July 4, 2015

Gulf “dead zone” still growing due to farm field runoff

Runoff from Midwestern fields is blamed for growing Gulf dead zone.

Runoff from Midwestern fields is blamed for growing Gulf dead zone.

Chemical runoff from Midwestern farmland is still feeding an oxygen-deprived area in the Gulf of Mexico and the so-called “dead zone” isn’t shrinking, despite ongoing efforts.

Scientists and policy-makers have worked for more than a decade on a plan to reduce nutrient runoff from farm fields, which endangers marine life in the Gulf.

This year, researchers predict the dead zone will have grown to the size of Connecticut.

Louisiana State University professor Gene Turner says that means the voluntary guidelines established almost 15 years ago to clean up the Mississippi and Missouri rivers aren’t working.

Turner says, “Lurking in the background is, well, under what conditions would the nutrients be reduced and can we come up with better voluntary plans or are we going to have to come up with a punitive process?”

It took some 200 years of farming to create the dead zone situation and Turner says reversing the trend may also take decades.

“There’s no evidence that there’s been any reduction in the hypoxic zone size or the amount of nutrients coming down the river,” he says.

On the plus side, Turner says promising research does offer profitable ways for farmers to keep the nutrients they need on the land and out of the waterways.


Corps says system should handle rise along the Missouri River system (AUDIO)

The Missouri River at Omaha

The Missouri River at Omaha

Heavy rains this spring have raised water levels on the Missouri River, but the Army Corps of Engineers says it’s nothing it can’t handle.

May runoff in the Missouri River Basin above Sioux City was 110% of normal. June rains increased flows on many tributaries. The above normal runoff in May is attributed to heavy rainfall in Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas.

Jody Farhat is chief of the Missouri River Basin Water Management for the Northwestern Division for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

She says more rain will only worsen the situation.

“But, I think the concern is that the grounds are really saturated and any additional rain that we get will quickly move into the rivers and cause these stages to rise again,” Farhat tells Nebraska Radio Network in a telephone interview.

The system of six upstream reservoirs on the Missouri River has more than enough capacity to handle the additional runoff from the upper basin of the Missouri River. The water level on all the reservoirs is high at present and will remain high for the next month or so. Farhat says releases from the upstream dams have been reduced and will not have to be increased later in the summer or fall.

The problem is downstream.

A swollen Platte River and other tributaries have been dumping into the Missouri, causing minor to moderate flooding along the Missouri River, primarily from St. Joseph, Missouri south.

Farhat says, so far, the system of dams and levees is handling the excess water.

“We have the ability to deal with that type of rain and we have storage in the reservoirs,” Farhat says. “So, we’ll just manage the water that we have and as rains occur, we’ll just deal with it the best way that we can to reduce the flood risk downstream.”

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:50]


Ricketts taps private engineer with public background to lead DNR

Jeff Fassett

Jeff Fassett

Gov. Pete Ricketts has chosen an engineer in the private sector with a public sector background to be the new Nebraska Department of Natural Resources Director.

Jeff Fassett currently is the Director of the Water Rights Strategic Program for HDR Engineering. At HDR, Fassett worked on water supply, water rights, and water resources development projects in a number of states. In addition to HDR, Fassett maintained a water rights and water resources engineering practice in Wyoming and Colorado for both public and private clients.

Previously, Fassett operated Cheyenne-based Fassett Consulting, an engineering consulting firm specializing in water rights, water resources engineering, and water policy matters.

Fassett served as State Engineer for Wyoming from 1987 to 2000. He served as Deputy State Engineer for the State of Wyoming from 1984-1987.

Fassett is a registered professional engineer in Wyoming and Colorado. He begins his work in Nebraska August 3rd. He will be paid $145,000 a year.

Scientists call for ban on future oil sands development

PipelineAs TransCanada continues the push to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline across Nebraska, a new effort is emerging to put a moratorium on all oil sands development in North America.

Sarah Hobbie, a professor at the University of Minnesota, is among more than 100 climate scientists, economists and biologists who’ve signed an open letter, calling for a ban on all future work in the oil sands.

“Climate change is a really serious issue facing our society and I was interested in it from that perspective,” Hobbie says. “Developing the tar sands is the wrong direction to be heading, given the seriousness of climate change.”

Hobbie says the oil sands development in Canada doesn’t provide much power for the costs involved.

“It’s a low energy-yielding fuel per unit of fuel that you consume,” Hobbie says. “There just seems to be a lot of detrimental side effects associated with the development of tar sands. I think it’s just the wrong direction to be moving in.”

The oil sands are a major economic source for Canada, but Hobbie says that return is temporary.

She says, “Certainly, some people will suffer economically in the short run but in the long term, that will probably be outweighed by the economic gains achieved by reducing fossil fuel emissions and curbing climate change.”

TransCanada has been pushing to get the needed permits to build the Keystone XL pipeline across the Dakotas and Nebraska to move oil from the oil sands region of Canada to the Gulf Coast.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton


Missouri River clean up scheduled for Saturday

Missouri River Relief is partnering with Fontenelle Forest to host a community based clean-up of trash along the river this Saturday. Individuals, families and groups are invited to take part and director Jeff Barrow is hoping that upwards of 250 people show up to help.

Barrow says all volunteers will go through a safety briefing before getting life jackets. They will then board boats at the Lake Manawa State Park boat ramps in Council Bluffs and head to a scouted area south of Omaha. Volunteers need to wear work clothing, rugged mud boots, long pants and bring sunscreen and bug spray. Volunteers will be supplied with a t-shirt, a water bottle, gloves and trash bags.

Barrow says no one has to work very hard and everyone contributes. He says at the end of the day they will have upwards of 10-tons of trash and the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction is wonderful.

They are still finding items that were lost during the 2011 Missouri River flood. Barrow says, “There are big chunks of Styrofoam and plastic 55 gallon barrels that people used for docks. When I was scouting I found a complete boat trailer, including wheels and tires. It may have had a boat attached to it at some point. We find everything from toilets, full house boats, appliances like refrigerators. They float really well with all that insulation. We will probably find 100 tires. We also fined oil tanks that washed in, propane tanks. The main thing we find is bottles. We find thousands and thousands of plastic bottles.”

The clean-up is from 9 to noon, rain or shine. Those wanting to pre-register can do so by logging on to riverrelief.org.

Missouri River Relief organizes a shore clean-up once every two years. Barrow says more than 1,000 volunteers have taken part in this portion of the river clean-up since 2006. More than 20 tons of trash was cleaned from the river.