Will Cushman: The Health of Lakes

WisContext:

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The destruction of shoreline and near-shore habitat can also take a toll on aquatic life, Sorge said. This process is often instigated by development of buildings and other shoreline structures, which often transforms biodiverse native habitats into species deserts.

Shoreline development also increases runoff into lakes, Sorge added. “Once we get to even as little as 15% of [a lakeshore] lot covered with rooftops, sidewalks, walkways, driveways, you’ve increased the mass loading of phosphorus from that parcel of land by a factor of six,” he said. “Our lakes cannot sustain these types of increased inputs if we don’t manage them.”

Please watch the video of Buzz Sorge’s presentation!

Matt Simon: Remote Lakes and Microplastic

Wired:

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THE MICROPLASTIC MENACE is a maddening conundrum: The pollutant shows up everywhere, but science knows very little about it. Microplastic particles blow to the peaks of pristine mountain ranges. They swirl hundreds of feet deep in the sea. They clot ocean critters, from shellfish to regular fish.

Yet we have little data on how microplastic might be affecting the animals exposed to it, and we certainly don’t know how the stuff could be affecting whole ecosystems. A system of small, isolated lakes in Canada, though, could help unravel those mysteries. The International Institute for Sustainable Development’s Experimental Lakes Area, or ELA, are testing grounds that allow researchers to isolate a pocket of water within a lake and add pollutants like hormones and flame retardants—and now potentially microplastics—and watch how the ecosystem responds. The microplastics program is in its very early stages, but it could turn into a one-of-a-kind platform for testing how this omnipresent pollutant might be stressing ecosystems.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek: Mercury and Climate Change

Milwaukee Sentinel:

Sarah Whites-Koditschek, WPR

Sarah Whites-Koditschek, WPR

Watras and Rubsam walk onto frozen Little Rock Lake in Vilas County near their base at the University of Wisconsin’s Trout Lake Station. They are scientists for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Limnology and the state Department of Natural Resources.

After decades of water sampling on Little Rock Lake and two other nearby lakes, Watras concluded that climate change is causing fluctuations in the level of dangerous methylmercury in the environment. That finding added to the list of negative effects of climate change, which include making storms more powerful, increasing the Earth’s temperature and causing polar ice to melt, which causes sea levels to rise. Watras discovered that accumulations of the toxin in fish fluctuate as water cycles driven by climate change raise and lower lake levels. When the water levels go up, Watras found, levels of mercury can increase to unsafe levels in walleye, one of the state’s most prized game fish. When levels go down, concentrations in walleye go down to levels considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency...

Mark Brigham, a hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Mounds View, Minnesota, said fluctuating mercury levels could make it harder to know whether fish are safe to eat. People who fish could easily underestimate or overestimate the risk at any given time. “It’s entirely possible that people, when they look at the fish consumption advisories for a given lake, they could be looking at advice that’s out of date or doesn’t reflect current conditions in the lake,” Brigham said.

Rebecca Hersher: PFAS Health Effects

NPR:

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Scientists are ramping up research on the possible health effects of a large group of common but little-understood chemicals used in water-resistant clothing, stain-resistant furniture, nonstick cookware and many other consumer products.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are generally referred to by their plural acronym, PFAS. PFAS are resistant to water, oil and heat, and their use has expanded rapidly since they were developed by companies in the mid-20th century. Today, PFAS’ nonstick qualities make them useful in products as diverse as food wrappers, umbrellas, tents, carpets and firefighting foam. The chemicals are also used in the manufacture of plastic and rubber and in insulation for wiring. In short, they are all around us. And as a result, they’ve found their way into the soil and, especially in some regions, into our drinking water.

”We’re finding them contaminating many rivers, many lakes, many drinking water supplies,” says Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program. “And we’re finding them not only in the environment, but we’re finding them in people.” “Essentially everyone has these compounds in our blood,” she explains.

We always find what we dumped in.

Greg Stanley: Ice and Walleyes Signal Changing Climate

Star Tribune:

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Across Minnesota, lakes are losing up to four days of ice every 10 years, according to the state climatology office. And it’s not just Minnesota: Rivers and lakes across the continent are tending to freeze later and thaw earlier. “You think of all the ways people interact with lake ice — skating, fishing derbies, iceboats,” said John Magnuson, an ecologist and limnologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “And already, in some of these lakes you have about a month less to do it.”

... at the University of Wisconsin, the first school in the country to study the chemistry and makeup of inland lakes, scientists have been keeping that data for decades. The university has tracked ice coverage on Wisconsin lakes since the 1850s. In those days, ice harvesters needed to know when they could venture out on a lake to cut large frozen blocks to sell during summer; parents and school superintendents waited for ice roads that would connect Lake Superior’s Apostle Islands to the mainland.

The longer the data go back, the clearer the pattern becomes: Lakes have less ice now, said Magnuson, who is semiretired after decades with the school’s limnology office. Lake Mendota in Madison gets 30 days less ice coverage — a full month — than it did during the Civil War, the data show. And the thaws have been accelerating, Magnuson said. Six of Lake Mendota’s 10 earliest ice-outs have happened since the late 1990s.

Ice coverage is not just a function of temperatures in the spring and fall. It reflects two larger factors: the area’s average annual temperature and the depth of the lake. Every body of water is continually heating up through the summer. The deeper the lake, the more volume it has to collect and store that heat. The more warmth a lake stores, the longer it takes to freeze, Magnuson said.

For the first time, some of the deepest lakes in southern Wisconsin are starting to have years when they don’t freeze at all. As temperatures continue to climb, that will happen to more and more lakes in Minnesota as well, Magnuson said. The magic number seems to be about 47 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the average temperature for an entire year reaches that point, lakes that have historically frozen over every year start to see some years where they remain open.

Jason Bittel: Dragonfly Migrations

onEarth:

JUDY GALLAGHER  VIA FLICKR

JUDY GALLAGHER VIA FLICKR

According to a study published by the Royal Society last fall, common green darners, which are found from Cuba to Canada, make a long, complex journey that takes three generations and spans a distance of more than 1,500 miles. Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how they do it, but temperature seems to play a key role in telling the animals when to move. Unfortunately, this means climate change could well wreck the whole event even before we fully understand it. Worse, it would leave much of eastern North America without an important member of its food web.

The news that dragonflies migrate probably won’t shock people who study insects, says the study’s senior author, Colin Studds, a wildlife ecologist at the University of Maryland. “We’ve had an inkling of how many insects migrate,” he says. “There are moths, there are beetles, and there are probably about 20 species of dragonflies that we have expected of migration. But we don’t know much about it other than that it’s a phenomenon.”

AP: Trumpeter Swans died from Lead Poisoning

A University of Minnesota diagnostic lab report shows that dead trumpeter swans found at Sucker Lake in Vadnais Heights, Minn., earlier this month died of lead poisoning.

The Pioneer Press reported that the Vadnais Lake Area Water Management Organization, which investigated the swan deaths, originally thought the swans had died of malnutrition.

The report said the lead toxicity is likely from fishing sinkers that accumulate in the sediment. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources estimates that 40 percent of Minnesota trumpeter swan deaths are caused by lead poisoning. Experts say one pellet can kill an adult trumpeter swan.

About 10 dead swans were found at the Vadnais Heights lake.

We keep loosing lead sinkers in our lakes and we think it has no consequences. Crazy.

Alissa Walker: How to ID Lead Paint

Curbed:

Lead paint is extremely prevalent in older, historic houses—especially homes that haven’t been renovated. I figured we might have lead paint in our house, given its age. If the paint is in good condition, there isn’t much risk. However, when lead paint is deteriorating, you can ingest it...

If the paint is in good shape, sometimes all that’s needed is encapsulation, meaning sealing or painting over the older layers of lead paint. If the paint is chipped or flaking, or found in places that are frequently used, like hinges and windows, the more expensive abatement process is the best option. Our county’s public health department provided a list of accredited inspectors and abatement firms, and the EPA also has a resource center.

Daniel McGraw: Lake Erie Bill of Rights

The Guardian:

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The citizens of Toledo, on the western basin of Lake Erie, will now be voting on a controversial legal bill on 26 February. What they will be deciding is whether Lake Erie has the same legal rights as a corporation or person.

There have been cities and townships in the United States that have passed ordinances making some types of polluting illegal, but no American city or state has changed the legality of nature in a way that is this big and this extensive – effectively giving personhood to a gigantic lake.

Called the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, it would grant personhood status to the lake, with the citizens being the guardians of the body of water. If passed, citizens could sue a polluter on behalf of the lake, and if the court finds the polluter guilty, the judge could impose penalties in the form of designated clean-ups and/or prevention programs.

“What has happened in Toledo is that we have lost our faith in the current mechanisms of power, and decided to take things into our own hands,” said Bryan Twitchell, a Toledo school teacher.

Erin Jordan: Iowa Commission Won't Set Lake Pollution Limits

The Gazette:

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The Iowa Environmental Protection Commission on Tuesday unanimously denied a petition asking the state to set pollution limits on Iowa lakes. The vote in Des Moines followed a presentation by the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Iowa Environmental Council, which jointly filed a petition for rule making. The groups argued numeric limits for water transparency, chlorophyll-a, total phosphorus and total nitrogen would better help the state protect lakes used for recreation and drinking water.

But the Iowa Department of Natural Resources recommended the commission deny the petition, saying numeric limits would result in costly changes and more federal regulation. The Law and Policy Center also asked for numeric limits in 2013, but the commission denied the petition then as well.

Interesting… aren’t there benefits of setting a pollution standard for a lake or a group of lakes?

Frances Cairncross: A Global Warming Solution is R&D and Phased In Carbon Tax

Anthropocene:

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The world is playing a rigged casino game. “Every year that we inject more CO2 into the atmosphere, we spin the planetary roulette wheel … and the more we continue increasing the emissions that warm the planet, the more the odds are stacked against a favorable outcome.”
So what’s the smartest way to play such a game? Or, more to the point: Is there a way to speed up a massive leap from dirty to clean energy sources that would otherwise take many decades?

A team led by MIT’s Daron Acemoglu has recently argued that the best way to replace carbon-based energy with noncarbon fuels might be to start off with a high level of government subsidies for research and development of clean technologies. (1) Over the course of half a century, these subsidies would be gradually withdrawn and a carbon tax introduced at rates that would build to a crescendo over a century or so before declining. The boost to R&D would speed up the switch to clean energy without cutting economic growth, as a carbon tax alone might do.

Thus the carbon tax would become an effective way to bring about the transition to clean technology only after enough R&D had been done to shift the incentives for innovation.

Kirsti Marohn: 'Forever' Chemicals in Groundwater

MPR:

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“We do know that these chemicals just don’t break down,” said Matt Simcik, a University of Minnesota professor who has done extensive research on PFAS. “So once we’ve made them, they’re around forever.” About 20 years ago, studies found that PFAS were showing up around the globe: in water, soil, wildlife and even in humans. Scientists are still studying the health effects of the chemicals, but research has linked prolonged exposure to PFAS to health problems including some cancers, thyroid disease and infertility.

”There’s strong evidence they have adverse biological effects,” said Bill Arnold, a University of Minnesota professor who has studied methods to remove PFAS from water. “The data isn’t 100 percent conclusive, but the prevailing wisdom is that it’s not good to have them in your bloodstream. And we all have them in our bloodstream.”

EPA's Forever Chemicals Plan

AP:

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Under pressure from Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday it would move toward setting safety limits for a class of highly toxic chemicals contaminating drinking water around the country. Environmentalists, congressional Democrats and state officials countered that the agency wasn’t moving fast enough.

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler released an “action plan” for dealing with the long-lasting substances, which have been linked to health threats ranging from cancer to decreased fertility. The perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known collectively as PFAS, have turned up increasingly in public water systems and private wells.

Stephanie Hemphill: Farmers Reducing Phosphorus Runoff

ENSIA:

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Why exactly does Green Bay need saving? Because it suffers from too much phosphorus, which contributes to Cyanobacteria, more commonly known as blue-green algae. Around the world, these bacteria are turning water a disgusting shade of green and other colors, and producing poisons that can sicken people and kill animals. And when the algae die off they can rob oxygen from other life in the water, killing fish and other aquatic life.

Around Green Bay, several small streams carry excess nutrients from farm fields into the bay and eventually into Lake Michigan. One of them, Silver Creek, is the focus of a pilot project designed to answer a crucial question: Can farmers reduce their pollution enough to help the bay, while remaining profitable? The project lies within the boundaries of the Oneida reservation, and more than half the land is owned by the tribe, which leases a lot of land to non-tribal growers...

Five years in a pilot program isn’t much time to clean up a stream, but the ultimate goal of adaptive management is to bring Silver Creek up to the state’s water quality standard for phosphorus. NEW Water says the project has cost US$1 million dollars annually over the last four years. That’s a lot cheaper than US$100 million for a new treatment plant. And how well is it all working?

The project promises to provide extensive data about how well various agricultural practices work to reduce polluted farm runoff. The weekly samples from five monitors along Silver Creek provide baseline measurements from the year before the BMPs started. This is not as precise as more expensive continuous monitoring would be, but it offers more experimental rigor than most studies can provide.

Those five monitors continue to track water quality. So far, the results are mixed. In 2016, three of the monitors showed phosphorus reductions, one stayed essentially the same and one showed a slight increase. In 2017 the area was drenched with what felt like endless rainfall, soaking the fields and making them more vulnerable to runoff. The phosphorus numbers went up, but not to levels seen pre-BMPs. “I was very happy to see that even with a very wet year we never even approached the concentrations we saw before we started installing these best management practices,” NEW Water’s Erin Houghton says.

Adam Hinterthuer: Lake Water Level Changes and Mercury in Fish

Center for Limnology:

A study has found an connection between water levels in lakes and toxic mercury levels in fish. When droughts cause water levels to drop, the levels of mercury found in fish also plummet. In extended periods of wetter weather, water levels rise and levels of mercury in fish increase. The phenomenon was discovered by a team of scientists from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources as they examined long-term data from several lakes in northern Wisconsin. In previous work, the researchers had found that, roughly once a decade, water levels in the northwestern Great Lakes and northern Wisconsin’s inland lakes fluctuate between high and low levels and back again.

The scientists turned to 32 years of data on mercury levels in more than 1,300 walleye, a fish popular with anglers and restaurants throughout the Great Lakes region. And when the researchers plotted out that data, they saw a very familiar pattern — mercury levels in walleye follow the 10-year water level fluctuations.

Nadja Popovich: Lake Ice Future

New York Times:

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In a study published last week in the journal Nature Climate Change, scientists for the first time quantified the effects of rising temperatures on ice cover across 1.4 million lakes in the Northern Hemisphere. They found that, from Wisconsin to Japan, thousands of lakes that used to freeze reliably every winter already see some years without ice, and that “an extensive loss of lake ice will occur within the next generation.”

The vanishing ice will affect cold-water ecosystems and be felt by millions of people who live near northern lakes, the study said.

The study.

Genna Reed: PFAS Task Force Calls for Action

Union of Concerned Scientists:

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Earlier this week, members of Congress announced the creation of a bipartisan task force intended to shine a light on the dangers of nationwide PFAS contamination. The group plans to hold briefings to further educate members of Congress and to write and push for strong legislation and funding through the appropriations process.

This exciting news comes as the public continues to wait for answers from the Trump administration, which has largely been all talk and no action on this issue. The EPA’s anticipated PFAS management plan has been delayed and documents uncovered by Politico revealed that the Department of Defense (DoD) had recently been eyeing Michael Dourson to lead a study on the health risks of PFAS. You might remember Dourson as the toxicologist who withdrew his name from consideration as EPA chemicals head last year after his industry conflicts and record of weakened standards were exposed. DoD’s consideration of Dourson for this work is a slap in the face to the communities calling for science-based thresholds that are health-protective.

The establishment of this task force is a great opportunity for Congress to push for urgent, strong action and answer the calls of so many Americans for whom drinking their own water presents a public health risk...

Lindsey Konkel: Potential Ideas for Using Stormwater

Environmental Health News:

Ana Deletic

Ana Deletic

In some water-stressed regions, scientists and engineers are working to optimize the use of plants to remove nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus from storm water. High levels of these nutrients in ground and surface water can lead to algal blooms and harm drinking water sources.

Ana Deletic is a water-engineering expert at the University of New South Wales in Australia. She has helped to engineer massive rain gardens in Australia, Israel and China—some up to an acre in size—to help filter these common pollutants out of urban wastewater. “These are simple-looking systems, but they are not. They are living machines that must be tailored for local conditions,” Deletic told EHN.

Many urban environments have a history of contamination with toxic metals including lead and cadmium. Deletic said that zinc from rusting metal roofs has become a public health concern in some cities in Australia and New Zealand. Plants may be able to help remove heavy metals, too. “Plants need small amounts of metals to grow, so over time they will suck up some of these contaminants,” said Deletic.

Megan Geuss: EPA Regulation of Mercury Emissions Summary

Ars Technica:

https://www.gettyimages.com/collections/bloomberg

https://www.gettyimages.com/collections/bloomberg

On Friday, the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it did not think that current mercury emissions rules placed on coal-fired power plants were “appropriate and necessary,” based on the agency’s revised look at the costs and benefits of the rule...

Consequently, the Trump administration’s EPA is leaving the current MATS rule in place while undercutting the justification for the rule in such a way that it could preclude more stringent mercury standards in the future and could possibly set the stage for looser rules in the future.

And yet the EPA notes that mercury concentration in fish are increasing. Increases in mercury pollution have human consequences.

Karla Lant: The National Lakes Assessment

Environmental Monitor:

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The EPA (and others, such as this separate analysis from Dr. Dina Leech) are now reporting on observations of conditions and changes from 2007 to 2012. For most indicators, no change occurred, but changes in total phosphorus, two algal toxin indicators, and a physical habitat indicator are exceptions.

“While EPA did not observe changes in the condition categories for the nutrient phosphorus, Leech et al. 2018 found an 18.2 percent decline in the percentage of oligotrophic lakes (very clear lakes with less than 10 μg/L of total phosphorus) and an overall increase in the median concentration of phosphorus across all lakes,” comments Lynn. “The NLA 2012 Assessment Report observed a change within algal toxin measures. An analysis of cyanobacteria cell density, a measure of the density of cells that could produce cyanotoxins, showed a statistically significant increase (+8.3%) in the percentage of lakes in the most disturbed category between 2007 and 2012. The NLA identified a significant increase in the detection of microcystin among lakes in 2012 (+9.5%). However, concentrations of this algal toxin remained low and rarely exceeded WHO recreational levels of concern (<1% of the population) in both assessments.”

The NLA 2012 Assessment Report also found fewer lakes in the least disturbed category and more lakes in the moderately disturbed category for the habitat complexity indicator—which has to do with lakeshore habitat and buffering qualities.