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

EPA says it will scrutinize proposed Pebble Mine impacts to protect water quality in Alaska’s Bristol Bay

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Federal experts will use Clean Water Act standards to assess the potential impacts of a proposed open-pit mine in the Bristol Bay watershed.

Mining would threaten cherished and culturally critical natural resources

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The environmental impacts of a proposed mine along the Alaska coast will be scrutinized through the lens of the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency announced last week.

The proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay could become one of the world’s largest open pit mines if it’s approved, but conservation advocates have launched a fierce campaign to halt the mine. The EPA’s announcement to apply Clean Water Act standards came as welcome news to environmentalists. 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

Florida manatee deaths spike to record high in 2013

Worsening coastal water quality seen as factor

Endangered Florida manatees are dying at an alarming rate. bberwyn photo.

Endangered Florida manatees are dying at an alarming rate. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Florida manatee deaths in 2013 spiked to the highest level ever, with the state’s wildlife agency reporting that 829 of the gentle sea cows died during the year. That total is more than double last year’s and exceeds the previous record number of deaths set in 2010, when a severe cold snap contributed to 766 deaths.

If there’s any good news for manatees in this year’s numbers, it’s that the number of deaths attributed to collisions with boats dropped to the lowest level in at least five years, comprising only 9 percent of the total mortality.

On the downside,  more frequent episodes of toxic algal blooms may have been a big factor in this year’s mortality toll, according to environmental watchdogs, who chastised state officials for not doing more to protect water quality.

Altogether, the 829 deaths comprise about 17 percent of the state’s total population of the endangered marine mammals. There were 276 red tide-related manatee deaths in 2013, almost as many as for the previous eight years combined and more than 60 percent above the previous record for red tide-related deaths of 151 back in 1996. 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

Oceans: NOAA report offers guides for sustainable aquaculture

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Fish farms can be operated sustainably with good planning and best management practices, according to NOAA.

Good safeguards can help minimize environmental impacts

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Despite reported environmental problems reported with existing aquaculture operations, federal scientists say coastal fish farming can be done minimal or no harm to the coastal ocean environment.

The new report by researchers at NOAA’s National Ocean Service finds that water quality impacts are limited to slightly raised levels of nitrogen and phosphorus within a few hundred feet of aquaculture facilites, but that impacts can be limited with good planning and environmental safeguards. 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

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

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