Inauguration, Infrastructure, Promises … and Clean Water

The inauguration of United States’ 45th President Donald J. Trump represents America’s ceremonial yet very real transfer of presidential power. In his address, President Trump promises among things to “never let (Americans) down.” His vow to bring back jobs, and rebuild infrastructure by improving roads, schools, bridges, airports, etc., is a bold one.

Donald Trump Inauguration

Although it is likely few Americans expect a shiny new country four years from now, the success of President Trump’s administration will be measured by bricks and mortar — upgraded and replaced from the labor of American hands. Should he fall flat on this great promise, clearly he will have let down US citizens.

It is not necessarily alarming that nowhere in President Trump’s speech was there the mention of clean water. Surface and ground water problems are often local, and governing clean water issues is generally left to area, regional, and state government.

But this year, when Toledo, OH (again) cannot tap drinking water; when Waukesha County, WI, (again) cries out for freshwater from Lake Michigan; when a proliferation of lakes and rivers all across the USA (again) fill with Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs) — threatening the health and well-being of tens of millions of Americans — the United States’ freshwater crisis will (again) emerge. The crisis already exists in pockets throughout the USA and, in President Trump’s tenure, it will likely become a highly visible federal government priority.

As this priority applies to surface water — which is impacted differently than groundwater — collaborating with agriculture will be paramount. Because, above all other industries (and by a wide margin), according to information from GRACE Communications Foundation, agriculture is the number one contributor to surface water pollution.

Best practices for decreasing surface water pollution from agriculture exist — and have been documented in Clean Water Warrior many times.

Rewarding farmers, long-term and permanently, for implementing best practices is key to in any meaningful way cleaning up surface water. Farmers must be willing to accept the reality that economic and land-management changes to their operations are necessary, and must now be implemented. Government, working with nimble non-profits like Clean Water Warrior, must be swift in providing resources to assist and reward farmers making these best-practice changes.

It will be an interesting four years. President Trump – the stage is yours.

 

 

 

 

Clean Water New Year’s Resolutions

The year 2017 rings in with many of us, all over the planet, resolving to do better.

  • Get in better shape.
  • Become more skilled and a better co-worker on the job.
  • Be more altruistic and a better member of society.

As a planet, becoming better stewards of clean water can be added to this list. But what can we do?

The City of Bellevue, WA, offers terrific suggestions to its residents for reducing contamination to surface water. Pollution from cities like Bellevue is called point pollution, as described below in an excerpt from the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) site:

The term “point source” means any discernible, confined and discrete conveyance, including but not limited to any pipe, ditch, channel, tunnel, conduit, well, discrete fissure, container, rolling stock, concentrated animal feeding operation, or vessel or other floating craft, from which pollutants are or may be discharged.

Importantly, point pollution does not include agricultural storm water discharges and return flows from irrigated agriculture. Otherwise known as farm runoff.

Managing Animal Grazing Helps Prevent Toxic Water Runoff.

Point pollution, often to the surprise of many, also does not account for the vast majority of surface water pollution across the USA and elsewhere. That responsibility lies with agriculture, and farm runoff.

In this 2014 Scientific American article, Lake Erie Basin farm fields are cited as being responsible for at least 60% of the phosphorus now reaching Lake Erie. Phosphorus is the key nutrient feeding the epic algae blooms occurring annually in the lake. This 60% figure is tossed around regularly — in many places the percentage is as high as 80% — wherever and whenever agriculture, algae blooms and phosphorus are discussed.

So, in addition to what Bellevue, WA suggests we as individuals can do to foster clean surface water, let’s encourage agriculture to resolve to follow some guidelines for the new year as well. Priority areas noted below, and the specific practices recommended, come from the Environmental Protection Agency’s guide: National Management Measures to Control Non-point Source Pollution from Agriculture.

Conservation Tillage – leaving crop residue (plant materials from past harvests) on the soil surface reduces runoff and soil erosion, conserves soil moisture, helps keep nutrients and pesticides on the field, and improves soil, water, and air quality;
Crop Nutrient Management – fully managing and accounting for all nutrient inputs helps ensure nutrients are available to meet crop needs while reducing nutrient movements off fields. It also helps prevent excessive buildup in soils and helps protect air quality;
Pest Management – varied methods for keeping insects, weeds, disease, and other pests below economically harmful levels while protecting soil, water, and air quality;
Conservation Buffers – from simple grassed waterways to riparian areas, buffers provide an additional barrier of protection by capturing potential pollutants that might otherwise move into surface waters.
Strategic Irrigation Water Management – reducing non-point source pollution of ground and surface waters caused by irrigation systems;
Grazing Management – minimizing the water quality impacts of grazing and browsing activities on pasture and range lands;
Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs) Management – minimizing impacts of animal feeding operations and waste discharges through runoff controls, waste storage, waste utilization, and nutrient management;
Erosion and Sediment Control – conserving soil and reducing the mass of sediment reaching a water body, protecting both agricultural land and water quality and habitat.

The new year has arrived. Here’s hoping it will be a good one for everyone — starting with the water we share.

Private Regulation of WI Farm Operations Ill-advised

At a time when the number of  factory farms has risen precipitously, cutting regulatory staff tasked to ensure these operations remain compliant with regulations is a curious, questionable move.  But, in WI, this is precisely the what is happening.

According to a recent article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, pressure to reduce budgets has resulted in a 18% reduction in staff at the WI Department of Natural Resources, since 1995. This, while the number of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) permits in WI has more than doubled in the past decade.

cafograph_lg-2Even more troubling? Fines for pollution in WI hit a 30-year low in 2015.

Several counties in WI are struggling with — perhaps suffering under is a more appropriate description — massive increases in dairy cows in their region, and the incredibly large amounts of manure these herds create. Kewaunee County, as has been mentioned numerous times in prior blogs here, is perhaps the best current example.

While nobody argues the value of manure as a valuable source of fertilizer for farm operations, it is also clear that manure is a primary contributor to non-point pollution which results in devastating algae blooms as seen annually in Lake Erie, Lake Okeechobee, and many other rivers, streams and lakes across the USA.

Wisconsin lawmakers suggest that cooperative regulation will make the process more efficient, less costly, and will result in better practices resulting in decreased pollution, etc.

Perhaps.

But just as likely, if not even more so, is that environmental costs in the form of contaminated ground water, surface water dead zones, algae blooms, and the inherent health risks within area communities, will far outweigh whatever meager savings and questionable efficiencies are attained.

Lake Superior – Optimal Conditions For Low Algae Levels

I have been told that, should one venture somewhat off-shore of Lake Superior — let’s say a mile or two — it would be possible to dip one’s cup into the water, and freely drink from the lake. I have not tried it, and would not encourage the practice, but I believe it.

I am not alone. Naturally Superior has this to say on the subject: Lake Superior is the cleanest of the Great Lakes,and many people drink the water regularly (even in their homes). On a trip, the decision is yours. For your safety we bring a high quality water filter or boil our water.

There may be several reasons to explain Lake Superior’s pristine waters, and veritable absence of algae blooms but, according to Robert Sterner, a Minnesota Sea Grant researcher and Limnologist, there are three primary factors:

Lake Superior Cliff
Lake Superior Cliff
  • One variable is latitude. A more northern latitude means a shorter growing season and less carbon input into the lake’s system from plants like algae.
  • Another variable is geology. Granitic-rock covered by pine forests doesn’t contribute much phosphorus to the lake.
  • The third thing Sterner emphasized is the lake’s homogeneity. “It’s mostly deep, it’s mostly cold and it’s mostly offshore,” Sterner said. “It lacks extensive nearshore mucky bays.”

And there you have it. If you haven’t visited Lake Superior, the trip is worth it. It is a global treasure that ideally benefits from what many of us would consider less-than-ideal weather conditions.