Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Get Them While They Last!

The June edition of our Northeast-Midwest Institute Mississippi River Basin Update is now available online for a limited time only (well, in the sense that nothing lasts forever).  This month’s Update contains these timely news items (some of which you may have already seen posted on our blog, our Facebook page or our Twitter feed if you have been observant):

Publications and Articles
  • USDA NRCS MRBI Announcement
  • Challenges Facing USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program
  • NSAC CSP Fact Sheet
  • EPA Inspector General’s Report
  • USGS Urban Stream Research
  • American Rivers Most Endangered Rivers 2010
  • America’s Waterway's June newsletter
  • Environmental Defense Fund’s latest issue of Delta Dispatches
America's Inner Coast Summit
Conference, Event and Meeting Announcements
Federal Legislative Updates
  • Upper Mississippi River Protection Act
  • 2012 Farm Bill
  • Large-Scale Ecosystem Restoration Legislation 
Federal Budget and Appropriations

Friday, June 25, 2010

Mississippi River Water Resource News for the Week

Bill Roderick, the EPA’s acting Inspector General earlier this month released a report concluding that the agency’s authority is too fragmented to adequately address the nation’s environmental issues; that the EPA is in dire need of a new, comprehensive, national environmental protection policy and that the EPA needs to improve coordination with other Federal, and with state and local officials. I would contend that Mr. Roderick’s findings could be equally applied to each of the more than 20 Federal agencies who share a piece of the legal authority over and involvement in the Mississippi River system’s water resources. The full report can be read here (pdf file).

The University of Washington's Distinguished Practitioner-in-Residence, Norman B. Rice, former mayor of the City of Seattle, suggests that the following five core principles underlie a strong community engagement process (something key to any sustainable watershed initiative):
  1. Center the engagement on policy rather than politics
  2. Have meaningful civic engagement or no engagement at all
  3. Hyper-communication is key
  4. Civic engagement requires political will
  5. Civic engagement should look beyond governance
Read more about these principles here.
(with thanks to Patrick McGinnis of The Horinko Group for passing this on to us.  See more about The Horinko Group's work at http://www.thehorinkogroup.org/).

A recent U.S. Geological Survey study examined state and federal fish-monitoring data for trends in mercury levels in fish from 1969-2005 in rivers and lakes (see the USGS mercury web page here and article summary here).  An article summarizing the study, entitled, "Mercury trends in fish from rivers and lakes in the United States, 1969-2005," is published in the journal Environmental Monitoring and Assessment and is available online.  The study found that concentrations of mercury in fish generally decreased in the 1970s and 1980s, as indicated by samples collected at 50 sites across the Nation. Trends were more variable from 1996-2005, during which data were assessed for eight states in the Southeast and Midwest. More upward mercury trends in fish occurred in the Southeast compared to the Midwest, which may be attributed, in part, to a greater influence of long-range global mercury emissions in the Southeast.

Notable @UpperMiss tweets for the week:
  • Gap between Sen. Reid’s ambitious legislative agenda & legislative calendar seems to be growing http://politi.co/aYJw8U
  • Power generated by burning biomass facing increased scrutiny and opposition http://nyti.ms/9Gnwve
  • RT @DSchvejda: Unleash Mississippi R To Stop Gulf Oil Invasion http://ow.ly/21duL
  • Wilkinson Creek (TN) bacterial contamination blamed on beaver & leaking & unlicensed sewage pump station http://bit.ly/cIe9Tr
  • USDA: Corn ethanol goes from 'energy sink' to 'substantial net energy gain' PDF file - http://bit.ly/c53XUM
  • Good morning from banks of the Mississippi & the America's Inner Coast Summit (last day) http://bit.ly/cPBdRa will post blog update Friday
  • RT @rewealth: $2.8 Million now available for Indiana farmers to preserve & restore wetlands. http://bit.ly/b55Ahp
  • Wisconsin DNR Wardens Educate Boaters About New Invasive Species Law http://bit.ly/dxT6lD
  • House Ag Committee Chair Peterson: for next Farm Bill “we’ll probably have less money" http://bit.ly/9J5OZy
  • World Wetland Network announces International Wetland Awards to recognize best & worst cases of wetland management http://bit.ly/a0uDjV
  • Senate Judiciary Committee passes bill requiring mandatory restitution for Clean Water Act violations http://bit.ly/atpj6F
  • Northern Wisconsin region suffering long dry spell http://bit.ly/a1QTgc
  • MNDNR tells of the enormous struggle to protect state lakes http://bit.ly/cl3CMl
  • Cold treatment technology working against invasive curly-leaf pondweed in MN lake http://bit.ly/dlq701

America's Inner Coast Summit - It's Time to Follow a New Map

On June 22-24, America's Inner Coast Summit was held in Saint Louis, Missouri.  The Summit brought together over 100 representatives from NGOs, Federal agencies, states, tribes, private landowners, industry, academia and communities to discuss the future ecological sustainability of the Mississippi River watershed (the Summit web site is here).  The Summit was sponsored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, The Nature Conservancy, Monsanto, Gulf Engineers and Consultants, Sand County Foundation, and the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center. The proceedings built upon the findings of a May 2009 action document developed by the Midwest Natural Resources Group: an ‘Opportunity for Action’ letter that was signed by the 14 Federal agencies that make up the group.  The Summit also grew out of the recommendations from an August 2009 Visions of a Sustainable River Conference hosted by the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center.  Both that letter and conference recognized the importance of the Mississippi River and its entire watershed, and represented calls to action for sustainable conservation and recovery efforts.

Summit speakers included representatives of academia, Federal agencies, the NGO community, and associations.  I had the privilege of presenting a plenary session talk at the Summit on its first full day, entitled "Of Maps and Men - 17th Century Mapmaking and 21st Century Sustainability.” A transcript of the talk can be viewed on-line here, including portions that could not be included in the actual presentation because of last-minute Summit schedule and time changes.  

My presentation in a nutshell:  the Mississippi River basin natural, cultural, social, political, business and intitutional landscapes are severely fragmented.  And equally fragmented attempts at conservation and restoration are following an outdated map that will prove to be fruitless, based upon a review of results of other landscape-scale conservation efforts nationwide.  The Mississippi system issues we face are multi-jurisdictional, multifaceted, intergenerational and interconnected, and none will be adequately solved, let alone understood, if our way of thinking, planning and doing does not also become multi-jurisdictional, multifaceted, intergenerational and interconnected.   At the Summit I proposed a new, inclusive, integrated map toward sustainability; envisioning a revitalized, healthy river system that lies at the very center of a community and economic renaissance where all activities occur in such a fashion as to protect and restore the environmental richness and enhance the quality of life of all who live and work here.  It’s a vision that values, conserves and revitalizes both the economy and nature; a vision built upon a philosophy of “Conservation through Cooperation.”

Friday, June 18, 2010

What we're watching (and you should too!)

There are several "large scale ecosystem restoration and protection" bills working their ways through the U.S. Congress at the moment (see the list, and links to the bills, below).  Although none are directly related to work in the Mississippi River Basin, they are related to potential future Basin legislative measures in the sense that (1) Congress is beginning to more and more see the value in addressing watershed issues at a basinwide level, and (2) the Chesapeake Bay programs, in particular, are being touted by the Administration, and some Senators and House Members, as models that could be rolled out nationally (including in the Mississippi River region), once implemented and tested in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

There is a chance that some or all of the above bills might be wrapped up into one "Great Waters Omnibus" bill.  That likelihood depends on a variety of factors, including the pace that each of the measures is considered by the various House and Senate committees in which they must be considered, as well as the very tight legislative calendar through the remainder of 2010.  Action on any omnibus measure, if it happens this year at all, would likely occur in the time window following the November election and the end of the year.

"And what is the likelihood of ever introducing similar legislation relating to the whole Mississippi River watershed?" one might ask.  Not too good right now, I would suggest.  But that's another story altogether, and will be the subject of a more lengthy analysis that we'll post next week.

Mississippi River Water Resource News for the Week

Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative
On June 15, the USDA announced the selection of 75 projects in 12 states to help agricultural landowners and producers within the Mississippi River Basin to implement conservation and management practices that prevent, control and trap nutrient runoff from agricultural land. The targeted projects are the first to be launched under the Natural Resources Conservation Service's Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI), a new initiative designed to improve water quality and the overall health of the Mississippi River Basin by reducing nutrient loading to streams from agricultural lands.  The USDA press release announcing the project locations is located here.  The MRBI home page can be found here.

Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP)

On June 16, the USDA announced the release of the CEAP-Cropland report on the effects of conservation practices on cropland in the Upper Mississippi River Basin (UMRB).  Computer modeling simulations indicate that conservation practice use in the UMRB has made progress toward reducing sediment, nutrient, and pesticide losses from farm fields. However, significant conservation treatment is still needed to reduce the impacts of nonpoint agricultural pollution sources.  The report, entitled "Assessment of the Effects of Conservation Practices on Cultivated Cropland in the Upper Mississippi River Basin," is now available to download on the internet from the Assessment's web page.

Notable @UpperMiss tweets for the week:
  • Gulf Coast Restoration Plan could go well beyond oil spill & address Mississippi River & other impacts http://nyti.ms/dAy2XV
  • American Farmland Trust 's press release re: USDA’s CEAP Report on Upper Mississippi River Basin http://bit.ly/aLbAfW
  • House Agriculture Subcommittee holds another in a series of 2012 Farm Bill hearings http://bit.ly/TVrAx
  • IA State U sociologists suggest large-scale farming has improved overall social fabric of small IA towns http://bit.ly/bNciES
  • Farm lobby set to block bills re: 2025 deadline for cutting pollutants to restore Chesapeake Bay http://bit.ly/dsh0gJ
  • Senate Judiciary Comm mtg today re: Environmental Crimes Enforcement Act to require restitution for CWA violations http://bit.ly/dDmnSJ
  • USDA ARS Study: helping farmers make best use of fertilizers and potentially reduce runoff into streams http://bit.ly/aVqm8e
  • Assessment of Effects of Conservation Practices on Cultivated Cropland in Upper Mississippi R Basin report released http://bit.ly/bRCQth
  • Check out this Mississippi River basin ag conservation news from USDA: http://bit.ly/cpoAvp
  • Visit the River Talk blog produced by the River Life Partnership at the University of Minnesota: http://bit.ly/dxhM6D
  • Call for papers: North American Lake Management Society international symposium Oklahoma City Nov 3-5 http://bit.ly/cWeLio

Friday, June 11, 2010

Mississippi River Water Resource News for the Week

On Wednesday, June 9,  the Water and Power Subcommittee of the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing regarding several water resources bills, including the "Upper Mississippi River Protection Act," which would direct the U.S. Geological Survey to establish a nutrient- and sediment-monitoring network for the Upper Mississippi River Basin. The House bill (HR 3671), introduced by Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI-3rd), was passed by the House on March 19. The roll call vote in favor of the bill's passage was 289 - 121. The companion bill to the House measure (S 2779) was introduced in the Senate in November last year by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). Links to the bill web sites can be found on this Library of Congress site. Here is a link to the Subcommittee's website for Wednesday's hearing. 
That page includes written testimony from Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor, who testified at the hearing.  Mr. Connor indicated in his written and oral testimonty that the DOI was concerned about the money needed to carry out the full scope of the study called for under the Upper Mississippi River Protection Act, and said authority now in place is sufficient to protect the basin.  His prepared remarks on the Upper Mississippi River Protection Act start on page 7.  It runs for three pages.

An analysis by David Biello (Associate Editor, Environment and Energy, Scientific American) looks at the potential impacts that the ongoing BP oil release might have on the chronically-occurring Gulf of Mexico hypoxic or "dead" zone, in a June 3 Scientific American online article. Biello concludes that "the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico might exacerbate or ameliorate the seasonal dead zone pictured here--as well as potentially form new dead zones in deeper waters further out." You can read the entire article here.

Notable @UpperMiss tweets for the week:
  • Mississippi basin politics: Sen. Blanche Lincoln (AR) survived a bitter Democratic runoff Tuesday http://bit.ly/dgBKJo
  • Aged, damaged Chattanooga sewer lines threaten Tennessee River clean water http://bit.ly/9QEDio
  • Before the Mississippi River, minerals show ancient rivers flowed west http://bit.ly/9aiqcc
  • America’s Waterway's June newsletter re: Mississippi River now available online http://bit.ly/9Q3Jp3
  • Developers break ground for 'macro green' business park in Iowa City http://bit.ly/cpfzf8
  • Fed agencies to develop plans for at least 5 % budget cuts by identifying programs that do little to advance missions http://bit.ly/9tAUyV
  • MSU scientists develop approach to make conserving & managing freshwater systems more integrated & effective http://bit.ly/9aPrcN
  • USGS to conduct series of seismic profiling tests near New Madrid Fault near Marianna, Ark. in 1st part of June http://bit.ly/cFaFHx
  • Quad-City Times editorial re: Cedar River flooding & development issues eschews quick fixes & poor planning http://bit.ly/cA77z2
  • Mississippi River Gorge 1/2 day canoe trips scheduled throughout the summer in Minneapolis area http://bit.ly/d3AWkA
  • WI state laws & programs designed help to slow emerald ash borer spread http://bit.ly/cdMMc5
  • EPA "Managing Wet Weather with Green Infrastructure" Workshop July 29-30; Fayetteville AR http://bit.ly/9IFRiF

Friday, June 4, 2010

Mississippi River Water Resource News for the Week

According to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey, the number of native fish and aquatic insects, especially those that are pollution sensitive, declines in urban and suburban streams at even very minimal levels of development — levels historically considered protective of aquatic biological communities. The analysis of nationwide USGS studies examines the effects of urbanization on algae, aquatic insects, fish, habitat and chemistry in urban streams in nine metropolitan areas: Boston, MA; Raleigh, NC; Atlanta, GA; Birmingham, AL; Milwaukee-Green Bay, WI; Denver, CO; Dallas-Fort Worth, TX; Salt Lake City, UT; and Portland, OR. The USGS web site covering the research, along with links to the full report, can be found here.

Strange but true Mississippi River news of the week: Mayfly hatch along Mississippi River is visible on Doppler radar (click here).

The long-awaited Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) report for the Upper Mississippi River Basin was released by the USDA NRCS earlier this week. The CEAP report is available on this web page. Here is a link to view and download the PDF file.  According to the report's Executive Summary, the "project was initiated to quantify existing ecological services derived from USDA conservation practices in the (Mississippi Alluvial Valley) as part of the USDA Conservation Effects Assessment Project, Wetlands Component (CEAP-Wetlands). The U. S. Geological Survey (USGS), in collaboration with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the USDA Farm Service Agency, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Ducks Unlimited, collected data on soils, vegetation, nitrogen cycling, migratory birds, and amphibians from 88 different sites between 2006 and 2008. Results from restored WRP sites were compared to baseline data from active agricultural cropland (AG) to evaluate changes in ecosystem services."

Notable @UpperMiss tweets for the week:
  • Free USGS Webinar Short Course on Adaptive Management of Natural Resources, June 7-11; info & register: http://bit.ly/cxl9Z5
  • Superweeds immune to Roundup could leave farmers using more of harsh older herbicides http://bit.ly/bjRMQ3
  • Agroforestry (combining farming & trees) catching attention of more farmers; benefits farm economy & conservation http://bit.ly/akS73H
  • USDA publishes final regulations governing Conservation Stewardship Program; promotes "greater environmental benefit" http://bit.ly/a77OTw
  • USGS study: # of native fish & aquatic insects declines in urban & suburban streams at low levels of development http://bit.ly/a0qwIH
  • Draining the prairie - ag boost or wetland bust? Farmers & conservation groups disagree on ag drainage practices http://bit.ly/crzmaT
  • Army Corps to hold “scoping” meetings on its Missouri River Authorized Purposes Study http://bit.ly/bQrZbN
  • American Rivers Most Endangered Rivers report released (Cedar River (IA) makes list from Mississippi R system) http://bit.ly/gDWWT
  • Minneapolis makes #3 in US Green Roof Top 10 listing http://bit.ly/d9wYUh
  • Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln sets agendas for 4 new Farm Bill hearings http://tinyurl.com/33ktvcm
  • New Wisconsin marina rules and standards introduced http://bit.ly/9GJuIQ

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Public Service Announcement for Coffee Drinkers

As a public service to those readers in and outside of the Washington, DC beltway who rely on a cup or two or three of coffee each morning to get into the rhythm of the new day, a study published online in the journal, Neuropsychopharmacology, reports that the stimulatory effects of caffeine may be nothing more than an illusion. Tests on 379 individuals who abstained from caffeine for 16 hours before being given either caffeine or a placebo and then tested for a range of responses showed little variance in levels of alertness.  The study suggests that, while frequent consumers may feel alerted by coffee, this may merely be a reversal of the fatiguing effects of acute caffeine withdrawal.

You can read more details of the study in this ScienceDaily article.

Reference: Peter J Rogers, Christa Hohoff, Susan V Heatherley, Emma L Mullings, Peter J Maxfield, Richard P Evershed, J├╝rgen Deckert and David J Nutt. Association of the Anxiogenic and Alerting Effects of Caffeine with ADORA2A and ADORA1 Polymorphisms and Habitual Level of Caffeine Consumption. Neuropsychopharmacology, 2010.

All Things Connected

Very often we get caught up in the very local scene or the project immediately at hand or the report sitting on our desk at the moment.  The same is true for those who work day in and day out on Mississippi River basin issues; we often fail to look beyond the River itself to the extensive watershed beyond the main stem.  Lest we forget, the Mississippi River doesn't exist in a vacuum, and some noteworthy news on the tributary front is worth passing on this week, specifically relating to the Missouri, Cedar, Gauley and Monongahela Rivers.

First, in the Missouri River basin: a series of public scoping meetings on the Missouri River Authorized Purposes Study (MRAPS) are being held this summer by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The MRAPS is a broad-based, Congressionally-authorized study designed to review project purposes established by the Flood Control Act of 1944, including a review of the effects of Army Corps authorized works on the Mississippi River.

The study will analyze eight authorized purposes in view of the current Basin values and priorities to determine if changes to the existing purposes and existing Federal water resource infrastructure may be warranted. Those eight authorized purposes include flood control, water supply, navigation, water quality, irrigation, recreation, hydropower, and fish and wildlife.

The MRAPS project area covers the entire Missouri River Basin and its tributaries and the scope of the review includes Army Corps projects (especially the Missouri River main stem lake projects), and a review of their impacts on the Mississippi River.  The Army Corps of Engineers is working collaboratively on the study with Tribes, Federal and State agencies, and other stakeholders within the Missouri River Basin and along the Mississippi River.

For more information, including locations and times of over 30 public scoping meetings and 11 Tribal-focused meetings scheduled across the Missouri and Mississippi River basins, see the MRAPS website.

The Cedar, Gauley and Monongahela Rivers have achieved notoriety by making American Rivers Most Endangered Rivers 2010 list, in a report released earlier this week.  Paraphrasing the American Rivers report:

The Cedar River in Iowa harbors globally rare plant communities, provides critical habitat for fish and wildlife, and is a popular destination for paddlers and anglers, and provides drinking water to over 120,000 people.  American Rivers concludes that "the Cedar River and the communities along its banks are threatened by antiquated flood management," threats that may be exacerbated by climate change-induced hydrological changes.

The Gauley River is formed by mountain streams within the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia, and is home to a variety of fish and wildlife, including many threatened and endangered species.  Natural resources in the Gauley River watershed are threatened by impacts from mountaintop removal coal mining, especially in the Twentymile and Peters Creek watersheds. 

The Monongahela River flows from West Virginia into Pennsylvania, where it joins with the Allegheny River to form the Ohio.  The Monongahela "provides drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people, and is home to some of the East Coast’s best fishing, whitewater boating, and wildlife.  However, the river and its clean water are threatened by pollution created by natural gas extraction activities in the Marcellus Shale."

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Delusions of Adequacy

It's not as though we didn't know that Gulf of Mexico offshore oil drilling had associated risks. This summation, from a 1971 US Court of Appeals decision on Gulf oil drilling in a case brought against the Department of Interior, made those risks ironically clear: 

Statement-Adverse Environmental Impact Disclosed

Adjacent to the proposed lease area is the greatest estuarine coastal marsh complex in the United States, some 7.9 million acres, providing food, nursery habitat and spawning ground vital to fish, shellfish and wildlife, as well as food and shelter for migratory waterfowl, wading birds and fur-bearing animals. This complex provides rich nutrient systems which make the Gulf of Mexico, blessed also with warm waters and shallow depths, the most productive fishing region of the country. . . .

The coastal regions of Louisiana and Mississippi contain millions of acres suitable for outdoor recreation, with a number of state and federal recreation areas, and extensive beach shorelines (397 miles for Louisiana, and 100 miles for Mississippi). These serve millions . . .

Oil pollution is the problem most extensively discussed in the Statement and its exposition of unavoidable adverse environmental effects.

The Statement acknowledges that both short and long term effects on the environment can be expected from spillage, including in that term major spills (like that in the Santa Barbara Channel in 1969); minor spills from operations and unidentified sources; and discharge of waste water contaminated with oil.

These adverse effects relate both to the damage to the coastal region-beaches, water areas and historic sites; and the forecast that oil pollution “may seriously damage the marine biological community”-both direct damage to the larger organisms, visible more easily and sooner, and to smaller life stages which would lead one step removed to damage later in the food chain.

The Statement noted the diverse conclusions and comments in existing reports on oil spills, some minimizing damage done, others stressing that oil spillage has effects beyond the period of visible evidence; that oil may mix with water, especially in a turbulent sea, and disperse downward into the sea; that emulsifiers used to remove surface oil may have toxic consequences, etc.

The Statement asserted that while past major spills in the Gulf resulted in minimal damage, this was due to a fortunate combination of offshore winds and surface currents.