Monday, August 30, 2010

Reports: National Flood Insurance Program Unsound by Design

A USA TODAY article entitled "Huge losses put federal flood insurance plan in the red," reports that federal and local officials have failed to take steps urged by government reports, and that FEMA's (the Federal Emergency Management Agency's) National Flood Insurance Program has heavily subsidized people to live and businesses to develop in the nation's most flood-prone areas.  The National Flood Insurance Program insures 5.6 million properties nationwide.  And while the program's aim is to be self-sustaining by paying claims from premiums it collects, Congress' Government Accountability Office reported in April that the program is "by design, not actuarially sound" because it has no cash reserves to pay for catastrophes such as Katrina and sets rates that "do not reflect actual flood risk."

A USA TODAY analysis of FEMA data indicates that:
  • The number of claims paid through National Flood Insurance Program since 1978 is 1.3 million
  • The total cost of claims paid through National Flood Insurance program since 1978 is $38 billion, and
  • New Orleans, Louisiana is the community with the most claims (100,000 claims paying out $7.2 billion) during that time period

To read more about the USA TODAY analysis of the National Flood Insurance Program, along with a state-by-state breakdown of flood insurance claims against the fund, see the entire article here.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Mississippi River Water Resource News for the Week

Bottomland Ecosystem Restoration
On September 16, the Security and Sustainability Forum will host the first of a three-part water resource webinar series.  The first webinar, entitled "Bottomland Ecosystem Restoration," is designed to link scientific expertise to specific floodplain restoration issues in an effort to direct participants toward practical floodplain management solutions.  The 90-minute webinar starts at 2:15 PM Eastern time.  The second and third webinars will be in October (The Water Conversation) and November (Raising Water Resource Awareness and Engaging Next Generation Water Leaders).  The Security and Sustainability Forum web page can be visited for more information:  You can register directly for the September 16 webinar here.

Treatment of Chemical Contaminants of Emerging Concern
EPA has published the results of their review of recent literature on wastewater treatment technologies and their ability to remove a number of chemical contaminants of emerging concern (CECs). EPA has also made available an on-line, computer-searchable format of data from the literature review. The report discusses 16 of the hundreds of CECs present in the database, and the average percent removals achieved by full-scale treatment systems. Wastewater treatment plant operators, designers, and others may find this information useful in their studies of ways to remove CECs from wastewater.  More information can be found at this web site.

Lower Minnesota River Study
A June 2010 technical report has been released and is available on-line. Entitled "Lower Minnesota River Study: Monitoring and Modeling Water Quality From Jordan, Minnesota, to the Mouth," the report presents data and monitoring reflecting the status of the lower reaches of the river, where water quality is influenced by management practices throughout the Minnesota River Basin. From the report's summary: "The Metropolitan Council led a cooperative effort of federal, state, and local agencies to develop a water-quality model of the lower 40 miles of the Minnesota River for use in facility and watershed planning. The water-quality issues in order of priority were dissolved oxygen, ammonia, nutrients, and sediment." A link to the report and to other Minnesota River resources is available here, and the full report (pdf file) can be downloaded directly here.

Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week:

Zebra Mussels threaten MO lakes & Asian Carp headed toward Indianapolis (White River)
Federal officials laud middle Mississippi River region conservation success
Russian drought & reduced global wheat production affect entire US farming outlook (we're all connected)
Arkansas River navigation system evaluated by Corps of Engineers during river tour
An overview of the Mississippi River Network from U of MN's "Rivertalk" blog
RT @FriendsMissRiv: Volunteers kicked off 2010 Stream Health Evaluation Program (SHEP) this month
KY Developers look for financing for invasive Asian Carp processing center
EPA new strategy to improve H2O quality recognizes some pollution hard to manage w/ traditional Clean H2O Act controls
Online album proceeds benefit Sweet Home New Orleans & Gulf Restoration Network (only $2.99 for > 2 hrs music)
Cap & trade legislation "dead" in both House ( Rep. Peterson) & Senate ( Sen. McConnell)
Huff Post: National C Reserve would address source of Gulf of Mexico maladies & offer myriad side benefits
A world amid bluffs: Upper Mississippi offers vastness and variety
New documentary “The Big Uneasy” examines causes of NO levee failures & whether Army Corps is doing right job this time
EDF's August 25 issue of Delta Dispatches, with the latest news on efforts to restore Coastal LA, now on-line
Illinois commercial fish business bemoans impact of invasive Asian carp in state rivers
Army Corps plan for 7 Mississippi River miles near Herculaneum seeks to improve river ecology &
Ohio River algae blooms responsible for unusual taste & odor in Louisville KY drinking water
People vs. Nature: Why floods win (hint: it's all about the "vs" part)
A nice description of the Kaskaskia River Confluence Trail along shorelines of Kaskaskia & Mississippi Rivers
Asian Carp video from Wabash River (runs SW through IN into Ohio River)

Environmental NGO report: Coal ash contaminating water in 21 states
Iowa's Xenia Rural Water users should not use drinking water for infants under 6 months due to high nitrates (more)
  • (continued) Xenia Rural Water officials call high nitrates from conversion of "natural" ammonia in water (more)
  • but ammonia could very well be from agricultural sources & not "natural" ammonia in water

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Stop Requested

The nice Washington, DC Metrobus (number 10E) that runs on clean-burning natural gas - the one that I take to and from my home each workday - talks to me. I don't mean in the way that gods might talk to saints or devils to sinners or anything like that. I mean that, in a very soothing feminine voice, she announces which stops are coming next. "Herbert Street." "Arlington Ridge Road." That kind of talking.  And when someone pulls the cord for a stop she says, "Stop requested." Much nicer than a buzzer or ringer. Then the driver stops the bus and people get off to go their merry ways and do their important things, while my bus rolls on to its final destination. "Pentagon Station," she gently announces.  And I get off bus number 10E to take the subway into DC.

After I merrily arrived at work today to do my own thing, there was this new climate change conundrum in my daily in-box of environmental news items: Lisa Friedman wondered in an article in Climatewire (reprinted in Scientific American magazine), "If a country disappears (beneath a rising sea), is it still a country?" and "If entire populations are forced to relocate by rising seas as a result of climate change, do they remain citizens of a vanished country?"

The legal issue at question centers around the premise that national and international laws currently on the books all assume that coastlines are a constant.  But constant coastlines, like many other things thought unvarying, are not so constant in a world in which temperatures rise, and glaciers melt and icebergs calve into the sea at ever increasing rates.  The human rights issues at question are even more pressing and immediate than the legal: millions of people in low-lying regions around the world face the daunting prospect of watching their homes drown beneath rising seas, and their lives forcibly relocated elsewhere, as they become climate refugees.

According to the Friedman article, officials in the Marshall Islands, a Micronesian nation of 29 low-lying coral atolls in the Pacific Ocean, are campaigning to turn international attention toward the plight of it and other vulnerable countries around the globe.  In the Maldives, another of those susceptible, low-lying countries, President Mohamed Nasheed has declared that he plans to create a fund in anticipation of that country's 305,000 residents requiring future relocation.

Edward Cameron, former adviser to the Maldive government, says in the Scientific American piece that nations threatened with sinking beneath rising seas need answers to the myriad and complex legal questions of land, water and migration for their own sakes.  But, Cameron cautions, those countries also need to send a message to developed countries not acting on climate change mitigation; a message that "if you don't come up with a response, we're going to start looking at legal options." Even more important, Cameron notes, the international community needs to start viewing climate change from a human rights perspective.

Ironically, the Republic of Palau, which acknowledges that its very survival is threatened by climate change and the accompanying rising sea levels, has embarked on a mission to become a major supplier of oil and natural gas, the burning of which is among the chief culprits behind greenhouse gas accumulations and climate change. The tract to be initially explored is found in the waters of Palau's Kayangel state, located on the northern edge of the 300-mile long island nation. Palauan officials say the area is likely home to one of the world's largest oil fields.  The Marine Biology Coordinator for Palau Pacific Exploration, which has secured a million acre drilling concession on the Velasco Reef in Kayangel State, has determined that "the planned drilling will not impact the environment."  All is well; business as usual, in other words. 

For money's sake, Palau wants to pump that oil and natural gas. For us to burn in our cars and clean DC Metrobuses, and convert into greenhouse gases exhausting into the atmosphere. To melt the ice caps. To raise the seas. To drown the low-lying archipelago of Palau.  And the Marshall Islands.  And the Maldives.  And, even, New Orleans.

In the meantime climate legislation has been officially pronounced "dead" in both the U.S. House (by Representative Collin Peterson) and Senate (by Senator Mitch McConnell ); scientists warn that the entire ice mass of Greenland will disappear if the earth's temperature rises by as little as 2 degrees C; a group of nine Nobel laureates has announced that unless the world starts reducing greenhouse gas emissions within six years, we face devastation; the U.S. Geological Survey reports that many of Asia’s glaciers are retreating as result of climate change; Canada has declared that it will delay greenhouse gas emission reduction efforts for at least another five years; and a Chinese analysis of U.S. and Australian carbon dioxide emission reduction plans says they are inadequate and inconsequential.

"Stop requested!"

Northeast-Midwest Institute in Search for New Executive Director

The Northeast-Midwest Institute is in search for a new Executive Director, to be based in its Washington, DC office (see position announcement here).  The current Executive Director, Tom Wolfe, announced his retirement today, noting that is "with truly mixed emotions that I announce that I am retiring from the Executive Director's position at the Northeast-Midwest Institute."  Résumés and cover letters from interested applicants should be sent to by September 10, 2010.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mississippi River Basin August Update

The August Update (in PDF file format) from the Northeast-Midwest Institute on Mississippi River Basin issues is now available to download or read online.   This month’s Update contains these items:


  • Lower Minnesota River Study
  • Environmental Defense Fund’s August issues of Delta Dispatches
  • Upcoming Conferences, Events and Workshops


  • Water Resources Development Act
  • Nutria Eradication and Control Act
  • Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (and EQIP impact)
  • 2012 Farm Bill
  • Flood and Wind Insurance Legislation
  • Assistance, Quality, and Affordability Act
  • Livable Communities Act


  • General Appropriations Status
  • Specific Appropriations Bills: Agriculture, Commerce, Justice and Science, Energy and Water Development, and Interior and Environment

Friday, August 20, 2010

Mississippi River Water Resource News for the Week

UMRCC Directory of Resource Managers in the Upper Mississippi River Basin
The Updated 2010 issue of the Upper Mississippi River Conservation Committee's (UMRCC) Directory of Resource Managers in the Upper Mississippi River Basin is now available to download from the UMRCC home page.  This extensive (fifty-page) and broad-ranging resource includes up-to-date contact information for Upper Mississippi River Basin stakeholders from the federal and state government, scientific, education and NGO communities, and is a valuable River Basin reference to keep handy on your computer.  You can view the UMRCC home page and link to the Directory here, or download the Directory as a pdf file, directly here

Effects of Emerging Contaminants on River Basin Walleye
A new study by researchers at St. Cloud State University has found that, while walleye in the Mississippi River are consistently exposed to emerging contaminants such as pharmaceuticals, those chemicals are apparently not affecting reproduction of the sport fish. Read more on the study at this Minnesota Public Radio site.

Conservation Reserve Program Land Sign-up Deadline Nears
Time is running out for landowners to sign their land up to be enrolled in USDA's Conservation Reserve Program ("CRP") in what is the first CRP sign-up in four years.  CRP is a voluntary program that assists farmers, ranchers and other agricultural producers to use their environmentally sensitive land for conservation benefits.  Producers enrolling in CRP plant long-term, resource-conserving covers in exchange for rental payments, cost-share and technical assistance.  The sign-up deadline is August 27.  Read more details here.

Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week:
USFS- Ecosystem services at risk from suburban development
Damaged ecosystems amplify adverse impact of floods 
Scientists: Greenland Ice Sheet Faces 'Tipping Point in 10 Years' ~ New Orleans goes under in that scenario
Mississippi River levees need work to defend against 100-year storm surge
EPA approves revised IA water quality standards & verifies designated uses for 64 IA water body segments
MN Pollution Control Agency approves new TMDL for Lower Minnesota River re: Low Dissolved Oxygen 
Southern IL U gets DNR contract to study establishing new fishery to harvest & market invasive Asian Carp
Indiana angler exploring Wabash River encounters hundreds of Asian carp
Kaskaskia River Watershed Showcase scheduled for Aug. 26 in Arthur IL
‘Last remaining farm’ in Bloomington MN near Mall of America purchased
A new conservation vision for Lower Kickapoo River Valley (tributary to Wisconsin River)
Federal court order could stop farmers from planting Roundup Ready sugar beets next spring (pdf file)
EPA continues to clamp down on small & medium-sized cattle feeding operations for Clean Water Act violations
Unusual weather across Midwest setting wetness & heat records & impacting farming
Researchers compare children's hospital visits & rainfall in WI & find link w/ sewage/waterborne disease
Zebra mussels in Lake Minnetonka (MN) are here to stay
Proposed slaughterhouse in East Moline IL environmentally controversial in Quad Cities
Opponents request delay of Supervisors’ vote on hog farm expansion proposed near Eldridge, IA
Consumers like farmers but have doubts about large-scale farming practices; IL farmers respond with PR push

IA Citizens for Community Improvement calls for strong rules to protect IA waterways from CAFOs
Army Corps Of Engineers In US history; oldest & largest engineering organization but also most controversial
RT @agville: [MN] Farmers offer their thoughts on the 2012 farm bill
Washington U in St. Louis: Invasive species enable other species to disrupt environment
The link between anglers and the invasive didymo alga
RT @EDF_Louisiana: New York Times editorial: Restoring the Gulf #oilspill [the crisis is not over]
RT @River_Restore: Enhance value of rural & wide open land while preserving natural resources – "Field Sport Concept"

Minnesota-Wisconsin Invasive Species Conference 2010 registration open November 8-10, 2010
St Paul MN planners seeking public comment on how best to use the land along Mississippi River &
Gulf of Mexico life exhibit returns to National Mississippi River and Aquarium in Dubuque

Study: Controlling urban growth & increasing forestland most effective ways to decrease runoff & flooding

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Are Pakistan's Floods a Portent of a Future Along the Mississippi?

According to scientists interviewed by National Geographic magazine for a story that is part of their special series exploring the global water crisis, Pakistan’s current monsoonal floods have been made far worse as the result of decades of river mismanagement dating back to the time of British colonial rule.  The authors go on to link the history of river mismanagement in Pakistan to that happening now and in the past within the Mississippi River valley.  "In Pakistan’s wide plains where the bulk of the population lives, the rivers swelled by monsoons have been confined by levees, dams, and canals," the article states, "in much the same way the Mississippi River has in the United States."

Read the entire National Geographic article here.  And you can read my opinion piece regarding an underlying contributor to much of this year's rash of extreme weather events, including the flooding in Iowa and Pakistan, below in this blog.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

“God’s Wrath?”

Twenty percent of Pakistan is beneath what once was a tamed Indus River; a River until recently held in check by miles of levees (not unlike the state of much of the Mississippi River).   The Indus River was in check, that is, until what U.N. officials are calling the worst natural disaster to date attributable to climate change drove the River beyond its banks, forcing thousands to flee and adding their desperation to the millions in the region already in need of relief.  "If this is not God’s wrath, what is?" 40-year-old taxi driver Bakht Zada wondered, as he watched his livelihood, history and culture being washed downstream toward the Indian Ocean.
Researcher, writer and university professor Wolfgang Sachs once noted that "Nothing is ultimately as irrational as rushing with maximum efficiency in the wrong direction."  From where I sit, Professor Sachs has captured the human condition very well, as we heedlessly stroll down the road toward catastrophe at a very efficient pace.  The tempo at which we pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere continues to increase while evidence mounts daily that says following such a path is folly.  While a fifth of Pakistan sits under water, Russia’s drought-ridden landscape burns and 700 people die each day, China is having its worst floods in decades, ice loss from the Greenland ice sheet is expanding rapidly up its northwest coast, and Iowa has been soaked by its wettest 36-month period in nearly 13 decades of record-keeping.

Climatologists are now openly saying what laypeople have been wondering aloud for months.  The Pakistani flooding, Russian heat wave and other extreme weather events occurring around the globe are linked to and exacerbated by climate change.  Scientists at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported this week that “the sequence of current events matches . . . projections of more frequent and more intense extreme weather events due to global warming.”  Almost simultaneously, 16 of Australia’s leading scientists, speaking through the Australian Academy of Science and across a range of disciplines, produced a report pointedly confronting climate change deniers in an effort to set the record straight on climate science in the middle of a national election in which the validity of climate change has been hotly contested.

The degree to which the Pakistani flooding and other extreme weather events are due to climate change layered upon more typical climatic cycles (or, even as Mr. Zada suggests, due to the wrath of God) is certainly questionable.  However, that climate change is occurring at all can no longer be questioned by people of good conscious.  Nor can we continue to rationally deny humanity’s historic and continued contributions to climate change.  Yet, we still question and debate the latter point and still deny that the earth’s climate is changing at all.  Fiddling, in effect, while the world – now all too literally – burns.

That some still question the human influence on climate change is ironic, to say the least, since the underlying cultural ethos of ever-increasing production founded upon ever-improving efficiency  goes largely unquestioned, while that increasing production is linked directly to escalating climate change.  In fact, the need for increased productivity is not only an unchallenged truism but has been deified, particularly in our western culture, where we pride ourselves in being efficient.  The more productive and efficient a people are, our cultural myth goes, the more likely we are to prosper as a nation, to survive as a culture and to be more comfortable doing it.  We reach, yearn and strive for higher productivity; try our utmost to do more, make more and consume more with less effort, less money, less guilt.  And doing, producing and consuming more for less - all iconic measures of efficiency - are unquestionably good.  Right?

Our parents used to tell us that “cleanliness is next to godliness.”  Today, we can add “productive” and “efficient” to the list of qualities that raise us closer to divinity.

Rachel Carson observed that we live in a time “in which the right to make a dollar at whatever cost is seldom challenged.”  Seldom challenged, because we have elevated efficiency and productivity to a godlike status.  Increasing factory productivity goes unquestioned, even if it means laying off employees who have dedicated themselves to a company for decades.  Proficiently pumping pollutants into the air we breathe and water we drink is rewarded, so long as we are comfortable while productively poisoning ourselves and the planet.

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent,” Albert Einstein warned, “It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.”  What we need now are a little less intelligent foolishness and a lot more people of courage to question our blind devotion to the god of productivity: to ask why when productivity is deemed sacrosanct; to question power when the idol of unbridled growth goes unchallenged; to speak truth in the face of a torrent of misinformation.

Perhaps Pakistani taxi driver Bakht Zada is correct after all.  If it is our twenty-first century god of ever-increasing production that is ultimately causing our climate devastation, then the Indus River flooding may, in the end, have been the result of a god’s wrath, albeit a god of our own making.  "If this is not God’s wrath, what is?"

Friday, August 13, 2010

Mississippi River Water Resource News for (a slow Congressional Recess) Week

From Whence Cometh the Carp? (Hint: the answer is up for debate)
This news items was released by Great Lakes United earlier this week (August 11) regarding conclusions that are being reached by some on the life history (including potentially an Illinois River origination) of an invasive bighead carp caught in Lake Calumet, near Lake Michigan (media release here).  A new report has been released which attempts to determine the life history of the bighead carp captured on June 22, 2010, in Lake Calumet, just 6 miles from Lake Michigan. Great Lakes United, in partnership with Alliance for the Great Lakes, Healing Our Waters Coalition, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Prairie Rivers Network have produced a fact sheet to "unravel the science and clear up some of the misconceptions behind the bighead carp found in Lake Calumet." The Fact Sheet can be read (as a pdf file) here.

Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week:
IA State Senator Rob Hogg's statement on recent Iowa flooding & the need for sustainable flood prevention
Iowa League of Cities lawsuit accuses EPA of misinterpreting stormwater & wastewater rules
Scientists: Marshes along the LA coast may be rebounding from spill &
Ames IA resigned to bottled water after floods
Ames IA opens drinking water sites for residents after line breaks blamed on flooding RT @MinnesotaNews
Worst flooding in Ames IA history forces hundreds from their homes
USDA: US farmers on track to produce largest corn & soybean crop in history
Call for papers: Intnl Symposium on Society & Resource Management, "Integrating Conservation & Sustainable Living"
Effects of Urbanization on Stream Ecosystems study bibliography: & latest paper: (pdf)
Inspector General: EPA hiring process fails to place right candidates in right positions; blocking mission (pdf file)
Excessive heat warnings issued for states along Mississippi River & heat advisory covers other midwestern states
NOAA: U.S. July 75.5 F average was 1.3 degrees above the 1901-2000 long-term average
OSU study: Whether planted or naturally colonized, new wetlands similar at year 15 & function as effective C sinks
Read EDF's Delta Dispatches: with the Latest News on Efforts to Restore Coastal Louisiana
1000s gather for annual fishing tournament in Illinois & join fight vs Asian Carp in the process
Enviros seek $2.7 billion for wastewater infrastructure
RT @EcoInteractive: Scientists find changes to Gulf of Mexico dead zone
Genetically engineered versions of canola plant flourishing as roadside weeds in ND
Zebra Mussels Continue to Spread in Kansas and Missouri and
Wisconsin DNR steps up efforts against invasive species

Thursday, August 12, 2010

King Lear on the Heath

I was honored to be one of several featured speakers on August 10 at the inaugural U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 2010 Environmental Conference in Warrenton, Virginia.  The purpose of the Conference was to foster improved communications, and to share senior environmental leadership experiences both internally within the Army Corps and as well as with external partners from environmental academia, NGOs, industry and other federal agencies.  The conference focused on broad senior-level environmental issues and included such topics as climate change, sustainability, ecosystem restoration, renewable energy, and remediation, with an emphasis on learning, sharing, networking and reinforcing key concepts and strategies.  In a talk entitled, "King Lear on the Heath," I spoke to the over 100 attendees about the complexity of the social, economical and ecological systems within which we are working, the "wicked problems"  that can arise (seemingly - but not actually - out of nowhere) during our work within these systems, and how institutions (specifically the Army Corps of Engineers) might be better poised to employ "collaborative systems thinking"  to stimulate thinking, proactively manage problems and handle inherent uncertainty.

To read more about collaborative systems thinking, read (pdf file) and see the extensive reference section in "Systems Thinking as an Emergent Team Property: Ongoing research into the enablers and barriers to team-level systems thinking" by Caroline Twomey Lamb and Donna H. Rhodes from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Published in the SysCon 2008 proceedings – IEEE International Systems Conference in Montreal, Canada, April 7–10, 2008.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Polls, Politics and Climate

The Earth is doing just fine, thank you very much.  Those of the ilk who desire to save the Earth (arguably from the ravages of humankind) are missing the point, actually.  Humans have been inhabiting the planet for but a hiccup of time in the grand scheme of things, and – despite any delusions to the contrary – will be gone in just as quick of a hiccup, no matter what our attempts to hang on might be.  That’s simply the fate of species on this planet.  Here today.  Gone tomorrow.  Look it up in the fossil record if you don’t want to take my word for it.
Don’t get me wrong.  I’m an ecologist and an environmentalist and a tree-hugger extraordinaire.  But I think what we’re really talking about when we express a desire to “save the Earth” is to survive . . . as a species, as a quiltwork of cultures (my culture especially) and as individuals.  The Earth, frankly, and life on it doesn’t really need us as benefactors or protectors.  What few scars we scratch on its surface will heal quickly.  The roles of those species that vanish will rapidly be filled by others.  Days will still be roughly 24 hours long and years still encompass one trip around the sun.
So, it was with no little amount of humor that I read this week an article in the New York Times about “dueling polsters” who are arguing one to the other in the media that their particular poll is the correct barometer to use when measuring public opinion with respect to climate change.  I find this humorous for a lot of reasons.  First, opinions of U.S. adults are extremely volatile, especially when viewed through the lenses of opinion poll questions designed to narrowly focus on one minute aspect of one select issue (such as placing a cap on carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere in hypothetical climate change legislation).  Second, I would venture that most of the people being asked have no idea what carbon dioxide is and what its potential effects might be in the Earth’s atmosphere on climate change, or what the regulatory and economic impacts of a carbon dioxide cap and trade system might entail, or, even, what the “atmosphere” is.  So are the poll results really an indication of anything given this knowledge gap?  Third, of the 6.8 billion or so people on the Earth, the universe of people who really care about these poll results is really small and insignificant.  That self-important minority includes the pollsters, themselves, who have a job to justify, politicians and their minions, who want to get their daily indication of which wind direction to follow, and policy and media wonks (like me), who might use the poll results to support an opinion that they already have and won’t change anyway.
Like this opinion of mine: “So what?”  No one cares about the polls.  They are meaningless in a very real sense.  We still keep spewing out carbon dioxide and the Earth still keeps warming up very very nicely.  Maybe someday humanity (the wealthy minority who over-consume and over-emit, that is) will be shocked into the realization that their own livelihoods and very lives of their children are at stake, and stop the mass suicide. But apart from all of that, the Earth will be just fine, folks.  We can stop worrying about that and be honest about what and whom we really are trying to save: ourselves.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Mississippi River Water Resource News for the Week

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and Farm Conservation Funding 
 The Senate Agriculture Committee on March 24, passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (S 3307), a bill introduced by Committee Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) that would reauthorize child-nutrition programs, and that included a $4.5 billion increase in funding over 10 years for school, after-school and summer meal programs and for improvement in the nutritional quality of the meals.  The increases in funding were to have been offset by, among other cuts, a $2.2 billion decrease in the authorization levels for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP); a USDA conservation program used by farmers and ranchers to address environmental problems on their land.   
However, after some farm-state senators objected to using the EQIP subsidy money as an offset to pay for the nutrition program, by the time of the August 5, full Senate vote on the childhood nutrition bill, a deal had been struck to change the way it was paid for.  That compromise took $2.2 billion out of future funding for food stamp programs instead of EQIP.  The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent. Hunger advocates who had previously supported the bill said they would now oppose it.  House action on the measure will likely wait until after the August recess.  The House of Representatives would need to pass its version of the bill in time for President Obama to sign the legislation before September 30, or the programs risk losing the newly found funding stream.

The Senate Appropriations Committee rushed to approve nine of its 12 spending bills over the past few weeks. The Senate has yet to clear the Interior-EPA bill, or the Defense and Legislative Branch proposals.  The full House approved its transportation and veterans spending bills in floor votes in the last week in July, but the other 10 spending bills still await a full committee markup.  See a Library of Congress summary table here.
Current spending measures expire at the end of September, Congress is all but certain to pass a short-term continuing resolution to fund federal programs for the start of the 2011 Fiscal Year when it returns from August recess, which would extend funding at current Fiscal Year 2010 levels.  Whether Congress will enact new Fiscal Year 2011 spending bills following the November election depends greatly on the outcome of the elections.  On average, most of the spending bills passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee to date or cleared out of the House and Senate subcommittees keep FY 2011 spending at about the same levels as in FY 2010 for science and environmental programs, with slight adjustments up or down in some programs.  However, if Congress goes through with additional cuts that some Senators and House members said they wish to pursue, then appropriators will need to find an additional $6 billion in cuts (possibly more, depending on which Member of Senator you listen to on the issue).  Those proposed additional spending cuts seem to have bipartisan support, at least in the Senate.

Illusion and Reality
It's been a slow week in DC, what with the House half of Congress on recess.  So, I'm going to take the liberty to muse a bit today.  I took an English course in college called "Illusion and Reality" where we read several great books the central themes of which centered on the topic of what is real and what is illusion in people's lives (The Glass Menagerie is one that I recall was in the reading list). Click here to see a modern day example of illusion and reality. And if you liked that one, click here to watch the white dove change colors.
I present these optical illusions because I have a hard time sometimes figuring out what is illusion and what is reality with respect to lawmaking in our nation's capital. Maybe I need to read The Glass Menagerie again.

Notable @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week:
Gulf of Mexico's "dead zone" this year among largest on record
WI state lawmakers take up phosphorus discharge rules to reduce algal blooms
Missouri Coalition for the Environment sues EPA over failure to protect waters
Mississippi River pours as much dispersant into the Gulf of Mexico as BP on a daily basis
Debate growing in US re: antibiotics used to fuel livestock growth Denmark farmers have adjusted
Danish government official testifies  before congressional subcommittee on health threat of antibiotic resistance
U of MO Center for Sustainable Energy Greening Midwest Communities Conference (Oct 19-20) registration:
Gulf Coast would get $1.2 B for restoration under House-passed Consolidated Land, Energy, & Aquatic Resources Act
Stanford U: Advances in agriculture have dramatically slowed releases of greenhouse gases
Read EDF’s latest issue of Delta Dispatches with news of Coastal Louisiana restoration at
Senate Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs Committee approves Sen. Chris Dodd's Livable Communities bill
EPA petitioned to ban lead in sport hunting ammunition
Goal of cleaning up Minnesota River watershed remains far behind schedule
Boat inspections failed to keep Zebra Mussels out of MN's Lake Minnetonka
Ankeny, IA aims to conserve stormwater with new incentive program

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Annual Gulf of Mexico "Dead Zone" Report Holds Few Surprises

The Gulf of Mexico's "dead zone" this year is among the largest on record, according to the results of the 25th annual dead-zone survey conducted by the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium.  The dead or hypoxic zone, an area with levels of dissolved oxygen low enough to severely limit marine life, is 7,722 square miles in size this year; an area slightly smaller than the area of New Jersey.  This year's area is slightly lower than the record of 8,000 square miles measured in 2001.  You can read a complete New York Times article on this study here, and view the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium media release on its findings here
According to the USGS, "the hypoxic zone in the northern Gulf of Mexico refers to an area along the Louisiana-Texas coast in which water near the bottom of the Gulf contains less than 2 parts per million of dissolved oxygen, causing a condition referred to as hypoxia. Hypoxia can cause fish to leave the area and can cause stress or death to bottom dwelling organisms that can’t move out of the hypoxic zone. Hypoxia is believed to be caused primarily by excess nutrients delivered from the Mississippi River in combination with seasonal stratification of Gulf waters. Excess nutrients promote algal and attendant zooplankton growth. The associated organic matter sinks to the bottom where it decomposes, consuming available oxygen. Stratification of fresh and saline waters prevents oxygen replenishment by mixing of oxygen-rich surface water with oxygen-depleted bottom water."

Most of the nutrients referred to by the USGS in the above quote originate from agricultural runoff in the Mississippi River Basin (see: Nutrient Control Actions for Improving Water Quality in the Mississippi River Basin and Northern Gulf of Mexico