water infrastructure

Sediment, Asian carp and a Legacy forum

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.  

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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.peterson@state.mn.us 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.
–Engineering News-Record

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California water deal mandates conservation

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of top news and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read them in their entirety where they originally were published.

California mandates 20% cut in cities’ water use by 2020
Lawmakers capped months of discussions, weeks of tedious negotiations and years of chasing a water deal with approval of major legislation in a marathon session.

The package, which includes an $11.1-billion bond that must go before voters, would nudge California in new directions on water policy while giving something to each of the major factions that have warred over the state’s supplies.

The measure, likely to reach the governor’s desk early next week, would establish a statewide program that for the first time would measure if too much water is being pumped from underground aquifers. It mandates an overall 20% drop in the state’s per capita water use by 2020 and creates a new, politically appointed council to oversee management of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the state’s water hub.
–The Los Angeles Times

 California agriculture avoids big water cuts
Cities across the state must slash water consumption by about 20 percent over the next decade under newly passed legislation aimed at reworking the aging policies and plumbing that determine water flow to 38 million Californians.

 But the California agriculture industry, which consumes an estimated three-quarters of the water used in the state, won’t have to change its practices much under the new rules. 

And that vexes many involved in the political wrangling over water in a state where global warming, population growth and crumbling infrastructure are forcing wrenching changes in the way natural resources are divvied up.
–The San Francisco Chronicle

 Pesticide concentrations drop in rivers, USGS finds
Concentrations of several major pesticides mostly declined or stayed the same in “Corn Belt” rivers and streams from 1996 to 2006, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study. 

The declines in pesticide concentrations closely followed declines in their annual applications, indicating that reducing pesticide use is an effective and reliable strategy for reducing pesticide contamination in streams.

 Declines in concentrations of the agricultural herbicides cyanazine, alachlor and metolachlor show the effectiveness of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulatory actions as well as the influence of new pesticide products. In addition, declines from 2000 to 2006 in concentrations of the insecticide diazinon correspond to the EPA’s national phase-out of nonagricultural uses. The USGS works closely with the EPA, which uses USGS findings on pesticide trends to track the effectiveness of changes in pesticide regulations and use.

 Scientists studied 11 herbicides and insecticides frequently detected in the Corn Belt region, which generally includes Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska and Ohio, as well as parts of adjoining states. This area has among the highest pesticide use in the nation — mostly herbicides used for weed control in corn and soybeans. As a result, these pesticides are widespread in the region’s streams and rivers, largely resulting from runoff from cropland and urban areas.

Elevated concentrations can affect aquatic organisms in streams as well as the quality of drinking water in some high-use areas where surface water is used for municipal supply. Four of the 11 pesticides evaluated for trends were among those most often found in previous USGS studies to occur at levels of potential concern for healthy aquatic life. Atrazine, the most frequently detected, is also regulated in drinking water.

 Although trends in concentration and use almost always closely corresponded, concentrations of atrazine and metolachlor each declined in one stream more rapidly than their estimated use. According to Skip Vecchia, senior author of the report on this analysis, “The steeper decline in these instances may be caused by agricultural management practices that have reduced pesticide transport, but data on management practices are not adequate to definitively answer the question. Overall, use is the most dominant factor driving changes in concentrations.” To view the full report, click here.
–USGS news release

 3.4 million acres taken out of conservation reserve
Surveying undulating grasslands that disappear into the western Kansas horizon, retired farmer Joe Govert pointed out parcel after parcel no longer enrolled in a federal program that pays property owners not to farm environmentally sensitive land.

 The arid, wind-swept ground stripped of topsoil by Dust Bowl storms has laid undisturbed beneath a protective cover of native grasses that took two decades to re-establish under the Conservation Reserve Program. But millions of those acres are being plowed again after the 2008 Farm Bill capped the program at 32 million acres. 

More than 3.4 million acres nationwide were taken out of the program in September when the owners’ contracts expired. Most of them were in Texas, Colorado and Kansas, but hundreds of thousands of acres also came out in Montana and the Dakotas.
–The Associated Press

Federal money for Minnesota water projects increases
Minnesota stands to get a nice boost in federal cash for water infrastructure projects under a newly signed appropriations bill.  

The 2010 Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill, which was signed by President Barack Obama late last week, includes $2.1 billion for wastewater and $1.39 billion for drinking water projects throughout the country.

Minnesota’s take is about $35.7 million for wastewater and $23.6 million for drinking water, which is roughly three times as much as Minnesota’s federal funding allocation was just a few years ago, noted DeAnn Stish, executive director of the Minnesota Utility Contractors Association.
–Finance and Commerce

 Malibu to phase out septic tanks
The great sewer wars of Malibu have finally drawn to a close. Sewers won.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board agreed late Thursday to ban septic systems in central and eastern Malibu, a move that would end years of fierce debate over the wastewater devices still commonly used in one of Southern California’s most picturesque and exclusive coastal communities.

New septic systems will not be permitted in Malibu and owners of existing systems will have to halt wastewater discharges within a decade.
–The Los Angeles Times

County donates land to settle water pollution case
Mower County  has agreed to donate 33.1 acres of land to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources instead of paying a $31,000 penalty for alleged stormwater violations during a ditch repair project.

 The deal completes what County Coordinator Craig Oscarson described as a three-way swap.

“It’s just like all the stars aligned,” he said. “The DNR wanted it. We didn’t want it, because by keeping it we had to maintain it.”

 The agreement is between the county, the project’s contractor, Freeborn Construction Inc. of Albert Lea, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

 The fine pertains to an incident that occurred between 2005 and 2006 when the county repaired Judicial Ditch 1 in Bennington Township.
–Austin Daily Herald

Missouri research explores algae-to-fuel
Backers of algae-based biofuels tout the simplicity of their feedstock. Sunlight and water are all that’s needed to convert carbon dioxide into fuel.

 Now, some scientists are testing the notion that sunlight might be optional.

 Researchers at the Missouri University of Science and Technology are planning to grow algae for fuel in abandoned mines using light-emitting diodes, or LEDs.
–The New York Times

 Climate plan proposes turning Sahara into a forest
Some talk of hoisting mirrors into space to reflect sunlight, while others want to cloud the high atmosphere with millions of tonnes of shiny sulphur dust. Now, scientists could have dreamed up the most ambitious geoengineering plan to deal with climate change yet: converting the parched Sahara desert to a lush forest. The scale of the ambition is matched only by the promised rewards – the scientists behind the plan say it could “end global warming.” 

The scheme has been thought up by Leonard Ornstein, a cell biologist at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, together with Igor Aleinov and David Rind, climate modelers at NASA. The trio have outlined their plan in a new paper published in the Journal of Climatic Change, and they modestly conclude it “probably provides the best, near-term route to complete control of greenhouse gas induced global warming”.

Under the scheme, planted fields of fast-growing trees such as eucalyptus would cover the deserts of the Sahara and Australian outback, watered by seawater treated by a string of coastal desalination plants and channelled through a vast irrigation network. The new blanket of tree cover would bring its own weather system and rainfall, while soaking up carbon dioxide from the world’s atmosphere. The team’s calculations suggest the forested deserts could draw down around 8bn tonnes of carbon a year, about the same as emitted from fossil fuels and deforestation today. Sounds expensive? The researchers say it could be more economic than planned global investment in carbon capture and storage technology.
–The Guardian

 Minnesota scrap dealers agree to limit air pollution
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 has issued administrative consent orders to three Minnesota scrap metal recycling companies – Leroy Iron and Metal Division of Behr Iron, Alter Trading Corp. and Timm’s Auto Salvage.

The companies agreed to comply with EPA regulations designed to protect the stratospheric ozone layer at their scrap metal recycling facilities.  The Leroy plant is at 2275 Dale Ave., Leroy;  the Alter plant is at 801 Barge Channel Road, St. Paul; and the Timm’s plant is at 936 W. 12th St., St. Charles. 

The companies have agreed, among other things, to recover ozone-depleting refrigerants from each appliance and motor vehicle air conditioner that they accept or to verify that the refrigerants have been recovered according to EPA regulations.  The companies will keep logs of the details of refrigerant recovery. 

Chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants and certain substitute refrigerants deplete the stratospheric, or “good,” ozone layer allowing dangerous amounts of cancer-causing ultraviolet rays from the sun to strike the earth.  Production of some of these chemicals was stopped in 1995, and federal law strictly controls their use and handling.
–EPA new release

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