Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Water Wars

  • The United States Environmental Protection Agency is giving serious review to allegations that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency doesn't meet its responsibilities to adequately "regulate iron mining companies" and issue pollution discharge permits on a timely basis.
  • Governor Dayton is convening a "Water Summit" next month, to "focus public attention on the serious challenges facing Minnesota’s water supplies."
  • The Governor of Michigan has his hands full due to failure to protect the quality of the public water supply for Flint, Michigan.
  • President Obama just vetoed legislation that would have overturned new rules defining the "Waters of the United States" [WOTUS].
  • The Great Lakes States are reviewing a request for an out of basin transfer to provide water that would help Waukesha, WI grow.
  • The Des Moines Water Utility is suing several agricultural drainage districts for polluting the Des Moines municipal water supply.
  • Most (all?) of the western United States is experiencing suffering from a significant drought.
  • And, closer to home and at a lesser scale, the Vermillion River Watershed Joint Powers Organization now has a draft watershed plan up for review and public comment. The hearing is January 26, 2016 at 7 PM at the Dakota County Extension and Conservation Center, 4100 220th St. W, Farmington.

Sunrise River, not a trout stream
Sunrise River, not a trout stream
Photo by J. Harrington

The proposed plan would "strip the Vermillion River, a trophy trout stream in the south metro area, of its present environmental protections, and reclassify it to allow more pollution," according to the President of the Twin Cities Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

The Vermillion River is in Dakota County, which already has notable problems with the quality of its groundwater, due to high nitrate concentrations. A major source of nitrates is agriculture, which is still fuming about the WOTUS and Governor Dayton's "buffer bill." So, at the same time that there are known problems with groundwater and many surface waters in Minnesota, while the Obama administration is trying to protect our waters, which costs less than cleaning them up afterwards, the Vermillion folks are trying to reduce standards as EPA is looking closely over MPCA's shoulders. This should be interesting. I am not a lawyer, and it's been many years since I made a living as a water quality planner, but as I read the rules, the proposed reduction in the "designated use classification" will require review and approval by MPCA and USEPA. The requirements to support a reduced use classification are:
"The State must be able to demonstrate that attaining the designated use is not feasible because:
1. naturally occurring pollutant concentrations prevent the attainment of the use;

2. natural, ephemeral, intermittent, or low- flow conditions or water levels prevent the attainment of the use, unless these conditions may be compensated for by the discharge of sufficient volume of effluent discharges without violating State water conservation requirements to enable uses to be met;

3. human-caused conditions or sources of pollution prevent the attainment of the use and cannot be remedied or would cause more environmental damage to correct than to leave in place;

4. dams, diversions, or other types of hydrologic modifications preclude the attainment of the use, and it is not feasible to restore the water body to its original condition or to operate such modification in a way that would result in the attainment of the use;

5. physical conditions related to the natural features of the water body, such as the lack of a proper substrate, cover, flow, depth, pools, riffles, and the like, unrelated to [chemical] water quality, preclude attainment of aquatic life protection uses; or

6. controls more stringent than those required by sections 301(b)(1)(A) and (B) and 306 of the Act would result in substantial and widespread economic and social impact."
Those seem like fairly high bars to me. As I said, this should be interesting.

By-the-way, we enjoyed the play (Pericles) at the Guthrie last night and it was a pleasure to see it with a friend we haven't gotten together with for too long.

Speckled Trout

By Ron Rash 
Water-flesh gleamed like mica:
orange fins, red flankspots, a char
shy as ginseng, found only
in spring-flow gaps, the thin clear
of faraway creeks no map
could name. My cousin showed me
those hidden places. I loved
how we found them, the way we
followed no trail, just stream-sound
tangled in rhododendron,
to where slow water opened
a hole to slip a line in,
and lift as from a well bright
shadows of another world,
held in my hand, their color
already starting to fade.

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