AmeriScan: March 8, 2007

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House Passes Clean Water Bill

WASHINGTON, DC, March 8, 2007 (ENS) - The House of Representatives Wednesday approved legislation that would authorize a $1.5 billion program for cities to repair and upgrade aging and outdated sewage systems that often overflow during wet weather events.

The Water Quality Investment Act of 2007 (H.R. 569) had broad bipartisan support, passing the House with a vote of 367 to 58.

H.R. 569 provides $1.5 billion over five years for EPA sewer overflow control grants to states and municipalities. Combined sewer systems, which carry both stormwater and sanitary flows, and separate sanitary sewer systems can overflow with untreated waste during heavy rainfall or snow melts.

Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Congressman Jim Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat who sponsored the bill, says cities and towns across the nation are faced with making massive repairs to infrastructure that is often more than 100 years old.

"Duluth is a prime example of a city that would benefit from this legislation," said Oberstar. "They have a sewer system that is more than a century old. It gets flooded every time there is a heavy rain and raw sewage to flow into Lake Superior."

"We have spent more money repairing and upgrading water and sewer treatment plants in Iraq than we have spent in the United States," said Oberstar. "Itís time to invest in a legacy of clean water for our children," Oberstar said.

"Combined sewer overflows and sanitary sewer overflows create a huge pollution problem in America. This bill will help provide cleaner water in our communities, and will require EPA to distribute grant money to those communities most in need of assistance," said Congressman John Mica, of Florida, Republican leader on the Committee.

Today, the House of Representatives considered a companion clean water bill from the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The Water Quality Financing Act of 2007 (H.R. 720) will provide $14 billion in federal loan guarantees to help cities and towns finance water and sewer improvements. The measure would reauthorize the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to provide low interest loans to government entities for clean water and nonpoint source pollution control projects.

Leaders from groups representing the nationís municipal, engineering, contracting, labor, environmental, and conservation organizations today held a press briefing sponsored by the Water Infrastructure Network, WIN, in support of the legislation.

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the passage of the Clean Water Act, providing an ideal opportunity for a federal recommitment to the nationís waters, the proponents said.

Federal dollars in the form of loans and grants are the only way America can address clean water infrastructure funding gap estimated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Government Accountability Office, and WIN at between $300 and $500 billion.

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Water Quality Controls to Clear Spokane River of Phosphorus

SPOKANE, Washington, March 8, 2007 (ENS) - The signatures of more than a dozen Spokane civic leaders and state Department of Ecology officials Wednesday launched a 20 year action plan to reduce phosphorus pollution in the Spokane River and Lake Spokane, also called Long Lake.

The result of two years of work by state and local officials, tribes, citizens groups and business leaders, the agreement includes plans for upgrading equipment at Liberty Lake and at industrial sites, as well as requiring water conservation, stormwater management, the re-use of treated water for lawns and parks, and the elimination of septic tanks.

A new wastewater treatment and water reclamation plant is planned for Spokane County and advanced filtration will be installed at Spokane's Riverside Park Water Reclamation Facility.

The city of Spokane will spend $130 million to install advanced filtration at its water reclamation plant, proceed with a pilot project to re-use treated waste water for irrigation at Downriver Golf Course, help to control polluted runoff, and intensify its campaign to promote good water stewardship.

The Department of Ecology, Spokane County, the city of Spokane, Liberty Lake Water and Sewer District, Kaiser Aluminum and Inland Empire Pape Company, all agreed to a schedule to reduce phosphorus from wastewater to meet stringent state and federal water quality standards within 20 years.

The Lands Council, the Sierra Club, Avista Corp., the city of Spokane Valley, and the Spokane Tribe also participated in the talks. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency participated as an observer.

"We've reached a collaborative solution to an extremely challenging water-quality problem," Ecology Water Quality Manager Dave Peeler said. "We are certainly not the only state facing these difficult problems, but by coming to this agreement, we are leading the nation in innovative solutions."

Peeler and Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke served as co-chairs of the negotiation effort which began when officials discovered that the river lacked sufficient dissolved oxygen to support a healthy fish population. Low dissolved oxygen levels are caused by too much phosphorus and other nutrients in the water.

These nutrients act like fertilizers and cause excess algae to grow and bloom. When the algae die, they use up the oxygen in the water during the decomposition process.

Phosphorus also is flushed into the river via stormwater and comes from fertilizers, pet and livestock waste, detergents and other sources. Those sources also are addressed in the agreement with a jointly funded, multi-faceted program that includes education to show individuals how they can each help reduce phosphorus at their own homes.

The Spokane collaboration led an effort to get a statewide ban on phosphorus in dishwasher detergent, which was adopted by the state legislature last year.

To oversee progress toward the 20 year goal, a new "oversight and monitoring group" with representatives from local governments and the Department of Ecology is being formed to monitor and help manage cleanup efforts. Each year, local dischargers will report their progress to the state agency.

After 10 years, a major review of the plan will assess how well the participants are doing toward the goals of the plan and whether plan revisions are needed.

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New Marine Species Found in the Eastern Pacific Ocean

WASHINGTON, DC, March 8, 2007 (ENS) - Smithsonian scientists have discovered a biodiversity bounty in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. After 11 days in an understudied region off the coast of Panama, a research team found about half the organisms in some groups that they studied are new to science.

Coordinated by Rachel Collin of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, STRI, a team of Smithsonian scientists and international collaborators with expertise in snails, crabs, shrimp, worms, jellies and sea cucumbers participated in an intensive effort to discover organisms from this ecosystem.

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, headquartered in Panama City, Panama, is a unit of the Smithsonian Institution.

"Overwhelming diversity," said Jon Norenburg, an expert in ribbon worms from the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. More than 50 percent of the ribbon worms he collected have never been seen before. Norenburg studies ribbon worms ranging from those so tiny they live between grains of sand to six foot long worms that eat entire crabs.

During the expedition, Norenburg discovered new species of ribbon worms that live and reproduce among crab eggs. These worms can be important pests of commercial species, but they are often overlooked because they are smaller than the eggs themselves. "All the tedious dissections and microscope preparations done on a rolling, vibrating ship have really paid off," Norenburg said.

One of the unique features of the islands off the coast of Panama is that they host animals that normally are found in the Indo-Pacific, half a world away.

"To think that the larvae of Hymenocera picta, a little shrimp we collected on Isla Seca, can survive a journey of more than 3,000 miles from the Indo-Pacific to the coast of Panama is mind blowing!" said Darryl Felder from the University of Louisiana.

Felder will use samples collected on this expedition as part of the crustacean Tree of Life, a project funded by the National Science Foundation, which aims to determine the relationships among all families of crabs and shrimps.

Even soft corals, a relatively well-studied group, yielded 15 new species over 3 years in a complimentary project organized by STRI staff scientist Hector Guzman.

The scientists hope their data will be useful for Panama's environmental agency, ANAM, and to STRI's Juan Mate, who leads the effort to develop an innovative management plan for Coiba National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Coiba National Park, located off the Pacific coast of Panama, contains the second largest coral reef in the Central-Eastern Pacific Ocean. Coiba is one of the largest marine parks in the world and is composed of more than 2,701 square kilometers, including Coiba Island and 38 smaller islands.

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Lockheed West Seattle Shipyard Added to Superfund List

SEATTLE, Washington, March 8, 2007 (ENS) - A former shipyard on Seattle's Elliott Bay was added Wednesday to the Superfund National Priorities List. The list includes the most serious uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites identified for possible long-term clean up action under Superfund.

The Lockheed West Seattle site qualifies for listing because it was found to pose serious, ongoing, threats to human health and the environment.

Lockheed Shipbuilding and others operated the former shipyard from 1946 to 1986. Shipbuilding and ship repair activities contaminated 27 acres of sediment at the site.

Paint, metal scrapings and sandblast grit were discharged directly into Elliott Bay. Contaminants of concern include metals, polychlorinated biphenyls, and petroleum products.

Releases of pollution into Elliott Bay are of particular concern. The bay is used for a variety of recreational purposes, including fishing, canoeing and kayaking. The Muckleshoot and Suquamish Tribes use the area for commercial and subsistence fishing.

The area also provides habitat critical to Chinook salmon, which the federal government has listed as a threatened species.

Lockheed Martin Corporation recently began a study, called a focused remedial investigation/feasibility study (RI/FS), to better understand the contamination and develop a cleanup plan. The study includes sampling of sediment and of seeps along the upland perimeter of the site. EPA expects to review the sampling results, complete the RI/FS and select a cleanup in the next two years.

The Lockheed West Seattle site is one among several other contaminated sediment sites in the Harbor Island area that require remediation.

Successful cleanups have already been completed at the Todd Shipyard facility and another Lockheed shipyard. At these sites, 330,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediments were dredged and removed from the sites, 7,800 pilings were removed, and over five acres of fish friendly inter-tidal habitat were created as part of the EPA's efforts to the remove toxics from Puget Sound.

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Alaska's McNeil River Bears Protected From Hunters, For Now

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, March 8, 2007 (ENS) - The Alaska Board of Game has decided to keep the Kamishak Special Use Area lands closed to hunting, providing a sanctuary for the McNeil River bears as they travel between Katmai National Park and Preserve, the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary and Refuge and the Kamishak Special Use Area lands.

Responding to a proposal by Jim Stratton of the National Parks Conservation Association, the Board of Game decided that while these lands will remain closed to hunting for now, they may be opened to hunters in the future once the population of bears has increased.

At risk is one of the worldís premier brown bear viewing areas, the proposal states.

Because of the lack of vegetation, this area provides a unique opportunity to observe brown bears in their natural habitat. These bears become habituated to human observation and the result is bear viewing unlike anywhere else in the world.

The close proximity of these bears to Alaskaís major population centers and the protected status of McNeil and Katmai bears has created a unique bear watching opportunity that provides jobs and a good source of income to bear viewing guides living on the Kenai Peninsula, King Salmon, andKodiak.

"The McNeil River bears will remain one of Alaska's protected wildlife treasures," said Tom Banks, Alaska representative for Defenders of Wildlife, which supports keeping the lands closed to hunting. "These bears are so acclimated to human presence that they allow a steady stream of photographers, scientists and visitors to view them on a daily basis during the salmon spawning season. To the public, these bears are known not just by their color or size, but by name."

Defenders, other conservation groups, local businesses and hunting guide services signed on to a public letter to the Board of Game and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin that was printed in last Sunday's "Anchorage Daily News," asking to keep the Kamishak Special Use Area closed to hunting. More than 29,000 Defenders supporters from Alaska and the rest of the country contacted the board asking them to maintain the ban.

"The bears' tolerance of humans provides a unique opportunity for wildlife watchers and photographers, but would be disastrous for the bears if the area was opened to hunting," said Banks. "Fortunately, the Board of Game made the right decision this time and we applaud them."

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Oceans More Acid Regardless of Climate Change

CHAMPAIGN, Illinois, March 8, 2007 (ENS) - Like a piece of chalk dissolving in vinegar, marine organisms with hard shells are in danger of being dissolved by increasing acidity in the oceans. But the rising ocean acidity may not be releated to climate change.

"Before our study," said University of Illinois atmospheric scientist Atul Jain, "there was speculation in the academic community that climate change would have a big impact on ocean acidity. We found no such impact."

The study by Jain, Carnegie Institution scientist Ken Caldeira, and graduate student Long Cao suggests that future changes in ocean acidification are largely independent of climate change.

Ocean acidity is rising as sea water absorbs more carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from power plants and automobiles. The higher acidity threatens marine life, including corals and shellfish, which may become extinct later this century from the chemical effects of carbon dioxide, even if the planet warms less than expected.

"As the concentration of carbon dioxide increases, ocean water will become more acidic; which is bad news for marine life," Cao said. "Fortunately, the effects of climate change will not further increase this acidity."

In previous studies, increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere led to a reduction in ocean pH and carbonate ions, both of which damage marine ecosystems. What had not been studied before was how climate change, in concert with higher concentrations of carbon dioxide, would affect ocean chemistry and biology.

The researchersí findings call into question a number of engineering schemes proposed as mitigation strategies for global warming, such as lofting reflective balloons into the stratosphere or erecting huge parasols in orbit.

By blocking some of the sunlight, these devices would create a cooling effect to offset the warming caused by increasing levels of greenhouse gases.