Colorado wetlands to regain federal protection

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High alpine wetlands that aren’t directly connected with larger rivers will regain more protection under a proposed new federal rule. bberwyn photo.

New rule aims to clear up regulatory limbo for seasonal streams and isolated wetlands

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A proposed federal rule would restore protection to hundreds of Colorado streams and big swaths of wetlands, including beloved alpine creeks and the sandy washes of the Front Range that only hold water seasonally.

The seasonal streams and disconnected wetlands long were covered under the Clean Water Act, but a pair of complex U.S. Supreme Court rulings in 2001 and 2006 opened some loopholes the regulations. At the least, the legal limbo caused headaches for scientists and regulators trying to assess impacts of housing developments and new roads. In some cases, they weren’t sure if they even had authority to regulate filling or draining of some wetlands. Continue reading

Oyster farming could clean up Potomac River

New NOAA-USGS study evaluates aquaculture cleanup potential

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Oysters could help clear the water in the Potomac River estuary.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Degraded water quality in the Potomac River estuary could be improved with intensive cultivation of oysters according to a new NOAA and U.S. Geological Survey study published in the journal Aquatic Geochemistry.

As filter feeders, oysters could remove all of the nitrogen currently polluting the river if 40 percent of its river bed were used for shellfish cultivation. The researchers determined that a combination of aquaculture and restored oyster reefs may provide even larger overall ecosystem benefits. Oysters can clean an enormous volume of water of algae which can cause poor water quality, leading to unwanted algae blooms and dead zones. Continue reading

Environment: USGS study measures success of abandoned mine cleanups in Montana

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Abandoned mine cleanups can help clean up polluted streams, a new USGS study in Montana finds. 

Water quality improving in Upper Clark Fork Basin

Staff Report

FRISCO — There are hopeful signs that the ongoing cleanup of abandoned mines around the West will pay off.

The U.S. Geological Survey, reported decreased levels  of toxic heavy metals in the streams of Montana’s Upper Clark Fork Basin that have been targeted by remediation efforts. Continue reading

Environment: Does coalbed methane development in Wyoming affect water quality?

Wyoming's Powder River Basin. Map courtesy USGS.

Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Map courtesy USGS.

FRISCO — Some Wyoming watersheds may be showing signs of wear and tear due to coalbed methane development, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study done on the Powder and Tongue river basins in northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana.

According to the USGS, three sites on the Powder River show a difference in water quality between the time before coalbed methane development and during the production period. But thirteen other sites, including mainstem and tributaries to the Tongue and Powder Rivers in northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana, showed few substantial differences in water quality between the two time periods. Continue reading

Biodiversity: USGS study shows how streamflow variations affect fish diversity in Tennessee River Basin

Small changes from norm can have big impacts

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New research to help inform river management.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — An in-depth U.S. Geological Survey study in the Tennessee River basin may help quantify how streamflow alteration changes aquatic ecosystems.

The research is based on community data collected by the Tennessee Valley Authority, and predictions of streamflow characteristics at more than 600 locations — and the findings indicate that even small deviations from natural streamflows can reduce fish diversity.

The  study highlights the importance of the timing, magnitude, and variability of low streamflows and the frequency and magnitude of high streamflows as key characteristics critical to assessing how fish communities change in response to streamflow alteration. Continue reading

Study documents plastic pollution in Thames

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A NASA Earth Observatory shows the discharge of the Thames River into the North Sea. Visit this NASA Earth Observatory page for more information.

Plastic pollution becoming ubiquitous in world’s waterways and oceans

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — In yet another sign that plastic debris has become a ubiquitous form of pollution, researchers in the UK said they recovered thousands of bits of plastic litter from the bottom of the upper Thames Estuary.

In a press release, the researchers with Royal Holloway, University of London and the Natural History Museum said the sheer amount of plastic recovered shows there is an unseen stream of rubbish flowing through London which could be a serious threat to aquatic wildlife.

The findings, published online in Marine Pollution Bulletin, highlight concerns,  for ecosystems around the river and the North Sea, into which the Thames flows.

Using nets designed to catch Chinese mitten crabs, Royal Holloway and the Natural History Museum scientists documented rubbish collected during a three-month trial. More than 8,000 pieces of plastic were collected, including large numbers of cigarette packaging, food wrappers and cups. More than 20 percent of the waste was made up of sanitary products. Continue reading

Feds say Oregon must improve coastal pollution controls

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Runoff from agriculture and logging threaten marine ecosystems along the Oregon coast. Photo courtesy NASA Earth Observatory.

State could lose funding for key water programs

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Oregon is at risk of losing federal funding for coastal and Clean Water Act funding if it doesn’t beef up its coastal nonpoint pollution control program, federal agencies said this week.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the EPA say the state plan doesn’t adequately address nonpoint source impacts from agricultural activities. Specifically,

Oregon needs to show how it will control impacts from logging, including measures for protecting small and medium sized streams; measures to protect landslide prone areas; and measures to address runoff from forest roads built prior to modern construction and drainage requirements. Continue reading

‘Superbugs’ spreading from water treatement plants

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E. Coli bacteria.

‘There’s no antibiotic that can kill them …’

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Scientists already know that genetic mutations have made some bacteria resistant to antibiotics, and new research suggests that those superbugs are able to withstand purification efforts at water treatment plants. The bacteria are even multiplying in the very facilities meant to eliminate them.

“We often think about sewage treatment plants as a way to protect us, to get rid of all of these disease-causing constituents in wastewater,” said Rice University environmental engineer Pedro Alvarez, who led the recent study at two wastewater treatments plans in China. “But it turns out these microbes are growing. They’re eating sewage, so they proliferate. In one wastewater treatment plant, we had four to five of these superbugs coming out for every one that came in.” Continue reading

Environment: River otters in Illinois contaminated with chemicals that were banned decades ago

A new study found that river otters in Illinois are being exposed to dieldrin, DDE (a byproduct of DDT), PCBs and other chemicals banned decades ago. Photo courtesy Ivan Petrov.

A new study shows river otters in Illinois are being exposed to dieldrin, DDE (a byproduct of DDT), PCBs and other chemicals that were banned decades ago. Photo courtesy Ivan Petrov.

Study shows how long some pollutants can persist in nature

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — It’s common knowledge that some of the most toxic chemical pollutants can persist in the environment for many years. A new study in Illinois shows that they can sometimes even linger for decades, as river otters in the region are being exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and pesticides that were banned in the U.S. in the 1970s and ’80s.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources collected 23 river otters between 2009 and 2011, after the animals were incidentally killed (hit by cars or accidentally caught in traps, for example).

The agency passed the carcasses along to researchers at the Illinois Natural History Survey for an analysis, which found that average concentrations of one of the compounds they analyzed, dieldrin — an insecticide (and byproduct of the pesticide aldrin) that was used across the Midwest before it was banned in 1987 — exceeded those measured in eight river otters collected in Illinois from 1984 to 1989. Continue reading

Environment: Plastic pollution found in mountain lakes

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Lake Garda, Italy. Photo courtesy NASA.

Toxic materials a concern for freshwater ecosystems

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — By now, everyone has heard about the giant ocean eddies of plastic debris — the final resting place, as it were, for the detritus of our throw-away society. As it turns out, the ocean isn’t the only place that’s been polluted by human thoughtlessness.

German scientists say their recent study of Lake Garda, a subalpine lake at the southern edge of the Italian Alps, is also polluted with potentially hazardous plastics. The findings are a warming sign that many other freshwater lakes may be similarly polluted, and that those tiny microplastics are likely finding their way into the food web through a wide range of freshwater invertebrates, too. Continue reading

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