DNR seeks groundwater changes

In a new report to the Legislature, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources spells out – in more explicit language than before – shortcomings in the way it permits and regulates groundwater pumping from high-capacity wells. “Our review of water use reports suggests that we are receiving some systematically inaccurate information,” the DNR told lawmakers in the Jan. 15 report.

The report recommends new legislation requiring well owners to install tamper-proof meters and new authority for the DNR to inspect the meters to improve the accuracy of water-use reporting.

Many of the law changes the DNR report says it needs closely parallel recommendations the Freshwater Society made in a report last April. Read the new DNR report, read a Freshwater summary of the report, read Minnesota Public Radio coverage of the DNR report.

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Star Tribune editorial backs water fee increases

Read a May 7 Star Tribune Editorial urging the Minnesota Legislature to enact an increase in state water appropriation fees recommended by Gov. Mark Dayton and passed last month by the House.

The editorial says, in part:

“The vast but finite aquifers are like glasses of water with many drinking straws — perhaps too many — draining their contents. One of the most pressing challenges facing the state is ensuring that increased demand from a growing population and agricultural irrigation doesn’t drain groundwater supplies too rapidly. Instead, this resource must be managed sustainably for future generations.”

The legislation, House File 977, is awaiting action by a House-Senate conference committee.

The editorial cites a Freshwater Society report, Minnesota’s Groundwater: Is our use sustainable?, that estimates total reported groundwater use in the state increased 31 percent from 1988 through 2011.

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Gene Merriam: Support water fee increase

Gene Merriam

Gene Merriam

Read Freshwater Society President Gene Merriam’s op-ed in the April 26 Pioneer Press. In it, he urges Minnesota state Senators to support House-passed legislation that would raise state water fees to generate about $6 million a year to enable the Department of Natural Resources to do a better job of monitoring and regulating groundwater pumping.

The op-ed follows the Freshwater report on groundwater sustainability.

In the Pioneer Press op-ed, Merriam writes:

“From our point of view, one of the best parts of the legislation is an increase in an existing summertime surcharge on state water fees that city water systems pay. It is intended to inspire water conservation and a reduction in the too-often wasteful sprinkling of grass.  But, even that fee increase is so modest as to be almost insignificant:  About $5 per year for people who water their lawns and gardens a lot, according to the DNR.

“The bottom line on this legislation, for the Freshwater Society, is this:

“Water is our most precious resource. We must achieve sustainability in our use of it. Brown lawns in August are a small price to pay, and an additional $1 per year is a small price to pay, to help assure our children and grandchildren have adequate water to drink and that our lakes and streams are not sacrificed.”

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Groundwater report focuses on sustainability

In 2008, the Freshwater Society issued a report — Water Is Life: Protecting A Critical Resource For Future Generations — that described a lack of consensus among groundwater professionals on the critical question of whether Minnesota’s patterns of groundwater use were sustainable into the future.

Cover of "Minnesota's Groundwater: Is our use sustainable?"This month, Freshwater issued a follow-up to that report. And its conclusion is that most groundwater experts now say that, at least in some parts of the state, we are using groundwater in ways that are not sustainable.

“On a statewide basis, we are not running out of water,” Jim Stark, the director of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Minnesota Water Science Center, says in the report. “However, in many parts of the state we are using so much water that wildlife in lakes and streams is stressed and water for human needs is threatened. In those areas, we are approaching limits to water sustainability.”

The report also cites calls from Ali Elhassan, the Metropolitan Council’s top water planner, for some Twin Cities suburbs to consider switching from wells to the Mississippi River as their main source of water for growing populations.

The new 24-page report is titled Minnesota’s Groundwater: Is our use sustainable?

The report includes a statistical analysis that attempts to quantify — over time — the increase in groundwater use that has occurred. The analysis estimates that total reported groundwater pumping increased by about 2.8 billion gallons per year from 1988 through 2011. That adds up to a 31 percent increase over that period.  By comparison, the state’s population increased 24 percent in the same period.

Agricultural irrigation, the second-biggest use of groundwater and the fastest-growing use by far, increased  an estimated 73 percent during those years. Pumping by city water systems, the biggest single use,  increased an estimated 33 percent.

The  report finds at progress being made on groundwater on a number of fronts since 2008:

  • Greater attention to the connections between groundwater and lakes, streams and wetlands.
  • More focus on the precipitation flowing into aquifers and being discharged from them on an annual basis, rather than just the amount of water stored in them.
  • Movement by the DNR to consider the cumulative impact on aquifers of existing pumping plus all the well owners lining up to pump from the aquifers.

The report also outlines shortcomings in the DNR’s enforcement of laws requiring well owners to get state permits for high-capacity pumping. DNR supervisors told the Freshwater Society they believed 10 percent of irrigation wells may not have required permits. A Freshwater Society comparison of two state data bases suggests the percentage could be significantly higher.

Two key recommendations from the new report — a call for an increase in state water fees as an incentive for conservation, and a recommendation that lawmakers give the Department of Natural Resources authority to consider requests for high-capacity pumping before, rather than after, wells a drilled — are included in legislation approved last week by the Minnesota House.

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Take time to read Pioneer Press groundwater articles

The Pioneer Press this week published a fine series of articles on Minnesota’s groundwater. Read reporter John Brewer’s lead article on the sustainability issue. Read a column by outdoor writer David Orrick on why outdoor enthusiasts should care about the dependence of lakes and streams on groundwater sources,  another article on outstate water woes, and a third on an irrigation boom in Central Minnesota. Read another article on suggestions that some water-stressed Twin Cities communities should give up their dependence on wells and switch to the Mississippi River as a water source, as Minneapolis and St. Paul do.  And there was a final article on how arid Santa Fe, New Mexico, conserves water.

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Water, science, environment: The lighter side

There is lots of serious — often very bad — news about water and the environment published every day. But there also are some quirky and entertaining news items out there.

Here is a look back at some of the offbeat news items among the hundreds of important articles and research papers linked to from the Freshwater blog in 2011:

A New York Times story on corporate sustainability efforts reported the Levi Strauss & Company’s advice to consumers: Freeze your jeans – instead of washing them – to save water.

Budweiser suggests men stop shaving to conserve a million gallons of water.

New York University journalism students write and record My Water’s on Fire Tonight, their take on the controversy over hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.

Who knew? Smallmouth bass are an invasive species 

Who knew – Part II: Lake Trout are invasives, too

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‘Water wars,’ bottled water and robo-carp

Every week, the Freshwater Society posts a digest of regional, national and international news articles and research reports on water and the environment. Go to the Freshwater web site to read the latest digest, or click on the links below to read the original articles. If you see something that interests you, let us know by posting a comment.

Specter of ‘water wars’ may be overblown
The United Nations warned recently that climate change harbours the potential for serious conflicts over water. In its World Water Development Report of March 2009, it quotes UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noting the risk of water scarcity “transforming peaceful competition into violence”. It is statements such as this that gave birth to popular notions of ‘water wars’. It is time we dispelled this myth. Countries do not go to war over water, they solve their water shortages through trade and international agreements.

Cooperation, in fact, is the dominant response to shared water resources. There are 263 cross-boundary waterways in the world. Between 1948 and 1999, cooperation over water, including the signing of treaties, far outweighed conflict over water and violent conflict in particular. Of 1,831 instances of interactions over international freshwater resources tallied over that time period (including everything from unofficial verbal exchanges to economic agreements or military action), 67% were cooperative, only 28% were conflictive, and the remaining 5% were neutral or insignificant. In those five decades, there were no formal declarations of war over water.

Florida considers charging water bottlers
Each day more than five million gallons of spring water is bottled in Florida, and companies pay almost nothing for local water permits. Florida is considering joining other states that have imposed “severance fees” on commercially bottled spring water. It would charge six cents for every gallon taken from springs or aquifers.
–National Public Radio

U.S. toxic chemical releases down slightly
The release of toxic chemicals to the air and water decreased across the country in 2007, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Releases to the air decreased 7 percent, and releases to water declined 5 percent, according to a report issued by the agency.

The report shows increases in the releases of persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals like lead, dioxin, mercury and PCBs. Overall PBTs releases increased 1 percent. The increases were primarily due to a handful of facilities, and most of the releases reported were not to the air or water.

Total disposal or other releases of mercury increased 38 percent, but air emissions of mercury were down 3 percent. The majority of mercury releases were reported by the mining industry.

State-by-state data on facilities and releases to air, land and water can be found by accessing the EPA’s state fact sheet by clicking here.

Additional information on releases on zip code, county and facility can be found using the TRI explorer, accessible here.
–U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Major bird populations decline
Several major bird populations have plummeted over the past four decades across the United States as development transformed the nation’s landscape, according to a comprehensive survey released by the Interior Department and outside experts, but conservation efforts have staved off potential extinctions of others.

“The State of the Birds” report, a broad analysis of data compiled from scientific and citizen surveys over 40 years, shows that some species have made significant gains even as others have suffered. Hunted waterfowl and iconic species such as the bald eagle have expanded in number, the report said, while populations of birds along the nation’s coasts and in its arid areas and grasslands have declined sharply.
–The Washington Post

Invasives rules sought for Lake Minnetonka
The Lake Minnetonka Association is calling for emergency boat launch rules for the coming season to prevent the spread of zebra mussels into the lake.

An exploding population of zebra mussels in Lake Mille Lacs warrants emergency action to protect Lake Minnetonka, the association says. It wants to require that all boats be clean and dry, inside and out, before they enter the lake.

The lakeshore owners group is pushing the Lake Minnetonka Conservation District, which manages lake issues for the 14 cities ringing the lake, to adopt these ramp rules and step up efforts to protect the lake from invasive species. It is also asking the cities to work on the problem as well.
–Star Tribune

Caribbean fish populations down
Populations of both large and small fish have been declining sharply across the Caribbean in the past 10 years, say researchers, who combined data from 48 studies of 318 coral reefs conducted over more than 50 years.

The data show that fish “densities” that had held steady for decades began to drop significantly around 1995, a trend not reported previously. Although overfishing has long taken a toll on larger species, the drop in smaller species that are not fished indicates that other forces are at work, said author Michelle Paddack of Simon Fraser University in Canada.

Drastic losses in coral cover and changes in coral reef habitats, driven by warming water temperatures and coral diseases, as well as sediment and pollution from coastal development could be among the factors.
–The Washington Post

Robotic carp developed to fight pollution
Robotic fish, developed by UK scientists, are to be released into the sea for the first time to detect pollution.
The carp-shaped robots will be let loose in the port of Gijon in northern Spain as part of a three-year research project.

If successful, the team hopes that the fish will used in rivers, lakes and seas across the world, including Britain, to detect pollution.

The life-like creatures, which will mimic the undulating movement of real fish, will be equipped with tiny chemical sensors to find the source of potentially hazardous pollutants in the water, such as leaks from vessels in the port or underwater pipelines.

The fish will then transmit their data through Wi-Fi technology when they dock to charge their batteries with last around eight hours.
–The Telegraph

EPA sponsors video contest
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is sponsoring a contest for the production of educational videos that will inspire people to help protect streams, lakes, wetlands, and coasts.

Two winners will each receive $2,500 and their videos will be featured on EPA’s Web site. The deadline for entry is Earth Day, April 29.

The contest has two categories: 30- or 60-second videos usable as a television public service announcement, and 1- to 3-minute instructional videos.

For information, go to contest rules on the EPA web site by clicking here.
–U.S. EPA web site

Dubuque museum works to save amphibians
Out of sight and tucked away under lock and key in the basement of the Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, the tiny toads hopping about in climate controlled captivity might not seem sexy.

But when Lee Jackson, Abby Urban and Jerry Enzler begin to talk about their little guests, passion is just around the corner.

It’s a passion for preservation of the Wyoming toad, one of the four most endangered amphibian species in the United States, Urban points out. And one-tenth of the Wyoming toads in captivity are in her care.
–The Dubuque Telegraph Herald

European water use not sustainable, report says
European environmental officials warned that the continent does not have enough water to sustain current consumption levels.

The European Environment Agency issued a report that concluded the problem now applies to northern Europe as well as the south and cannot be addressed by expanding supplies alone.

“The short-term solution to water scarcity has been to extract ever greater amounts of water from our surface and groundwater assets,” said agency director Jacqueline McGlade. “Overexploitation is not sustainable.”
–United Press International

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