlots that pollute waters. The EPA said it might step in and take over from the state the responsibility for enforcing the federal Clean Water Act. Read a Des Moines Register report on the EPA’s findings.