The Minnesota Legislature this year enacted a package of law changes directing the Pollution Control Agency and the Board of Water and Soil Resources to be more specific and targeted in the ways the agencies identify polluted waters and spend state money to clean them up. Read a Pioneer Press op-ed column by state Sen. John Hoffman, DFL-Champlin, one of the authors of the legislation dubbed the Clean Water Accountability Act.
Don’t miss registering your comments on the Minnesota Clean Water Council’s recommendations for how the Legislature should divide up $185 million for water projects and programs over the next two fiscal years.
The money comes from the Clean Water Fund, supported by the sales tax increase that Minnesota voters approved in a 2008 constitutional amendment.
You can comment on the spending any time until the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton agree on appropriations next spring. But Friday, Sept. 28, is the deadline the 19-member Clean Water Council set for public on-line comment on its still-tentative recommendations.
Examine the draft recommendations made by a council committee, and compare what the committee proposed spending vs. the spending sought by state agencies. Comment on those 64 recommendations and on budgeting principles in the council’s on-line survey. Read an earlier Freshwater blog posting about the opportunity for comment.
After you have made your comments, respond to this blog and tell us what you think the priorities should be for that $185 million.
Report issued on Clean Water Fund spending
A number of Minnesota state agencies that receive Clean Water Fund appropriations have released a new report tracking how the money was spent in 2010 and 2011.
A news release from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which led the inter-agency review, says the report found:
- For every state dollar invested in implementation activities such as improvements to municipal sewage plants and buffers to control agricultural runoff, an additional $1.45 was leveraged through local and federal partnerships.
- Although the pace of activities to restore polluted lakes and streams is being accelerated by Clean Water Funds, requests for clean-up funds are about three times greater than what is available.
- Drinking water protection efforts are on track, but there is a growing concern about nitrate levels in new wells and in certain vulnerable aquifers.
Read the full 48-page report. Read a shorter report-card-type summary. Read a Star Tribune article, based on a Conservation Minnesota analysis of spending from the 2008 Legacy Amendment, that suggests some spending violated a constitutional requirement that Legacy spending supplement, not substitute for, traditional spending. Read a MinnPost account of the same analysis.
Low-level contamination found in groundwater
A new study finds Minnesota groundwater is contaminated with low levels of chemicals, but the chemicals are not as widespread in groundwater as they are in lakes and streams.
This is the first study to examine groundwater across the state for “chemicals of emerging concern.” Researchers tested 40 shallow wells around the state for 92 contaminants. They found 20 different contaminants. One or more chemicals were found in about one-third of the sampled wells.
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency scientist Sharon Kroening said the chemicals come from products like plastics, medications, detergents, insect repellents and fire retardants.
“The ones that we found most commonly in this round of sampling was a fire retardant, tris dichloroisopropyl phosphate, an antibiotic, sulfamethoxazole, and two plasticizers, one that’s pretty well known called bisphenol A, and another one called tributyl phosphate,” Kroening said.
The most chemicals were found at wells near landfills. Researchers also found a higher incidence of chemicals in wells near residential areas with septic systems.
–Minnesota Public Radio
Research: Driveway sealants a big air pollution source
Coal-tar-based sealants are emitting polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) into the air at rates that may be greater than annual emissions from vehicles in the United States, according to new reports by the U.S. Geological Survey, published in the scientific journals Chemosphere and Atmospheric Environment.
Children living near coal-tar-sealed pavement are exposed to twice as many PAHs from ingestion of contaminated house dust than from food, according to a separate new study by Baylor University and the USGS, published in the journal Environmental Pollution.
Several PAHs are probable human carcinogens and many are toxic to fish and other aquatic life. These results and those of previous research on environmental contamination and coal-tar-based pavement sealants are summarized in a feature article appearing today in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. The article is jointly authored by researchers with the USGS, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, University of New Hampshire, City of Austin Texas, and Baylor University.
Links to the four new articles on this topic can be found on the USGS website on PAHs and sealcoat. Coal-tar-based sealant is the black liquid sprayed or painted on many parking lots, driveways, and playgrounds. An estimated 85 million gallons are used each year, primarily in the central and eastern U.S.
Coal tar is known to cause cancer in humans and is made up of more than 50 percent PAHs. “The value of this research is that it identifies the pathways by which PAHs move from pavements to people and measures the contribution in relation to other sources,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “The most striking finding is that pavement sealcoat contaminates virtually every part of our every-day surroundings, including our air and our homes.
–USGS News Release
EPA demands more study of PolyMet mine
A long-awaited mining project that promises economic renewal for Minnesota’s Iron Range has been delayed repeatedly in the past year because federal regulators are insisting the company conduct more rigorous research to predict its environmental ramifications on the wildest and most scenic corner of the state.
In the latest delay, PolyMet Mining Corp. said its two-year-old environmental review will not be made public until next fall. That means the copper-nickel mine, first proposed in 2006, would not begin construction until 2014 at the earliest if the project is approved.
The new delay is related to questions the Environmental Protection Agency raised Sept. 1 about the validity of the company’s computer model because it did not include sufficient data from the mine site.
“Any modeling…using this inadequate number of samples would have results that are not scientifically defensible,” the EPA said in a letter to the state and federal officials who are overseeing the environmental review. PolyMet says it has since reached agreement with the EPA on the computer model and is gathering the data the agency requested.
–The Star Tribune
Liquid lake found through 2 miles of ice
In the coldest spot on the earth’s coldest continent, Russian scientists have reached a freshwater lake the size of Lake Ontario after spending a decade drilling through more than two miles of solid ice, the scientists said.
A statement by the chief of the Vostok Research Station, A. M. Yelagin, released by the director of the Russian Antarctic Expedition, Valery Lukin, said the drill made contact with the lake water at a depth of 12,366 feet.
As planned, lake water under pressure rushed up the bore hole 100 to 130 feet pushing drilling fluid up and away from the pristine water, Mr. Yelagin said, and forming a frozen plug that will prevent contamination. Next Antarctic season, the scientists will return to take samples of the water.
Lake Vostok, named after the Russian research station above it, is the largest of more than 280 lakes under the miles-thick ice that covers most of the Antarctic continent, and the first one to have a drill bit break through to liquid water from the ice that has kept it sealed off from light and air for somewhere between 15 million and 34 million years.
–The New York Times
What would it take?
Momentum, the magazine of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, offers 15 intriguing short interviews from national and international thought leaders on what it might take for the world’s people to solve some vexing environmental problems.
- Alexandra Cousteau on creating sustainable ocean fisheries.
- Climate strategist Robert Socolow on reining in greenhouse gas emissions and solving climate change.
- Comedian Brian Malow on scientists becoming better communicators.
- Ecologist Gretchen Daily on protecting nature AND meeting human needs.
Comment sought on Le Sueur biofuels project
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is inviting comment on an Environmental Assessment Worksheet prepared for Minnesota Municipal Power Agency’s proposed biofuels plant in the city of Le Sueur, which is about 40 miles southwest of the Twin Cities.
The plant, called Hometown BioEnergy, would convert 45,000 tons a year of agricultural and food-processing waste, such as corn silage, into three products: methane biogas that would be burned to create electricity; liquid fertilizer that would be applied to nearby cropland; and a residual solid material that would be converted into burnable pellets.
The plant would generate eight megawatts of electricity and deliver it directly to the city of Le Sueur, population 4,000. The plant’s total building area would be 25,500 square feet on a site 35 acres in size. The site is a depleted gravel pit on the south side of Le Sueur surrounded by cropland, an airport, and an operating gravel mine.
On March 20, from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m., the MPCA will also host a public informational meeting on the permit for the project at the Park Elementary School auditorium in Le Sueur.
Comments on the permit will be accepted until 4:30 p.m. on March 27. The MPCA web site has a copy of the Hometown BioEnergy EAW.
–MPCA News Release
Media miss UN report on sustainability
As the world’s media focused on the deepening crisis over Syria, it missed a less pressing story with profound long-term implications. The High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability, appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, released a sobering assessment for the world’s seven billion inhabitants. The document — Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing — offers humanity a stark choice: modify our patterns of production and consumption, or risk crashing through the “planetary boundaries” of growth and social progress.
It’s easy to mock UN reports, particularly from “high-level” panels. (Does the UN have any other kind?) But this document is an eye-opener—and offers some crucial recommendations for the Rio+20 mega conference in June.
First, it highlights just how far the world is from realizing the vision of “sustainable development.” That paradigm, introduced by the Bruntland Commission in its 1987 report, Our Common Future, is deceptively simple. Sustainable development is not a synonym for “environmental protection,” as Resilient People underlines. It’s about ensuring that today’s actions, particularly in the economic sphere, advance growth and social welfare but don’t undermine critical ecosystem services.
–The Internationalist, a blog from the Council on Foreign Relations
Texas acts to protect Ogallala aquifer
A group of farmers in northwest Texas began 2012 under circumstances their forbearers could scarcely imagine: they faced a limit on the amount of groundwater they could pump from their own wells on their own property.
The new rule issued by the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District, based in Lubbock, declares that water pumped in excess of the “allowable production rate” is illegal.
In Texas, a bastion of the free-market Tea Party, such a rule is hard to fathom. Most of the state abides by the “rule of capture,” which basically allows farmers to pump as much water as they want from beneath their own land. But irrigators in northwest Texas rely on the Ogallala aquifer, an underground water reserve that is all-too-rapidly disappearing. If the region is to have any future at all, water users must find a way to curb the pumping.
The Ogallala is one of the nation’s largest and most productive underground water sources. It makes up more than three-quarters of the High Plains aquifer, which spans 175,000 square miles and underlies parts of eight U.S. states — Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming. Water drawn from it irrigates 15.4 million acres of cropland, 27 percent of the nation’s total irrigated area.
–The National Geographic
Draft ‘fracking’ rule requires disclosure
Natural gas drillers would be required to disclose the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” on public lands, according to draft rules created by the Department of Interior.
The proposed regulations would also force companies to report the amount of any given chemical injected during the fracking process. The move for increased regulation comes after President Barack Obama touted his commitment to expanding natural gas production while ensuring the drilling is done responsibly.
“My administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy,” he said during his State of the Union address.
Fracking, which involves the high-pressure injection of undisclosed chemicals into rocks containing oil or natural gas, has drawn increasing scrutiny from environmentalists who suggest the process contaminates groundwater and destroys ecosystems. Under the proposed regulations, companies would be required to reveal the “complete chemical makeup of all materials used,” according to a copy of the rules obtained by The Huffington Post.
–The Huffington Post
Canon River speaker series set
Looking for something to do to liven up your Monday nights this February? The Cannon River Watershet Partnership CRWP and St. Olaf College invite you to take part in a speaker series on the topic of Alternative Agriculture. How has agriculture changed in the last 50 years? How can we take advantage of the marginal lands? What “third crops” are out there that could enhance the typical corn/soybean rotation? How can farmers earn a living while protecting our waters? Each speaker will discuss his or her work, then take questions from the audience. The event is FREE and open to the public.
Location: St. Olaf College, Regents Hall, Room 150, Northfield, MN. Time: 7 to 8:30 p.m.
Feb. 20 – Linda Meschke – President of Rural Advantage. She will review the idea of “third crops” and the concept of alternative income beyond corn and soybeans.
Feb. 27 – Paula Westmoreland – President of Ecological Gardens and author of the book This Perennial Land. She will discuss her book and GIS maps about farming the margins.
Ohio withdraws tougher stream rules
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency withdrew proposed regulations meant to strengthen protections for streams after business groups complained that they might cost too much.
The package of regulations included a system to grade the ecological value of thousands of small, mostly unnamed “headwater” streams in Ohio. Conservationists say those streams frequently are filled in or polluted by strip mines, roads and housing subdivisions.
Under the new system, the higher the value of a stream, the more work a developer would have had to do to avoid or repair damage. First proposed in 2006, these standards and other enhanced protections of streams and wetlands never got past the proposal stage. They were instead mired in opposition from business, manufacturing and homebuilder groups.
–The Columbus Dispatch
Grand Canyon park bans plastic bottles
In a plan just approved by John Wessels, National Park Service Intermountain Regional director, Grand Canyon National Park will end the sale of water sold in disposable bottles within 30 days. The park has free water stations available where visitors can fill reusable water containers. The ban on less-than-one-gallon bottles and different kinds of boxes is hoped to eliminate the source of 20 percent of the park’s “waste stream” and 30 percent of its recyclables.
The action came after Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis recently decided to ban the bottles. At first, Director Jarvis was portrayed as bowing to corporate pressure for telling Grand Canyon officials to hold off on implementing a ban on the plastic bottles. Public Employees For Environmental Responsibility had claimed that Director Jarvis put the ban on hold after Coca Cola officials raised concerns with the National Park Foundation, which in turn contacted the director and his staff. Grand Canyon National Park’s plan to eliminate the bottles was submitted and approved under the policy issued by Director Jarvis on December 14, 2011.
–National Parks Traveler
$37 million available for Mississippi Basin projects
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Dave White announced that proposals for conservation projects addressing water quality and wetland conservation in the Mississippi River Basin are due to NRCS by March 19, 2012.
Accepted projects would support conservation efforts already underway on agricultural operations in the basin, improve the overall health of the Mississippi River and help reduce hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico.
“This is an outstanding opportunity for conservation-minded farmers to do even more to protect and improve one of America’s most valuable resources,” White said.
Through this request for proposals, NRCS is providing up to $37 million in new financial assistance through the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) for projects in 54 priority watersheds in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
–USDA News Release
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.
You are reading this blog. Thanks. Maybe you knew of its existence and came looking for it. Maybe a search engine brought you here. Since late 2009, we have published links to hundreds of important articles about the water, science and the environment. If you like what you see here, please use one of the “Subscribe to this blog” features, at right, to sign up to receive it regularly.
Cities want ag to share pollution costs
Already hamstrung by tight budgets, communities across much of Minnesota are bracing for what could be an $843 million bill – this one aimed at reducing the amount of sediment reaching Lake Pepin on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border.
And many resent having to pay so much for what amounts to a relatively small bump in water quality. Especially while agriculture, a much larger source of sediment, is let off the hook.
“This kind of thing is just beyond the pale for what is acceptable and what we feel is how we should be spending our taxpayers’ money,” said Klayton Eckles, Woodbury’s city engineer.
The developing urban-rural tiff will get new legs soon when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency releases a study explaining the sediment problem, establishing goals and outlining ways to reduce the amount of silt getting into Lake Pepin, the widening of the Mississippi River southeast of the Twin Cities.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press
Lock closing sought as carp deterrent
A coalition of conservation groups says it is not too late to stop Asian carp in the Mississippi River.
That runs counter to the recent discovery of genetic material from the fish above a pair of dams that might have served as barriers.
“The eDNA testing, it indicates that there are some fish in place. But in terms of a breeding population, that is not likely to be the case. It could be the case,” said Irene Jones of Friends of the Mississippi River. “But usually you find them in much larger numbers when they start to breed. There is something called an invasion front, which is where the breeding population has reached. Right now the invasion front, it’s in Iowa.”
Friends of the Mississippi River joins with the Izaak Walton League, the Minnesota Seasonal Recreation Property Owners and the Minnesota Conservation Federation in calling for locks in St. Paul and Minneapolis to close. The coalition wants the two Mississippi River locks to stay closed until a plan is in place to stop the fish.
–Minnesota Public Radio
Legacy Amendment forum set Jan. 5
Fourteen environmental groups will sponsor a Thursday, Jan. 5, forum on the 2008 Legacy Amendment that raised the sales tax to protect, enhance and restore water and the environment in Minnesota.
The Legacy Stakeholder’s Forum, an annual event, will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in St. Paul. It will include presentations and panel discussions involving legislators, policy-makers and members of the Clean Water Council and the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.
The forum will attempt “follow the money” and evaluate what the public is getting for its money.
Participation is free, but space is limited. To register, send an email to Noreen Tyler at the Izaak Walton League.
Sponsors include: Anglers for Habitat, Audubon Minnesota, the Conservation Fund, Ducks Unlimited, Izaak Walton League, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Minnesota Conservation Federation, Minnesota Environmental Partnership, Minnesota Land Trust, the Nature Conservancy, Parks & Trail Council of Minnesota, Pheasants Forever, Sportsmen for Change and the Trust for Public Land.
Peter Gleick offers water policy guides
Pacific Institute President Dr. Peter Gleick presented a set of recommendations to Congress for a more effective and sustainable 21st-century national water policy.
Dr. Gleick, one of the world’s leading experts on freshwater issues, testified before the Subcommittee on Water and Power of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources that coordinated federal planning for water is needed in the face of new water challenges such as climate change, unregulated or inadequately regulated pollutants, and decaying physical water infrastructure.
“Growing human populations and demands for water, unacceptable water quality in many areas, weak or inadequate water data collection and regulation, and growing threats to the timing and reliability of water supply from climate change call for fundamental changes in federal policy,” said Dr. Gleick. “The water crisis around the nation and around the world is growing, presenting new direct threats to our economy and environment – but it also offers opportunities for better and coordinated responses.” His full testimony is available on the Pacific Institute website.
–Western Farm Press
Facebook, Greenpeace reach truce on coal
Facebook and Greenpeace have called a truce over a clean energy feud that had the environmental group using the social network’s own platform to campaign against it.
Greenpeace and Facebook said that they will work together to encourage the use of renewable energy instead of coal.
Last year, Facebook opened a data center in Prineville, Ore., using the area’s cool nights and dry air to save energy while keeping its systems from overheating. It also received generous tax breaks for adding jobs to the economically struggling region.
But Greenpeace wasn’t happy that Facebook picked site for its data center that’s served by a power company that generates most of its electricity from coal. It started a campaign to get the social network operator to use renewable energy. It attracted some 700,000 supporters on Facebook. Greenpeace said it was ending the campaign and declared victory on its “Unfriend Coal” Facebook page.
–The Associated Press
DNR offers habitat-improvement grants
Organizations and governments now can apply for fish and wildlife habitat improvement grants. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is accepting Conservation Partners Legacy grant applications for projects ranging from $5,000 to $400,000.
Funds must be used to enhance, restore, or protect the forests, wetlands, prairies, and habitat for fish, game, or wildlife in Minnesota. A total of $3.48 million of funding is available.
Application deadline is Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012 at 5p.m. The request for proposals is available on the CPL grants web page.
Awards for this second round of grants are expected to be announced in early April. Grant funds are provided annually from the Outdoor Heritage Fund, which is a portion of the revenue generated by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Constitutional Amendment sales tax.
–DNR News Release
Canada withdrawing from Kyoto Protocol
Canada said that it would withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Under that accord, major industrialized nations agreed to meet targets for reducing emissions, but mandates were not imposed on developing countries like Brazil, China, India and South Africa. The United States never ratified the treaty. Canada did commit to the treaty, but the agreement has been fraying.
Participants at a United Nations conference in Durban, South Africa, renewed it but could not agree on a new accord to replace it.
Instead, the 200 nations represented at the conference agreed to begin a long-term process of negotiating a new treaty, but without resolving a core issue: whether its requirements will apply equally to all countries.
The decision by Canada’s Conservative Party government had long been expected. A Liberal Party government negotiated Canada’s entry into the agreement, but the Conservative government has never disguised its disdain for the treaty.
–The New York Times
Comment sought on hog feedlot
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency invites comments on an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) prepared for Matt Holland’s proposed swine facility expansion in southwestern Steele County.
Written comments must be received by the MPCA by 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 11, 2012.
Holland proposes to double his swine operation from 2,400 to 4,800 finishing hogs. He also maintains a beef herd of 20 cow-calf pairs on pasture. For the expansion, Holland plans to build a total confinement barn with a manure pit underneath.
The feedlot is located in Berlin Township, 1.26 miles west of Ellendale. After expansion, the feedlot would generate 1.9 million gallons of liquid manure a year. Holland plans to remove manure from the pits beneath the barns once a year in the fall for application to nearby cropland. The feedlot would have two manure-storage basins with a total storage capacity of 2.5 million gallons, reducing the likelihood of overflow or emergency applications during the winter.
Although the feedlot is surrounded by land zoned for agriculture, 41 homes are located within one mile of the feedlot and manure-application sites. The closest home is about one-third mile from the feedlot. Based on a computer modeling study, the MPCA expects the expanded feedlot to comply with state air-quality standards, with odors below levels usually considered unpleasant.
Copies of the EAW are available on the MPCA web site. Send questions and comments on the Holland EAW to Charles Peterson, MPCA, 520 Lafayette Road N., Saint Paul, or Charles.firstname.lastname@example.org MN 55155.
–MPCA News Release.
Speed-up set in Chicago sewage overflow plan
Nearly four decades after officials broke ground on the Deep Tunnel, federal and state authorities unveiled a legal settlement intended to finally complete the Chicago area’s massive flood- and pollution-control project.
Relief from swamped basements and sewage overflows into local streams still is years away, though.
Most of the settlement adds legal teeth to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s latest construction schedule for the Deep Tunnel, which has been repeatedly delayed by funding woes and engineering hurdles. The deal brokered by the U.S. and Illinois Environmental Protection agencies and U.S. Department of Justice imposes deadlines to finish sections, but the entire system won’t be completed until 2029.
–The Chicago Tribune
Bird Conservancy seeks windmill rules
American Bird Conservancy, the nation’s leading bird conservation organization, petitioned the U.S. Department of the Interior to protect millions of birds from the negative impacts of wind energy by developing regulations that will safeguard wildlife and reward responsible wind energy development.
The nearly 100-page petition for rulemaking, prepared by ABC and the Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm of Meyer, Glitzenstein & Crystal, urges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to issue regulations establishing a mandatory permitting system for the operation of wind energy projects and mitigation of their impacts on migratory birds.
The proposal would provide industry with legal certainty that wind developers in compliance with a permit would not be subject to criminal or civil penalties for violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The government estimates that a minimum of 440,000 birds are currently killed each year by collisions with wind turbines.
The petition is available online.
–American Bird Conservancy news release
Bill coming due for water infrastructure
The overdue bill for water systems is reaching alarming size, with economic consequences that will weigh on U.S. businesses for years to come. An economic analysis on unmet public water and wastewater system needs commissioned by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) paints a grim future for the U.S. economy.
The costs associated with unreliable delivery and inadequate treatment, the analysis shows, will combine to cut the nation’s gross domestic product by as much as $416 billion over the next decade if current spending levels remain unchanged.
Failure to Act: The Economic Impact of Current Investment Trends in Water and Wastewater Treatment Infrastructure is the second of four ASCE-commissioned assessments of infrastructure spending. The analysis examines the economic consequences of aging drinking water, wastewater and wet weather management systems on businesses and households based on existing capital spending trends.
Lacking any new investment in this infrastructure, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2010 estimate of a $55 billion shortfall in maintenance and upgrade needs could balloon to $84 billion by 2020, and nearly double to $144 billion by 2040.
Tthe 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.
You are reading this blog. Thanks. Either you knew of its existence and subscribed to it or came looking for it, or perhaps you found it through a search engine. Since late 2009, we have published links to hundreds of important articles about the water, science and the environment. If you like what you see here, please use one of the “Subscribe to this blog” features, at right, to sign up to receive it regularly.
Audits examine Legacy spending
A legislative auditor’s report looking broadly at spending so far from Minnesota’s $240 million a year Legacy Amendment said “efforts to ensure accountability are generally adequate.”
But the report – intended as a first benchmark for many more audits to come — listed a number of questions and concerns about how the Legislature, state agencies and appointed oversight boards and councils use money from the sales tax increase that voters approved in 2008.
Those questions include:
- How can lawmakers and others ensure that spending decisions meet a constitutional mandate that spending from the new tax revenue should supplement and not substitute for traditional sources of funding?
- Will the 25-year sales tax increase produce a qualitative improvement in the health of the Minnesota’s environment, especially the cleanliness of its waters?
- Are the oversight groups and the recipients of Legacy money doing enough to disclose and prevent conflicts of interest in decision-making?
A second, related audit report looked specifically at financial accountability for expenditures.
Dec. 6 book-signing by Darby Nelson
Don’t miss the book-signing Tuesday, Dec. 6, by Darby Nelson, a longtime conservationist and Freshwater Society board member. Check out an article about his new book, For the Love of Lakes, and link to the introduction Nelson wrote for it. RSVP for the book-signing event at 6 p.m. in the Student Center theater on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.
Zebra mussel found in Pelican Lake
A single juvenile zebra mussel was found recently on dock equipment removed from Pelican Lake in Crow Wing County near Brainerd, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said.
A dock services provider discovered the zebra mussel attached to a dock post during removal of a dock. Local DNR staff were subsequently contacted for a positive identification.
DNR biologists are investigating how the zebra mussel might have gotten into Pelican Lake. They have conducted a thorough survey of other docks and marker buoys on the lake and have not located additional zebra mussels. The small size of the zebra mussel indicates it is not at a reproductive stage.
The DNR is working closely with homeowners and the Pelican Lake Association to continue monitoring the lake for zebra mussels. Any additional zebra mussel detections should be reported immediately to DNR invasive species specialists Dan Swanson at 218-833-8645 or Rich Rezanka at 218-999-7805.
–DNR News Release
Carbon emissions rise in 2010
Global emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel burning jumped by the largest amount on record last year, upending the notion that the brief decline during the recession might persist through the recovery.
Emissions rose 5.9 percent in 2010, according to an analysis released by the Global Carbon Project, an international collaboration of scientists tracking the numbers. Scientists with the group said the increase, a half-billion extra tons of carbon pumped into the air, was almost certainly the largest absolute jump in any year since the Industrial Revolution, and the largest percentage increase since 2003.
The increase solidified a trend of ever-rising emissions that scientists fear will make it difficult, if not impossible, to forestall severe climate change in coming decades. The researchers said the high growth rate reflected a bounce-back from the 1.4 percent drop in emissions in 2009, the year the recession had its biggest impact.
–The New York Times
USGS documents groundwater draw-down
More than 280 million acre-feet of groundwater has been withdrawn from the Mississippi embayment aquifer system between 1870-2007, according to a new water modeling tool developed by the U.S. Geological Survey.
This cumulative withdrawal, which is the equivalent of five feet of water over 78,000 square miles, contributes to one of the largest losses of groundwater storage anywhere in the United States.
The new USGS modeling tool was designed to help resource managers find a balance between water supply and demand for future economic and environmental uses. The three-dimensional model provides a holistic picture of how water flows below ground and how it relates to surface-water. The Mississippi embayment aquifer system encompasses approximately 78,000 square miles in Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.
A report documenting past and current groundwater conditions, and tools to forecast regional response to human use, climate variability, and land-use changes are all available online.
“Our groundwater aquifers are nature’s own natural method for storing water safely long term where it is less vulnerable to loss through evaporation and surface contamination,” explained USGS director Marcia McNutt. “We should be as concerned about loss of groundwater as we are about dropping levels in reservoirs behind dams, because in the depths of the worst drought, when the rivers run dry, it is only the groundwater that will sustain us.”
–USGS News Release
EPA’s ballast water rules criticized
Newly proposed ballast water regulations fell flat with environmental groups that argued the restrictions would not go far enough to thwart the spread of invasive species.
Ballast water, which ships carry for stability, has long been known to transmit foreign organisms between bodies of water. The zebra mussel, quagga mussel and round goby, which have wreaked havoc on the Great Lakes ecosystem, are suspected to have arrived through ballast water.
To address that problem, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued draft permits that would require certain ships to treat ballast water before releasing it. In some cases, ships would be required to have fewer than 10 living organisms per unit of water, a concentration in line with the International Maritime Organization’s standard. The amount of water depends on the size of the organism.
But several environmental groups said that the standard should be closer to zero.
“It is not like this is a smokestack where you can scrub out 90 percent of the mercury or carbon dioxide and then feel pretty good about yourself,” said Thom Cmar, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a national environmental advocacy organization based in New York. “Here you have a living pollutant that can breed and reproduce.”
–The Chicago Tribune
Nature Conservancy brokers sustainable fishing
On the Pacific Coast, south of San Francisco, the Nature Conservancy and local fishing captains have forged an unusual business partnership aimed at maintaining both the local fishing industry and the threatened stocks of fish on which the industry depends.
Five years ago, the Nature Conservancy bought out a number of boats and fishing permits. Now the environmental group leases back the permits and boats – on the condition that crews abandon trawling in favor of more sustainable methods of fishing and that they put some areas of ocean habitat off limits to fishing. Read a New York Times article profiling the unusual arrangement.
Lots of pros and cons on fracking
Is hydraulic fracturing – fracking – a safe and effective way to dramatically expand the domestic oil and gas production in the U.S.? Or is the practice of injecting vast amounts of water deep into the rock formations that contain oil a bargain with the devil that eventually will contaminate groundwater that is even more valuable than oil?
Read competing views in multiple opinion pieces published in U.S. News & World Report’s Debate Club feature.
Army Corps eyes dredging north of Hastings
The Mississippi River will get a new island near Cottage Grove in a plan to straighten out a crooked barge channel.
The Army Corps of Engineers has begun a study of the $5 million project involving a section of the river north of Hastings. A sharp bend in the barge channel is becoming tougher to navigate and needs to be rerouted, said Paul Machajewski, the corps’ channel maintenance coordinator for the St. Paul District.
Cleared sediment would be piled out of the way, creating an island that boaters already are eyeing.
“I am pretty excited by this. There are a lot of win-win things about it,” said Greg Genz, a consultant who works on river-related issues. Shippers who used to weave through the passage with 15 lashed-together barges now can manage only eight 10 12.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press
EPA rule threatens L. Michigan ferry
Facing a deadline to stop dumping toxic coal ash into Lake Michigan, owners of the last coal-powered steamship on the Great Lakes are pushing for it to join Mount Vernon, Lincoln’s Tomb and Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthplace as a protected national historic landmark.
Even if the Badger fails to make the list of the nation’s historic and cultural treasures, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may be unable to force the aging coal burner to eliminate the nearly 4 tons of waste it dumps in the lake every time it sails.
An amendment added to a budget bill by Republican congressmen from Michigan and Wisconsin would prevent the EPA from imposing more stringent pollution limits on any ship that is “on, or nominated for inclusion on” the list of landmarks.
In documents obtained by the Tribune, the car ferry’s owners plead for the National Park Service to grant the Badger special protection from the EPA, which in 2008 gave them four years to find a solution to the ship’s pollution problems.
–The Chicago Tribune
The dirty truth about La Brea Tar Pits
For years, residents living near Ballona Creek and environmentalists have complained of mysterious sheens of oil and grease in the western Los Angeles County waterway, often blaming industrial dumping, urban runoff or other man-made causes for the pollution.
One cause that apparently never crossed their minds: the La Brea Tar Pits.
It turns out the tourist attraction and preferred field trip destination of seemingly every grade schooler in the region has sent oily wastewater spilling into the highly polluted creek.
The tar pits, in Wilshire Boulevard’s Miracle Mile neighborhood, overflow during heavy rains, overwhelming the devices that separate oil from water. Polluted runoff then gets into the storm drain system, spilling into the creek and emptying into the ocean, according to county planners.
–The Los Angeles Times
Suit claims grazing’s impact ignored
Millions of cattle graze on public lands all over the West and have done so for more than a century.
But a new complaint filed by an environmental group charges that despite Clinton-era moves to examine and diminish the impact of grazing in the arid West, Interior Department employees have blocked the use of federal data on the impact in regional scientific studies. The actions by mid-level Interior employees “seriously compromise” the scientific integrity of efforts to figure out how and why western ecosystems are changing, said the complaint, filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a Washington-based environmental group.
The complaint charges that officials of the Bureau of Land Management not only effectively prevented ecosystem scientists from making grazing a significant part of their regional analyses but also failed to inform them of data gathered by the bureau.
–The New York Times
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.
Questions dog Legacy expenditures
Over the next 23 years, Minnesota will spend an estimated $2 billion in Legacy funds to make its lakes and rivers cleaner.
But who’s to say whether that money will be well spent? That those waters will be in appreciably better shape than they are now? That the money won’t go down some big hole or lots of little ones?
As the state begins handling constitutionally dedicated money approved by voters in 2008, questions are being raised about the clean-water portion of that amendment. Some activists worry much of that money, especially that dealing with pollution from agriculture, could be wasted or could go to less effective uses.
“There are a lot of things to be concerned about, and I worry a lot,” said Gene Merriam, head of the Freshwater Society and a former Department of Natural Resources commissioner and state senator. “This is a lot of money. I’m concerned that little or nothing comes of it.”
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press
More good news on rare species
Two weeks ago, this blog took some delight in the recent spotting of a baby Blanding’s turtle in Minnesota’s Martin County. Scientists had feared the threatened species was not reproducing at the study site.
Now comes some good news about another species: The rare nine-spotted ladybug.
The Coccinella novemnotata is the state insect of New York but has long been thought to be extinct in the state. A live ladybug was found on Long Island in July.
It turns out that disappearing ladybugs are a problem throughout the U.S., and there is a Lost Ladybug Project at Cornell University that encourages citizen scientists to look for, photograph and report rare ladybugs.
The Associated Press reports that the leading theory about the decline of native ladybugs is that they were somehow displaced by the seven-spotted ladybug, which was introduced from Europe and released as natural pest control to eat aphids on crops. Seven-spotted ladybugs are now common, as are Asian multicolored ladybugs, which were released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the 1970s and ’80s to control scale insects on trees.
The nine-spotted ladybug was once one of the most common ladybugs in the United States. But by 1999, extensive surveys by scientists failed to find any live specimens. Cornell researchers launched the Lost Ladybug Project in 2000. to enlist children and adults as citizen scientists to survey the ladybug population.
China invest billions in desalination race
TIANJIN, China — Towering over the Bohai Sea shoreline on this city’s outskirts, the Beijiang Power and Desalination Plant is a 26-billion-renminbi technical marvel: an ultrahigh-temperature, coal-fired generator with state-of-the-art pollution controls, mated to advanced Israeli equipment that uses its leftover heat to distill seawater into fresh water.
There is but one wrinkle in the $4 billion plant: The desalted water costs twice as much to produce as it sells for. Nevertheless, the owner of the complex, a government-run conglomerate called S.D.I.C., is moving to quadruple the plant’s desalinating capacity, making it China’s largest.
“Someone has to lose money,” Guo Qigang, the plant’s general manager, said in a recent interview. “We’re a state-owned corporation, and it’s our social responsibility.”
In some places, this would be economic lunacy. In China, it is economic strategy.
As it did with solar panels and wind turbines, the government has set its mind on becoming a force in yet another budding environment-related industry: supplying the world with fresh water.
–The New York Times
Public comment sought on Lutsen snowmaking
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is seeking public comments on a proposal for a temporary permit that would allow Lutsen Mountain Corporation to continue to draw water from the Poplar River for its snowmaking operation.
Normally, pumping operations would be discontinued due to the river’s low flow, but the DNR is authorized by statute to allow exceptions under unique circumstances.
The 2011 Legislature authorized the resort owner to take up to 150 million gallons of water from the Poplar River for snowmaking this fall, but included a provision that suspends the appropriation if flows fall below 15 cubic feet per second for more than five consecutive days. The flow in the river has been at or near that threshold for weeks. A separate provision of Minnesota statutes, however, authorizes the DNR to issue a permit beyond what is normally allowed if there is “just cause.”
In this case, the DNR believes there is just cause to issue LMC a permit based on the potential economic impacts to the local community, the low numbers of trout present in the affected reach of river, and the likelihood that some trout mortality will occur, whether the resort temporarily appropriates water or not.
“The most important aspect of this issue is that the Poplar River is not a long-term sustainable source of water for LMC,” explained DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “We need concurrence from LMC and key legislators that they are committed to finding an alternate source of water for snowmaking – probably Lake Superior – within three years to prevent a reoccurrence of this very difficult situation.”
The draft permit and a FAQ with additional background information is available online.
The public may submit comments through Nov. 4 at email@example.com.
–DNR News Release
Research shows stream buffers’ value
A new take on a fairly common conservation practice can do a lot more than previously thought to control nutrient runoff in crop fields, according to new research in Iowa.
A project testing the viability of riparian buffer strips to remove nutrients from crop runoff water was conducted this growing season by the Ames, Iowa-based Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. The main target for the research was a 1,000-foot stretch of Bear Creek in Story County, Iowa, where a “saturated buffer” was installed to catch tile-line water before it’s released into waterways.
The system uses “a shallow lateral line” that “has control structures that raise the water table and slow outflow, allowing the buffers to naturally remove nutrients such as nitrate and phosphorous.””
The results: In addition to curbing over half of the immediate tile line outflow into waterways, it removes all of the nitrate output, says USDA National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment and lead researcher for the project Dale Jaynes.
“The system removed 100% of the nitrate from 60% of the field tile flow,” Jaynes says. “We figure that 250 kilograms, or about 500 pounds, of nitrate nitrogen was kept out of the stream.”
Mississippi River is Sip of Science topic
Pat Nunnally, the River Life coordinator for the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, will be the next speaker in the Sip of Science lecture series. The series, sponsored by the National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics at the university’s St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, offers scientific discussion in a happy-hour setting.
Nunnally will speak Wedenesday, Nov. 9, at 5:30 p.m. at the Aster Cafe, 125 SE Main St., Minneapolis.
The River Life Program connects University teaching, research and programs to off-campus partners who are working toward a sustainable river and inclusive planning for our river future. The program utilizes diverse digital platforms and makes strong use of social media to create unique learning opportunities — students learn from practitioners, river agency staff network more with each other, and communities up and down the river can share their experiences.
Research: Wis. Dairy wells would lower lakes
State Department of Natural Resources officials will need to decide whether lowering the level of surrounding lakes and streams by about two inches is an acceptable outcome from a planned large dairy operation, a University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point professor says.
People who live near the proposed Richfield Dairy in Adams County asked George Kraft, a hydrogeologist at UW-Stevens Point, to look at the potential impact of two high-capacity wells planned as part of the proposed 4,300-cow dairy operation.
Kraft said he doesn’t favor or oppose the wells, and he’s just providing the DNR with facts about the potential effects.
“Is two inches too much? I don’t know,” Kraft said. “This is up to the DNR; this is beyond the science I’m doing.”
The previous owner of the Richfield property where the proposed operation would be located had one high-capacity well, said Bill Harke, director of public affairs for Milk Source, the group that plans to build the dairy. Company officials said in the DNR application the dairy operation would use about 52 million gallons of water annually.
–Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune
MPCA approves taconite expansion
A $300 million expansion proposed for U.S. Steel’s taconite operation in Keewatin, Minn., cleared an important hurdle when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency board voted to approve its wastewater emissions permit.
The permit, approved in a unanimous vote, sets a more restrictive level for sulfate emissions than the current state standard. That drew praise from at least one environmentalist who has tracked the permitting process.
“It’s a positive,” said Paula Maccabee, an attorney with the environmental group WaterLegacy. “U.S. Steel has owned that plant since 2003, and this is the first time they’ve been asked to comply” with sulfate emission standards, she said.
–The Star Tribune
DNA suggests Asian carp are in Mississippi
Read a Minnesota Public Radio transcript of Luke Skinner, the Minnesota DNR’s invasive species program director, being interviewed about Asian carp.
States ask Supreme Court to hear carp case
Five Great Lakes states are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to require nets in Chicago area waterways to stop the spread of Asian carp.
“We need to close the Asian carp superhighway and do it now,” Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a statement. “Time is running out for the Great Lakes, and we can’t afford to wait years before the federal government takes meaningful action.”
The Supreme Court has previously declined two requests from Michigan to close Chicago area waterways to block Asian carp from Lake Michigan.
A federal appeals panel in August rejected the request of Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to close Chicago navigational locks, upholding a district court decision. But the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cautioned that the issue could be revisited if ongoing efforts to stop the advance of the invasive species stall.
Attorneys General for the five states cited that warning in their appeal filed to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the high court to overturn the panel’s decision.
–The Chicago Tribune
Looking for snow removal contractor?
If you are looking for someone to plow your parking lot, choose a firm trained and certified to remove snow
and ice with minimum chloride pollution of water and soil. Find a list of certified contractors on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency web site.
New York resisting pressure on ballast rules
The state of New York does not appear to be bowing to pressure from a group of Great Lakes governors, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, to back off on its plan to adopt the region’s toughest ballast discharge laws for overseas ships visiting the Great Lakes.
All overseas vessels sailing into the Great Lakes must pass through New York state waters, and in 2013 New York had planned to begin requiring ships to install water treatment systems in their vessel-steadying ballast tanks in order to kill unwanted hitchhikers making their way into the lakes from ports around the globe.
This did not sit well with Walker and fellow governors Mitch Daniels of Indiana and John Kasich of Ohio, who in September sent a letter to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo asking him to back off on the law. They fear it could harm overseas traffic, a sector of cargo flow that in recent years has accounted for less than 10% of the tonnage that moves on the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes.
Great Lakes states like Wisconsin are pursuing weaker ballast rules developed by the International Maritime Organization, or IMO, that allows for a certain number of species of a certain size to be discharged from the ballast tanks, and ships would not have to meet that requirement until 2016.
New York had proposed standards that are 100 times more stringent than the IMO rules for existing vessels and 1,000 times more stringent for ships built after Jan. 1, 2013.
The problem, according to Walker and the other governors, is that technologies do not yet exist to accomplish what New York is pursuing. They fret that New York’s rule will affect the whole Great Lakes region because it covers ships that are only passing through New York waters. Any ship visiting ports such as Milwaukee, Toledo or Gary, Ind., must first travel through New York waters on its journey up the St. Lawrence Seaway.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Ceres investor group takes on water
Against a backdrop of increasing business exposure to global water supply threats, Ceres released a new tool for evaluating those risks – and opportunities – that both investors and companies can use as a roadmap to enhanced water stewardship.
Ceres is a U.S.-based coalition of investors, environmental groups, and other public interest organizations working with companies to address sustainability challenges such as climate change and water scarcity.
“Water risks are urgent today and, given population and climate trends, can only grow increasingly more so,” said Ceres president Mindy Lubber, in announcing the Ceres Aqua Gauge: A Framework for 21st Century Water Risk Management.
Even as companies accelerate water efficiency and improved water resource management, water pressures are likely to worsen. According to estimates by McKinsey & Company, the world may face a 40 percent global shortfall between forecast water demand and available supplies by 2030.
–Ceres News Release
Vilsack opposes crop insurance-conservation rule
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said that he is not proposing the linking of conservation compliance with subsidized crop insurance, but he is confident that the farm bill will include some kind of regulatory leverage.
Proposals to cut between $23 billion and $33 billion from the omnibus farm bill have been floated to the 12-member “supercommittee” of lawmakers making federal budget cuts.
The committee’s work, rather than the traditional process of the Senate and House agriculture committees, is expected to frame the next farm bill.
–The Des Moines Register
Kansas lakes filling with sediment
John Redmond Reservoir averages just 6 feet deep.
The lake, which supplies water to several Kansas towns and the Wolf Creek nuclear plant, now sits with only about 58 percent of its original capacity.
The rest is goo.
From the smallest farm pond to the largest reservoirs, all Kansas lakes are slowly filling with dirt. Sediment, the simple mixture of water and dirt, is considered one of Kansas’ largest environmental concerns by some experts.
Currently about 60 percent of Kansans get their water from lakes and that number is expected to grow.
Kansas experts say no simple solutions are in sight.
–The Wichita Eagle
China plans groundwater clean-up
China has pledged to make all its underground drinking water safe and to significantly improve the overall quality of groundwater by 2020, a goal that even some senior environmental officials say will be difficult to achieve.
All pollution from urban sewage, industrial projects and agricultural activity must be cut off from underground sources so that it will not contaminate the water, said Zhao Hualin, director of pollution prevention department under the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
The government also plans to import technologies for groundwater restoration and start pilot treatment projects in the coming five years, Zhao said, citing a national blueprint to tackle underground water pollution for 2011 to 2020, which the State Council issued in August.
About 63 percent of China’s groundwater is safe for drinking, and the rest is polluted, according to a nationwide monitoring study carried out by the Ministry of Land and Resources.