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Environment: Judge upholds EPA’s review of proposed Pebble Mine, near Bristol Bay, Alaska

Salmon fisheries at risk with open-pit mine proposal

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The EPA will be allowed to do a thorough evaluation of the impacts of a proposed copper mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, a federal judge has ruled.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A federal judge Friday ruled that the EPA can proceed with an environmental review of a proposed copper mine in Alaska’ pristine Bristol Bay.

U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland rejected arguments that the EPA exceeded its authority by starting the review process in the absence of a specific permit application, and that the review violates the Alaska Statehood Act.

At issue is the proposed Pebble Mine, which would, according to environmental groups, become the largest copper mine in the world, potentially tainting huge areas of productive salmon habitat with dredged material and other pollutants. Continue reading

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Study: Recreational boats a big source of oil pollution along Canada’s Pacific coastline

Shrimp boats moored along Apalachicola Bay, Florida.

Shrimp boats moored along Apalachicola Bay, Florida.

Daily low-level leaks add up

Staff Report

FRISCO —Recreational boating has become a major source of oil pollution along Canada’s coast. The spills and leaks are posing a major threat to marine ecosystems in the Pacific according to University of Calgary researchers who analyzed patterns of oil pollution off the coast.

The findings were compiled from data gathered by a National Aerial Surveillance Program with the use of remote sensing devices. The scientists concluded that oil from recreational boats polluting the ocean along the British Columbia coast more than oil tankers and commercial cargo ships. Continue reading

Microplastic pollution widespread in St. Lawrence River

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A NASA Earth Observatory image shows ice formations on the St. Lawrence river.

Microbeads are pathway for other environmental contaminants

Staff Report

FRISCO — Microplastics have long been documented as an environmental threat to oceans. European researchers recently warned of similar problems in Italian lakes, and now, Canadian scientists say they’ve found 2-millimeter plastic microbeads widely distributed along the bottom of the St. Lawrence River.

The team of researchers from McGill University and the Quebec government published their study this month in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.

The paper explains that the pollution probably comes from cosmetics, household cleansers, or industrial cleansers, to which they are commonly added as abrasives. Owing to their small size and buoyancy, they may readily pass through sewage treatment plants.  Microplastics are a global contaminant in the world’s oceans, but have only recently been detected in the surface waters of lakes and rivers. Continue reading

Environment: Pesticide pollution rising in urban streams

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About half the nation’s streams are polluted by pesticides at a level of concern for aquatic life.

90 percent of urban streams show signs of contamination

Staff Report

FRISCO — A huge number of rivers and streams around the country are still polluted with pesticides that can kill bugs and other aquatic organisms at the base of the food chain.

Streams in agricultural areas are polluted at about the same level as they were 1990s, but pesticide pollution is increasing in urban streams, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study spanning about 20 years. Continue reading

Loss of northern hemisphere spring snow cover likely to amplifiy overall global warming signal

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More midwinter snow, but faster spring meltout seems to be the new climate norm in the northern hemisphere.

‘As shifts in the timing of meltout occur, we lose an important and relatively stable snowpack reservoir …’

FRISCO —Dwindling spring snow cover in the northern hemisphere could accelerate the pace of global warming, as darker-colored ground emerges earlier in the year, absorbing more of the sun’s heat and intensifying atmospheric warming.

The spring decline is evident despite a trend toward more snow in mid-winter — but June snowcover in the northern hemisphere has been below average 10 years in a row. The downward trend is mainly due to warmer temperatures, not to any big changes in overall precipitation totals, according to the most recent IPCC climate assessment. Continue reading

Global warming could reduce Sierra Nevada runoff by 25 percent

Increased plant growth projected to use more water

In the lengthening nights of October, the Snake River starts to freeze.

Global warming is likely to have a big impact on mountain runoff. bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Forests and brush moving up mountainsides as the climate warms could take a big gulp from streams and rivers, potentially cutting runoff by as much as 25 percent by the end of the century. Warmer temperatures will accelerate plant growth, triggering more water absorption and evaporation, according to researchers with  UC Irvine and UC Merced.

“Scientists have recognized for a while that something like this was possible, but no one had been able to quantify whether it could be a big effect,” said UCI professor of Earth system science Michael L. Goulden. “It’s clear that this could be a big effect of climate warming and that water managers need to recognize and plan for the possibility of increased water losses from forest evaporation.”

According to the researchers, runoff from mountain ranges is vulnerable to temperature hikes that lengthen growing seasons and result in more vegetation growth at high elevations, according to the study, to be published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Continue reading

Colorado farming, ranching water ‘in the crosshairs’ as big reservoirs dwindle

Water experts to discuss role of agriculture in Colorado River puzzle

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Can ag water save the Colorado River?

Staff Report

FRISCO — A new $11 million effort to keep water flowing in the Colorado River to Lake Powell could up the pressure on Colorado farmers and ranchers to sell or lease their water.

In fact, agriculture is in the crosshairs in Colorado, according to the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which represents western Colorado water interests. Low water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead — the key storage buckets on the Colorado — have prompted measures to put more water in the river.

The CRWCD’s annual water seminar (Sept. 19, Grand Junction) will focus on what that means for western Colorado, with panel discussions and presentations on ag efficiency, the worth of ag efficiency and how ag efficiency works with the chief goal of sustaining ag as a viable industry. Continue reading

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