Thursday, February 20, 2014
Wall Street Journal
By MARK PETERS
Feb. 19, 2014 8:18 p.m. ET
NEW MADISON, Ohio— Kevin Hollinger planted radishes and oats last fall in his corn and soybean fields, but he isn’t planning to harvest them. Instead, he is letting the crops die over the winter to improve the soil and keep fertilizer and other nutrients from running into nearby waterways.
“I could hardly go to town without someone asking: ‘What’s that in your field?’ ” said Mr. Hollinger, a fourth-generation farmer.
Helping to foot the bill for his experiment is a pilot program set to launch fully next month. Farmers in the Ohio River basin are being paid to make changes—from what they plant to how they handle manure—in an effort to minimize runoff that can cause hypoxia, or low oxygen levels, in waterways.
Nutrient runoff plays a role, nearly 1,000 miles downstream from Mr. Hollinger’s farm, in the formation of the so-called dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico—an area where fish and other aquatic life can’t survive and which is considered one of the nation’s biggest water-pollution problems,
Shrinking the dead zone—which was most recently the size of Connecticut—has challenged regulators. Nutrients that flow down in the Mississippi River and end up in the Gulf come from hundreds of thousands of sources across more than a dozen states.
“It takes a long time to address such a large watershed and such a significant problem,” said Nancy Stoner, acting assistant administrator for water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The agency doesn’t have the power to regulate most farms, and leaves controlling nutrient levels in lakes, rivers and streams largely to the states. Environmental groups, who argue the states have taken little action, have sued the EPA to force it to set acceptable levels for nitrogen and phosphorous in the Mississippi basin.
Increasingly, several government and nonprofit groups, including the Electric Power Research Institute, the research arm of the U.S. utility industry, are trying an approach outside of traditional regulation. The institute is setting up a trading system, starting with about 30 farms across Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky.
Those farms create credits by keeping nitrogen and phosphorous from reaching the Ohio River. The credits can be sold to power plants, sewage plants and other facilities that release nutrients into local waterways.
“Our project is trying to set the table,” said Jessica Fox, manager of the program, which is designed to work on a larger scale.
The goal isn’t just to develop a new market. The projects also hope to persuade farmers that certain changes in the field can help the environment and boost their operations. Crop covers, for example, are sowed to improve soil quality for future plantings and reduce runoff by holding the soil in place and making it better able to absorb and retain water.
Last fall, Mr. Hollinger planted radishes and oats on 200 acres of his farm after harvesting his corn and soybean crop. The seed cost about $5,000. Offsetting the expense was $2,000 from the institute, which will sell the credits the project produces. When Mr. Hollinger plants corn and soybeans in the spring, the harsh winter should have killed the radishes and oats and he can sow his fields as usual.
“I feel like if we do a good job now, we can certainly head off the need for regulation,” Mr. Hollinger said, though he says he will need to see better production or a reduction in costs to stick with it.
In total, the pilot projects are expected to keep about 66,000 pounds of nitrogen and 30,000 pounds of phosphorus out of the Ohio River. Credits for some of those reductions will be sold next month to utilities, including American Electric Power<http://quotes.wsj.com/AEP> based in Columbus, Ohio. It plans to spend $50,000 on credits as seed money for a market that it believes will demonstrate a low-cost way to reduce a variety of pollutants, a company spokeswoman said.
Several environmental groups support the development of such markets, but say they only will work if regulators set an overall cap on nutrient levels. A limit creates demand since sewage treatment plants and other facilities will need to buy credits to meet it, drawing in more farmers. The lack of a strict cap is one of several issues that has stunted similar environmental markets tried elsewhere in the country, according to a 2011 study by U.S. Department of Agriculture economists.
Now, “there is no regulatory backstop to the voluntary plans and ideas being worked on. You’ve got the speed limit sign without a number on it,” said Brad Klein, a senior attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center.
For now, Allan Kirkpatrick is taking voluntary steps with the help of the pilot program to control manure on his cattle farm in southern Indiana. He transformed an area for his cows and calves from a messy mix of mud and manure to a more solid surface topped with crushed limestone. That enables him to scoop up manure and spread it on nearby fields where it is unlikely to become runoff. The program paid most of the $6,000 cost for materials and equipment, allowing him to complete the work in one year rather than several years.
“I knew the benefit was there, I just didn’t have the funds to do it all,” Mr. Kirkpatrick said. In the area, “there are more people seeing [the project] and seeing the advantages of it.”
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Tuesday, January 31, 2012
“Separating the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River Basin is a key step to protect both the ecological and economic value of the Great Lakes,” Environmental Law and Policy Center director Howard Learner said in a news release. “More than 30 million people live in the Great Lakes Basin and rely on its abundance of freshwater, which is under increasing threat from Asian carp and other invasive species.”
Read more of the story.
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Today, the Great Lakes Commission and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative released its Chicago Area Waterways Study (CAWS), which offers recommended action steps to protect the Great Lakes from Asian carp and other invasive species. ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner released this statement about the study and its recommendations.
“Separating the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River Basin is a key step to protect both the ecological and economic value of the Great Lakes. More than 30 million people live in the Great Lakes Basin and rely on its abundance of freshwater, which is under increasing threat from Asian carp and other invasive species. The release of this important study and action framework today advances important Great Lakes values.
“The Study shows that strong and effective action is needed sooner than later to protect Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes. We have to get this right from the start. There are no do-over ‘Mulligans’ if invasive species get into our Great Lakes.”
Mr. Learner served as a member of the Advisory Committee for the Chicago Area Waterways Study project.
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Strategies for restoring the natural divide between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes – and, in the process, modernizing the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) – are identified in a report released today by the Great Lakes Commission and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.
“Physically separating the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds is the best long-term solution for preventing the movement of Asian carp and other aquatic invasive species, and our report demonstrates that it can be done,” said Tim Eder, executive director of the Great Lakes Commission.
The threat of Asian carp looms large for communities in the Great Lakes region. The lakes provide over 35 million residents with drinking water, contain 20 percent of the Earth’s fresh surface water, and support a thriving tourism industry and world-class fishery, which generates an estimated $7 billion in economic activity annually.
Voracious feeders that can grow up to 90 pounds, Asian carp have overrun other ecosystems and could cause irreversible damage to the Great Lakes if allowed entry. Once established, invasive species are nearly impossible to eliminate.
“This is a unique opportunity for both protection of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River and for a Chicago waterway system for the 21st century and beyond,” said David Ullrich, executive director of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative. “No single use of the CAWS, including transportation, flood control and wastewater treatment, can be considered individually. The system requires an integrated approach and that is what we have taken.”
The three separation alternatives include a down-river single barrier between the confluence of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and the Cal-Sag Channel and the Lockport Lock; a mid-system alternative of four barriers on CAWS branches between Lockport and Lake Michigan; and a near-lake alternative of up to five barriers closest to the lakeshore. All three include measures to improve the CAWS’s role in flood management, wastewater treatment and maritime transportation, as well as stopping the interbasin movement of aquatic invasive species.
The three separation alternatives in the report were developed by the engineering firm HDR, Inc., which considered some 20 possible barrier locations in its analysis. No recommended alternative is identified. However, one alternative, the mid-system solution, is the least costly and offers other advantages.
The analysis concludes that preventing just a single invasive species from entering the Great Lakes can save as much as $5 billion over 30 years. The Corps of Engineers has identified 10 species that are poised to invade the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River.
According to the report’s economic analysis, the cost of the barriers themselves is as low as $109 million. The addition of all improvements to address water quality, flood prevention and transportation brings the cost to between $3.2 billion and $9.5 billion, depending on the location and the degree to which the wastewater treatment plants on the system are improved to meet future Clean Water Act requirements.
The analysis also finds that households in the Great Lakes basin would have to be willing to pay, on average, about $1 a month from now through 2059 to cover the cost of the mid-system alternative, based on a projected cost of $4.27 billion. The Great Lakes Commission and the Cities Initiative point out that the construction costs to build the current CAWS in today’s dollars would be $11 billion.
Asian carp have been migrating up the Mississippi River system since the early 1990s and were detected in 2009 to have breached electronic barriers operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the CAWS. In 2010 a live Asian carp was captured in Lake Calumet just six miles from Lake Michigan.
“The current efforts by the state of Illinois, the Corps of Engineers and others to monitor and slow the carp migration are critical and are buying us time to implement a long-term solution,” said Eder.
“While we recognize and support the work being done by others to find solutions to the Asian carp threat, we need to appreciate fully the urgency of this matter,” Ullrich emphasized.
The Great Lakes Commission, representing the eight Great Lakes states plus the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Québec, and the Cities Initiative, a coalition of U.S. and Canadian mayors, embarked on the accelerated study in 2010 believing separation to be the best strategy for preventing the movement of Asian carp and other aquatic invasive species between the two watersheds via the CAWS. The $2 million project was funded by a collaboration of six regional funders: the Joyce Foundation, C.S. Mott Foundation, Great Lakes Fishery Trust, Wege Foundation, Great Lakes Protection Fund and Frey Foundation.
To provide guidance and input for the project, a bipartisan Executive Committee was established and a diverse Advisory Committee was convened among stakeholders from the Great Lakes region, with an emphasis on interest groups in the Chicago area. In addition, a Resource Group made up of governmental and quasi-governmental entities with a direct interest in the project also participated.
The report and all supporting materials are available at www.glc.org/caws.
Download this news release.
Friday, June 6, 2008
Threats to the Mississippi River
The Mississippi River provides drinking water for more than 18 million people. It is an important cultural, recreational, economic, and wildlife resource.
Several factors impede the health of the Mississippi River. Inadequate government oversight, lack of coordination among non-profit organizations, and lack of federal protection from agricultural runoff makes restoring the river very difficult. Agricultural runoff is the primary source of excess sediments and nutrients in the Mississippi River. Fertilizers accumulating in the Gulf of Mexico allow plants to grow to excess, starving the waters of oxygen and killing fish and wildlife. Each summer, this creates a “Dead Zone” roughly the size of Massachusetts in the Gulf.
ELPC’s Work to Protect the Mississippi River
In 2005, ELPC joined the Mississippi River Water Quality Collaborative, a diverse group of more than 20 regional and national non-profit organizations devoted to improving the health of our nation’s largest river. The Collaborative provides a special opportunity for member organizations to build off each other’s strengths. Working as a unified group with shared goals will fill knowledge gaps and extend the resources of the various groups beyond traditional boundaries.
ELPC’s work within the Collaborative includes:
- Advancing Anti-Degradation Standards – The federal Clean Water Act’s anti-degradation requirements are designed to keep clean waters clean and improve public participation in decisions involving water quality. Historically, most states have not implemented this part of the federal statute very well or have ignored it completely, but ELPC has established itself as a national leader and thinker on this set of key policies through our work championing strong anti-degradation standards throughout the region for many years.
- Promoting Better Water Quality Standards – ELPC is working to improve, upgrade and add new use designations and water quality criteria that better control nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, as well as other water pollutants.
- Implementing and Enforcing Existing Standards – ELPC reviews water pollution permits issued by state and federal agencies to evaluate whether permits reflect current law. When permits are found to be deficient, ELPC works with local allies, environmental organizations, community groups, and the polluters themselves to reach reasonable solutions that protect the environment and abide by federal clean water laws.