global warming

Climate, water and food

A warming worldwide climate already has been predicted to significantly cut global production of corn, soybeans, wheat and rice by the end of this century. Now new research suggests food production could be further curtailed by water shortages that would end the irrigation of 50 million to 150 million acres. Read a ScienceDaily  article about the research, published Dec. 16.

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Huttner talk set Oct. 1 on Minnesota’s changing climate

It’s not our imagination. The nature of our seasons is changing.

Spring blooms arrive earlier on average. Summer is more humid with a documented increase in extreme localized flash flood events – and more frequent droughts. Fall lingers longer. Lakes freeze up later. Winters are trending shorter and noticeably, measurably milder. New plants are able to thrive in Minnesota’s milder climate.

We’re all living witnesses to rapid climate changes in our lifetime.  This is no longer your grandparents’ Minnesota.

On Tuesday, Oct. 1, Paul Huttner, Minnesota Public Radio’s chief meteorologist, will explain some of the weather and climate changes we all are experiencing.

The title of his presentation will be “Minnnesota’s Changing Climate: Is This the New Normal?”

The talk will be at 7 p.m. at the Freshwater Society’s Gray Freshwater Center, 2500 Shadywood Road, Excelsior. It is sponsored by the South  Tonka League of Women Voters and the Freshwater Society.

 

 

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Climate imperils fish

Cover of "Swimming Upstream: Freshwater Fish in a Warming WorldClimate change and warming lakes and rivers will produce major changes in freshwater fish populations and their ranges, a new report warns.

Download the 34-page report, “Swimming Upstream: Freshwater Fish in a Warming World.” It was produced by the National Wildlife Federation.

The report makes a series of recommendations, including minimizing other stress factors for native fish such as pollution and invasive species, and setting minimum flow standards for streams that anticipate future heat and drought.

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Read and comment on climate change forecast

A draft National Climate Assessment that predicts the impact of global warming in the U.S. by 2050 was released last week by a huge team of scientists. A Pioneer Press article on the assessment says it predicts that the frequency of heavy rainfalls will increase in Minnesota, “causing erosion and declining water quality and negatively impacting transportation, agriculture, health and infrastructure.” Read and comment on the draft assessment.

 

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How hot was 2012? Hotter than any year in the record book

Last year – 2012 – was the hottest on record in the United States – a full degree Fahrenheit above the previous record, set in 1998. Read a New York Times article that documents a March heat wave and a drought in the Corn Belt that went along with the record warmth.

The Times wrote:

“Scientists said that natural variability almost certainly played a role in last year’s extreme heat and drought. But many of them expressed doubt that such a striking new record would have been set without the backdrop of global warming caused by the human release of greenhouse gases. And they warned that 2012 was probably a foretaste of things to come, as continuing warming makes heat extremes more likely.”

And Australia is going through searing spell of heat, drought and wildfires right now. Read a good Times article on that.

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Arctic sea ice hits new low

The amount of sea ice in the Arctic has fallen to the lowest level on record, a confirmation of the drastic warming in the region and a likely harbinger of larger changes to come.

Satellites tracking the extent of the sea ice found that it covered about 1.58 million square miles, or less than 30 percent of the Arctic Ocean’s surface, scientists said. That is only slightly below the previous record low, set in 2007, but with weeks still to go in the summer melting season, it is clear that the record will be beaten by a wide margin.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center, a government-sponsored research agency in Boulder, Colo., announced the findings in collaboration with NASA. The amount of sea ice in the summer has declined more than 40 percent since satellite tracking began in the late 1970s, a trend that most scientists believe is primarily a consequence of the human release of greenhouse gases.

“It’s hard even for people like me to believe, to see that climate change is actually doing what our worst fears dictated,” said Jennifer A. Francis, a Rutgers University scientist who studies the effect of sea ice on weather patterns. “It’s starting to give me chills, to tell you the truth.”
–The New York Times  

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Ex-skeptic further supports climate change

Richard A. Muller, a University of California, Berkeley, physicist, used to be a prominent scientific skeptic on climate change. Last year, he concluded global warming is real. Now, read a New York Times op-ed in which Muller goes further and says he’s convinced “humans are almost entirely the cause.”

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Beer, Asian carp, manganese and nutria

Each week, the Freshwater Society 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.

Want a beer with that climate talk?
Mark Seeley, a University of Minnesota climatologist and meteorologist, will give a free public lecture — “Weather vs. Climate: A Minnesota Perspective” – Wednesday, Dec. 8, as part of  a new science happy hour series from the university’s  National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics.

The happy hour lecture series is called “A SIP OF SCIENCE.”   It will be held at 5:30 p.m. on the second Wednesday of every month at the Aster Cafe, 125 SE Main St. at St. Anthony Main in Minneapolis.

 The series — free and open to the public – combines food, beer and learning in a happy hour forum that offers the opportunity to talk with researchers about their current work, its implications and its fascinations.

Seeley will touch on such questions as: Are summers in Minnesota really getting more hot and humid? Are we experiencing more frequent thunderstorms than we used to? If so, what does it all mean? How do we put our day-to-day weather experiences into the context of a changing Minnesota Climate?

U.N. climate negotiators gather in Cancun
To hear climate change negotiators describe it, this week’s U.N. global warming summit in Cancun, Mexico, is shaping up like a confab of homebuilders.

 Delegates say they are “laying foundations,” setting up “frameworks” and installing the “building blocks” for a future treaty.

They might also need a bomb shelter. Analysts say a blast is ready to detonate, and it’s called the Kyoto Protocol.

 “It is one of those issues that could blow up in a toxic way,” one British climate diplomat told ClimateWire.

 As negotiators from 192 countries descend on the Latin American city, best known for its sandy, white beaches and spring break nightlife, many delegates still carry the bitterness of last year’s contentious climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. At the same time, participants insist, they spent much of 2010 trying to repair the rifts and are ready to get to work.
–The New York Times

 Manganese rule relaxation rejected
Minnesota will keep, for now, an existing rule imposing limits on manganese in drinking water.

The Minnesota Department of Health was proposing to weaken the rule, but reversed course after receiving public comments.

 One of those comments came from Paula Maccabee at the environmental group Water Legacy.

“We’re very pleased that the Minnesota Health Department has listened to Water Legacy and other citizens of Minnesota, and is keeping in place Minnesota rules that protect children and elderly persons,” Maccabe said. “We think that’s a very positive step.”

 About 30 individuals and public interest groups protested, pointing to a health effects study published in September.

 At small dose, manganese is good for us, but in larger amounts it can harm the nervous system. The Health Department was planning to adopt a looser federal standard, until it could study the problem thoroughly.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Half of household water could be re-used
About 50% of the water used inside U.S. homes can be reused to irrigate landscapes and flush toilets, according to a greywater report released by the Oakland-based Pacific Institute. The Overview of Greywater Reuse examined the application of greywater systems worldwide to determine how the wastewater generated from sinks, baths, showers and clothes washers could be reused to reduce demand for more costly, high-quality drinking water.

 “In California, there are a lot of reasons why we’re looking for new and innovative water sources, including the legal restrictions that are coming to bear on our ability to move water around the state,” said Juliet Christian-Smith, senior research associate at the Oakland-based research institute. “Climactic changes are occurring…. We are looking at a future with less of a natural reservoir in our snow in the Sierras and less water available from the Colorado River system.”
–The Los Angeles Times

Coming to a fur coat near you: Invasive nutria
What’s trendy this holiday season? Invasive species. In New York City, New Orleanians gathered to show off one of their worst—and now, most fashionable—at an event called Nutria Palooza, part of designer Cree McCree’s Righteous Fur campaign. She won a grant from the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program to bring the fur of this semi-aquatic rodent back into vogue, and all the way to Brooklyn.

 Nutria are native to South America. Introduced to Louisiana in the 30s to bolster its fur trade, they’ve become a force that, like a small hurricane, is eating away at the state’s already vanishing coast. While Louisiana’s native counterpart, muskrats, prefer the tips of plants, nutria are larger basal-stem lovers that dig up and kill their forage. As a result, “eat-outs”—patches of open water caused by the rodents—can be seen from the air, amounting to over 8,000 acres of habitat damage in the Barataria-Terrebonne Basin (or even land loss, if the tides wash rootless sediment away). An estimated 20 million nutria swim rampant in this 4.2 million acre estuary between the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers.

 A decade ago, Louisiana spent $2 million trying to convince its citizens that this swamp rat was delectable, but, however nutritious, its meat hasn’t caught on. Now the state’s Nutria Control Program offers a $5 bounty for every tail, and this year proved the program’s most successful: Over 400,000 nutria were culled. But most of those carcasses simply sank, unused, into the brackish. So if you’re going to sport fur, why not consider nutria an option?
–Audubon Magazine

 Invasive medusahead grass threatens rangeland
Burmese pythons in Florida, zebra mussels in the Great Lakes, feral pigs and other mammals in Hawaii: These are just a few of the dozens of stories about animals introduced — accidentally or deliberately — in the U.S. that have ended up playing havoc on regional ecologies and economies.

But invasive species also extend to plant life. Residents of the South are well acquainted with kudzu, the fast-growing and disruptive vine originally intended as livestock feed and for erosion control. Purple loosestrife arrived in New England back in the 1800s as an ornamental plant, but now threatens to clog and dry out great areas of America’s wetlands — while reportedly costing communities across the country about $45 million a year in control efforts.

Here’s yet another invasive plant species, and a particularly nasty one, to add to the list: Medusahead, aka medusa’s head. It’s a Mediterranean grass accidentally brought to the Western U.S. in the 1880s. Researchers at Oregon State University and the Agricultural Research Service have a new report warning that Medusahead is threatening to crowd out native grasslands in the West — to the detriment of both wildlife and livestock.
–Daily Finance

Asian carp heads back to Asia
An Illinois fish processor is sending 44,000 pounds of Asian carp back to Asia as food. A small startup in Pearl, Ill., the Big River Fish Company is just one group that sees Asian carp not as a voracious, invasive species, but as a business opportunity.

 Asian carp can be huge — up to 100 pounds — and they have been feasting on native fish in the Mississippi and Illinois rivers for years. Originally introduced to the United States in the 1970s to eat algae, the carp now threaten the Great Lakes.

But those attempting to market the fish say the tasty white meat is destined for culinary greatness, and some fishermen see the carp as the next frontier in commercial fish production.
–National Public Radio

Putting the (farmed) perch back in fish fries
Three Milwaukee entrepreneurs have launched an experiment in an abandoned crane factory to try to reestablish a fish native to Lake Michigan: perch. The fish was once a stable of the traditional Friday fish fry. But in the 1980s, the perch population in Lake Michigan plunged and by 1996 commercial fishing was banned.
–National Public Radio

Half of household water could be re-used
About 50% of the water used inside U.S. homes can be reused to irrigate landscapes and flush toilets, according to a greywater report released by the Oakland-based Pacific Institute. The Overview of Greywater Reuse examined the application of greywater systems worldwide to determine how the wastewater generated from sinks, baths, showers and clothes washers could be reused to reduce demand for more costly, high-quality drinking water.

 “In California, there are a lot of reasons why we’re looking for new and innovative water sources, including the legal restrictions that are coming to bear on our ability to move water around the state,” said Juliet Christian-Smith, senior research associate at the Oakland-based research institute. “Climactic changes are occurring…. We are looking at a future with less of a natural reservoir in our snow in the Sierras and less water available from the Colorado River system.”
–The Los Angeles Times

Drinking water emergency called in California town
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for San Bernardino County, where the water supply for the city of Barstow was found to be contaminated with a toxic chemical used to make explosives and rocket fuel.

A day earlier, Golden State Water Co. warned residents of the desert town that their drinking water contained high levels of percchlorate,  a contaminant often associated with defense and aerospace activities.

Perchlorate, a type of salt derived from perchloric acid, has been found in drinking water in at least 35 states. It can interfere with iodine uptake in the thyroid gland. The thyroid, which releases hormones, helps with proper development in children and helps regulate metabolism. 

According to the governor’s declaration, more than 40,000 customers were without their normal supply of drinking water, and several restaurants, hotels and other businesses had to close because of the contamination.
–The Los Angeles Times

 Invasive lionfish threatened Florida ecosystem
Crawling through turquoise murk on the ocean floor near Tea Table Key, Rob Pillus glances at a half dozen lobsters that twirl their antennae in the fast-moving current. Mr. Pillus, an avid spear fisherman, would normally stuff the crustaceans into his mesh bag for dinner, but today he is after more exotic quarry: an invasive species called the lionfish that threatens to wreak havoc on this ecologically sensitive marine system.

 Within a few minutes Mr. Pillus spots a lionfish and its extravagant zebra-striped fins on a bridge pylon. He steadies his homemade spear and skewers the fish, slicing off its venomous fins before putting it in his bag. He gives an enthusiastic thumbs-up and keeps moving.
–The New York Times

 Rep. McCollum calls for triclosan ban
U.S. Representative Betty McCollum of Minnesota and two congressional colleagues are calling on the Food and Drug Administration to ban the chemical triclosan, a common ingredient in antibacterial soaps, shampoos, household cleaners and even such products as socks and toys. They’ve asked for a full review of triclosan to be submitted to Congress by April. The co-sponsors are Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York and Raul Grijalva of Arizona.

Dr. David Wallinga, director of the food and health program at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, says that for years the scientific community has expressed concern over triclosan contributing to the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, so-called “superbugs.”

“Bacteria – bugs around us – are actually quite smart, and exposing them to antibacterials or antimicrobial chemicals helps to make them smarter. So putting an antibacterial or antimicrobial like Triclosan out there in the environment and our waterways unnecessarily is just not a good idea at all.”
–public news service

Comments sought on Lake Vermillion park plan
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources invites anyone with an interest in Lake Vermilion and Soudan Underground Mine state parks to attend one of two open houses in December to comment on the parks’ draft master plan.

 The draft master plan, which covers both state parks, includes statements about the types of activities (e.g., hiking, camping, boating) that will be offered, how natural and cultural resources will be protected and interpreted, and suggested locations for major facilities within the parks.

The open houses will be: 

  • Tuesday, Dec. 7, from 5 to 8 p.m., Silverwood Regional Park, 2500 W. County Road E., Fridley.
  • Thursday, Dec. 9, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., Tower Civic Center, 402 Pine St., Tower.

 For an electronic copy of the plan, more information, and a public input questionnaire about the parks’ draft master plan, call the DNR at  651-296-6157, or toll-free 888-646-6367, between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
–DNR News Release

Water security as a national and global issue
The U.S. Geological Survey has issued a new and interesting fact sheet on the importance fresh water plays in national and global security.

 It describes how conflicts over water can occur and can be exacerbated by population increase and economic growth.
–U.S. Geological Survey

 

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Farm tiling called major cause of hypoxia

Each week, the Freshwater Society 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.

Tile drainage main cause of hypoxia, research says
Tile drainage in the Mississippi Basin is one of the great advances of the 19th and 20th centuries, allowing highly productive agriculture in what was once land too wet to farm. In fact, installation of new tile systems continues every year, because it leads to increased crop yields. But a recent study shows that the most heavily tile-drained areas of North America are also the largest contributing source of nitrate to the Gulf of Mexico, leading to seasonal hypoxia. In the summer of 2010 this dead zone in the Gulf spanned over 7,000 square miles. 

Scientists from the University of Illinois and Cornell University compiled information on each county in the Mississippi River basin including crop acreage and yields, fertilizer inputs, atmospheric deposition, number of people, and livestock to calculate all nitrogen inputs and outputs from 1997 to 2006. For 153 watersheds in the basin, they also used measurements of nitrate concentration and flow in streams, which allowed them to develop a statistical model that explained 83 percent of the variation in springtime nitrate flow in the monitored streams. The greatest nitrate loss to streams corresponded to the highly productive, tile-drained cornbelt from southwest Minnesota across Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. 

This area of the basin has extensive row cropping of fertilized corn and soybeans, a flat landscape with tile drainage, and channelized ditches and streams to facilitate drainage. 

“Farmers are not to blame,” said University of Illinois researcher Mark David. “They are using the same amount of nitrogen as they were 30 years ago and getting much higher corn yields, but we have created a very leaky agricultural system. This allows nitrate to move quickly from fields into ditches and on to the Gulf of Mexico. We need policies that reward farmers to help correct the problem.” 

The research is published in the September 2010 issue of the Journal of Environmental Quality published by the American Society of Agronomists.
–Science Daily

 Ethanol plants violate air, water rules
The rush to produce more ethanol and strengthen Minnesota’s farm economy has come with an environmental price for communities hosting the huge plants.

 Five ethanol facilities have been cited in the past 12 months for widespread air and water quality violations. They have paid more than $2.8 million in penalties and corrective actions. Alarmed state pollution control officials are scrambling to help operators understand and comply with laws.

In the most recent penalty, Buffalo Lake Energy in Fairmont will pay $285,000. It’s a new plant that began production in June 2008 with a wastewater treatment system not permitted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).
–The Star Tribune

Asian carp czar talks about battle plan
In an interview with National Public Radio’s Robert Siegel, John Goss, the Obama administration’s “Asian carp czar,” outlined his game plan for keeping the invasive carp out of the Great Lakes. One long-term solution might be a poison that would kill the carp, but not harm humans or other animals.

Scientists may experiment with toxins or genetic engineering, hoping they could alter the carp’s digestive system and/or reproductive system, Goss said.
–National Public Radio

Health Dept. warns consumers on water treatment sales
The Minnesota Department of Health is reminding Minnesota residents to beware of false claims, deceptive sales pitches, and scare tactics being used by some water treatment companies to sell expensive and unnecessary water treatment systems. High profile investigations of groundwater contamination in Washington County and elsewhere in the state have resulted in a noticeable increase in the number of complaints regarding such deceptive sales activities.

In some of the worst instances, the salesperson has implied or said that he is working with the city’s water utility or the state health department. In most cases, the systems are being sold for thousands of dollars more than they would cost if bought through a reputable water treatment company.

Even legitimate water treatment systems can be very expensive and if poorly operated or maintained may have limited effectiveness and, in some cases, make the water quality worse.

If you use city water, it should be safe to drink.
–Minnesota Health Department News Release

 Legislators eye lake development rules
Confusion over regulations critical to lakefront development has led two state senators to consider legislative changes to how Minnesota manages one of its most precious natural resources. 

Court decisions have become so convoluted that laws may need to be fixed, said state Sens. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, and Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji. “I have to ask if we’re being fair to Minnesotans,” Olson said. “The court decisions are very lacking in uniformity.”

 As a result of a recent state Supreme Court ruling, city residents are now forbidden from getting a zoning variance if they still have any “reasonable” existing use for their land. But for those living in unincorporated areas, the same Supreme Court all but guarantees the ability to win a variance. Mix in spotty enforcement with local politics and the result, elected officials, civil servants, landholders and advocates agree, is a morass.
–The Star Tribune 

Zebra  mussels found in Gull Lake
Zebra mussels have invaded Gull Lake, one of the Brainerd area’s more popular lakes.

“It’s really unfortunate,” said Dan Swanson, Department of Natural Resources invasive species specialist. “It’s a premier lake, used by a lot of people for fishing, boating, swimming and other recreation.”

The infestation is a blow to the Brainerd Lakes area and Gull Lake residents, who have tried to prevent the spread of zebra mussels. The impact to infested lakes varies, but the mussels filter vast amounts of water, which can affect water clarity, vegetation growth and thus possibly fisheries. 

“What will happen is unpredictable,” Swanson said.

 The discovery underscores the likelihood that zebra mussels will continue to spread throughout Minnesota’s lakes and rivers, despite efforts to educate boaters to drain their bilges and livewells when leaving lakes. In the past two years, the tiny mussels have been found in some of the state’s bigger and more heavily used lakes, including Mille Lacs, Minnetonka, Prior and Le Homme Dieu, and in parts of the Mississippi, St. Croix and Zumbro rivers.
–The Star Tribune

 State land purchases are controversial
Some northern Minnesota counties worry they’re losing their taxable lands. The state already owns millions of acres that counties can’t tax.

 Now, flush with cash from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, the state is buying up even more land.

 County leaders say it could squeeze their ability to provide services to residents.

 About 30 miles northwest of Bemidji, there’s a small, shallow lake that’s home to loons, eagles and a handful of cabin-dwellers. 

Balm Lake also has a mile-long stretch of undeveloped shoreline, and the DNR wants to buy it. The agency wants to purchase more than 150 acres to protect the sensitive lake from further development.

The DNR would use money from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Fund, which was established after Minnesota voters approved the Legacy Amendment in 2008. 

Last month, Beltrami County leaders objected to the purchase because it removes land from their tax base.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Water Resources Conference set Oct. 19-20
Civil and environmental engineering solutions to wastewater issues, surface water contaminants and aquatic management will be among the topics of the Oct. 19-20 Minnesota Water Resources Conference.

 The conference is sponsored by the University of Minnesota’s Water Resources Center and College of Continuing Education at the Saint Paul RiverCentre, 175 West Kellogg Boulevard, St. Paul.

 Larry B. Barber, a chief geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Central Region Office in Boulder, Colo., will kick off the conference with a talk on the “Effect of Biologically Active Consumer Product Chemicals on Aquatic Ecosystems” at 8:20 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 19.

 Conference topics include emerging contaminants in lakes, rivers and groundwater; technologies such as Minnesota’s Light Detection and Ranging high-resolution mapping project; and best practices in the design and application of filtration, drainage and wastewater systems. 

For registration details, visit wrc.umn.edu or call (612) 625-2900.
–University of Minnesota News Release

 Pollution leaching from old Hubbard County landfill
Under a benign-looking lush green hill in Hubbard County lurks a growing toxic concern.

The 9-acre former Pickett Landfill, which borders the Heartland Trail and is west of County Road 4, is about to become a household word once again. It now is a massive area of groundwater contamination that stretches from 204th Street on the north, then south and east of Ferndale Loop. It once held 93,269 cubic yards of municipal solid waste.

 It opened in 1973 and closed in 1987. Since then state pollution control officials have been monitoring the site for methane gas migration and ground water quality.

 Now, leaching chemicals have reached the point of concentration where public notification is necessary and mandated by law.

Those notices will go out to affected property owners soon.
–The Park Rapids Enterprise

 Climate:  No progress since Copenhagen
With wounds still raw from the chaotic United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen last December, negotiators are making final preparations for next month’s meeting in Cancún, Mexico, in a surly mood and with little hope for progress.

 There is no chance of completing a binding global treaty to reduce emissions of climate-altering gases, few if any heads of state are planning to attend, and there are no major new initiatives on the agenda.

 Copenhagen was crippled by an excess of expectation. Cancún is suffering from the opposite.

 Delegates in Tianjin, China, at the last formal meeting before the Cancún conference opens Nov. 29, are hung up over the same issues that caused the collapse of the Copenhagen meeting. Even some of the baby steps in the weak agreement that emerged from last year’s meeting, a slender document known as the Copenhagen Accord, have been reopened, to the dismay of officials who thought they had been settled.
–The New York Times

 Swackhamer to lecture on water
Nationally recognized freshwater expert and environmental chemist Deborah Swackhamer will deliver the University of Minnesota’s annual Ada Comstock Distinguished Women Scholars Lecture at 4 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 4. The lecture will be at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, Cowles Auditorium, 301 19th Ave. S., Minneapolis.

 Swackhamer’s lecture, “Drop by Drop: Everyday Solutions to Toxic Water,” will address the threats facing our freshwater resources and the achievements we’ve made in turning the tide toward sustainability.

From the loss of natural buffers and filters such as wetlands, to the introduction of endocrines and industry and consumer-induced toxins, the planet’s rivers, lakes, streams and groundwater reserves are under increasing stress. The good news is that concern for our finite water supply is beginning to take center stage in town halls and legislative chambers. Swackhamer will also offer an update on Minnesota’s 25-year plan for a sustainable water future.
–University of Minnesota News Release

Higher rivers suggest global warming
Rainfall is intensifying, rivers are rising and water flow into the ocean is increasing rapidly, a new UC Irvine study shows — a possible “warning sign” of higher sea levels and global warming.

 Satellite and surface measurements over 13 years revealed an 18 percent increase in the flow of water from rivers and melting polar ice sheets into the world’s oceans, according to the study, likely one of the first of its kind, to be published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 “Those are all key indications of what we call water-cycle acceleration,” said Jay Famiglietti, a UC Irvine Earth System Science professor and lead investigator on the study. “That is a very important and anticipated outcome of climate change.”

 Planetary warming includes higher ocean temperatures, which increase evaporation; higher air temperatures drive more evaporation as well, Famiglietti said.

 That means more fuel for monsoons, hurricanes and storms over land.
–The Orange County Register

 White House to get solar panels
Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced plans to install solar panels on the White House roof, kicking off a three-day federal symposium focused on targeting sustainability efforts throughout the federal government.

 “Around the world, the White House is a symbol of freedom and democracy,” Chu told an audience of federal employees. “It should also be a symbol of America’s commitment to a clean energy future.” 

The Department of Energy aims to install solar panels and a solar hot water heater by the end of next spring as part of a demonstration project showcasing the availability and reliability of the country’s solar technologies. In a press release, DOE officials emphasized the growing industry and the availability of tax credits for those who install panels.

The news comes less than a month after environmentalist Bill McKibben led a rally demanding that President Obama install solar panels and presenting White House officials with a solar panel from former President Carter’s White House.
–The New York Times

 Research: Genetically modified corn benefits non-GMO crop
Transgenic corn’s resistance to pests has benefitted even non-transgenic corn, a new study led by scientists from the University of Minnesota shows.

The study, published in the Oct. 8 edition of the journal Science, found that widespread planting of genetically modified Bt corn throughout the Upper Midwest has suppressed populations of the European corn borer, historically one of corn’s primary pests. This areawide suppression has dramatically reduced the estimated $1 billion in annual losses caused by the European corn borer, even on non-genetically modified corn. Bt corn, introduced in 1996, is so named because it has been bred to produce a toxin from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that kills insect pests.

Corn borer moths cannot distinguish between Bt and non-Bt corn, so females lay eggs in both kinds of fields, said the study’s chief author, University of Minnesota entomology professor William Hutchison. Once eggs hatch in Bt corn, young borer larvae feed and die within 24 to 48 hours. Because it is effective at controlling corn borers and other pests, Bt corn has been adopted on about 63 percent of all U.S. corn acres.
-University of Minnesota News Release

L.A. archdiocese pursues sustainability
God created earth and said, “Let there be light.”

 The Archdiocese of Los Angeles created an enviro-friendly committee that says, let’s make sure that light comes from energy-efficient bulbs.

 Hoping to lead its 5 million parishioners toward conservation, the archdiocese this week announced it wants all of its 288 churches to go as green as, well St. Jude’s robe.

“The foundation of our approach to the environment is Gospel-based,” said Tod Tamberg, spokesman for the archdiocese. “The question for us is, `How do the commandments to love God and neighbor find expression in our relationship to the environment?”‘

The newly formed Creation Sustainability Ministry, a committee of community members and environmentalists, has been charged with guiding parishes into sustainability.
–The Los Angeles Daily News

Tennessee gov. opposes mountain-top mining
For the first time a state government has submitted a petition to the federal government to set aside state-owned mountain ridgelines as unsuitable for coal surface mining.

 Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen and the state of Tennessee filed a petition with the Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining, asking that the agency initiate a study and public dialogue on the suitability of state-owned lands in the Northern Cumberland Plateau for surface mining, also called mountaintop removal mining.

 Much of the 500 miles of ridgeline covered by the petition is part of Tennessee’s 2007 Connecting the Cumberlands conservation initiative and is located in Anderson, Campbell, Morgan and Scott counties.

 “These lands are managed by the state of Tennessee for hunting, hiking, wildlife viewing and other outdoor recreational activities,” said Governor Bredesen. “This petition asks the federal government to help us prevent mining on these ridgelines to protect their important cultural, recreational and scientific resources.”
–Environmental News Service

 EPA issues drinking water sustainability plan
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has issued a new Clean Water and Drinking Water Infrastructure Sustainability Policy as part of its efforts to promote sustainable infrastructure within the water sector.

 The Clean Water and Drinking Water Infrastructure Sustainability Policy emphasizes the need to build on existing efforts to promote sustainable water infrastructure, working with states and water systems to employ robust, comprehensive planning processes to deliver projects that are cost effective over their life cycle, resource efficient, and consistent with community sustainability goals. The policy encourages communities to develop sustainable systems that employ effective utility management practices to build and maintain the level of technical, financial, and managerial capacity necessary to ensure long-term sustainability. 

 Download the Clean Water and Drinking Water Infrastructure Sustainability Policy (PDF).
–EPA News Release 

 Red River flood-relief levee welcomes ducks
The fields of soybeans, corn and sugar beets in the Red River valley are crisscrossed by a network of ditches built and rebuilt by farmers and the government to speed spring runoff and plant crops early. 

Early planting makes for a better harvest, but rapid spring runoff increases flooding for cities downstream.

“The trick is to strike that balance,” said Jon Roeschlien, administrator for Bois de Sioux watershed district. “How do we balance [agricultural] drainage and flood protection?”

Roeschlien, who oversaw construction of what’s called the North Ottawa project, thinks he has the answer. 

The permanent levee completed last year surrounds three square miles of farmland about 20 miles south of Breckenridge. Essentially, it’s a shallow man-made lake holds all of the spring runoff from 75 square miles upstream. Gates can release the water slowly after the spring flood passes. 

Roeschlin said the $19 million project in the southern Red River valley is a bargain, given the flood damage it eliminates downstream. It also will create much needed wildlife habitat.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Dubuque launches water sustainability pilot
IBM and the City of Dubuque, Iowa, announced the launch of the Smarter Sustainable Dubuque Water Pilot Study.

  Dubuque is in the process of installing smart water meters throughout the city.  Initially 300 volunteer citizens in Dubuque have joined the program to understand water consumption and conservation.  Over the next several months, data will be collected and analyzed, providing information and insight on consumption trends and patterns that will enable both the volunteers and city management to conserve water and lower costs.

The study’s goal is to demonstrate how informed and engaged citizens can help make their city sustainable. By providing citizens and city officials with an integrated view of water consumption, the project will encourage behavior changes resulting in conservation, cost reduction and leak repair. 

Dubuque has implemented a city-wide water meter upgrade project and has worked with local manufacturer A.Y. McDonald to integrate a device called an Unmeasured Flow Reducer. This locally manufactured device is designed to augment the water meter in providing the most accurate measurement possible during low-flow use. The new system will allow consumers to identify waste and consider corrective measures which will translate into better water utilization and energy savings.
–IBM and City of Dubuque News Release

 

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‘Dead zones’ expand; ag-water conference set

Each week, the Freshwater Society posts a digest of important regiona, national and international articles about water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the works in their entirety where they originally were published.

Ocean ‘dead zones’ spreading
Lower levels of oxygen in the Earth’s oceans, particularly off the United States’ Pacific Northwest coast, could be another sign of fundamental changes linked to global climate change, scientists say.

 They warn that the oceans’ complex undersea ecosystems and fragile food chains could be disrupted.

In some spots off Washington state and Oregon, the almost complete absence of oxygen has left piles of Dungeness crab carcasses littering the ocean floor, killed off 25-year-old sea stars, crippled colonies of sea anemones and produced mats of potentially noxious bacteria that thrive in such conditions.

 Areas of hypoxia, or low oxygen, have long existed in the deep ocean. These areas — in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans — appear to be spreading, however, covering more square miles, creeping toward the surface and in some places, such as the Pacific Northwest, encroaching on the continental shelf within sight of the coastline.
–McClatchy Newspapers

Minnesota summit set on ag and water quality
The Minnesota Division of the Izaak Walton League of America — in partnership with the Freshwater Society — has scheduled  the 2010 Wetlands Summit, Agriculture and Water Summit 2010: Keeping Water on the Land for Conservation and Production.

The conference will be Saturday, March 27, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., at Normandale Community College in Bloomington.

The goal of the conference is to connect farmers, researchers, conservationists, students, and anyone interested in working together to protect  water resources while ensuring productive farms.

The morning session will feature Bruce Wilson and Gary Sands from the University of Minnesota Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering discussing the history of agricultural drainage in Minnesota and current strategies for conserving water in the soil and reducing the flow of nitrogen to surface waters. A panel discussion will feature Warren Formo from the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Coalition; Tim Larson from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency; Tony Thompson, a corn, soybean and native plant farmer from Windom; and Martin Jaus, an organic milk producer.

The keynote speech will be given by Jon Foley, Director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment titled The Other Inconvenient Truth: A Global Challenge for Agriculture and the Environment” addressing the challenges of feeding our growing world population while protecting the land and water resources necessary to sustain the planet.

Aging water mains fail across the U.S.
One recent morning, George S. Hawkins, a long-haired environmentalist who now leads one of the largest and most prominent water and sewer systems, trudged to a street corner here where water was gushing into the air. 

A cold snap had ruptured a major pipe installed the same year the light bulb was invented. Homes near the fashionable Dupont Circle neighborhood were quickly going dry, and Mr. Hawkins, who had recently taken over the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority despite having no experience running a major utility, was responsible for fixing the problem. 

As city employees searched for underground valves, a growing crowd started asking angry questions. Pipes were breaking across town, and fire hydrants weren’t working, they complained. Why couldn’t the city deliver water, one man yelled at Mr. Hawkins.

Such questions are becoming common across the nation as water and sewer systems break down.
— The New York Times

 EPA and Florida at odds over water quality
A political battle is heating up between Florida and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over how best to clean up the state’s polluted waters.

 A lawsuit filed by environmentalists has forced the EPA to begin setting hard numeric limits on nutrient pollution in Florida waters. Those waters exceeding the limits would be considered “impaired,” triggering forced reductions on polluters.

 The environmental groups say they were forced to file the suit in July 2008 because the Florida Department of Environmental Protection had done little to halt the degradation of rivers, lakes, springs and bays. Nutrients, mostly from fertilizers and minimally treated sewage, can trigger algae blooms that are deadly to fish and unhealthy for humans.

“We say that Florida’s economy and environment are linked,” said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation, one of the groups that filed suit. “If we can’t stop the state from degrading our waters now, they’ll just get worse.”

 State environmental officials say they agree numeric criteria are needed for nitrogen and phosphorus, the main nutrients. But they claim EPA’s numbers are too stringent and would require pollution reductions in many rivers and lakes that are in good shape.
–The Tampa Tribune

 Bill aims to halt invasive species by limiting boat ramps
How far should Minnesota go to prevent invasive species such as zebra mussels from getting into more lakes?

Should boaters get a $250 fine for accidentally moving bait bucket water from one lake to another? Should there be a moratorium on new public lake accesses? Should the penalty for transporting a lake weed be the same as poaching a deer? 

As unwanted aquatic critters such as zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil and spiny waterfleas infest more Minnesota waters each year, the public cry to stop the spread is getting louder.

To date, the Department of Natural Resources has relied on boat inspections, stiffer laws and public information to try to slow the spread of lake pests. 

Now the problem hits upon a bigger societal question: Who gets to use Minnesota’s lakes?

“If your only solution is to ban access, you’re giving unfair access to people who own lakeshore access,” said Shawn Kellett, a member of the group Anglers for Habitat. 

Kellett is referring to new legislative proposals ordering the Minnesota DNR to stop developing new public accesses at lakes where no access currently exists. The moratorium would exist for the next five years until the agency develops better ways to control aquatic species.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Water systems sue over Atrazine
A group of public water systems in Missouri and Kansas are part of a federal lawsuit filed in Illinois by 16 water systems against the leading maker of a popular farm herbicide.

 The lawsuit seeks at least $5 million from Syngenta Crop Protection, Greensboro, N.C., and its parent, Syngenta, AG, Basel, Switzerland, in damages and to pay for the costs to treat water laced with atrazine.

Cameron, Mo., northeast of Kansas City; and Concordia, Mo., east of Kansas City; Miami County Rural Water District No. 2, Spring Hill, Kan., just southwest of Kansas City; and the city of Carbondale, Kan., about 60 miles southwest of Kansas City, are among the group of cities and water districts in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Illiniois, Indiana and Ohio involved. 

The group’s attorney is seeking to make the lawsuit a class-action suit on behalf of other cities and water systems. 

Syngenta is a major manufacturer of the herbicide atrazine, short for 2-chloro-4-ethylamino-6-isopropyl amino-s-triazine.
–The KC Tribune  

Climate change stressing  birds
Changes in the global climate are imposing additional stress on hundreds of species of migratory birds in the United States that are already threatened by other environmental factors, according to a new Interior Department report. 

The latest version of the department’s annual State of the Birds Report shows that nearly a third of the nation’s 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or suffering from population decline. 

For the first time, the report adds climate change to other factors threatening bird populations, including destruction of habitat, hunting, pesticides, invasive species and loss of wetlands.
–The New York Times 

Judge blocks St. Croix bridge
For the second time, a U.S. district judge in Minneapolis has blocked plans for a St. Croix River bridge south of Stillwater. 

Chief Judge Michael Davis ruled in favor of the Sierra Club in its lawsuit to prevent construction of the bridge. 

“It’s not a win for us. It’s a win for the river,” said St. Croix Valley Sierra Club spokesman Jim Rickard. 

In a 93-page decision, Davis found that the National Park Service’s approval of the bridge plans violated federal law.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

International scientists to review climate change research
A group of top scientists from around the world will review the research and management practices of the United Nations climate change panel so that it can try to avoid the kinds of errors that have brought its work into question in recent months, officials said.

 Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the United Nations, said that the InterAcademy Council, a consortium of the world’s most prestigious scientific societies, would name scientists to take a thorough look at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

 The panel has come under sharp attack after revelations of several mistakes in its most recent report, published in 2007, including a poorly sourced and exaggerated account of how quickly the Himalayan glaciers are melting.

 Scientists and officials say that the panel’s finding that the earth is warming — probably as a result of human activity — remains indisputable. But critics have used the errors to raise doubts about the credibility of the entire 3,000-page study.
–The New York Times 

Huge ethanol producer to cut water use 22%
Poet, the world’s largest producer of ethanol, says it can do the world one better and embarked on an ambitious initiative called Ingreenuity that first seeks to reduce its water consumption by 22 percent.

 The company wants to squeeze water use at its 26 processing plants by a billion gallons – and wants to reach that goal by 2014.

“We’ve had a 20 percent increase in ethanol yields since our inception, but we’re not done yet. We’re not satisfied,” Poet President and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Broin told employees at the company’s Sioux Falls headquarters. “This is how we’re going to define our sustainability as we go forward. More importantly, it’s the right thing to do – it’s the right thing for our planet, and it’s the right thing for future generations.” 

If successful, Ingreenuity would reduce Poet’s water use per gallon of ethanol produced from the current average of 3 gallons to 2.33, or a 22 percent reduction. When it started producing ethanol in 1987, Poet used 17 gallons of water to create 1 gallon of ethanol.
–The Argus Leader

Anoka County aquifers could drop
There’s a fervor to Jamie Schurbon’s voice as he warns of a coming crisis few can see. 

If Metropolitan Council population projections come true, increased water use in urban parts of the metro area will lead to significantly lowered aquifer levels, to the detriment of lakes, ponds and even some shallower private wells. 

Schurbon, a water resource specialist with the Anoka Conservation District, hopes information being gathered now will give water a more prominent place at the table as development resumes in the county after being interrupted by the recession.
–The Star Tribune 

Judge blasts North Dakota water pipeline
A federal judge has issued a harsh rebuke to the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation, ordering the agency to conduct more studies on the potential environmental impact of a project to divert water from the Missouri River to a large swath of North Dakota. 

 The Northwest Area Water Supply Project would carry water from Lake Sakakawea, a Missouri River reservoir in central North Dakota, to the city of Minot, N.D., where it would be distributed to 10 counties. Most of the planned 45-mile pipeline has already been finished. 

In her opinion in Manitoba v. Salazar, Judge Rosemary Collyer of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of the Canadian province, which claimed in a 2002 lawsuit that the agency failed to take the necessary “hard look” at the project’s environmental impact as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
–The New York Times

 Sierra Club’s Edgar Wabum dies at 103
Edgar Wayburn, a physician who joined the Sierra Club to take a burro trip and then went on to become a major figure in the conservation movement, leading campaigns that preserved more than 100 million wild acres, died at his home in San Francisco. He was 103.

 In announcing his death, Sierra Club called Dr. Wayburn “the 20th-century John Muir,” referring to its founder, who preserved the Yosemite Valley.

When President Bill Clinton awarded Dr. Wayburn the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999, he said Dr. Wayburn had “saved more of our wilderness than any other person alive.”

Dr. Wayburn had central roles in protecting 104 million acres of Alaskan wilderness; establishing and enlarging Redwood National Park and Point Reyes National Seashore in California; and starting the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in and around San Francisco.
–The New York Times

 Iron, fluoride threaten India’s aquifers
Ground water in more than a third of Indian districts is not fit for drinking. The government, in reply to a parliamentary question, admitted that iron levels in ground water are higher than those prescribed in 254 districts while fluoride levels have breached the safe level in 224 districts.

The alarming situation could bring trouble for the government, which has promised to provide drinking water to all habitations by 2012 under the millennium development goals.

While ground water is not the only source of drinking water that government utilises, it is one of the key supplies and the dependence on ground water has been increasing over years.

The government, in its reply, said salinity had risen beyond tolerance levels in 162 districts while arsenic levels were found higher than permissible limits in 34 districts.
–The Times of India

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