Alan Guebert: Corporations Have Rights; Why Not a Lake?

Farm & Food File:

If the ballot box is the ultimate source of power in the United States, then voters in Toledo, Ohio, used that power Feb. 26 to create what’s now being called a “Bill of Rights” for their wide, blue neighbor, Lake Erie. That vote, if it withstands court challenges (one was filed immediately after the referendum passed) gives any Toledo citizen legal standing to sue any person or corporation on behalf of Lake Erie over its “right” to be clean and environmentally healthy.

Lake Erie’s newly conferred/newly challenged rights have farmers in northwest Ohio deeply concerned because they have long been seen as a key source of the phosphorus run-off that fuels late-summer, toxic algae blooms in the lake, that also serves as Toledo’s public water source. But it’s not just Toledo. The toxic blooms, according to press reports, threaten the water supply of 12 million American and Canadian citizens living near Lake Erie and jeopardize more than $1 billion a year spent in Ohio on lake tourism.

Mark Schapiro: Uphill Battle for Clean Water in Corn Country

Yale E360:

“Health trumps politics,” said Iowa State Senator David Johnson before taking the stage at a raucous rally in Des Moines last winter to support strengthening the state’s water quality. In the marble rotunda of the state capitol, he rose to denounce the nitrogen and phosphates that have been flowing in ever-increasing quantities into Iowa’s public water supplies — and was cheered by the small crowd of family farmers, concerned mothers, and his new political allies, the legislature’s drastically outnumbered Democrats. Johnson had been one of the longest-serving Republicans in Iowa until he left the party to become an independent in 2016 after defying it repeatedly on one of the most divisive issues in Iowa — the integrity of the state’s water.

Iowa’s nitrogen load has been accelerating despite more than $100 million spent by the federal and state governments to rein it in. Starting in 1999, the concentration of nitrogen in the state’s major waterways has increased almost 50 percent, according to a study from the University of Iowa, published last spring in PLOS One. The battle over Iowa’s water had long been posed as one between rural and urban interests, until Johnson, whose district is one of the most thinly populated and heavily farmed in the state, came along...

More than 750, or 58 percent, of the state’s rivers and streams do not meet federal water quality standards and are designated by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as too contaminated for swimming or consuming fish caught there — making a state once renowned for its lattice of waterways into a mess of inaccessible creeks, streams and lakes. Another 23 percent fall into a category of being “potentially impaired,” which the state defines as, “waters in need of further investigation.” Ninety-two percent of the nitrogen and 80 percent of phosphates in the state’s waterways, says the DNR, come from farms and animal feedlots.

Rachel Cernansky: Artificial sweeteners and polluted water


Artificial sweeteners pop up in products all over the grocery store, from diet soda to yogurt, to help people keep calories down and pounds off. It turns out their popularity has given artificial sweeteners — sucralose in particular — a purpose beyond helping with weight or carb control. Sucralose, and to some extent acesulfame, may also play a role in keeping water contamination down by helping researchers and water resource managers identify hot spots of pollutants in order to better manage them.

Sucralose is increasingly being used as what experts call a “tracer” — a substance that can help identify where contamination comes from. This ability is important for maintaining water quality, both in surface waters and in drinking water supplies...

A bigger concern is that sucralose concentrations will only increase, and it’s unclear what that will mean for ecosystems. Even less well-studied may be the effects of the compounds that form when sucralose does break down, which occurs to some extent despite how stable it is.

Dan Gunderson: In the Lake We Find What We Dump


A new study offers an explanation to the mystery of why pharmaceuticals and other chemicals are found in remote Minnesota lakes, far from developed land that would create contaminated runoff.

”These chemicals such as antibiotics, and anti-corrosives and endocrine active chemicals were being found in lakes where we might not expect them because there was no surrounding development,” said Mark Ferrey, a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency scientist who, in search of an answer, collected snow, rain and air samples at three locations in the Twin Cities and had them tested for 126 chemicals.

Ferrey found 17, including DEET, cocaine, antibiotics, an anti-corrosion chemical, an x-ray contrast chemical and the pain reliever naproxen.

Andrew Small: What Cities Looked Like Before the EPA


This might be a good time to reflect on its legacy, especially in urban spaces. Though environmentalism conjures “America the Beautiful” images of purple mountains and unspoiled wilderness, much of the EPA’s heaviest lifting in rescuing this nation from its own filth happened in cities...

Ron Seely: Bacteria in Private Wells at a Crisis

Late on a winter night in 2004 in Kewaunee County, six-month-old Samantha Treml was rushed to an emergency room, violently ill from bathing in water poisoned by manure spread on a nearby frozen field that seeped into the home’s private well. The rest of her family got sick, too.

In 2014, seven people visiting Door County were sickened after manure from a large farm made its way into a home’s private water well.

In 2015, Kewaunee County Board member Chuck Wagner discovered that the new $10,000 well he was forced to install two years earlier was again contaminated with viruses and cow manure. Wagner and his wife now use a reverse osmosis system to filter the water before drinking or cooking while they contemplate whether to dig a second new well.

And this year, the Algoma School District is offering free water to residents whose wells are contaminated...

Between 2007 and 2010, an estimated 18 percent of 3,868 private wells in Wisconsin tested positive for coliform bacteria — an indicator of disease-causing bacteria, viruses or parasites — according to a 2013 study by researchers with the state Department of Health Services. That translates into as many as 169,200 of the 940,000 Wisconsin households served by private wells exposed to disease-causing pathogens.

Beth Mole: Antibacterial Soaps Do More Harm Than Good

Ars Technica:

Whether you’re coming home from an airport fluttering with international germs, a daycare full of sticky-fingered toddlers, or just a grimy office building, scrubbing your hands with bacteria-busting soap seems like a great idea. But the data that have washed up on the cleansers in recent years suggest that they actually do more harm than good—for you, those around you, and the environment.

Scientists report that common antibacterial compounds found in those soaps, namely triclosan and triclocarban, may increase the risk of infections, alter the gut microbiome, and spur bacteria to become resistant to prescription antibiotics. Meanwhile, proof of the soaps’ benefits is slim.

There are specific circumstances in which those antimicrobials can be useful, civil engineer Patrick McNamara of Marquette University in Milwaukee told Ars. Triclosan, for instance, may be useful to doctors scrubbing for minutes at a time before a surgery or for hospital patients who can’t necessarily scrub with soap but could soak in a chemical bath. Triclosan and triclocarban do kill off bacteria during long washes. But most people only clean their hands for a few seconds. “There’s evidence that there is no improvement with using soaps that have these chemicals relative to washing your hands under warm water for 30 seconds with soaps without these chemicals,” he said.

Great Lakes Polluted More By Land Activities and River Sources




A chemical oceanographer at the University of Rhode Island who measured organic pollutants in the air and water around Lake Erie and Lake Ontario has found that airborne emissions are no longer the primary cause of the lakes’ contamination. Instead, most of the lakes’ chemical pollutants come from sources on land or in rivers.

According to Rainer Lohmann, professor of chemical oceanography at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography, water quality in the Great Lakes has been slowly improving for many years. Historic studies of the lakes has usually pointed to atmospheric deposition as the primary cause of pollution in the lakes – from industrial emissions, motor vehicle exhausts and related sources. But as air pollution has decreased, he has found a shift in the source of Great Lakes chemical pollutants.

“Some contaminants still come from the atmosphere, but it is now mostly from wastewater plants, contaminated industrial sites and inputs from major rivers,” Lohmann said. “It’s quite a bad mix, but it’s getting better. And hopefully the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative will improve things even more.”

His research was reported today at the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. Lohmann and a team of volunteers deployed passive samplers – sheets of polyethelene that absorb pollutants – in the air and water at more than 30 sites around Lake Erie and Lake Ontario from 2011 to 2014. Following chemical analysis, he determined the quantity and source of a variety of pollutants in the lakes.

Legacy pollutants – those that have been banned for decades but still are detected at relatively high levels, like pesticides and PCBs – have declined considerably in the lakes, except near the outflows of the Detroit River and the Niagara River and, to a lesser extent, near Erie and Rochester. The waters around Cleveland, however, have lower concentrations of these legacy pollutants.

“Because these pollutants have been banned for such a long time, they’re no longer in the atmosphere in high concentrations and so aren’t entering the lakes that way,” said Lohmann. “But we still see evidence of them coming from Superfund sites and old industrial sites. And the lakes are now cleansing themselves by releasing these old pollutants back to the atmosphere.”
Of increasing concern, according to the URI professor, is a group of what he calls “emerging contaminants” that are increasingly being detected in water bodies around the world. These include personal care products, like synthetic musks, and industrial flame retardants, among others.

“Musks come from products like deodorants and shampoos, so they are primarily detected near where lots of people live, since they don’t get broken down in wastewater treatment facilities,” Lohmann said. “As the lakes are slowly being cleaned of old organic pollutants, they are replaced by all kinds of compounds of emerging concern.”

Lakes Legacy

Tony Randgaard, writing for MinnPost:

Joe Bielawa

Joe Bielawa

Last week, Mound Mayor Mark Hanus and state Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, went on the offensive to blame the Met Council for the disastrous recent overflow of raw sewage into Lake Minnetonka and three other lakes. The Met Council fired back, stating that its sanitary sewage systems worked normally during the record weekend rainfall and were not the cause of the overflow. While this is sorted out, it might be instructive to look back at how we once worked together to clean up our landmark city lakes.

Control, control, you must learn control! To be Honorable is to face the truth, and choose. Give off light, or darkness. Be a candle, or the night.”

Lake Champlain Cleanup Plan

Beth Garbitelli, writing for the Associated Press:

Lynn Gardner

Lynn Gardner

Vermont officials posted online a hefty plan Tuesday to reduce pollution in Lake Champlain from stormwater runoff, and now await word on whether it goes far enough in addressing federal concerns.

Decades of runoff have contributed to dirtying Vermont’s signature lake and causing excessive algae growth. The pollution has turned the water murky, hurt tourism, depressed property values and increased water treatment costs.

Cleaning up the lake has been a longstanding state goal, but lawmakers and officials say the state is under more pressure now to meet federal targets. If the latest plan doesn’t measure up, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could impose expensive regulations on sewage plants in the state.

Bring plan here. Question it we will. 

State of Europe's Seas

Nature's News Blog:

The report notes that the levels of various pollutants — such as nutrients causing algal blooms and subsequent oxygen depletion in the Baltic and Black seas — are above acceptable limits; that fish stocks are over-exploited; and that the seas are full of litter. Gaps in data are also a huge problem, and very few member states have put forward a strategy to close these gaps, the Commission complains.

Another report on the same subject — released today by the European Environment Agency — notes that between 2001 and 2006, conservation status was inadequate or bad for 50% of the marine habitats assessed in the EU, with only 3% of marine species deemed to be in a “favourable” state and 70% being of unknown status.

Monitoring is the first step in attempting to find solutions -- assess, adapt management, repeat.

Water or sulfide mining: Which is more valuable?

Clint Jurgens and Mary Ann Jurgens, writing for MinnPost:

When evaluating the impact of the proposed copper-nickel mines like PolyMet and Twin Metals on the natural resources of Minnesota, regulators, political leaders, and the public should consider the value of water as a natural, replenished resource.

The target of copper-nickel mining companies is an ore formation called the Duluth Complex, which lies in the middle of some of most beautiful and enjoyable lakes, streams and forests in the world. The problem with the proposed mining is that these ores are embedded in sulfide rocks. Unfortunately, the process of mining and recovering metals from sulfide ore has a long and sordid history of water pollution.
Brian Hoffman

Brian Hoffman

From ore to oil, get it now and use it up as quick as you can. Why is it that is seems like our species lives for the moment without regard to future generations?

A Lake Manager’s Notebook: Citizens’ Roles in Managing Lakes

Dick Osgood, posted at Conservation Minnesota:

Most lake impairments are the result of widespread and hardwired changes to the landscape. BMPs, at best, provide minimal mitigation. In addition, many impaired lakes no longer are responsive to pollution reductions because the impairments are internalized.

Then, should we abandon these practices? No. We should urge their use in a larger management context, applying them strategically as part of a management plan that has clear expectations and outcomes.

The job of lake protection and restoration is difficult and it requires changing systems.

Madison's lakes are 'impaired' by runoff-driven weeds and algae, state says

Steven Verburg, reporting for the Wisconsin State Journal:

The state will add Dane County’s chain of lakes to its list of “impaired waters” because of heavy nutrient pollution from surrounding farmland that causes unnatural weed growth and nasty-smelling algae blooms, state officials said Friday.

Dane County officials expressed concern that the listing of the four Yahara lakes — Mendota, Monona, Waubesa and Kegonsa — might upset or undermine extensive cleanup efforts already underway in cooperation with local farmers. It would be the first time the lakes landed on the state list because of nutrient pollution.

Don't you have to call a spade a spade?

Lake Erie algae a threat to Ohio drinking water

AP reporting: 

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Toxins from blobs of algae on western Lake Erie are infiltrating water treatment plants along the shoreline, forcing cities to spend a lot more money to make sure their drinking water is safe.

It got so bad last month that one township told its 2,000 residents not to drink or use the water coming from their taps.

The cost of testing and treating the water is adding up quickly — the city of Toledo will spend an extra $1 million this year to combat the toxins while a neighboring county is considering a fee increase next year to cover the added expenses.

Polluters need not worry; they have a free ride. We continue to allow private gain at public cost. When will governments create rules for markets for clean water?

Nitrogen pollution is widespread in southern Minnesota lakes and rivers, report finds

Josephine Marcotty, reporting for the Star Tribune: 

Nitrogen contamination in southern Minnesota is so severe that 27 percent of the region’s lakes and rivers could not be used for drinking water, according to an unexpectedly blunt assessment of state water pollution released Wednesday.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) said that, overall, 41 percent of the streams and lakes in southern Minnesota have excessive nitrogen, which can be toxic to fish and other forms of aquatic life and is the state’s most widespread form of water pollution.

Fish on Prozac Prove Anxious, Antisocial, Aggressive

By Brian Bienkowski and Environmental Health News, reporting at Scientific America:

New research has found that the pharmaceuticals, which are frequently showing up in U.S. streams, can alter genes responsible for building fish brains and controlling their behavior.

Antidepressants are the most commonly prescribed medications in the United States; about 250 million prescriptions are filled every year. And they also are the highest-documented drugs contaminating waterways, which has experts worried about fish. Traces of the drugs typically get into streams when people excrete them, then sewage treatment plants discharge the effluent.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: Pollution of Lake Champlain is theft

Joe Banner Baird, reporting for the Burlington Free Press: 

Mixing urgency with humor, environmental advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Thursday morning skewered corporate culture that has brought “pollution-based prosperity” around the world. “Everybody in Burlington; every child has the right to go down to this lake and catch a fish and bring it home to take it home and feed it to his family with the security that they’re not going to poison someone,” Kennedy said. “But there’s mercury in every fish in this lake.

“When the mercury is in the lake, in the fish, that’s an act of theft,” Kennedy concluded. “Somebody has misused the lake, and corrupted the public trust, and stolen from the public. This is ancient law.”

Fixing our economic system with the use of price signals in addition to regulation may work. We need to think about how the system is setup and how to reduce the political cover that large polluters currently enjoy at our cost.

Microplastic Pollution Prevalent in Lakes, Too

From Science Daily: 

Researchers have detected microplastic pollution in one of Western Europe’s largest lakes, Lake Geneva, in large enough quantities to raise concern. While studies in the ocean have shown that these small bits of plastic can be harmful to fish and birds that feed on plankton or other small waterborne organisms, the full extent of their consequences in lakes and rivers is only now being investigated.

Stormwater rules roil Minnesota cities

Josephine Marcotty, reporting for the Star Tribune:


More than 200 Minnesota cities, from tiny Lauderdale to wealthy Rochester, will have to devise ways to keep the rain where it falls as part of a controversial new mandate designed to protect urban streams and lakes from the dirt and pollutants that wash off streets and yards along with the stormwater.

The cities, for the first time, will be required to maintain or reduce the volume of runoff leaving their systems, under a stormwater management plan approved Tuesday by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency governing board. The plan also requires the cities to account for their share of pollutants such as phosphorus and sediment that foul many urban lakes and streams.

This is an important step in addressing lake pollution within cities. Perhaps we can start to think about non-point pollution oming from agricultural lands.