Several lakes and rivers to get pro-active interventions…

23 November 2012

Lots of good news to end this week – well, at least news about informed approaches.  All too often we read reports about attempts to manage pollution in lakes at the wrong end of the pipe, i.e. after the problem is already in the lake.  This has the same level of logic as a security guard, knowing there is good chance of being shot, not wearing a bullet-proof vest on the reasoning that “we can get the bullet out later”.  This short-sighted thinking has epitomized wastewater treatment for decades, with engineers saying “if the pollution gets worse we will simply treat the water we draw from it better”.  This has been a surprising and stupid concept on all sorts of levels, not least completely ignoring ecosystem damage.  Curiously, the wastewater engineering fraternity are very quiet on the topic of eutrophication, suggesting their heads are still firmly in the sand on this one.  In a recent limited poll of South African companies providing wastewater treatment engineering services to local authorities, not one identified effluent quality as a challenge to modern wastewater treatment!

Fixing up most of the eutrophication problems around the world is not going to be easy, if indeed even possible in some cases.  Some lakes, like Taihu in China, is horribly messed up.  However, some good signs are emerging and some 500 000 homes have been connected to a sewer system.  However, like the industrially-raped eastern Europe, vast parts of China have been rendered quite toxic by years of uncontrolled manufacturing – as this report suggests:

In ramshackle semi-industrial Tianying in China’s Anhui province, a state-owned lead smelter and foundry sits at the center of town, behind high walls and secure gates that make it look more like a prison than the mainstay of the local economy.

Decades of pollution from it and similar plants – Tianying once accounted for half of China’s total lead output – has made much of the town’s land uninhabitable and its water undrinkable.

Green as far as the eye can see – but only in the river! The Murray Darling during the 1991 algal crisis! (Source: Geoff Codd).

A lot of the impetus for the global panic about blue-green algal blooms came from Australia in 1991 – a time when their Murray-Darling River turned green from end to end and semi-national crisis ensued.  There has been lots of talking and planning since then and this week we learn that a new plan to rehabilitate the river system has been signed off and is emerging from the pipeline – if you will kindly excuse the pun!

Not everyone is happy though, although to all intents and purposes its better to have something on the table than continue to talk about it.

The Queensland and New South Wales governments have reacted angrily to the Federal Government’s plan to save the Murray Darling Basin.  Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke on Thursday signed off on the first national plan to manage the fragile system. Mr Burke told the National Press Club in Canberra the plan was “a century late, but hopefully just in time” to save the basin. He described the plan as a “grand compromise that’s a middle ground between all the stakeholders”. “In my view Australia has been putting this off for more than a century, that needs to end, that ends today,” said Mr Burke, having earlier signed the plan into law. Under the complex plan, which is more than 600 pages, 2750GL of water will be returned to the system over the next six years. This will be achieved primarily by investing in water efficient measures, although there will be some water buy backs. Under separate legislation that passed the Senate this week, the government will spend $1.77 billion to recover an additional 450GL of environmental water from 2019-2024 [Source].

In the US State of Des Moine, the carrot method, as opposed to the big stick approach will be use to incentivize agriculture not to pollute.  Farmers are generally sensible fellows and tend not to try and throw their money down the drain.

[The] approach has been criticized by some environmental organizations which argue the voluntary approach is too slow and will not achieve the results necessary to reduce nutrient runoff and eliminate the so-called “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico near the mouth of the Mississippi River.

But, many farm groups support voluntary programs and argue farmers are just looking for firm answers as to how they can best reduce nutrient runoff.  There is no one practice that will eliminate nutrient movement into rivers and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico. But, increases in a number of practices could certainly lead to gradual improvements. Those practices include changes in fertilizer applications, building of more conservation structures, construction of more targeted wetlands, use of some cover crops and use of buffer strips. In announcing the plan, Gov. Terry Branstad called it a “common-sense, balanced approach” that would improve the environment without damaging Iowa’s ag economy.He also said it would address point-source and non-point-source pollution in a comprehensive manner.

Poor old Not-So-Grand Lake in Ohio – it STILL has an algal bloom!

Blue-green algae toxin levels recorded in recent weeks were the highest they’ve been all year, and much of the Celina shoreline was coated with slimy growth on Tuesday. Ohio EPA spokeswoman Dina Pierce said toxin levels may have doubled in October due to algae dying off as temperatures dropped. “Blue-green algae tends to produce and release toxins as it dies off,” she said. “Cooler weather causing a mass die-off can lead to higher toxin levels.”

The highest algae toxin reading this year of 83.2 parts per billion was recorded in mid-October. Typically, the worst months for blooms are August and September, when temperatures are hot and humid. The high readings in August and September were 50 ppb and 40.2 ppb, respectively. Monthly toxin averages this year were double or more compared to 2011.

Why is the algae blooming in November? It’s likely the weather.  “It goes back to the conditions being right,” Pierce said. “Nutrients, plus warm temperatures, plus sunshine and calmer waters where it’s not getting stirred up allows for better growing conditions, and that can happen anytime of the year.”  Brian Miller, manager at Grand Lake St. Mary State Park, said he can’t remember a bloom this large so late in the season.

New York’s Chatauqua Lake is to receive a TMDL plan to limit phosphorus pollution.

DEC Commissioner Joe Martens says Chautauqua Lake in western New York has had beach closures in recent years due to algae blooms triggered by excessive phosphorus in the lake. This summer was particularly bad, with beach closures and numerous complaints of algal blooms, including toxic blue-green blooms. Since 2004, DEC has identified Chautauqua Lake as a water body not meeting water quality standards and needing a plan to bring it into compliance. Among other things, the DEC plan requires the three largest wastewater treatment plants in the town of Chautauqua to implement relatively low-cost chemical addition to remove phosphorus by next summer.

A total maximum daily load specifies the maximum amount of a pollutant that a water body can receive and still meet water quality standards. Total maximum daily loads account for all contributing sources which include point sources such as wastewater treatment plants and nonpoint sources such as agricultural runoff, and natural background levels. The total maximum daily load also account for seasonal variations in the pollutant load and incorporates a margin of safety that considers unknown or unexpected sources of the pollutant.




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