Kalamazoo oil spill: How Enbridge wins while the climate loses

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Written by MEP’s Andrew Slade – It’s been five years since an Enbridge pipeline burst open in Marshall, Michigan and spilled nearly a million gallons of tar sands crude oil into the Kalamazoo River, a tributary of Lake Michigan.

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Normally, history is written by the winners, but in this case, there should have been no winners, only losers. The Kalamazoo River lost its ecological function. The people who live along the river lost their health and their property values. Heck, even Enbridge lost a bunch of oil. National Wildlife Federation took an excellent look back on their blog (LINK: http://blog.nwf.org/2015/07/remember-the-kalamazoo-stop-tar-sands/). 

The only one claiming to have come out better after the spill is Enbridge. They’ve experienced a company-wide culture shift, they say. They spent over a billion dollars of their customers’ money cleaning up the problem. They seize every opportunity to present themselves as a caring corporate neighbor because of all the work they’ve done to clean up their own mess (LINK: http://www.enbridge.com/InYourCommunity/PipelinesInYourCommunity/Enbridge-in-Michigan/Marshall-Incident-and-Response.aspx). Because of the spill, they are even bigger and stronger now than before.

The Kalamazoo oil spill has direct connections to the Twin Ports of Duluth and Superior, where I live and work. The oil that spilled, heavy crude from Alberta, had passed right through the Enbridge terminal in Superior. Local employees, including friends and acquaintances of mine, hurried to the scene to try to manage the chaos.

Did Enbridge “win” the Kalamazoo oil spill? Since the spill, their staff in Duluth and Superior has grown exponentially. The company has taken over prominent office spaces in both cities’ downtowns. Business is booming for other companies that support Enbridge, like engineering companies and natural resource contractors. Within a few years, that stretch of pipeline had been fixed and once again was carrying earth-warming tar sands crude to market. Fixing the Michigan pipeline was not nearly enough; Enbridge currently has at least five pipelines in the region either in planning, construction or expansion, including Sandpiper, the Alberta Clipper, and the mainline across the heart of Wisconsin.

Meet a young professional doing private sector natural resource work in Duluth, and there’s a good chance their paycheck comes, at least in part, from Enbridge. They are getting paid good money to help Enbridge avoid further environmental disasters to local habitats and waterways. But everything Enbridge does in oil transport contributes to the larger disaster of climate change. And even a well-managed oil spill is still an oil spill.

Our local economy is now even more complicit in the sharp rise in greenhouse gasses and the disaster of climate change. When Enbridge asked Duluth Mayor Don Ness to endorse their expansion plans for the Alberta Clipper, he was happy to do so, joining the mayor of Superior in a press conference. He cited all the great jobs in environmental protection Enbridge had brought to Duluth. He did not mention all the environmental destruction that comes from mining, shipping, and burning tar sands oil. Or from spilling it.

My heart goes out to the Kalamazoo River community, human, plant and animal (LINK: http://www.rememberthekalamazoo.org/ ). While Enbridge and the Twin Ports seem to be “winning” with the new pipeline economy, it all began with their loss. When the next spill flows into the St. Louis River or Lake Superior, only then will we feel the real loss of what is truly important.

News Watch: Jul. 23

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Air Quality; Climate Change; Energy; Frac Sand Mining; Legislature & Agency; Mining; Natural Disasters; Oil & Pipelines; Parks & Trails; Pollinators; Transportation; Waste & Recycling; Water; Wildlife & Fish;

 
Agriculture & Food
 
Air Quality
 
Climate Change
 
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Frac Sand Mining
 
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Mining
 
Natural Disasters
 
Oil and Pipelines
 
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Brainerd Dispatch: Opinion: Legacy Trail concerns 
 
Pollinators
 
Transportation
 
Waste and Recycling
 
Water
 
Wildlife & Fish

News Watch: Jul. 20

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Climate Change; Energy; Environmental Architecture; Mining; Oil & Pipelines; Transportation; Waste & Recycling; Water; Wildlife;

 
Agriculture & Food
 
Climate Change
 
Energy
Mankato Free Press: Eagle Lake farm Solar Powered 
 
Environmental Architecture
 
Mining
 
Oil & Pipelines
 
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Waste & Recycling
 
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Wildlife

Waukesha’s Bid to Divert Great Lakes Water Unnecessary Finds New Analysis

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A new, independent analysis released July 9, 2015 shows that Waukesha, Wisconsin can provide clean drinking water to its residents without diverting water from Lake Michigan. An alternative plan developed by two engineering firms would solve the city’s water problem and cost Waukesha taxpayers tens of millions of dollars less than the current proposal to divert water from Lake Michigan.

The alternative plan comes to light at a critical time as the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is considering a precedent-setting water diversion application under the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact, which could make Waukesha the first city straddling the Great Lakes’ borders to obtain Great Lakes water.

Authored by two engineering firms, GZA GeoEnvironmental, Inc. and Mead & Hunt, the “Non-Diversion Solution” report focuses on a controversial point in Waukesha’s water diversion proposal. Waukesha’s current application includes a service area broader than the current households and businesses serviced by the city. Additionally, the need or desire of the additional communities in the expanded service area has never been fully justified. This is inconsistent with the Compact, as the agreement clearly states that diversions for communities that straddle the Great Lakes basin should only be considered as a last resort.

The Non-Diversion Solution examines Waukesha’s current water service area, while allowing for future residential and industrial growth within that area. The engineering report concludes that Waukesha can continue to use its existing sources – shallow and deep water wells – if radium treatment is added to three of its wells. The report finds that the Non-Diversion Solution alternative is cheaper for taxpayers and will provide Waukesha residents and businesses with clean and healthy water supplies today and into the future.

Specifically, the report finds that the Non-Diversion Solution:

  • Costs less than half of a Great Lakes diversion—the Great Lakes diversion will cost $334 million for Waukesha ratepayers while the Non-Diversion Solution will cost just under $168 million;
  • Will adequately supply drinking water to a growing population within the existing Waukesha city limits and existing water service area until at least 2050;
  • Meets or exceeds public health standards for radium and other contaminants with a robust treatment process, included in the Non-diversion Solution’s cost estimates; and
  • Requires no new wells, which means there is no environmental impact to surrounding wetlands and no dewatering of the St. Peter sandstone aquifer.

The engineering analysis is an important piece of information for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to consider as it reviews Waukesha’s application. Comments on the environmental impact study are being accepted by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources until August 28th, 2015 at DNRWaukeshaDiversionApp@wisconsin.gov.

Passed by all eight Great Lakes state legislatures, consented to by the U.S. Congress, and signed by President George W. Bush in 2008, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact provides ironclad protections against diversions and requires water conservation measures to protect the Great Lakes. Waukesha is eligible under the Compact to apply for a diversion of Great Lakes water because the city lies within a county that straddles the Great Lakes and Mississippi River divide.

After the draft application is finalized by Wisconsin, the application must undergo regional review by the governors of the eight Great Lakes states, including Governor Dayton in Minnesota. Under the Great Lakes Compact, the Governors of all eight Great Lakes states must give their consent before the City’s diversion application can be approved.

Minnesota Conservation Federation, representing hunters and anglers across the state, is an active member of a coalition of groups raising awareness of the Waukesha proposal.

To read the full report, visit: www.protectourgreatlakes.org.

News Watch: Jul. 14

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Air Quality; Climate Change; Energy; Invasive Species; Mining; Natural Disasters; Oil & Pipelines; Pollinators; Sustainability; Transportation; Water; Wildlife; 

 
Agriculture & Food
 
Air Quality
 
Climate Change
 
Energy
 
Invasive Species
 
Mining
 
Natural Disasters
 
Oil & Pipelines
 
Pollinators
 
Sustainability
 
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First test of Great Lakes water compact is on its way to Minnesota

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On June 25, 2015 the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) publicly released its draft review of the City of Waukesha’s request to divert water from Lake Michigan. This move could have ramifications for how the states and provinces of the Great Lakes manage the largest surface freshwater resource in the world. The City’s requested diversion is the first since the 2008 ratification of the Great Lakes Compact and Agreement—a pact between the eight states and two provinces to protect Great Lakes water and promote wise water use. The Compact generally bans the diversion of Great Lakes water, with some narrow exceptions. Conservation groups are raising significant questions about whether the City actually needs to divert Great Lakes water.

“This precedent-setting application is important to all future applications including possible ones from Minnesota,” said Gary Botzek, executive director of MEP member group Minnesota Conservation Federation. “Minnesota, under Governor Tim Pawlenty, was the first state to approve the Compact, and we certainly want to see the implementation of the Compact to be as strong and complete before applications are considered and approved.”

Read the application here: http://1.usa.gov/1TOAFoD

Passed by all eight state legislatures, consented to by the U.S. Congress, and signed by President Bush in 2008, the Compact provides ironclad protections against diversions and requires water conservation measures to protect the Great Lakes. Waukesha is eligible under the Compact to apply for a diversion of Great Lakes water because the city lies within a county that straddles the Great Lakes and Mississippi River divide. Waukesha County in southeastern Wisconsin is located 18 miles west of Milwaukee and Lake Michigan.

“Waukesha’s application to divert Lake Michigan water outside of the basin is the first test of the Great Lakes Compact since it was ratified in 2008,” said Molly Flanagan, Alliance for the Great Lakes Vice President for Policy. “Each of the Great Lakes states gets to decide whether it believes that Waukesha’s application meets the requirements of the Compact. We hope that each state will take this responsibility seriously and give the application a critical and thorough review.”

 For several years, conservation groups around the region have questioned whether the City of Waukesha had considered all its options before seeking permission to divert Great Lakes water. A 2013 scientific analysis by the National Wildlife Federation concluded that the City could very likely meet its future needs without diverting water. Read the report at http://bit.ly/1TKQAUO.

The amount of water the City wants to divert also seems excessive. The city requests 10.1 million gallons per day on average from Lake Michigan. Yet, the City currently averages only 6 million gallons per day from its current sources.

In addition, the application includes towns in Waukesha County (Pewaukee and the Towns of Delafield and Waukesha, among others) that may not need water from Lake Michigan. To date, none of the communities in this “extended service area” has demonstrated that it is without adequate supplies of safe drinking water. Some officials in these areas have indicated that they do not need any water either now or in the foreseeable future. Including these towns in the application is therefore not consistent with the Great Lakes Compact. The Great Lakes Compact is clear that a need for water must exist in a community for it to be eligible for a diversion. If these areas are to be included as part of the application, the City must demonstrate that they meet all Compact requirements, including water conservation and efficiency before the application is finalized.

 “Water conservation is a critical component of the Great Lakes Compact.” said Karen Hobbs, senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “That’s because water conservation and efficiency are no-regret strategies – they protect our water resources, save residents money on utility bills and help our communities adjust to changing precipitation patterns.”

When the draft application is finalized by Wisconsin, the precedent-setting application must undergo regional review by the governors of all eight Great Lakes states, including Minnesota, as well as the Canadian premiers of Ontario and Quebec. Under the Compact, the Governors of all eight Great Lakes states must give their consent before the City’s application can be approved.

Buffers benefit everyone

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By Minnesota Environmental Partnership’s Lindsey Wilson – 

Last week I read an article in the Star Tribune entitled “In farm country, tainted water is ‘just the way it is’” (July 4) and feel the urgent need to respond. The headline and content of this piece struck a frustrated chord in me as one of several thousands of Minnesotans who values clean water and a healthy environment. Tainted water is certainly not ‘just the way it is’.

Water becomes contaminated due to agricultural, industrial, development, and other activities that create waste and byproduct that is not properly prevented or disposed of. Water pollution problems are often the result poor planning and a lack of strategic vision. We must not be so Minnesotan so as to shy away from pointing fingers at folks engaging in irresponsible activities that have consequences for all of us.  We need to stand up for ourselves, our families, and our communities and demand that our water – the foundation of wellbeing – is clean, healthy and safe.

In Minnesota non-point source runoff from agriculture is the most common cause of water pollution in Southeastern Minnesota. In fact, there are several communities who cannot even swim or drink their water as it has been deemed unsafe by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (see MPCA’s report Swimmable, fishable, fixable? What we’ve learned so far about Minnesota waters). Should farmers like those mentioned in the article avoid changing their behavior because it is easier for them to carry on maintaining the status quo? No. In fact, farmers and communities can only benefit from clean water and sustainable practices. Clean water is absolutely essential to grow healthy crops and vital for robust agricultural economies.

The good news is that in Minnesota we have a working plan and solution to prevent runoff pollution: buffers. Governor Dayton’s initiative to create a 50-foot buffer of vegetation along the shores of all Minnesota’s river, streams, and ditches is a commonsense solution to an everyday problem.  Buffers absorb and filter runoff of pollutants such as sediment, fertilizers and pesticides and stabilize stream banks and shorelines to prevent erosion.  In fact, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, buffers intercept surface runoff and remove up to 75% of sediment, 60% of some pathogens and 50% or more of fertilizers and pesticides before they end up in our lakes and waterways.  Plus, buffers provide critical habitat for many of Minnesota’s most beloved wildlife including pheasants, migratory songbirds and pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

With solutions like these at our fingertips, it makes sense to employ them. There is no reason to accept water pollution as the status quo and there is no excuse for poor planning. Starting this month, implementation efforts of Governor Dayton’s buffer initiative are underway to help farmers transition their land near streams and rivers.  I am excited to see the positive impacts these farmers will have on Minnesota’s cherished water.

News Watch: Jul. 9

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Air Quality; Climate Change; Energy; Invasive Species; Legislature & Agency; Mining; Oil & Pipelines; Parks & Trails; Pollinators; Transportation; Water; Wildlife; 

Agriculture & Food
 
Air Quality
 
Climate Change
 
Energy
 
Invasive Species
 
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Mining
 
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Wildlife

Buffers: A welcome addition to Minnesota’s landscape

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This month, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/buffers/index.html) will begin steps to implement Governor Mark Dayton’s new landmark buffer initiative, that was signed into law last month. The law will designate an estimated 110,000 acres of land statewide for vegetative buffer zones that will grow perennial vegetation up to 50 feet along rivers, streams, and ditches.

The benefits of this initiative are impressive. Buffers are a proven best practice when it comes to conservation and water quality and provide significant improvements to water quality, flood water storage, in-stream habitat for fish, and multiple benefits for other wildlife and pollinators species. The perennial vegetation removes sediment, nutrients, and chemical pollutants from upland surface runoff. Numerous studies clearly indicate that buffers can retain pollutants from surface runoff from fields, filter surface and groundwater runoff at field margins, stabilize eroding banks, and contribute to processes that remove pollutants from stream water flow.

So, as implementation steps for new buffers begin, this is a good time to review some of the facts.

Minnesota needs to address water quality issues

On April 29, 2015, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency released a report (http://www.pca.state.mn.us/index.php/view-document.html?gid=22760 ) providing damning evidence that Minnesota needs to take measures to address agricultural runoff.  According to the MPCA, it is unlikely that current or new clean water funding can significantly improve the deteriorating conditions of many of the state’s waters – unless the state employs new strategies, like buffers, to prevent the pollution from happening in the first place.

  • In watersheds dominated by agricultural and urban land, half or fewer of the lakes fully support the standard for swimming because of phosphorus. Excess phosphorus is the main driver of harmful algae in lakes.
  • Higher levels of bacteria were discovered in many Minnesota waters. Generally, higher levels of bacteria indicate feedlot runoff or human waste in a water body, which may be unsafe for swimming and other recreation.
  • In watersheds where agriculture dominates the landscape, prominent strategies include buffers, nutrient and manure management, wetland restorations and other forms of water storage, and stream channel stabilization.
  • Watersheds that are heavily farmed or developed tend to have high levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and suspended solids in their waters. Nitrogen and phosphorus can cause algal blooms while suspended solids make the water murky. These pollutants hurt aquatic life and recreational opportunities.
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Buffers improve water quality

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recently reviewed biological data collected from 3,500 stream sites located all over Minnesota. What they found: “a strong relationship between buffers and healthy aquatic life [fish and invertebrate communities].” According to the MPCA’s analysis,

  • On average, streams had excellent aquatic life where greater than 85% of the buffer was intact and undisturbed
  • In contrast, streams had poor or very poor aquatic life where less than 25% of the buffer was intact and undisturbed by human activities.
  • Buffers are important for clean water and healthy aquatic life.
  • The vegetated buffer zone is critical to protecting and restoring water quality and healthy aquatic life, natural stream functions and aquatic habitat due to its immediate proximity to the water.

Buffers improve habitat

Buffers improve habitat for aquatic wildlife while providing food, cover, water, and breeding areas for many other kinds of wildlife and pollinators such as bees and monarchs.

  • Wider buffers can provide nesting habitat for pheasants and valuable winter cover, one of the limiting factors for pheasant populations.
  • Ducks and waterfowl also use cavities or nest boxes along larger streams for nesting.
  • Buffers comprised of wildflowers provide hummingbirds, butterflies and moths nectar and act as host breeding plants.
  • Riparian buffers expand forage areas for bats. 
  • Branches and leaves falling from buffer plantings provide food and habitat for fish, insects and amphibians.
  • Deer, birds, and other wildlife use evergreen shrubs, trees and tall forage in buffers as winter cover.
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Buffers support Minnesota’s recreational industries

A 2011 study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service shows that residents and non-residents alike value recreational opportunities in Minnesota. The impacts of water quality on Minnesotans recreational pursuits are too important not to have healthy rivers, lakes, streams and riparian areas that support dynamic fisheries and bountiful wildlife populations. Buffers provide critical wildlife habitat that will provide more opportunities in the form of pheasant hunting, deer hunting, and other forms of shooting sports which contribute to license sales in the state of Minnesota. Minnesotans need to know if they can eat local fish, go swimming, and if their waters are generally healthy.

But this isn’t just fun and games. In our state, outdoor recreation generates $11.6 billion in consumer spending, $3.4 billion in wages and salaries, and $815 million in state and local tax revenue.

The plan is flexible

The Governor’s buffer initiative allows flexibility and recognizes differences among sites and watersheds. Under the plan, landowners can use alternative conservation measures that would:

  1. Provide water quality benefits; 
  2. Stabilize the soil; and 
  3. Provide habitat benefits.  

For example, a farmer could propose to install a combination of a grassed waterway and grade stabilization to provide similar water quality benefits to a 50-foot buffer. 

There are MANY existing federal, state, and local programs that can provide financial and technical support to landowners to implement buffers or alternative water quality practices on their property. The Governor’s Buffer Initiative includes substantial cost-share funds for farmers. Landowners may enroll in a number of programs that provide cost-share for buffers, including the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM).

Farmers can continue to earn on buffer lands

Buffers offer opportunity for farmers to earn income, produce better yields and improve water quality at the same time. Often, land adjacent to creeks and streams produces low-quality corn and soybean crops. Landowners retain control of buffer lands, and may grow and harvest profitable perennial crops or use buffer acres to graze livestock, for hay, or for animal forage and bedding.

In addition, Landowners can receive direct compensation by enrolling in a number of cost-share programs, including the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM). Conservation set-aside programs provide landowners with income at rates that are currently competitive with income from cropped acres.

News Watch: Jul. 6

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Today’s Topics: Agriculture & Food; Air Quality; Climate Change; Energy; Mining; Oil & Pipelines; Sustainability; Transportation; Water; Wildlife; 

Agriculture & Food
 
Air Quality
 
Climate Change
 
Energy
 
Mining
 
Oil & Pipelines
 
Sustainability
Star Tribune: Letter: Sustainability 
 
Transportation
 
Water
Associated Press: Environmental group wants EPA to strip authority from MPCA featuring MEP member group WaterLegacy
Star Tribune: Letter: Water Quality 
 
Wildlife