Friday, July 30, 2010

Mississippi River Water Resource News for the Week

Nutria Control and Eradication
On July 27 the Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the "Nutria Eradication and Control Act of 2009" (H.R. 3850) to bolster the Department of Interior's efforts to control and eradicate nutria, an invasive rodent from South America that eats primarily the roots of marsh vegetation. Their voracious appetite for wetland plants has lead to the loss of wetland habitats in coastal Louisiana, as well as the Chesapeake Bay region and Pacific Northwest.  The bill was introduced by Representatives Frank Kratovil (D-MD-1st) and Charles Boustany (R-LA-7th), and aims to bring nutria under control in the Louisiana coastal area (where the rodent first entered the country) and to eliminate nutria from the Chesapeake Bay and the Pacific Northwest regions.  The bill would authorize up to $12 million annually for nutria control, including $4 million each for Maryland and Louisiana, and $1 million each for the states of Delaware, Oregon, Virginia and Washington.

Possible Targeted Changes to EPA's Water Quality Standards Regulation
On July 30 the Environmental Protection Agency announced in today's Federal Register its "plans to initiate national rulemaking to make a limited set of targeted changes to EPA's water quality standards regulation."  The announcement includes ways in which the public can provide input to EPA on the topics.  EPA is considering clarifications to the water quality standards regulations related to:
  1. Antidegradation Implementation Methods
  2. EPA Administrator's "Determination" Process
  3. Designated Uses for Waterways
  4. Variances to Water Quality Standards
  5. Triennial Reviews of State Water Quality Programs
  6. Three Clarifications to Reflect Court Decisions
Here are links to the Federal Register announcement: (pdf) and (text).
2010 Water Resources Development Act: To be or not to be?
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed a $6B Water Resources Development Act bill on July 29, although many agree with this writer that passage of a full WRDA bill in 2010 is an extreme long shot. Here are the T&I Committee bill summary and Committee Chair Oberstar’s introductory statement
concerning the bill.

Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week:

Friday, July 23, 2010

Mississippi River Water Resource News for the Week

Yesterday (July 22) the Senate Appropriations Committee approved three Fiscal Year 2011 Appropriations bills: the Energy and Water Development bill (which funds Army Corps of Engineers environmental programs), Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies, and the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies bills.  The details have yet to be released; however the following subcommittee markup summaries of each of the bills have been provided by the Committee (pdf files):

Also, yesterday, the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee  approved the EPA - Department of Interior Fiscal Year 2011 funding bill, sending it on to the full Appropriations Committee.  Here are the spending bill summary table, the earmark list, and Chairman Jim Moran’s opening statement (where he mentions funding to protect great water bodies, including the Mississippi River). The bill would provide $11 billion for the Department of Interior, $10 billion for the U.S. EPA and $4.9 billion for the U.S. Forest Service.   These amounts represent "basically a flat budget" in the words of Chairman Moran, and are very close to the spending levels approved in the Fiscal Year 2010 appropriations bill.  Details beyond these summaries will be available soon.  There are three earmarks specific to the Mississippi River:

  1. Fish and Wildlife Service Land Acquisition in the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge in MN, WI, IA and IL ($2.5 Million)
  2. Fish and Wildlife Service Land Acquisition in the Middle Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge in IL and MO ($500,000)
  3. National Park Service Construction in the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area in MN ($3 Million) 
Controversial flood and wind insurance bill pulled from consideration
The “Multiple Peril Insurance Act of 2009” (H.R. 1264) had been scheduled for a vote in the House on Thursday, July 22, but was pulled from the House floor late in the afternoon in face of growing opposition (see  The measure would have amended the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968  "to provide for the national flood insurance program to make available multiperil coverage for damage resulting from windstorms or floods."  The bill was introduced in March 2009 by Rep. Gene Taylor (MS-4th), and has 22 co-sponsors, primarily from coastal states.

Issues of Scale in Water Resource Management

From the abstract of a very noteworthy and relevant Environmental Management journal article, "Multilevel Water Governance and Problems of Scale: Setting the Stage for a Broader Debate" -
"Environmental governance and management are facing a multiplicity of challenges related to spatial scales and multiple levels of governance. Water management is a field particularly sensitive to issues of scale because the hydrological system with its different scalar levels from small catchments to large river basins plays such a prominent role. It thus exemplifies fundamental issues and dilemmas of scale in modern environmental management and governance. In this introductory article to an Environmental Management special feature on “Multilevel Water Governance: Coping with Problems of Scale,” we delineate our understanding of problems of scale and the dimensions of scalar politics that are central to water resource management. We provide an overview of the contributions to this special feature, concluding with a discussion of how scalar research can usefully challenge conventional wisdom on water resource management. We hope that this discussion of water governance stimulates a broader debate and inquiry relating to the scalar dimensions of environmental governance and management in general."

Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week:
  • Groups Study Great Lakes-Mississippi River Split
  • IA Department of Natural Resources has failed to enforce nearly 16 state laws
  • Rules to protect MN lakeshores/limit supersized docks have sat in Governor's office for months
  • House transportation & urban development appropriations bill includes money for Wisconsin River work
  • Sept 18: annual Illinois River Sweep clean up by Friends of the Illinois River
  • US Sen. Harkin: nearly $32 million for energy & water projects coming to Iowa
  • Visitors center set to reopen at MN Valley National Wildlife Refuge
  • As many as 4100 adult silver carp per mile on the middle Illinois River
  • USFS issues national road map for responding to climate change
  • IA State U study: Little impact if U.S. ethanol tax breaks end
  • ORSANCO considering allowing more mercury in Ohio River basin water
  • Rep. Oberstar (MN) receives letters of support of Clean Water Act strengthening from Obama Administration
  • Zebra mussel discovery at MO Smithville Lake prompts Department of Conservation investigation
  • Ecologists shun urban research by a 1:6 ratio
  • New research on spatial targeting of Agri-conservation measures: Cost-Effectiveness and Distributional Consequences
  • Loons tracked by satellites will map migration down Mississippi flyway
  • New wetlands under construction at Tara Wildlife along Mississippi River to divert migrating birds from oil
  • IL River town hopes tourism may revive struggling economy
  • USDA Awards Wetland Enhancement Projects in midwest (NSAC)
  • National Farmers Union: climate change impacting agricultural community; need comprehensive climate & energy policy
  • IN Dept of Environmental Management to establish numeric standards for P levels in lakes
  • MN to have Sandhill Crane hunting season in fall for the first time in 94 years
  • IN wetland fencing attempts to block Asian Carp migration into inland lakes
  • MN DNR finds Eurasian Milfoil in Pelican Lake-one of the state’s 44 designated wildlife lakes
  • Groups challenge plan to strengthen Mississippi River levees using injected coal ash

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

House Looks to Flat-Line EPA and Interior Spending for 2011

The House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee fiscal year 2011 spending bill markup is scheduled for Thursday, July 21 at 2:30 PM, in room B-308 Rayburn House Office Building.  Based on yesterday's (July 20) House Appropriations Committee approval of a top line spending level plan, it is all but certain that tomorrow's mark-up will keep U.S. EPA and the Department of Interior funding flat-lined for next year.   Last week the Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee approved a fiscal year 2011 spending bill that would cut $14 billion from the Administration's proposed budget; however, even with those cuts, the Senate's 2011 Interior and Environment bill would appropriate more funding than in fiscal year 2010.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Northeast-Midwest Institute Mississippi River Basin July Update

The July Update from the Northeast-Midwest Institute on Mississippi River Basin issues is now available on-line.    This month’s Update contains the following items: 

  • Mississippi River Policy Manager Position Announcement
  • Gulf of Mexico 2010 Dead Zone Prediction
  • National Academies' Report on Farming Sustainability
  • Place Effects on Environmental Views
  • Environmental Defense Fund’s latest issue of Delta Dispatches
  • Upcoming Conferences, Events and Workshops
  • Safe Treatment of Polluted Stormwater Runoff Act
  • Flood Insurance Reform and Priorities Act
  • Large-Scale Ecosystem Restoration Legislation
  • Multiple Peril Insurance Act
  • Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act

Oh, What a Tangled Web We Weave (Part Dieu)

This past April in response to the risk of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill reaching Louisiana's coastline and fertile coastal marshes, state officials started opening levee gates along the Mississippi River.  This move allowed extra amounts of Mississippi River water to flow into Louisiana's coastal marshes in an attempt to keep the oil at bay.

By many accounts the effort succeeded in minimizing the amount of oil entering the Mississippi River estuaries. However, now some oyster farmers and scientists are cataloging the deaths of large numbers of oysters in those estuarine areas.  They believe that some saline marshes have been so overwhelmed by fresh water that their salinity has dropped to levels that oysters do not normally face, resulting in the deaths of large numbers of oysters.

State officials have said that it is not certain to what extent the extra Mississippi River releases are responsible for killing the oysters.

Read a full Wall Street Journal story on the issue here.

Oh, What a Tangled Web We Weave

In a paper published today in Environment Magazine  two University of Nebraska professors (industrial ecologist Adam J. Liska and agricultural economist Richard K. Perrin) contend that military activity associated with protecting and acquiring Middle East oil contributes to greenhouse gas emissions to an extent not typically considered.  Liska and Perrin write that fuel burned in military planes and ships, as well as the carbon dioxide released during the manufacture of those planes and ships, should be accounted for in gasoline’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emission total (increasing gasoline's potential for impacting the climate much more than previously believed).

The authors conclude that their analysis "suggests that GHG emissions from military activities should be included in the GHG intensity of gasoline, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency implements emissions requirements for biofuels relative to petroleum fuels."

Such an analysis might place biofuels, such as corn-based ethanol, in a more favorable light compared to gasoline from a GHG emission perspective.   Some have argued that ethanol production results in more net GHG emission than gasoline, since ethanol's production is linked to the destruction of forests to make way for farmland (releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and removing trees that could otherwise absorb carbon dioxide).

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mississippi River Network Policy Manager Position Announcement

The Biodiversity Project and the 30+ member Mississippi River Network: Headwaters to Gulf (MRN), are looking to hire someone for a 2-year contract to work on the coalition's policy agenda.  Interested persons can apply by sending cover letter and resume to Biodiversity Project Executive Director, Jennifer Browning at The position will be open until it is filled.  You can read the entire job description, and more information about the Mississippi River Network here. The Mississippi River Network web page is located here.

Mississippi River Water Resource News for the Week

Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Hearings Held

Two House hearings last week looked at the decaying US water and wastewater infrastructure of pipelines, treatment plants, dams and reservoirs. On July 15, the Water and Power Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing entitled "The Bureau of Reclamation and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act: A Progress Report and Planning for the Future." And the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hosted a July 15 hearing entitled "Putting America Back to Work Through Clean Water Infrastructure Investment."

Stormwater Treatment Bill Introduced

On July 16, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced the Safe Treatment of Polluted Stormwater Runoff Act, S. 3602, to “direct the (Transportation) Secretary to establish a comprehensive program to control and treat polluted stormwater runoff from federally funded highways and roads.” The text of the bill is not available as this blog is posted, but will be available at this link shortly. The measure has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for further consideration.

Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week:
  • Army Corps of Engineers Launches Responses to Climate Change Website
  • Groups challenge plan to strengthen Mississippi River levees using injected coal ash
  • Army Corps to release report Thursday at Senate hearing on May's deadly Tennessee floods; 9:30 AM Room 192 Dirksen
  • See EDF's latest issue of Delta Dispatches about the latest efforts to protect & restore the Louisiana coast
  • The Flood Insurance Reform Priorities Act of 2010 was passed by the full House yesterday by a vote of 329 - 90
  • Sen Reid (D-Nev.) intends to bring an energy bill to the Senate floor the week of July 26
  • Ethanol industry advocate Growth Energy calls for gradual phasing out ethanol tax credit
  • Rival pro-ethanol groups arguing that the subsidy should be instead extended the way it is
  • USGS produces first comprehensive, interactive land cover map of the United States
  • EPA July issue of Watershed News is now on-line at
  • Illegal use of bait a problem in Wisconsin waters
  • Minnesota's Aquatic Invasive Species Laws Require Boaters to "Pick it or Ticket"
  • House Ag Chair Peterson: "We’re not going to spend any more money" on the next Farm Bill (free registration needed)

Controversial Flood and Wind Insurance Legislation to be Considered by House This Week

The “Multiple Peril Insurance Act of 2009” (H.R. 1264) is scheduled for a vote in the full U.S. House of Representatives this week (likely on Thursday, July 22).  The measure would amend the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968  "to provide for the national flood insurance program to make available multiperil coverage for damage resulting from windstorms or floods."  The bill was introduced in March 2009 by Rep. Gene Taylor (MS-4th), and has 22 co-sponsors, primarily from coastal states.   On April 27, 2010 it was passed out of the House Committee on Financial Services by a vote of 40-25.  The Obama Administration has been on record as opposing the addition of wind damage coverage under the National Flood Insurance Program, and several private insurers and some taxpayer and environmental groups have opposed the measure, as well.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Mississippi River Water Resource News for the Week

Your FNB ("friendly neighborhood blogger") is resting comfortably at the Delaware beach this week, but look for an updated news summary on Monday morning, July 19!

Action on Fiscal Year 2011 Environmental and Conservation Spending Bills

On July 15, the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee cut more than $500 million from agricultural conservation programs as part of the fiscal year agriculture spending bill marked up by the panel.  The bill would cut funding below levels set for 2011 in the farm bill by capping mandatory farm bill programs that offer assistance for farmers making environmental improvements and landowners restoring wetlands and grasslands.  Even with the cuts, the fiscal year 2011 bill would still provide more money than in fiscal year 2010.

Also yesterday, the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a fiscal year 2011 spending bill that would cut $14 billion from the Administration's proposed budget, by cutting spending for the Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill and keeping level the funding for many other agencies.  Even with the cuts, the 2011 bills would appropriate more for the Energy and Water, and Interior and Environment bills than in 2010.

In summary, the various Senate 2011 spending bills would provide the following:
Agriculture, $22.8 billion, a $30 million cut in the Administration's proposal, and slightly less than the Senate $23.5 billion 2010 allocation.
Commerce, Justice, Science, $60.1 billion, below both the Senate $64.8 billion 2010 allocation, and the 2011 $60.5 billion Administration budget proposal.
Energy & Water Development, $34.97 billion, an increase over fiscal year 2010's $33.8 billion, and slightly below the Administration's $35.3 billion proposal for 2011.
Interior and Environment, $32.3 billion, a slight increase above last year's $32.2 billion allocation.

See more information on these respective House and Senate Appropriations Committee web pages:

Friday, July 9, 2010


ScienceDaily published a news piece today that caught my eye.  The ScienceDaily piece summarizes research from the University of New Hampshire (UNH) that is presented in the most recent issue of the journal Rural Sociology, in an article entitled "Place Effects on Environmental Views."  Larry Hamilton, professor of sociology, senior fellow at the Carsey Institute at UNH, and lead author of the study said that his research found that the places where people live go far in defining how people view environmental regulation and conservation.  For example, "people who live in rural areas with high unemployment rates are less likely to support environmental regulations," Hamilton says.

This research into the conservation beliefs of rural America brought to mind a particular trip I made through the middle of my home state of Pennsylvania several years ago.  I was traveling along Pennsylvania Route 74 in the heartland of the state, down through Cumberland Valley between South Mountain in the Blue Ridge chain and Blue Mountain – the beginnings of the ridge and valley section of Pennsylvania.  If any is, that area is the epitome of rural, conservative, traditional, "red state" America.   And I was struck all of a sudden with the realization that the farms and small villages and the back roads and pastures and woodlands and people in that valley practically oozed the unspoken message of conservation – the message that these people connect with and hold the land dearly to their hearts, and that they want so much to be able to pass those lands and waters and natural areas on to their children and children's children.  That landscape and those people silently scream out the message of connections . . . connections with the land and water, connections in this time and place with each other, and connections through time with past and future generations.

But all too often we miss that message that speaks so loudly of conservation and of connections, as we, the so-called conservation experts, are busy writing and typing and speaking and instant messaging - trying to explain ourselves – not listening at all.  It’s time, I would offer, that we listen attentively to our rural neighbors whose lives  speak of responsibility and accountability, and convey a message of care for the common wealth. And it’s well beyond time that we attend to the whispers of those generations yet to come, which ask simply that their dreams may be fulfilled, hopes realized and opportunities achieved. Because if we do that - if we stop in our frenetic rush toward who knows where - to listen . . . we will hear those calls demanding that we have the courage to create a new vision – a radically new way of doing things - that respectfully takes into account the concerns and interests of all.

Mississippi River Water Resource News for (a slow, hot, Congressional-recessed) Week

"What is Truth?"
Not sure (with respect to the Mississippi River, nutrients and Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone)?  Don't worry, you're not alone; a lot of people seem to be confused (or, is it "confusing?").  Read "Truth, Perception and the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone" - an opinion piece about opinion pieces.

Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference
The Call for Papers is open now for the 2010 Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference, to be held from December 12-15, 2010. According to the organizers, this year's Conference marks the 71st year that natural resource professionals in the Midwest will meet to share new research, management experiences, and valuable insight on fish and wildlife issues. The Conference is touted as "the premier fish and wildlife conference in the central U.S." with more than 1,000 attendees expected.

Notable @UpperMiss tweets for the week:

Friday, July 2, 2010

Mississippi River Water Resource News for the Week

Gulf of Mexico 2010 Dead Zone Prediction
A report released this week based on the Federally-funded work of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium in Cocodrie (LUMCON) and Louisiana State University indicates that this year's Gulf of Mexico hypoxic (or "dead") zone will be among the largest recorded, on the order of 6,500 to 7,800 square miles (or about the size of New Jersey). However, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill's effect on this year's dead zone is largely unknown (news article here), according to Nancy Rabalais, director of LUMCON. University of Michigan ecologist Donald Scavia says the BP spill could make the dead zone larger because microbes use oxygen when consuming oil. But the effect could be offset if the oil limits algae growth to begin with (see a news article on the impacts of the oil spill on the dead zone here).

The Gulf of Mexico dead zone is largely attributable to oxygen depletion caused by annual massive algal die-offs and decomposition. The increased algal growth has been linked to excessive nutrients entering the Gulf of Mexico from the Mississippi River system. Most of those nutrients originate from farming practices upstream within the watershed (see a National Academies report on the hypoxic zone and nutrient runoff here).

House Fiscal Year 2011 Agriculture Appropriations Activity
Agricultural conservation funding remained intact following an evening vote this past Wednesday in the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, approving the House agriculture fiscal year 2011 spending bill. The Subcommittee unanimously approved the bill Wednesday night after hours of debate over proposed Republican amendments, all of which were rejected. The bill keeps intact major spending boosts for energy and conservation that Congress set two years ago, and rejects cuts to those programs that the White House proposed in its fiscal year 2011 budget. Democratic leaders said the future of the agriculture appropriations bill is uncertain given the current gridlock over the budget, which has put the annual appropriations process well behind schedule. Read the full New York Times story here.

National Academies' Report on Farming Sustainability Released
A National Academies’ National Research Council report concludes that American farmers are producing more food than ever, but that agricultural research is too focused on increasing production and needs to do much better at considering the consequences of farming such as water and air pollution. The report, "Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century," assesses the scientific evidence for the strengths and weaknesses of different production, marketing, and policy approaches for improving agricultural sustainability and reducing the costs and unintended consequences of agricultural production. (The full report is available to view and download as a PDF file here, and you can read an AP article summarizing the report findings here.

Notable @UpperMiss tweets for the week:
  • Senate EPW Committee approves series of measures to protect great water bodies across US
  • Statements from today's House subcommittee hearing to review USDA administration & delivery of conservation programs
  • Ag Secretary Vilsack suggests Congress make it a goal to add 100,000 new farmers
  • Minnesota = "The Land of 1,000 Impaired Lakes"
  • Pump failure in St. Louis potentially caused millions of gallons of untreated sewage to flow into Mississippi R
  • EPA releases final decision on MO's 2008 impaired waters list; delists 4 water bodies & restores 15
  • EPA approves IA DNR designated use changes for 64 water bodies & disapproves changes for 93
  • Invitations open to submit session proposal for August 2011 National Conference on Ecosystem Restoration, Baltimore
  • WI efforts to establish flock of whooping cranes meet with some success around Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
  • Black bears regain foothold in Wisconsin after 100-year absence
  • Minnesota River Watershed Alliance: July 2010 Meeting Invitation
  • June is 2nd wettest on record for IL; results in high IL & MS River levels
  • MPCA beginning 3rd year of 10-yr effort to assess river, stream & lake conditions in MN
  • "Healthy Rivers, Healthy Cities" blog on U of MN's River Talk site
  • Gulf oil spill could threaten Wisconsin loon population this fall
  • Ag Sec. Vilsack: cuts could be made to environmental quality incentives program to pay for child nutrition programs
  • Missourians asked to celebrate freedom from invasive species for Independence Day
  • New report is first to quantify payments for watershed services & water quality trading programs
  • MN Pollution Control Agency Citizens Board agrees to cut turbidity H2O quality standards in half
  • Link to the "America's Inner Coastal Summit" Facebook page re: Mississippi River watershed issues:
  • MN waters & fish may never meet mercury reduction goals
  • EDF’s July 2 issue of Delta Dispatches with the Latest News on Efforts to Restore Coastal LA now on-line
  • Drought takes its toll on WI natural resources
  • MN removes two lakes off the (invasive) infested waters list
  • Sixteen states begin dishwasher detergent phosphate ban today