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Environment: Federal appeals court focusing on toxic ozone smog in Utah’s Uinta Basin

EPA challenged on decision to designate polluted region as unclassifiable

Western U.S. Counties Violating Current and Proposed Ozone Air Quality Standards.

Western U.S. Counties Violating Current and Proposed Ozone Air Quality Standards. Map courtesy Jeremy Nichols/ClimateWest blog.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Environmental advocates and the EPA are facing off in a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. today over air quality in Utah’s remote Uinta Basin, where ozone levels often exceed standards set to protect human health.

In a weird twist to the case, the fossil fuel industry is claiming that its own air pollution data is of poor quality and unreliable, and shouldn’t be used by the EPA to designate the Uinta Basin as a nonattainment area, despite the fact that the area regularly sees some of the highest ozone pollution levels in the country.

At issue in the oral arguments is the EPA’s refusal to designate the Uinta Basin as a nonattainment area despite monitoring showing serious air quality degradation in northeastern Utah. The EPA’s decision to designate the area as unclassifiable is a clear violation of the Clean Air Act, according to WildEarth Guardians, one of the groups involved in the case. Continue reading

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Human disturbance the key factor driving changes in eastern forests

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A new study finds that human disturbance drives forest changes in eastern U.S. bberwyn photo

Fire suppression, land-clearing outweigh climate factors, study says

Staff Report

FRISCO — Climate change may only be a secondary factor in the changing composition of Eastern forests. Changes in disturbance regimes have had a much bigger impact in the past century or so, according to Marc Abrams, a researcher in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

Abrams says eastern forests are still in a state of disequilibrium resulting from massive clear-cutting and burning during the late 1800s and early 1900s, and aggressive forest fire suppression has also had a far greater influence on shifts in dominant tree species than minor differences in temperature. Continue reading

Environment: Tracking pharmaceutical pollutants up the food chain

Fish-eating ospreys not showing signs of contamination

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Ospreys so far are not picking up significant amounts of pharmaceutical pollution found in many streams and rivers around the world. bberwyn photo

Staff Report

FRISCO — Pharmaceutical compounds from makeup and drugs are turning up in streams and rivers all over the world, even in remote Yucatan cenotes, but for now, they don’t seem to be working their way up the food chain.

The chemicals have been finding their way into the environment, primarily through wastewater, urban runoff and even biosolids applied to agricultural lands, but he impact on wildlife is unknown, so researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey and Baylor University teamed up to try and track the pollutants through the food chain by testing ospreys. Continue reading

Environment: Bulkhead a big step in Peru Creek cleanup

All-out remediation effort targets acid mine drainage near Keystone Ski Area

Remediation work in progress at the Pennsylvania Mine site in Summit County, Colorado. Photo via Snake River Watershed Task Force.

Remediation work in progress at the Pennsylvania Mine site in Summit County, Colorado. Photo via Snake River Watershed Task Force.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — For decades, the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine has been oozing heavy metals — zinc, manganese, cadmium, lead and and arsenic — into the waters of Peru Creek, a small tributary of the Snake River near Keystone, Colorado. The site has been the focus of intensive study during the past 15 years with the goal of improving water quality downstream.

Last week, engineers and environmental experts took a big step toward trying to staunch that flow by blocking one of the mine tunnels. If all goes well, the new bulkhead could reduce the direct discharge from the mine by about two-thirds, said Jeff Graves, a remediation expert with the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety.

Graves explained that the new plug should force the water back into its natural underground pathways, trickling and percolating down through layers of rock and earth, and not as prone to the oxidation that’s key in the formation of acid mine drainage. Essentially, the work will restore the groundwater flow to more natural, pre-mining conditions, he said. Continue reading

Colorado River flows about average for 2014 water year

Storage still near all-time lows

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A 2014 water year map shows the continuing drought conditions in California, as well as dry patches from Texas, extending north into Oklahoma.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Near-average inflow to Lake Powell the past 12 months helped maintain storage at a similar level to last year in the key Colorado River reservoir. According to the Bureau of Reclamation. Continue reading

Microclimates may buffer some streams from global warming

Low flows in high country streams this summer. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

Microclimates may partially buffer some streams, at least temporarily, from warming air temperatures. bberwyn photo

‘The one constant is that a healthy watershed will be more resilient to climate change than one that isn’t healthy …’

Staff Report

FRISCO — Global warming is all but sure to raise stream temperatures in many areas, but it turns out that changes in air temperatures don’t offer a reliable proxy for projecting those changes.

Eapecially in the mountains streams of the West, topography and riparian conditions are huge factors in regulating stream temperatures.

The correlation between air temperature and stream temperature is surprisingly tenuous, according to stream ecologists at Oregon State University, who examined historic stream temperature data over a period of one to four decades from 25 sites in the western United States. Continue reading

Predator decline spawns thorny biodiversity dilemma

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Yet another study describes cascading ecological impacts of declining predator populations.

Plant communities change as herbivoves spread

Staff Report

FRISCO — The global decline of large predators is leading to a loss of plant and tree diversity, scientists said after studying ecosystem changes in Africa. Recent research shows more than 75 percent of the world’s large carnivore species are in decline, with 17 of those species occupying less than half of their historical distributions.

The research by University of British Columbia zoologist Adam Ford and his colleagues involved tracking Africal impalas with GPS units to see how they respond to the presence (and absence) of predators, specifically whether the predators scare impala so much that impala will avoid areas where they are likely to be killed. They combined the tracking data with a high-resolution satellite image of tree cover and located carcasses to determine where impala are being killed. Continue reading

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