water pollution

How did Minnesota melt 12,000 years ago?

The link at the bottom of this post will take you to a phenomenal article from the NY Times on researchers observing the melting of Greenland’s ice cap. You owe it to yourself to view it on a full-size monitor instead of squinting at your phone. Scrolling down and back up the article is worth ten minutes of your day.

They’ve spliced in drone video, photos, and satellite imagery in a seamless look at how a very thick chunk of ice goes away. Looking at the landscape and the micro-melt patterns made me think about how Minnesota must have looked as our glacial history was unfolding.

We don’t specialize in climate change work here at Freshwater, but we do appreciate how new perspectives help propel along innovative solutions to the problems we face. View this link and see how a number of little changes spread across a landscape can have a large cumulative effect.

New York Times Article

–   Steve Woods

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Freshwater Blog: Clean water funding 2016

Minnesota’s Clean Water Council recently announced their recommendations for how sales tax money dedicated to cleaning up and protecting water should be spent. The recommendations for 2016/2017 show a priority for on-the-ground  programs that will directly impact water quality.

The Freshwater Society finds a lot to like in the Clean Water Council’s recommendations. Many of Minnesota’s toughest challenges to our water resources require landscape level changes to address. The heightened focus on programs that make changes on-the-ground is both welcome and necessary to ensure limited public funds have the most impact on our water quality.

The Clean Water Council recommendations break out by category to:
















Freshwater Society has worked with the Clean Water Council during the development of their recommendations and is happy to see several items receive attention. Of note are,

  • The CREP III program which will leverage other federal and state funds to permanently protect critical acres which are poised to leave federal conservation programs and re-enter row crop production,
  • Funding for critical research into  alternative crops that will diversify our landscape,
  • Funding that increases on-the-ground work and increased local government’s capacity to protect or restore water quality


We look forward to continued improvements to how the Clean Water Fund is deployed in order to more effectively protect, restore and enhance our lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater. In particular,

  • Increased funding for technologies necessary to diversify our agricultural landscapes,
  • Increased flexibility in funds for conservation work on agricultural lands so they can be used at the time key decisions are made,
  • Increased local capacity to work directly with landowners to expand the implementation of conservation measures protecting water,
  • Better targeting and prioritization of on-the-ground work,
  • Increased accountability for local governments to do effective water resource planning,
  • A shift of funding from creating plans to implementing plans once the first round of Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies are completed.
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Freshwater Blog: MN Board of Water and Soil Resources vacancies

The MN Board of Water and Soil Resources has multiple vacancies coming up. They are looking for people from the following backgrounds with an interest in soil and water issues: One Watershed District Representative, one Non‐Metro Elected City Official Representative, one County Commissioner Representative, and one Citizen Member.BWSRlogo-trans

Appointments are made by the Governor’s office. Application forms are available and must be submitted by November 25, 2014, to be assured of full consideration—they can be submitted after this date and still be in the running. Here are the links to the Secretary of State’s website:

Online Application
Open Appointments Application (Word)

I used to work at his place and can tell you this is a hardworking board that matters. They bring a wide and practical range of perspectives from around the state to their deliberations on how policy is formed and funds are distributed.

Steve Woods  11-12-14

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AP investigates ethanol boom

The Associated Press today released a major investigation on the environmental impact of America’s boom in corn-based ethanol. The report details increased pollution of streams from nitrogen fertilizers and increased production of greenhouse gases from the conversion of grasslands to row crop agriculture.

Last year, 44 percent of the nation’s corn crop was used for fuel, according to the report.

The AP, on its website, headlined the investigation as “The Big Story: The secret, dirty cost of Obama’s green power push.” Read the package of articles on the Associated Press website. Read versions published by the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press.

A data base the Associated Press compiled from U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics shows that between 2006 _ the year before the federal government began requiring ethanol be blended with gasoline _  and 2012, Minnesota farmers increased their corn plantings by 1.4 million acres, or 19 percent.

During the same period, the land set aside in conservation plots in Minnesota decreased by 241,000 acres, or 13 percent. View the AP’s interactive map showing county-by-county changes in corn plantings and conservation land between 2006 and 2012.

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Chesapeake clean-up planned

Officials of six states and the District of Columbia whose waters flow into the pollution-damaged Chesapeake Bay are working on a bay clean-up plan they expect to complete this fall.

The agreement, according to partial draft released this month, would include specific numeric targets for restoring wetlands and protecting and restoring populations of fish, shell fish and waterfowl.

Read an article about the evolving clean-up plan published by the Annapolis, Md., capitalgazette.com news site and download the draft agreement.

The six states are New York, Delaware, West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

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New USGS report on streams

USGS report on the health of U.S. streams.A new U.S. Geological Survey report on the water quality of rivers and streams across the country describes damage caused by reductions in flows and increased pollution from fertilizers and pesticides.

The report, based on research conducted between 1993 and 2005, examines changes in algae, macroinvertebrates and fish.

Stream health was reduced at the vast majority of streams, both in agricultural and urban areas, the research found. About 20 percent of the streams in both areas were in good shape.

Read a USGS news release about the research and link to the full report, fact sheets and a video on the work.

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Cover crops work, users say

Cover crops – typically grasses sowed into corn and soybean fields after the fall harvest – could reduce nitrogen losses to Minnesota streams and rivers by 10 percent if the cover crops were widely adopted by farmers across the state, a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency report estimated in late June.

Read an agriculture.com report on a U.S. Department of Agriculture-sponsored survey of Corn Belt farmers who used cover crops last year. The survey respondents reported increased profitability for their corn and soybean acres during the 2012 drought.

Learn more about the survey and download the report.

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Major report documents extent of Minnesota nitrate pollution

Nitrate  – much of it from fertilizers applied to farmland – pollutes many Minnesota rivers and streams and contributes to the oxygen-depleted “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, a new report from the state’s Pollution Control Agency concludes.

Excess nitrate is toxic to fish and the aquatic life food chain and potentially harmful to humans in drinking water.

The report, released Wednesday, June 26, was based on analysis of more than 50,000 water samples, and is the most exhaustive study ever conducted on nitrate pollution in Minnesota. Scientists and regulators have long known that nitrate pollution was a serious problem in lakes and streams and in groundwater.

The new report found a substantial number of streams in which nitrate levels exceeded the health limit set for drinking water. Between 2000 and 2010, the health standard — 10 milligrams of nitrate per liter of water – was exceeded in some sampling in 27 percent of the sites where water was tested.

Read an executive summary of the report and an accompanying fact sheet. Download the full 444-page report. View video of a news conference to release the report. Read a news release from the Minnesota Environmental Partnership praising the report and calling for state action to reduce the nitrate pollution.

Nitrate levels in northern Minnesota are relatively low, but much higher in the southern and southeastern parts of the states, according to the report.

The report estimated that cropland agriculture is the source of 70 percent of nitrate in the state’s surface waters. In intensively farmed areas of the state, including the Minnesota River Valley, cropland accounts for 89 percent to 95 percent of the nitrate loads.

In a news release, Minnesota Pollution Control Commissioner John Linc Stine said: “I believe Minnesota farmers are committed to conservation, stewardship and water quality protection, but collectively too much nitrate is ending up in streams and rivers. We have to do better.”

During a year with average rainfall and average river levels, about 158 million pounds of nitrate flow down the Mississippi to the Gulf.

The report estimated that 37 percent of the nitrogen flowing to surface waters across the state is routed through tile drainage systems, and another 30 percent goes from the land’s surface into groundwater that then is discharged to surface waters.

Point sources, such as sewage treatment plants, account for only 9 percent, and urban storm water makes up only 1 percent of the total, according to the estimate.

Can Minnesota substantially reduce the nitrate in its surface waters? Yes, but it won’t be easy, the report says.

The executive summary of the report summarizes the results of modeling on what it would take to achieve a 30 percent to 35 percent reduction in cropland losses of nitrate:

  • Ninety percent of the state’s corn fields would be fertilized at optimum rates, with the fertilizer applied in the spring.
  • Perennial plants would be grown in 100-foot-wide buffer strips along most streams.
  • All tile drainage water would be reduced in volume or routed through wetlands or pits filled with wood chips to remove the nitrogen.
  • Rye cover crops would be planted on most corn and soybean acreage to use nitrogen when the corn and soybeans are not growing.
  • Row crops would be replaced by perennials on marginal land.

The net cost of all those changes in practices and infrastructure would be more than $1 billion per year, the report estimated.


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L.A. plans huge groundwater clean-up

The Los Angeles water utility plans to spend $600 million to $800 million to clean up groundwater contaminated by industrial pollution in the San Fernando Basin, a federal Superfund site. Read a Los Angeles Times article about the huge effort to wean Los Angeles from its dependence on surface water imported from other areas.

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Chemicals taint Minnesota lakes, rivers

Two new studies released by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency confirm that a wide variety of unregulated chemicals – from insect repellants to cocaine and prescription medicines — are ending up in Minnesota’s lakes and rivers.

Some of the chemicals can interfere with the functioning of hormones in animals and people.

“What these studies really are measuring is the footprint of our society and how we live,” said MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine. “Our lakes and rivers are reflecting the chemicals we use and put into our bodies. These chemicals have very beneficial uses, but unfortunately they tend to stick around in the environment after their first use.”

The two latest studies provide statistical evidence of just how widespread the chemicals are in Minnesota’s surface waters. In 2010 and 2012, the MPCA sampled lakes and rivers using funds from the state of Minnesota and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, part of nationwide EPA surveys to find out what’s in the nation’s waters.

Read an MPCA news release about the two reports. Download the lakes report. Read a Star Tribune article on the lakes report.

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