The National Research Council urged the U.S. EPA to take a more aggressive role in implementing the Clean Water Act.

The National Research Council urged the U.S. EPA to take a more aggressive role in implementing the Clean Water Act.

By Series of News Articles about National Research Council Report on Mississippi River and Clean Water Act
October 2007

For the full  National Research Council Report on Mississippi River and Clean Water Act please go to:

http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12051


[Associated Press, Oct. 16]

 

Study: Protect Mississippi River Better

WASHINGTON (AP) — States and the federal government need to coordinate their efforts to monitor and protect the water of the Mississippi River, a new analysis urges.

 

The study released Tuesday by the National Research Council calls on the Environmental Protection Agency to coordinate the efforts affecting the river and the northern Gulf of Mexico where its water is discharged.

 

"The limited attention being given to monitoring and managing the Mississippi‘s water quality does not match the river’s significant economic, ecological and cultural importance," said David A. Dzombak, professor of environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

 

Dzombak, who was chairman of the committee that prepared the report, said that "in addressing water-quality problems in the river, EPA and the states should draw upon the useful experience in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, where for decades the agency has been working together with states surrounding the bay to reduce nutrient pollution and improve water quality."

 

Benjamin H. Grumbles, EPA’s assistant administrator for water, said the "EPA is committed to increasing efforts with all of our partners to improve the water quality and monitoring of the Mississippi River Basin. Cooperative conservation and improved monitoring can help us all achieve sustainable solutions that transcend political boundaries."

 

Michelle Perez, a senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit conservation organization, said the report should be a top consideration for Congress as it considers reauthorizing the farm bill and the Clean Water Act. "In order to reverse the environmental disaster of fertilizer runoff pollution in the Mississippi River Basin, conservation funding must be targeted to critical areas."

 

Because it passes through or borders many states, the river’s quality is not consistently monitored, the report said.

 

In the north, the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association has promoted many cooperative water-quality studies and other initiatives, the report said. That group includes Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin.

 

But there is no similar organization for the lower-river states — Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana — and they should strive to create one, the report said.

 

EPA also should support better coordination among states, and among its four regional offices along the river corridor, the report says.

 

Greater effort is needed to ensure that the river is monitored and evaluated as a single system, said the report.

 

While the 10 states along the river conduct their own programs to monitor water quality, state resources vary widely and there is no single program that oversees the entire river.

 

In recent years, actions have reduced much point-source pollution, such as direct discharges from factories and wastewater treatment plants.

 

But the report notes that many of the river’s remaining pollution problems stem from nonpoint sources, such as nutrients and sediments that enter the river and its tributaries through runoff.

 

Nutrients from fertilizers create water-quality problems in the river itself and contribute to an oxygen-deficient "dead zone" in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

 

The National Research Council is an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, an independent organization chartered by Congress to advise the government on scientific matters.

 

The study was sponsored by the McKnight Foundation of Minneapolis.

 

 

AP story appeared on the following news websites (possibly also some print versions though that can’t be confirmed).

 

Mississippi River states

Jackson Clarion Ledger, MS – Oct 16

Delta Democrat Times, MS – Oct 17

Biloxi Sun-Herald – Oct. 17

Memphis Daily News – Oct. 17

Minneapolis Star-Tribune – Oct. 16

Kansas City Star, MO – Oct 16

Eyewitness News Memphis – Oct 16

Memphis Flyer, TN – Oct 16

Chicago Daily Herald – Oct. 16

The Courier News [Suburban Chicago]

Jackson Sun, TN – Oct 16

Kankakee Daily Journal, IL – Oct 16

Kentucky.com (Lexington Herald-Leader), KY – Oct 16

Belleville News-Democrat

The Benton Crier, IA – Oct 16

KTSP 5 News, MN – Oct. 16

KARE-11 News, MN – Oct 16

Journal Gazette and Times-Courier, IL – Oct 16

Chippewa Herald, WI – Oct 16

Duluth News Tribune, MN – Oct 16

West Central Tribune, MN – Oct 16

KATC, LA – Oct 16

The Southern Illinoisan, IL – Oct 16

Chandler News-Dispatch, MN – Oct 16

Shreveport Times, LA – Oct 16

The Times-Picayune – NOLA.com, LA – Oct 16

 

International

Guardian Unlimited, UK- Oct 16

CNN International- Oct 16

ABCmoney.co.uk, UK- Oct 16

Innovations Report, Germany

Jordan Falls News, Canada – Oct. 16

Earthtimes, UK – Oct 16

Ottawa Recorder, Canada- Oct 16

Westfall Weekly News, Canada- Oct 16

Hinesberg Journal, Canada- Oct 16

Leading The Charge, Australia- Oct 16

 

 

National and other states

USA Today.com — Oct. 16

CNN – Oct 16

CBS News (cbsnews.com), NY- Oct 16

Newsday, NY – Oct 16

Forbes, NY- Oct 16

Houston Chronicle – Oct 16

Washington Post – Oct 16

Los Angeles Times, CA- Oct 16

Philadelphia Inquirer, PA- Oct 16

Seattle Post Intelligencer – Oct 16

San Francisco Chronicle – Oct 16

San Diego Union Tribune, CA – Oct 16

Boston Globe – Oct. 17

MSN Money- Oct 16

MiamiHerald.com, FL- Oct 16

Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, GA- Oct 16

MLive.com, MI

The Plain Dealer – cleveland.com, OH – Oct 16

Washington Examiner.com – Oct 16

Carlisle Sentinel, PA- Oct 16

Central Florida News 13, FL – Oct 16

Modesto Bee, CA- Oct 16

Baltimore Examiner, MD- Oct 16

El Paso Times, TX- Oct 16

San Jose Mercury News, CA

Inside Bay Area, CA – Oct 16

Monterey County Herald, CA – Oct 16

Takoma NewsTribune.com, WA- Oct 16

KSWO, OK- Oct 16

New Hope Courier, OK- Oct 16

Howell Times and Transcript, UT – Oct 16

Prescott Herald, AZ – Oct 16

Akron Farm Report, NE- Oct 16

White Rock Reviewer, SD- Oct 16

Fort Worth Star Telegram, TX- Oct 16

Long Beach Press-TelegramCA – Oct 16

Wyoming News, WY- Oct 16

Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, IN  Oct 16

WRAL.com, NC- Oct 16

KTAR.com, AZ- Oct 16

Contra Costa Times, CA

Pioneer Times-Journal, NM- Oct 16

Brocktown News, ID – Oct 16

Meadow Free Press, ID – Oct 16

Herald News Daily, ND – Oct 16

Olberlin Times, KS – Oct 16

San Luis Obisbo Tribune, Calif. – Oct. 16

News 10 NBC, NY – Oct 16

WIBW, KS – Oct 16

 

 

 


 

 [Reuters, Oct. 16]

 

Government urged to clean Mississippi River

By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent

 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Mississippi River, storied in American culture and commerce, needs more federal government action if it is once again to be clean enough for fishing and swimming, scientists said on Tuesday.

 

In a report issued by the National Research Council, the scientists called on the Environmental Protection Agency to take a more aggressive role in enforcing the Clean Water Act, which aims to make U.S. waters "fishable and swimmable."

 

Parts of the Mississippi, which flows 2,300 miles from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, are neither.

 

"The limited attention being given to monitoring and managing the Mississippi‘s water quality does not match the river’s significant economic, ecological and cultural importance," said David Dzombak of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

 

Dzombak, who headed the scientific panel that wrote the report, urged the EPA to work with the 10 states that line the river as it has with those along the Chesapeake Bay, where decades of work have cut pollution and improved water quality.

 

On the Mississippi, one key problem is pollution from so-called nonpoint sources such as chemical runoff from farms, as opposed to direct discharges from sewage treatment plants and factories, the report said.

 

Nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous enter the river from fertilizer runoff, creating significant pollution in the river itself and contribute to an oxygen-deficient "dead zone" in the northern Gulf of Mexico, the scientists found.

 

Sediments are also a problem that affect different parts of the river differently. In the upper Mississippi, they are too plentiful and a pollutant, but near the river’s mouth, sediments are scarce and their absence contributes to a loss of coastal wetlands in southern Louisiana.

 

To cut this kind of pollution, the panel said, the EPA should "exert the federal leadership that the Clean Water Act allows" and work with states to develop clean water standards.

 

The EPA’s Benjamin Grumbles, the assistant administrator for water, said in a statement the agency was "committed to increasing efforts with all of our partners to improve the water quality and monitoring of the Mississippi River Basin."

 

Grumbles said an agency task force aimed to protect public health and restore the waters of the 31 states and tribal lands within the Mississippi River Basin.

 

The Sierra Club’s Ed Hopkins said the report points out the obstacles to achieving a truly clean Mississippi.

 

"Lax enforcement and unclear administrative guidance have limited the success of the Clean Water Act, preventing it from achieving its twin goals of making all of our waters fishable and swimmable, and eliminating pollution," he said.

 


 

 

[UPI, Oct. 16]

 

Report: Stronger EPA leadership needed

 

WASHINGTON, Oct. 16 (UPI) — The National Research Council urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take a more aggressive role in implementing the Clean Water Act.

 

A new council report said better EPA leadership is needed if the water quality of the Mississippi River and the northern Gulf of Mexico is to improve.

 

The report accuses the federal agency of failing to adequately coordinate and oversee state activities along the Mississippi. The council said greater EPA effort is needed to ensure the river is monitored and evaluated as a single system.

 

"The limited attention being given to monitoring and managing the Mississippi‘s water quality does not match the river’s significant economic, ecological, and cultural importance," said David Dzombak, a Carnegie Mellon University professor who led the panel that prepared the study.

 

The report also called on the EPA to develop a federal Total Maximum Daily Load for nutrient pollutants for the river and the northern Gulf. Mandated by the Clean Water Act, a TMDL is a numerical limit on the amount of a pollutant a water body can accept and still meet its water-quality standards.

 


 

[Minnesota Public Radio, All Things Considered, Oct. 16]

 

Study: Government must do better to protect Mississippi River

by Stephanie Hemphill

 

The Mississippi River is no longer the sewer pipe for Midwestern cities, and industry is keeping most of its pollution out of the river. But the Mississippi still faces major challenges. A report issued Tuesday says the federal government and the 10 states that border the Mississippi need to do a lot more if the river is ever to be clean.

 

Washington D.C. — The Mississippi got a lot of help from the Clean Water Act, which this week is celebrating its 35th birthday. The Nixon-era law forced cities to beef up their sewage treatment plants, and factories to clean up their wastewater.

 

The biggest threats to the river are runoff from farm fields, which is loaded with nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients and sediment — again mostly coming from farmland.

 

The nutrients are the main cause of the "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico. The sediments are filling in parts of the upper reaches of the river, and not reaching the wetlands in the south, where they’re needed to protect the coast from hurricanes. The Minnesota-based McKnight Foundation sponsored the study, which was conducted by the National Research Council, a nonprofit that provides policy advice. The challenge for the Mississippi now is in some ways more complicated than the untreated sewage and industrial pollution that came before, says the report’s lead author, David Dzombak, from Carnegie Mellon University.

 

It requires data. It requires modeling. It requires people thinking about it. It’s a resource-intensive activity, and further, it brings into view some significant contributing sources, especially these non-point sources from rural areas, that are difficult to address legally and technically," he said.

 

The Clean Water Act does offer tools to address the problems, but the Environmental Protection Agency hasn’t been using them, according to co-author Robin Craig, from Florida State University.

 

Specifically, the EPA has authority to coordinate state programs, which are currently uneven and inconsistent, according to Craig.

 

"These interstate provisions already exist, and are waiting in possible combination with water quality trading, with the EPA’s watershed approach, which the EPA is trying to expand, waiting to be used to address these larger systemic ecosystem issues that could get us to fishable swimmable," she says.

 

The report says in addition to the EPA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has tools to address the problem. It is possible to pinpoint those sources and deal with them, according to another study author, Otto Doering, from Purdue University.

 

"In any given watershed, it literally can be as little as 10% of the watershed that’s providing 80-90% of the nutrients or sediments," he says.

 

He says a lot can be done with conservation programs. Those programs offer incentives to farmers to use best practices or set land aside to protect nearby streams. But those programs have been run more as a way to get cash into rural areas than as a tool to protect land and water, according to Doering.

 

"It’s seen as an income entitlement to some extent historically. That has to stop. We’ve got to target these programs for cost-effectiveness."

 

That’s even more important as farmers respond to higher demand for corn for ethanol, he says.

 

There is a model the report’s authors would like to follow. It’s the multi-jurisdictional effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. They say in spite of heavy development, in the 20 years since neighboring states and the federal government committed themselves to protecting it, at least it hasn’t gotten worse.

 

They say the Mississippi River deserves that same kind of concerted effort.

 

Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., is sponsoring legislation to update the Clean Water Act. Oberstar says the Bush administration is interpreting a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a way that causes unnecessary red tape and delays. His bill is scheduled for a hearing later this week.

 

 


[MSNBC, Oct. 16]

 

Mississippi River a watery mess, experts warn

Study: Gulf ‘dead zone’ fueled by lack of coordination between states, EPA

MSNBC staff and news service reports

 

WASHINGTON – States and the federal government are not doing enough to monitor and manage the water quality of the Mississippi River and its impact on the Gulf of Mexico, where an annual "dead zone" from farm runoff is killing marine life, according to a major scientific assessment released Tuesday.

 

The study by experts with the National Research Council calls on the Environmental Protection Agency to coordinate the efforts affecting the river and the northern Gulf of Mexico where its water is discharged.

 

“The limited attention being given to monitoring and managing the Mississippi’s water quality does not match the river’s significant economic, ecological and cultural importance,” said David Dzombak, chairman of panel and professor of environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

 

In recent years, actions have reduced much point-source pollution, such as direct discharges from factories and wastewater treatment plants.

 

But the report notes that many of the river’s remaining pollution problems stem from nonpoint sources, such as nutrients and sediments that enter the river and its tributaries through runoff.

 

Dealing with the ‘dead zone’


Nutrients from fertilizers create water-quality problems in the river itself and contribute to an annual oxygen-deficient “dead zone” in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

 

The zone grew this summer to 7,900 square miles — one of the three largest since measurements began in 1985.

 

Centered at the end of the Mississippi River system, the zone is one of the largest areas of oxygen-depleted coastal waters in the world.

 

Low oxygen, or hypoxia, can be caused by pollution from farm fertilizer, soil erosion and discharge from sewage treatment plants, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

 

Excess nutrients can spur the growth of algae, and when the algae die, their decay consumes oxygen faster than it can be brought down from the surface. As a result, fish, shrimp and crabs can be forced to move or die.

 

Eugene Turner, a professor of oceanography and coastal sciences at Louisiana State University, said it’s tough to determine whether fish are dying because of hypoxia or other factors, such as climatic effects. However, “we really don’t want to mess with this, to make it worse,” he said.

 

The dead zone usually begins forming in the spring and stays through summer and into the fall. Though the size of the dead zone has shrunk some years, on average it has steadily grown larger, Turner said.

 

Inconsistent monitoring


The new report found that because the Mississippi River passes through or borders many states, the river’s quality is not consistently monitored.

 

In the north, the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association has promoted many cooperative water-quality studies and other initiatives, the report said. That group includes Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin.

 

But there is no similar organization for the lower-river states — Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana — and they should strive to create one, the report said.

 

EPA also should support better coordination among states, and among its four regional offices along the river corridor, the report says.

 

Greater effort is needed to ensure that the river is monitored and evaluated as a single system, said the report.

 

While the 10 states along the river conduct their own programs to monitor water quality, state resources vary widely and there is no single program that oversees the entire river.

 

Dzombak said that “in addressing water-quality problems in the river, EPA and the states should draw upon the useful experience in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, where for decades the agency has been working together with states surrounding the bay to reduce nutrient pollution and improve water quality.”

 

The National Research Council is an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, an independent organization chartered by Congress to advise the government on scientific matters.

 

The study was sponsored by the McKnight Foundation of Minneapolis.

 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

 


 

[Greenwire, Oct. 16]

 

Regulators have ‘orphaned’ Mississippi River — NAS report

Daniel Cusick, Greenwire reporter

 

Despite its mythical status as "America‘s River," the Mississippi has been effectively "orphaned" by government regulators who have failed to monitor and stem pollution from farms, cities, suburbs and other sources.

 

That is the conclusion of a National Academy of Science report released today, marking the 35th anniversary of the signing of the Clean Water Act.

 

The sweeping study of the Mississippi River corridor by the National Research Council follows decades of deteriorating water quality from the river’s headwaters in northern Minnesota to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico, where a hypoxic "dead zone" persists due to high concentrations of oxygen-depriving nutrients.

 

In its analysis, the panel discovered two distinct Mississippi River corridors with unique environmental challenges. While the upper portion of the river is choked with sediment and other pollutants trapped behind dams and other flood controls structures, the lower Mississippi is starved of essential sediments necessary to maintain the river’s delta off the Louisiana coast.

Yet the greatest challenge facing the Mississippi, the NAS panel said, is "limited attention being given to monitoring and managing" the river’s water quality and the failure of EPA to help states effectively address pollution through CWA programs.

 

David Dzombak, the panel’s chairman and a professor of environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, said the government’s lackluster performance in monitoring and targeting nonpoint source pollution "does not match the river’s significant economic, ecological and cultural importance."

 

The panel noted that some Clean Water Act programs, such as the permitting of industrial plants under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) "have successfully reduced much point-source pollution." But the bulk of the remaining pollution problems stem from nonpoint sources — mainly nutrients and sediments that enter the river and its tributaries through runoff.

 

"Nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizers, create significant water-quality problems in the river itself and contribute to an oxygen-deficient dead zone in the northern Gulf of Mexico," the authors said in a statement issued alongside the report.

 

Recommendations

 

To effectively address such problems, the panel recommends that EPA work closely with state agencies to coordinate pollution monitoring and mitigation efforts throughout the 10-state Mississippi River corridor.

 

The panel also recommends that EPA forge stronger partnerships with the Department of Agriculture to improve programs aimed at reducing nutrient runoff from farms and livestock operations.

 

The panel said many of the tools used by federal and state partners to clean up the Chesapeake Bay could be applied to the Mississippi River. "It’s an excellent model," Dzombak said. "We think there’s much useful experience to draw upon, and we encourage EPA and the states to look at [Chesapeake Bay] as a model to follow."

 

Environmental groups generally welcomed the report’s findings, saying they point to the need to address chronic stormwater runoff along the 2,300-mile river corridor.

 

Sara Hopper, an attorney for Environmental Defense and a former staff member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said in a statement, "This report shows why Congress must significantly increase funding for USDA conservation programs to improve water quality and to achieve other conservation goals, such as providing clean air, wildlife habitat and combating urban sprawl."

 


[Brownfield Ag News for America — Oct. 16]

 

More conservation dollars needed along the Mississippi

Tuesday, October 16, 2007, 4:51 PM

by Bob Meyer

A new report from the National Research Council says, “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must take a more aggressive leadership role in implementing the Clean Water Act if water quality in the Mississippi River and the northern Gulf of Mexico is to improve.” The report goes on to say the ten states along the Mississippi need to do more as well.

The study was sponsored by the McKnight Foundation of Minneapolis and set out to evaluate efforts to implement the Clean Water Act along the Mississippi. The Committee was chaired by David A. Dzombak, Blenko Professor of Environmental Engineering and director of the Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh.

The report states, “Measures taken under the Clean Water Act have successfully reduced much point source pollution, such as direct discharges from factories and wastewater treatment plants, but many of the Mississippi’s remaining pollution problems stem from nonpoint sources — mainly nutrients and sediments that enter the river and its tributaries through runoff. Nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizers, create significant water-quality problems in the river itself and contribute to an oxygen-deficient "dead zone" in the northern Gulf of Mexico.”

The Committee calls on the EPA to work more closely with the states along the river to diminish nutrient runoff including the establishment of Total Daily Maximum Load. They also call on EPA to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture because growing interest in biofuels, “May increase crop production and therefore nutrient runoff from use of fertilizers.”

Sara Hopper, an attorney for Environmental Defense praised the report and stated it, “Shows why congress must significantly increase funding for USDA conservation programs.” Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind, who’s Third District borders the Mississipi agrees, “Right now three out of every four farmers who apply for funding are turned away, and increased funding would allow more farmers to participate in programs that promote and reward practices that reduce runoff from farms into the river.”


 

[LaCrosse Tribune (WI) and Winona Daily News (MN), Oct. 17]

 

Report sheds light on water quality; states must monitor pollution better

Thirty-five years after the passage of the Clean Water Act, a new study says state and federal governments need to coordinate their efforts to protect the water of the Mississippi River.

The study released Tuesday by the National Research Council calls on the Environmental Protection Agency to coordinate the efforts affecting the river and the northern Gulf of Mexico where its water is discharged.

Runoff from Minnesota’s and Wisconsin’s cities and farm fields carry sediment and nutrients into the Mississippi. These pollutants combine with others from the 10 states that border the 2,300-mile river and contribute to a dead zone in the gulf.

The report points to a lack of a centralized monitoring program, limited interstate collaboration, urbanization and agricultural runoff from Midwest corn production as compounding factors.

“The limited attention being given to monitoring and managing the Mississippi’s water quality does not match the river’s significant economic, ecological and cultural importance,” said research committee chairman David Dzomback.

Norman Senjem agreed. He’s the Mississippi River basin coordinator for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and is currently three years into a five-year water quality study of Lake Pepin.

Individual states tend to see the river as a federal zone, so it gets ignored for water quality programs and funding, Senjem said.

Pollutant standards also vary from state to state and some may have a parameter for one pollutant a bordering state doesn’t, said Rob Burdis, an aquatic biologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources who monitors the Mississippi River near Lake City year-round for the U.S. Geological Survey.

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, said the report highlights the need for better cooperation between states and federal agencies.

“The Environmental Protection Agency clearly needs to make the health of the river a greater priority,” he said in a press release, “and work alongside states in better regulating the sediment and nutrient flow.”

Kind also said a bill he authored, the Upper Mississippi River Basin Protection Act, would effectively improve water quality using a public-private approach. The bill has passed the U.S. House and is pending a hearing in the U.S. Senate.

Betsy Lawton, a staff attorney with Madison-based Midwest Environmental Advocates, was more explicit.

“EPA’s policy allowing states to drag their feet must stop now,” she said. “EPA must require states to comply with the Clean Water Act and adopt nitrogen and phosphorous pollution limits to protect our nation’s most vital river system.”

In recent years, actions have reduced much point-source pollution, such as direct discharges from factories and wastewater treatment plants.

But the report notes that many of the river’s remaining pollution problems stem from nonpoint sources, such as fertilizers and sediments that enter the river and its tributaries through runoff. Nutrients from fertilizers create water-quality problems in the river itself and contribute to an oxygen-deficient “dead zone” in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Most pollutants in the Winona and La Crosse portion of the Mississippi come from the Minnesota River, Burdis said. Nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous are at the highest rates Burdis has seen in his 17 years of monitoring.

A cubic city block of sediment pours into Lake Pepin each year from the Minnesota River, filling it in at 10 times the rate as 200 years ago, Senjem said.

While some sediment and nutrient runoff comes from urban development along blufftops as in La Crescent, the vast majority is a result of farmers planting more row crops like corn rather than alfalfa to meet the ethanol demand, said both Burdis and Senjem.

“Because of climate change and more intense storms like that flood, getting that heavy rain on a highly-altered landscape that isn’t as resilient as pioneer times,” Senjem said.

The National Research Council is an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, an independent organization chartered by Congress to advise the government on scientific matters. The study was sponsored by the McKnight Foundation of Minneapolis.

This story contains information from the Associated Press. Contact Reporter Amber Dulek at 507-453-3513 or amber.dulek@lee.net.

 

 


 

 [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct. 17, pg. A1]

 

Mississippi ‘an orphan,’ review finds; EPA is accused of failing to coordinate clean water efforts

By Bill Lambrecht  

DATELINE: WASHINGTON

 

Mark Twain once described the Mississippi River as worthless for anything except drinking, steamboating and baptizing.

 

But even Twain never called the Mississippi an "orphan," the word a panel of experts used Tuesday to describe what is happening to America‘s most famous river because of federal neglect.

 

In a 229-page report two years in the making, the National Research Council blamed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failure to coordinate state efforts to manage water quality, leaving a system of patchwork monitoring that makes it hard to assess the river’s health.

 

David Dzombak, an environmental engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University, headed the 13-member panel that studied the river’s management. He said the government’s limited attention to the Mississippi doesn’t match the river’s value to the nation in terms of economics, ecology or cultural importance.

 

"The EPA has not exercised its authority under the Clean Water Act to provide adequate coordination," Dzombak said, noting that no system exists to share research data about the river.

 

Added panel member Robin Craig, a law professor at Florida State University, "There are a lot of provisions in the act waiting to be awakened."

 

Benjamin Grumbles, the EPA’s assistant administrator for water, responded by saying his agency "is committed to increasing efforts with all of our partners to improve the water quality and monitoring of the Mississippi River Basin."

 

The panel noted that this week marks the 35th anniversary of the signing of the Clean Water Act, the nation’s first full-scale effort to stanch the flow of pollution into rivers and lakes. The law halted much of the industrial pollution that once poured into the river, the study says.

 

But the Mississippi has a significant new problem: farm fertilizer runoff that chokes the river and its tributaries with nitrate pollution on the way to feeding a New Jersey-size "dead zone" of oxygen-impaired water in the Gulf of Mexico.

 

The Clean Water Act "was designed for those things that the public perceived as the 800-pound gorilla," said panel member Otto Doering, a Purdue University agriculture economist. "Now we’ve got another 800-pound gorilla."

 

The panel recommended that the EPA hasten efforts to promote cooperation among states while pushing for limits on nutrient pollution.

 

But stemming farm pollution will be challenging, the report’s authors conceded, considering that the Clean Water Act covers agriculture only indirectly. The study concludes that the Agriculture Department needs to play a much bigger role in the river’s health with programs that "widely and aggressively" reward farmers for better environmental stewardship.

 

‘not my kid’

 

Under the Clean Water Act, the EPA and states share responsibility for water quality. States designate uses of rivers and pollution limits, and the EPA oversees regulations with the authority to step in when states fail.

 

The Missouri Coalition for the Environment, an advocacy group, sued the EPA in 2005, contending that Missouri was not living up to the Clean Water Act. In a settlement, the EPA agreed to force Missouri to implement tougher water quality standards.

 

Kathleen Logan Smith, the coalition’s executive director, described the new report as "pretty close to right on. When they call it an orphan, they mean that. Everybody wants to say: It’s not my kid."

The National Research Council is part of the National Academy of Sciences, set up by Congress as an independent group to advise the government on science.

 

The study was sponsored by the Minneapolis-based McKnight Foundation, which described the study as unprecedented in terms of its expert focus on the Mississippi. Said the foundation’s Gretchen Bonfert, "It confirmed our fears."

 


 

 [Memphis WREG evening news, Oct. 17]

 

Study: Mississippi River needs a cleanup

[transcript]

 

(Tunica, MS 10/17/2007) The Mississippi river in Minneapolis is a very different body of water than what runs along downtown Memphis.  And down by New Orleans where the river ends, there’s a nutrient rich "dead zone" where no fish can survive.

 

A new report aims to jumpstart a cleanup that could bring big changes.

 

The Mississippi river teems with life, from catfish to turtles.  It’s easy to see in this aquarium at the Tunica Riverpark, but you’d never see this clearly from the outside.

 

Sediments and other pollution keep the Mississippi muddy, murky, and full of pesticides, fertilizers, and who knows WHAT else.

 

  Lauren Stapleton knows the problem all too well.  She sees it on a smaller scale in the lake near her home. "We’re stopping the use of fertilizers and watering our lawn from the lake because there’s so many nutrients in the lake because of the fertilizers." she explained.

 

And that pollutes the water.  That’s why the National Research Council reports the Mississippi needs immediate attention.

 

The water is so dirty, you can see it like a ring around the bathtub.

 

States from Missouri on north along the Mississippi all work together to monitor water quality, and clean up the river.  States from Kentucky on down to the Gulf don’t work together at all.

 

And the research council says that’s the problem.  It’s calling on a concerted effort among all 10 river states to clean things up.

 

It’s something the Army Corps of Engineers already does on a smaller scale… to good results.

"And all these measures work pretty well?"  "They’re proven methods and they reduce the amount of sediment that enters the streams which would eventually end up in the Mississippi river and the gulf if those measures weren’t taken." said Edward Lambert with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Memphis District.

 

Measures like planting trees and grasses to soak up fertilizers and other pollutants, and screens to keep runoff out of the river.  It helps keep those chemicals on the farmland that needs them, and out of the water, that doesn’t.

 

Perhaps the highest hurdle though, will be getting the public behind a cleanup.  "What you’re doing right now (telling the public), is a good start.  Just keep it out there in front of everyone." said Stapleton.

 

After all, that’s how Al Gore won an Emmy and a Nobel prize right?   Seriously, that’s perhaps the biggest hurdle in saving the Mississippi river… convincing people that it’s under a serious enough threat to warrant their attention… and their coordinated action.

 


 

[Baton Rouge Advocate, Oct. 17, pg. A10]

 

Report: Divisions muddy river’s quality

BYLINE: AMY WOLD; Advocate staff writer;

The state-by-state approach used to monitor and address water quality in the Mississippi River needs to be changed, The National Academies recommends in a new report.

 

The report says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should take the lead in organizing data collection and sharing between states and in developing a national standard for nutrients that end up in the river.

 

"A systemwide view is needed to achieve water-quality objectives," said David Dzombak, report committee chairman and environmental professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

 

An e-mail statement attributed to Benjamin Grumbles, EPA assistant administrator for water, said the agency is working to improve water quality in the Mississippi River basin.

 

"Cooperative conservation and improved monitoring can help us all achieve sustainable solutions that transcend political boundaries," he wrote.

 

The National Academies report was prompted by questions about how effective the federal Clean Water Act has been for the Mississippi River and focuses on the 10 states adjacent to the river, Dzombak said.

 

This week marks the 35th anniversary of the signing of the 1972 Clean Water Act, he said.

Although the Clean Water Act has been effective in reducing point source pollution coming directly out of a pipe, the act hasn’t been as aggressively used to reduce nonpoint pollution, he said.

 

Nonpoint pollution can come from a variety of locations, from urban storm water runoff to rainfall runoff from farmland.

 

During a news conference Tuesday, the report’s authors noted that the major hazards to Mississippi River water quality come from two types of nonpoint pollution – nutrients and sediment in the river.

 

For sediment, the problem is having too much of it in the upper river system and too little of it in the lower river system, Dzombak said.

 

With nutrients, the problem of too much getting into the river is systemwide, including the northern Gulf of Mexico, where these nutrients form a "dead zone" of low oxygen off the coast of Louisiana every summer, he said.

 

Quoting a hypoxia study done in the late 1990s, Dzombak said it’s estimated that 90 percent of the nutrients in the river’s upper basin comes from agriculture and 10 percent comes from other sources, like urban runoff.

 

That points to a need for better coordination between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and EPA to target available conservation funding into those areas most likely to contribute to sediment and nutrient problems in the river, he said.

 

The ability to address water quality is also hampered by a lack of information about the water quality, lack of monitoring and a lack of coordination of what monitoring does go on, Dzombak said. "There’s no centralized data-gathering program or data-sharing system," Dzombak said.

Doug Daigle, coordinator with the Lower Mississippi River Sub-Basin Committee on Hypoxia, agreed that there is a need for more information about the current status of Mississippi River quality.

 

"There’s really no monitoring on the Mississippi River from Cairo, Ill., to St. Francisville," he said.

In addition, the report also calls for EPA to set a national standard for how much nutrients can be allowed in the Mississippi River. Setting this standard would enable officials to use the Clean Water Act to set a total maximum daily load of the pollution for the river and require considering point and nonpoint pollution in making a plan on how to reach that level, said Robin Craig, report committee member and law professor at Florida State University.

 

Without a set standard, there’s no way to move toward reducing the level under the Clean Water Act, she said.

 

 


 

 [New Orleans Times-Picayune, Oct. 17]

 

Report: EPA fails to protect river

Better coordination with states is urged

 

By Chris Kirkham, West Bank bureau

 

The Environmental Protection Agency and states along the Mississippi River must be more vigilant in controlling the flow of pollutants in the river, many of which come from fertilizers used on farms upstream and eventually contribute to the annual "dead zone" that forms off Louisiana‘s coast, according to a report from the National Research Council.

 

The comprehensive report, more than two years in the making, points out many of the issues that have caused the Gulf of Mexico‘s oxygen-depleted dead zone to expand over the past few decades.

 

Federal environmental laws have been successful in targeting overt river pollution such as discharges from sewage-treatment plants. But the Clean Water Act, the 1972 law controlling pollution in the nation’s waters, has little control over diffuse sources of pollution such as fertilizer runoff from farms.

 

"As a result of limited interstate coordination, the Mississippi River is an ‘orphan’ from a water quality monitoring and assessment perspective," the report states. "The lack of a centralized Mississippi River quality information system and data gathering program … acts as a barrier to maintaining and improving water quality along the Mississippi River and into the northern Gulf of Mexico."

 

The report points out that while individual states have implemented measures to control pollution from runoff into streams and rivers, communication among the states is lacking. Even though the Clean Water Act is less specific about controlling natural runoff into the river, the study’s authors say the EPA has not exerted its authority to work with individual states throughout the river system.

 

Nutrients in fertilizers such as nitrogen and phosphorus eventually wash into tributaries and streams that feed the Mississippi River and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.

 

As temperatures rise in late spring, those nutrients combine with sunlight to fuel explosive algae blooms that cloud waters and suck up the oxygen available for marine life. For the Gulf’s commercial and recreational fishing industries, a huge swath of the Gulf is essentially off limits.

This year’s "dead zone" was one of the largest ever recorded, measuring 7,915 square miles — close to the size of New Jersey.

 

"The main point is that the EPA has more authority than it’s using under the Clean Water Act to reduce the nutrients in the river," said Nancy Rabalais, a member of the committee convened to draft the report and a lead researcher on the dead zone at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium laboratory in Cocodrie. "The states would need to have a plan, but the EPA should be pushing more for higher standards … EPA could hold these states’ feet to the fire."

 

The study points out that the EPA worked with northeastern states to improve water quality in Maryland‘s Chesapeake Bay, and that the agency should lead Mississippi River states in the same way.

 

Among many recommendations, the report says EPA should develop a riverwide data collection and pollution monitoring system, and should push states to develop limits for the amount of nutrients that can wash into the Mississippi.

 

The agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture also should target particular parts of the river that contribute to the most pollution runoff problems, the report says. The USDA has several farm subsidy programs meant to encourage farmers to reduce runoff into streams and rivers, but many of these programs are voluntary.

 

 


[The Daily Green, Oct. 17]

 

Mighty Mississippi is an "Orphan"

EPA, States Fail to Protect Iconic American River from Pollution

By Dan Shapley

Mark Twain wrote with more wit when he wrote about a Mississippi River orphan whose trials along the mighty river were emblematic of the trials of a nation at war with itself over slavery and other corrupt institutions.

The National Research Council describes the entire river as an "orphan" in its landmark report, published yesterday, about the ongoing pollution that not only fouls the Big Muddy, but also spills into the Gulf of Mexico. Unlike Huck Finn, no one will be reading the NRC report in literature class, but it also describes a nation unable to come to grips with a national problem on its signature river. The problems plaguing the Mississippi are common to many of the nation’s rivers.

The Clean Water Act successfully staunched the flow of sewage and industrial discharges (though a recent U.S. Public Interest Research Group report found that more than 57% of industrial and municipal facilities discharged more pollution than their Clean Water Act permits allowed in 2005). The bigger problem lies in countless small sources of pollution — primarily rainwater runoff from farms, pavement

On the Mississippi, the problem is the American Heartland: The soil, and the chemical fertilizer used to make it fertile, washes off farms and into myriad streams and rivers that flow into the Mississippi, which dumps its load into the Gulf of Mexico. There, the excess nitrogen from all that fertilizer feeds a bloom of algae so intense that it depletes the water of oxygen, creating a "dead zone" — the size of New Jersey this year — that is inhospitable to fish and other wildlife.

"As a result of limited interstate coordination, the Mississippi River is an ‘orphan’ from a water quality monitoring and assessment perspective," the report states, according to the Times-Picayune. "The lack of a centralized Mississippi River quality information system and data gathering program … acts as a barrier to maintaining and improving water quality along the Mississippi River and into the northern Gulf of Mexico."


 

[St. Paul Pioneer Press-Dispatch, Oct. 18]

 

Report: Feds not keeping Mississippi River clean

BY DENNIS LIEN

The federal agency that enforces the Clean Water Act has done a poor job addressing water quality on the Mississippi River, a report released today asserts.

 

The report, paid for by the McKnight Foundation and prepared by the National Academy of Sciences, recommends the Environmental Protection Agency be more aggressive and take a stronger role in coordinating standards among the 10 states touched by the river.

 

"The report shows that, unfortunately, the lead federal water agency has not been addressing water quality on the river as a whole,” said Gretchen Bonfert, director of the environment program at the McKnight Foundation, a Minnesota-based private philanthropic organization.

 

The report, which cost McKnight $450,000 and took two years to compile, comes on the 35th anniversary of the Clean Water Act.

 

One of the problems highlighted in the report is inconsistent oversight among states, resulting in different objectives and regulations.

 

"The EPA has failed to use its mandatory and discretionary authorities under the Clean Water Act to provide adequate interstate coordination and oversight of state water quality activities along the Mississippi River that could help promote and ensure progress toward the act’s ‘fishable and swimmable’ and related goals,” it said.

 

Bonfert said Congress has an opportunity to correct some of the problems as it debates the federal Farm Bill and decides how much money to provide for water programs.

 

"What makes this so important is 18 million people in more than 50 cities rely on the Mississippi River and its tributaries for their drinking water,” Bonfert said.

 

Kris Sigford, water quality director for the St. Paul-based Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, said the report shows the EPA has been lax and demonstrates that progress can’t be made without addressing agricultural sources, which contribute nitrogen and phosphorus into the river and, eventually, the Gulf of Mexico.

 

"The EPA has not lived up to the duties it needs to in terms of setting firm numeric nutrient levels for the big river,” Sigford said.

 


 

[The Mississippi Press, Oct. 18]

 

Our Opinion: River monitoring is important

Thursday, October 18, 2007

 

The Mississippi Sound off Jackson County‘s shore is a rich resource and the water flowing from the Mississippi River plays a vital role in the offshore water quality.

 

From Minnesota to Louisiana and Mississippi, what happens in the Mississippi River is of great importance. Commercial and recreational fishing interests depend on the water’s quality. Along the Mississippi River‘s length, many communities depend on the river for drinking water.

 

A study by the National Research Council released Tuesday said the Environmental Protection Agency should coordinate the efforts affecting the river and the northern Gulf of Mexico. The study found the river’s water quality is not consistently monitored. The Upper Basin Mississippi River Basin Association, which includes Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin, has promoted cooperative water quality studies. On the other hand, there is no similar association of states on the southern end of the river. The study asked that Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi create an association to do the studies that help experts understand the health of the river.

 

The study asked that the river be monitored and evaluated as a single system. It would be easy to assume that such a vital waterway in our nation would be subject to constant study along its entire length. The giant dead zones that occur in the Gulf of Mexico occur because of the flow of fertilizer-laced Mississippi River water. From flooding to dead zones, what happens along the Mississippi River is of great importance. The river is so vital to the nation’s economy and health that its monitoring and management should be a priority. A polluted Mississippi River would represent a greater longterm threat to the nation than any terrorist attack.

 

 


 

[Grist: Environmental News and Commentary, Oct. 18]

 

Clean water jacked

While industrial agriculture fouls the Mississippi, the EPA cowers in the corner

Posted by Tom Philpott

 

Industrial agriculture thrives on its ability to skulk away from — or, to use economist’s argot, "externalize" — the costs of its considerable ecological messes.

 

Often, it does so with the tacit approval of the federal government, in direct violation of federal law. In Iowa, for example, the state’s 2,100 CAFOs (confined-animal feedlot operations) regularly violate the Clean Water Act by failing to adequately dispose of the 50 million tons of waste they produce each year, the Washington-based Environmental Integrity Project showed in a 2004 report.

 

Three years later, the EPA — the federal agency charged with enforcing the Clean Water Act — has done nothing to remedy the situation. Now, a new report from the National Academy of Sciences chides the EPA for failing to enforce the Clean Water Act in the intensive agriculture zones of the upper Mississippi, where agriculture runoff — mainly fertilizer — seeps into the river and collects in the Gulf of Mexico, causing an annual dead zone the size of New Jersey.

 

In both the case of Iowa‘s CAFOs and the protection of the Mississippi as a whole, a kind of feeble "states’ rights" policy seems to hold sway. Nearly 30 years ago, the EPA handed over Clean Water Act enforcement of Iowa‘s CAFOs to the state’s Department of Natural Resources. And in three decades, that agency has done, to use a Britishism, bugger-all to protect the state’s citizens and streams from CAFO waste, treating the Clean Water Act like a useless piece of paper.

 

Here is the Environmental Integrity Project:

Since [the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, or DNR] received authority to implement and enforce the Clean Water Act in 1978, its program has failed to keep pace with dramatic changes in Iowa‘s livestock industry. IDNR is aware of its failure to regulate CAFOs under the Clean Water Act, and even acknowledged that "the most obvious threat to maintaining good chemical water quality in Iowa surface waters is the recent expansion of the confined animal feeding industry."

 

As a result, "DNR has allowed CAFOs to illegally discharge millions of gallons of manure into hundreds of rivers and streams, killing millions of fish and contributing to widespread water quality impairments." For a citizen’s perspective on what it means to live among minimally regulated CAFOs, see this first-person account published Wednesday on Grist.

 

Results of the EPA’s plan to let states regulate ag runoff into the Mississippi have been equally ruinous. According to the National Academy of Sciences report, each state has its own enforcement regime; and "many of the ten states along the river … allocate only small amounts of funds for water quality monitoring and related activities." For its part, the EPA plays no effective role in coordinating efforts to protect the waterway — making the Mississippi "an ‘orphan’" from a water quality monitoring and assessment perspective."

 

The report also implicates other federal agencies for the cascade of fertilizer pollution fouling up the Mississippi and the Gulf. The Farm Bill’s commodity title rewards farmers for producing as much as they can, a de facto incentive to apply copious loads of nitrogen fertilizer. Generous federal support for biofuel, completely untethered from any ecological concerns, has caused a spike in acreage devoted to corn — a crop that requires heavy lashings of nitrogen. Commodity payments and biofuel subsidies tend to overwhelm the Farm Bill’s conservation programs, meaning farmers have far more incentives to overproduce than to protect waterways.

 

Given current political realities, the best we can hope for is that the rebuke from the National Academy of Sciences will goad the EPA into taking charge of enforcing the Clean Water Act along the Mississippi — and crack down on systemic overapplication of fertilizer. That would be the stick. The carrot would be a vigorous and well-funded conservation title in the 2007 Farm Bill, currently languishing in the Senate Agriculture Committee.

 

I recently asked Aimee Wittman of the excellent Sustainable Agriculture Coalition what a conservation title that would effectively address the runoff issue might look like. Here’s what she wrote:

 

The Conservation Security Program and Environmental Quality Incentives Program are the two major "working lands" conservation programs that either reward farmers (CSP) or provide cost share payments (EQIP) for farmers that incorporate practices that decrease erosion and runoff (buffer strips, cover crops, etc.) We are trying to increase funding for CSP in particular so that it can be available to all eligible farmers on a nationwide basis and because, unlike EQIP, it rewards the very best farm practices rather than helping farmers come into compliance with existing water quality laws. We want also want to reform EQIP so that the cost share payments cannot be used to build or expand CAFOs and so there is a lower cap on total cost share payments, from $450,000 to $240,000 (this was a language change made in the 2002 farm bill).

Conservation compliance — we are advocating for stronger measures within conservation compliance so that it is expanded to cover all cropland that is eroding at unsustainable rates. This "program" (not really a program in and of itself) is a requirement for anyone getting commodity payments. Related to that is:

Sodbuster — this program currently requires anyone turning over new sod (and getting payments) on highly erodible land to have a conservation plan that includes erosion-prevention methods. We want this to become a "Sodsaver" program so that anyone busting sod will not get any commodity payments on that land. This would discourage people form turning over grassland to row crops which would prevent ag runoff from occurring in the first place.

 

 


 

[Living on Earth, Public Radio International, Oct. 19]

 

Clean Water Anniversary

 

CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

Until the early 1970s many of the nation’s rivers were virtually open sewers. Near Cleveland, the Cuyahoga River was so polluted it repeatedly caught fire. Today, lakes and rivers are much cleaner—thanks to the Clean Water Act. But some 40 percent of the country’s waterways still do not meet clean water standards. As the Clean Water Act turns 35 years old this month, Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports it’s starting to look a little gray.

 

[SOUND OF WATER LAPPING]

 

YOUNG: James Lindsey watches his fishing line from the banks of the Anacostia River. The 53-year-old grew up here in Washington‘s southeast and remembers when he wouldn’t come this close to the river.

 

LINDSEY: Used to be pretty dirty. You know, you could smell the filth, back in the day. You know and it could be better, it could be better. But it’s improved a whole lot, a whole lot.

 

YOUNG: It might be better now but Lindsey still should not eat the fish he catches. And swimming? That’s not safe, either, especially after a heavy rain. Part of the problem is just steps away, where a thin man in khakis and glasses pokes around a large pipe.

 

LEHNER: This is a combined sewer overflow discharge point. It is where on rainy days, unfortunately, raw sewage will be discharged into the Anacostia River.

 

YOUNG: That’s Peter Lehner, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. He’s come to Washington to testify at a Congressional panel on how the Clean Water Act is doing after 35 years. Just a short drive from the Capitol dome, Lehner’s found a glaring shortcoming: runoff from streets and parking lots overwhelms the city’s combined sewer system.

 

LEHNER: Frankly, the runoff is the major failure of the Clean Water Act. It’s the major reason why still thousands of miles of waters are still not as clean as they should be.

 

YOUNG: From the little Anacostia to the mighty Mississippi, runoff –or nonpoint-source pollution—is the big threat. A new report from the National Academy of Sciences says the federal government should more aggressively use the Clean Water Act to combat nutrient pollution from fertilizer used on farms and fields. Purdue University agricultural economics professor Otto Doering helped write that study. Doering says the Act has done a good job on industrial discharges, called point sources.

 

DOERING: We’re at a point now where that’s no longer the major pollution. Roughly 90 percent of the nutrient pollution coming down the Mississippi was from nonpoint sources—largely agriculture.

 

YOUNG: The Academy report says there aren’t water quality standards for many stretches of the Mississippi and even monitoring data is lacking or not well coordinated. Doering says the Clean Water Act has not yet been fully applied to the problem of nutrient runoff. The result is a dead zone where marine life can’t live in low-oxygen waters where the river hits the Gulf of Mexico.

 

DOERING: The act was designed for those things that the public perceived as the 800-pound gorilla. We’ve done fairly well with that 800-pound gorilla. Now we’ve got another 800-pound gorilla.

 

YOUNG: The Clean Water Act also has problems upstream. Recent Supreme Court decisions limit the act’s authority over small streams and wetlands. And then, there’s the flow of money—or, rather, the lack of it. Federal funding for Clean Water projects like water lines and sewage treatment has dropped some 60 percent since the early 1990s, even as aging infrastructure is starting to break down. Oregon Democratic congressman Earl Blumenauer wants a long-term source of steady funding.

 

BLUMENAUER: If we’re able to establish a trust fund that is $10 billion, does that solve a long-term problem that is considered—by any estimate—is over half a trillion dollars? No. But it is significantly more than what we are doing now.

 

YOUNG: Blumenauer says there’s broad public support for programs to help farmers reduce agricultural runoff and to help cities like Washington help keep the runoff from streets from causing sewage spills.

 

[SOUND OF WATER LAPPING]

 

YOUNG: Back on the banks of the Anacostia, Peter Lehner wonders when that support
will start to trickle down.

 

LEHNER: One would think that the capital lawmakers would care more about the river that goes through their backyard, but they seem not to. It might not catch fire like the Cuyahoga River did in 1972. But it’s certainly not swimmable, yet, even though the Clean Water Act’s goal is to have everything swimmable. It’s sad; they haven’t been willing to invest in our public infrastructure.

 

YOUNG: After 35 years with the Clean Water Act, all our rivers might not be fishable or swimmable, but at least they’re no longer flammable.

 

[MUSIC: Randy Newman "Burn On" from ‘Sail Away’ (Rhino—2002)]

 

YOUNG: For Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young in Washington.

 


 

[New Orleans Times-Picayune, Oct. 19]

 

EDITORIAL: Show leadership on river

SECTION: METRO – EDITORIAL; Pg. 6

The Mississippi River flows through 10 states and is used by millions of people for drinking water, shipping and recreation. But when it comes to water quality, the river is an orphan.

 

That’s the conclusion of a study by the National Research Council, and that shouldn’t surprise anyone who lives on the Louisiana Gulf Coast. We see the results of nutrient pollution that washes into the river from farmland and enters the Gulf of Mexico, causing the dead zone that forms each year.

 

The Clean Water Act doesn’t give the Environmental Protection Agency as much control over pollution from diffuse sources as it does over pollution from a specific source like a factory. But when it comes to overseeing interstate water quality, the Clean Water Act puts the EPA in the driver’s seat. The study urges the agency to use that power, and rightly so.

 

Specifically, the study says that the EPA should coordinate programs to monitor water quality along the river. It cites the Chesapeake Bay watershed, where EPA has worked with states to reduce nutrient pollution, as a model.

 

The study also urges the EPA to work with states to develop water-quality standards to protect the river and the northern Gulf of Mexico and to establish a numerical limit on the amount of nutrient pollutants the river can accept. And it recommends that the agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture work together more closely to reduce runoff from farmland.

 

Those are sound recommendations, and the agency should follow them. Continuing to treat the Mississippi River like an environmental orphan is irresponsible: The limited attention given to water quality doesn’t match the river’s economic and ecological significance. The EPA should heed this study’s call to take a stronger leadership role on this critical environmental issue.

 

 


[Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Oct. 21]

 

Editorial: Neglect on the Mississippi

A call to action for the nation’s greatest river.

 

 "The EPA has failed to use its authorities under the Clean Water Act to provide adequate interstate coordination and oversight of state water quality activities along the Mississippi River."

An Oct. 16 report published by the National Academy of Sciences.

 

"The EPA is committed to increasing efforts with all of our partners to improve the water quality and monitoring of the Mississippi River Basin."

Benjamin Grumbles, EPA assistant administrator for water.

 

In the decades since it assumed a central place in American culture and commerce, the Mississippi River has been called many things, including "The Father of Waters,"Old Blue" and, in the robust vernacular of Mark Twain, "the crookedest river in the world."

 

But "orphan-like"?

 

That’s the haunting title applied in a new report by the National Academy of Sciences, which documents the way that state and federal regulators have failed to protect the nation’s greatest river from urban runoff, farm chemicals, soil erosion and a variety of industrial pollutants that pose grave threats to its water quality and biological health. If regional and federal leaders don’t read this report as a wake-up call, they are failing in their stewardship of one of the world’s great natural wonders.

 

Minnesotans should take special note, because the report was financed by the McKnight Foundation, whose leaders began to suspect a few years ago that the greatest natural resource in their back yard was a victim of neglect and abuse. They were right.

 

The report, released last Tuesday, finds a variety of threats to the Mississippi, including fish that are unsafe to eat because of toxic chemicals, fecal bacteria that surge in certain seasons, "turbidity" from suspended sediments that cuts off sun and air to certain fish and plant species, and overloading of farm nutrients that cause algal blooms and choke off life in the river itself and contribute to the Gulf of Mexico "dead zone."

 

But the report doesn’t stop at symptoms, it goes to two core causes:

• The Clean Water Act of 1972, which essentially stopped the dumping of municipal sewage and industrial waste into the nation’s waterways, has little jurisdiction over "nonpoint" sources of pollution, such as urban runoff and farm chemicals. The report says that these nonpoint pollutants — phosphorus, nitrogen, soil, polluted rainwater — now represent the biggest threat to the river’s health.

 

• Because the river runs through or past 10 states, nobody’s in charge of setting consistent pollution standards, or even monitoring water quality in any systematic fashion. Kentucky, for example, allows five times more fecal coliform bacteria in the river than its neighbor, Illinois. Tennessee allows twice the level of PCB contamination as Mississippi, which is just downstream. Arkansas accepts two to three times more "turbidity" — cloudiness caused by suspended sediment — as Iowa.

 

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is supposed to provide an umbrella over those states, coordinating state and regional pollution-control efforts. But the report’s authors, who include some of the most eminent research scientists in the nation, say the EPA has failed to do its job. "The law is very clear," says Gretchen Bonfert, program officer for the environment at the McKnight Foundation. "Where the call is not being met, the EPA is supposed to step in."

 

The bad news is that these threats to the Mississippi have been known for at least a decade by people who study its biology and geology. The good news is they’ve been working on useful solutions, and Congress could put two of them in place this year:

 

• Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., has proposed a plan for basinwide monitoring and reduction of the soil and chemical runoff that leads to turbidity and nutrient overloading in the river. His bill has passed the House and deserves to pass in the Senate.

 

•Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, created a special program in 2002 to reward farmers for reducing soil erosion and chemical runoff on working lands. But that program was so badly underfunded that it turns away three of every four farmers who apply. Harkin has proposed streamlining and enlarging conservation programs in the current farm bill. His plan should be part of the farm bill that Congress produces this year.

 

"The Mississippi is well worth reading about," Mark Twain wrote in 1883. "It is not a commonplace river, but on the contrary is in all ways remarkable." Americans who take the river for granted, who live near it or work on it, have forgotten Twain’s admonition too often, and a great natural resource has paid the price.

 


[Mankato Free Press, Oct. 23]

 

Our View — Mississippi needs better care

There is an aerial-view photograph that has for years been used to gain support for projects to clean up the Minnesota River. It shows a stretch of the Mississippi where the Minnesota empties into it.

Above the Minnesota, the water flowing from the Mississippi’s headwaters in northern Minnesota is relatively clear. But the Minnesota is a cocktail of chemical-ridden sediment that turns the Mississippi cloudy and dirty downstream.

The image undoubtedly helped in efforts to reduce farmland runoff, upgrade city sewer plants and implement other projects that have made the Minnesota cleaner.

The Minnesota is the first major tributary to pollute the mighty river, but imagine all the other rivers dumping into the Mississippi as it makes its 2,200-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico.

A sobering new report by the National Academy of Sciences finds that while some states are attempting to improve water quality there is no federal focus on protecting the Mississippi and other rivers as required under the Clean Water Act. The report, funded by Minnesota-based McKnight Foundation, said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must be more aggressive in improving the water that has created a “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.

Most of the problems in the Mississippi — as well as most tributaries — are well defined.

Too much dirt washes off the urban and especially rural landscapes, carrying with it farm chemicals, fertilizers and fecal bacteria. The dirt causes turbidity in the rivers and the fertilizers spur super-growth of algae that cuts sunlight and oxygen needed for rivers to be healthy for aquatic animals, plants, humans and animals.

The report notes that the Clean Water Act of 1972 has done a lot to stop the dumping of city sewage and industrial pollutants into rivers. But the EPA has not used the Act to seriously attack so-called “non-point sources,” which is primarily runoff.

And the federal government has failed to implement uniform pollution standards in the 10 states along the Mississippi. Some states allow much more pollution than others. The lack of federal oversight makes the Mississippi, said the report, “an orphan” in terms of monitoring and assessment.

While states should be lauded for efforts in improving their rivers, it must be the federal government’s responsibility to coordinate the clean up of the river that cuts through the center of the United States.

The other key players in improving the rivers must be the Agriculture Department and Congress. The new Farm Bill should include much more focus on conservation programs that idle fragile farmland and the Ag Department should target areas most prone to erosion for conservation efforts.

The nation’s premiere river has given much to our economy, history and identity. It deserves better than we’ve given it in return.


[EOS, Transactions, American Geophysical Union, Oct. 23]

 

In Brief: Improving Mississippi River Water Quality

By Randy Showstack

 

If water quality in the Misissippi River and the northern Gulf of Mexico is to improve, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) needs to take a stronger leadership role in implementing the federal Clean Water Act, according to a 16 October report from the U.S. National Research Council.  The report notes that EPA has failed to use its authority to coordinate and oversee activities along the river.  In addition, river states need to be more proactive and cooperative in effots to monitor and improve water quality, and the river should be monitored and evaluated as a single system, the report indicates.  Currently, the 10 states along the river conduct separate and widely varying water quality monitoring programs.  "The limited attention being given to monitoring and magaging the Mississippi‘s water quality does not match the river’s significant economic, ecological, and cultural importance," said committee chair David A. Dzombak, director of the Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Reesearch at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pa. The report notes that while measures taken under the Clean Water Act have successfully reduced much point source pollution, nutrient and sediment loads from nonpoint sources continue to be significant problems.  For more information, visit the Web site: http://books.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12051.


 

 [St. Cloud Times, Oct. 25 and 26]

 

Our View (Part 1 of 2): Mighty Mississippi needs our attention

Maybe it’s because Minnesota’s own motto is about lakes, not rivers. Maybe it’s because the Mighty Mississippi isn’t even 200 miles old when it rolls quietly through Central Minnesota on its 2,300-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico. Or maybe because area residents see it — heck, cross it — so often that safeguarding this important waterway is too easily overlooked.

 

Whatever the reasons, the so-far subdued responses at the local, state and even national levels to a grim report on the status of the Mississippi are very troubling.

 

The report, done by the National Research Council and paid for by the McKnight Foundation, makes very clear the challenges facing the river. Today’s Our View will detail those. Fortunately, the report also provides some good potential solutions, which we urge Central Minnesotans to support and will examine Friday.

 

The basic problem

 

As a whole, the river simply isn’t being managed effectively for water quality.

 

As the report notes, even though the river has long been considered two parts — upper and lower basins — there is no consistency in monitoring and managing them as a singular river.

 

“… The five upper river states established the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association in 1981 to help coordinate their river-related programs and to work with the federal agencies on Mississippi River issues,” the report notes. “There is no equivalent organization for the lower river states. …”

 

The result is an increasingly dirty river. Causes range from localized pollution via so-called “legacy contaminants” (think PCBs and DDT) to rising nutrient loads linked to urban development and agricultural runoff.

 

The cumulative impact is most obvious every summer at the river’s mouth, when “the dead zone” develops. Excess nitrogen and phosphorus washed into the Gulf from the river spur huge algae and phytoplankton blooms, which basically kill every oxygen-dependent sea creature.

The size of this zone? In 2005, it was more than 4,500 square miles, or 22 times the size of Mille Lacs Lake. Some years it’s covered 7,000 square miles.

 

What a resource

 

It’s astounding that America allows this to happen to a natural resource with a value that’s almost impossible to measure. Here are just a few ways to view what the Mississippi contributes.

» It drains 41 percent of the continental United States, impacting 31 states and two Canadian provinces.

» More than 50 U.S. cities rely on it every day for drinking water — including the St. Cloud metro area.

» More than 90 percent of America’s agricultural exports come from the Mississippi River basin, as do most of the nation’s livestock and hog production.

» Forty percent of the nation’s migratory waterfowl and 60 percent of all North American birds use the basin in their migratory routes, to say nothing of the hundreds of species of fish, amphibians and reptiles that live in the basin.

From power plants to paper mills, from fishing to farming, the river’s impact and value on Central Minnesota is equally enormous. So what can be done to help clean up and preserve the Mississippi? We’ll examine those options in Friday’s Our View.

 

 

Our view [part 2 of 2]: Many parties could do more to help river

 

There’s little doubt that the National Research Council’s new report on the water quality of the Mississippi River provides a torrent of bad news and only a trickle of good.

 

As Thursday’s Our View noted, one of this nation’s most important waterways faces serious environmental challenges thanks to decades of inconsistent management practices and not enough federal leadership. While measures adopted more than 30 years ago have curbed obvious problems such as direct sewage and chemical discharges, they have had little success in addressing indirect (or nonpoint) pollution sources.

 

The trickle of good news, though, is the report outlines several reasonable solutions, which collectively can make substantial progress in cleaning and protecting the Mighty Mississippi.

Considering so many Central Minnesotans count on the river for everything from drinking water to recreation, the importance of urging the area’s elected officials at all levels of government to embrace these changes is obvious.

 

Who’s responsible?

 

The report, issued last week, puts the most responsibility on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That makes sense for a 2,300-mile-long river that touches 10 states and countless smaller jurisdictions. The opening paragraph of the report’s summary says it all:

 

"Stronger leadership from the EPA, along with better interstate coordination, is needed to address these problems. Specifically, the EPA should establish a water quality data-sharing system for the length of the river, and work with the states to establish and achieve water quality standards."

If that’s not enough, the council even offers a comparative example.

 

"For this effort, the EPA and the Mississippi River states should draw upon the lengthy experience of federal-interstate cooperation in managing water quality in the Chesapeake Bay."

 

And to top it off, the council reiterates that the federal Clean Water Act, in place since 1972 "to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters," provides the legal basis upon which reforms can be fashioned and implemented.

 

Additional help

 

The report also calls for the 10 states to step up, especially the southernmost five — Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. At the least, they need to form the equivalent of the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association. This group, comprised of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin, at least have coordinated some efforts when it comes addressing water quality.

 

Still, the most important step in helping the river is to establish the same standards and strategies for the entire river. That’s clearly a charge the EPA must lead. The first challenge will be getting Congress to authorize it followed by setting the rules and getting all the state to adhere to them.

 

 


[Clean Water Report, Oct. 31]

 

Study: Mississippi River an ‘Orphan’ on water quality;

A lack of federal leadership and limited coordination among the 10states that abut the river has made the 2,300-mile Mississippi Rivera water quality "orphan," says the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in a new report that recommends more state and federal action.

In the report, Mississippi River Water Quality and the Clean WaterAct: Progress, Challenges and Opportunities, NAS says part of the problem is in the Clean Water Act (CWA), which sets strong state-specific water-quality responsibilities but is unclear in delineating responsibilities for interstateriver monitoring.

"As a result of limited interstate coordination," NAS says, "the Mississippi River is an ‘orphan’ from a water-quality monitoring and assessment perspective."

Problems include:

* Lack of a centralized Mississippi River water quality information system.

* Lack of a data-gathering program across states.

* Shortage of specific biological and ecological data for the length of the river, particularly its lower portion.

Non-Point Sources

Although CWA has helped reduce point-source pollution along the river, it’s less successful at addressing non-point sources, particularly agricultural runoff. Nutrients are causing "significant water quality problems" on the river and are contributing to a dead zone in theupper Gulf of Mexico, the researchers said.

The academy recommends that the Environmental Protection Agency work with states to develop a federal total maximum daily load for nutrient pollutants in the river and the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Minimal Monitoring

Another problem: the lack of monitoring among many states. According to the report, many states bordering the river provide few resources to assess its water-quality status.

Researchers did cite an innovative effort by the Upper MississippiRiver Basin Association, in which five states worked cooperatively on water quality studies and other initiatives. But there’s no similarorganization for the lower Mississippi.

At the federal level, NAS said EPA should support better coordination among the four regional offices that oversee parts of the Mississippi.

 


[Online News, Environmental Science & Technology, Nov. 14]

The Mississippi: an "orphan" river

A National Academies panel says that EPA should look at the Big Muddy as one river system to protect it from pollution.

By Rhitu Chatterjee

From Minnesota‘s Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico, the 2300-mile-long Mississippi River flows through 10 U.S. states and serves millions of Americans. It is a channel for commercial shipping, a means of recreation, a source of drinking water, and a home to diverse wildlife species. Yet, when it comes to keeping the river free from pollution, the Big Muddy is just an "orphan", says a new report from a National Research Council committee.

The river suffers from lack of oversight; states regard the Mississippi as a federal responsibility, says committee chair David Dzombak, the Walter J. Blenko, Sr., Professor of Environmental Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. And although the U.S. EPA has successfully applied the Clean Water Act (CWA) to reduce levels of point-source pollutants in the river, the agency hasn’t asserted its authority to protect the river from its biggest problems: nutrient runoff, sediments, and other pollutants from nonpoint sources, the committee notes in its report, Mississippi River Water Quality and the Clean Water Act: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities.

Nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers in agricultural fields wash into the Mississippi and accumulate downstream in the Gulf of Mexico, creating the hypoxic "dead zone", which this year reached its third-largest size ever. Pesticides have made the river water toxic, and other activities—urbanization, dredging for navigation, and building of dams and levees—have redistributed the river’s sediments. Some places are clogged with too much sediment while others are sediment-deprived, leading to significant wetland losses.

According to the committee, the best way to address these pollution problems is to take a new look at the Mississippi and to consider all 2300 miles as one river system. "A systems view really needs to be taken here," says Dzombak. "There needs to be an organization in charge for coordinating that systems view and ensuring that state efforts are coordinated and conducted . . . , and that organization is EPA."

By developing and enforcing new federal water-quality standards and encouraging interstate and interagency cooperation, the agency can achieve that goal. EPA has already had success with the Chesapeake Bay, the committee writes. A multistate, multiagency effort that has been under way for several years has reduced non-point-source pollution in the bay.

Yet, CWA can’t be the "sole legal vehicle" for improving water quality in the Mississippi, the committee notes. For example, the act cannot protect the river from the effects of urbanization, levee construction, or forestry activities. To deal with some of these problems, EPA officials can tap into programs run by other agencies. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s conservation programs—the Conservation Reserve Program, the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), and the Conservation Security Program (CSP)—offer incentives to farmers for reducing sediment and nutrient runoff. And EPA could begin by identifying high-priority areas—those with high nutrient and sediment runoff—to increase the effectiveness of these programs, the report notes.

In a written comment about the report, EPA’s assistant administrator for water, Benjamin Grumbles, said that the agency is "committed to increasing efforts with all of our partners to improve the water quality and monitoring of the Mississippi River Basin." However, he did not elaborate on how the agency would incorporate the report’s recommendations.

2017-01-17T09:22:28+00:00November 14th, 2007|News|Comments Off on The National Research Council urged the U.S. EPA to take a more aggressive role in implementing the Clean Water Act.