Nitrate pollution remains high in many U.S. rivers


Agricultural runoff has left many major rivers polluted with nitrates.

‘Unfortunately, there is no widespread evidence of improving conditions …’

Staff Report

Massive efforts to improve water quality haven’t been effective in many large U.S. rivers, where nitrate levels remain at high levels after surging in the second half of the 20th century.

Between 1945 and 1980, nitrate levels in large U.S. rivers increased up to fivefold as chemical fertilizer use increased dramatically in the Midwest. In some urbanized areas along the East and West coasts during the same period, river nitrate levels doubled.

In recent decades, nitrate changes have been smaller but nitrate levels have remained high in most of the rivers examined in a new U.S. Geological Survey study. Continue reading

Environment: Beavers are cooler than you think!


Beavers can help improve water quality by reducing levels of nitrogen. @bberwyn photo.

Beaver ponds remove nitrogen pollution from streams

Staff Report

Long-known as beneficial ecosystem engineers, beavers not only build important wetland habitats for plants and animals, but also help reduce the amount of harmful nitrogen downstream of their ponds.

A team of scientists, led by Arthur Gold at the University of Rhode Island, took a close look at how beavers help reduce pollution. The research is important because nitrogen levels have been increasing in Northeast waters for years. The use of nitrogen fertilizers has risen and urbanization has brought in influences such as septic systems. This nitrogen is released into small streams and ponds and eventually travels to estuaries, where rivers meet the sea. Continue reading

Report says Animas River spill could have been avoided

Hasty excavation without adequate technical info led to disastrous Gold King mine blowout in Colorado


Tainted abandoned mine drainage is common in the mountains of Colorado. Photo courtesy Bureau of Reclamation.

By Bob Berwyn

Federal and state environmental engineers, along with their contractors, misjudged conditions inside the Gold King Mine before they unleashed a toxic flood of water into Cement Creek down the Animas and into the Colorado in early August.

The technical details about the spill were released this week by the Federal Bureau of Reclamation, which did an independent review of the accident.  Most importantly, the workers underestimated the water level inside the mine. That error “resulted in development of a plan to open the mine in a manner that appeared to guard against blowout, but instead led directly to the failure,” the Bureau of Reclamation wrote in the report. Continue reading

Public meeting on Animas River spill to be live-streamed


Sampling data after the toxic spill into the Animas River shows spikes in heavy metal concentrations.

Initial sampling shows huge spike in zinc concentrations, which could be bad news for fish

Staff Report

FRISCO — Engineers still have been able to completely staunch the flow of water from a mine portal near Silverton, Colorado, where a major spill sent at least 1 million gallons of polluted water surging into the Animas River.

In its Aug. 8 update, the EPA said the mine adit is still discharging approximately 500 gallons per minute, although the flow is decreasing and a makeshift treatment system of detention ponds appears to be effectively lowering the acidity of the discharge. Continue reading

Animas River pollution surges into New Mexico, Navajo Nation


The Gold King Mine portal that was the source of the massive spill of polution into the Animas River Basin, Photo via EPA.

Pollution plume reaches New Mexico and Navajo Nation

Staff Report

FRISCO — The massive Aug. 5 spill into the Animas River from the Gold King Mine, near Silverton, has turned the river as acidic as black coffee just downstream of the spill site, the EPA reported after evaluating early water quality samples.

According to an EPA Region 9 Emergency Response web page, the spill was triggered when workers trying to clear debris accidentally damaged a makeshift berm that was containing polluted water. Continue reading

EPA fracking study eyes drinking water impacts


A fracking rig in western Colorado.

Environmental agency found no evidence of widespread impacts

Staff Report

FRISCO — In a draft fracking study that was subject to a political tug-of-war even before it was released, the EPA found no evidence of “widespread, systemic” impacts to drinking water, but identified numerous weaknesses in the fracking process that could lead to contamination. Continue reading

Environment: Danube plastic pollution out of control, scientists say after intensive sampling effort

At times, there’s more plastic than baby fish in Europe’s second-largest river

Sunrise along the Danube in Linz, Austria.

Sunrise along the Danube in Linz, Austria. @bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO —The Danube River has long been a source of inspiration for songs, fairytales and dreams. But in recent decades, those dreams have morphed into plastic nightmare of sorts, as the mighty European stream sends at least 1,500 tons of plastic debris surging into the Black Sea each year.

So much plastic is being washed into the Danube that, at times, the debris outweighs the amount of fish larvae drifting down Europe’s second-largest river, a team of Austrian scientists found after two years of intensive sampling.

Most of the plastic (about 80 percent) is from pre-consumer industrial sources — in other words, from the factories that make the tiny plastic pellets and flakes that, in turn, are used to make everything from toothbrushes to kids toys, says Aaron Lechner, a researcher with the University of Vienna who teamed up with other scientists to take a close look at the problem. Continue reading


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