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AmeriScan: November 22, 2004

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Grand Canyon Flooded to Improve Ecosystem

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Arizona, November 22, 2004 (ENS) - The Grand Canyon was flooded on Sunday in an attempt to rebuild beaches and sandbars by moving sediment along the Colorado River. The normal sedimentation pattern of the river was forever altered in the early 1960s when the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell were constructed to generate power.

Most sediment entering Grand Canyon National Park now arrives from the Paria River and upper Marble Canyon tributaries below the dam. More than a million tons of sediment has accumulated in Marble Canyon.

The high water flows were started by U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists at seven on Sunday morning.

The water flowing from Lake Powell through four bypass outlet tubes at the base of the Glen Canyon dam is expected to help improve Colorado River habitat for endangered fish and help scientists learn more about the river ecosystem to help guide future management decisions.

The peak high flows will run for 60 hours at about 41,000 cubic-feet per second. The goal is to stir up and redistribute sediment from the tributary rivers downstream from the dam to enlarge existing beaches and sandbars, create new ones, and distribute sediment into drainage channels.

About 800,000 tons of sediment are expected to move downstream before the high water flow ends on Thursday morning at one o'clock. "The sediment, sand, mud and silt play an important role in the ecosystem," said USGS Director Chip Groat.

canyon

The Grand Canyon of the Colorado River (Photo courtesy USGS)
Researchers from the USGS Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center are working with scientists and resource managers from the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service, as well as the Arizona Game and Fish Department, and Northern Arizona University to prepare, conduct, and evaluate the experiments.

Today, when water flows will be greatest, scientists will raft down the river to observe the high water's effects. Archaeological, biological and hydrological studies will be conducted to determine the flood's effects.

The Colorado River was once filled with silt and sediment. Now, the river deposits its load of silt as it enters Lake Powell near Hite, Utah. Water released from the dam is clear and the Colorado River is muddy only when downstream tributaries contribute sediment.

As the habitat has changed, so have plant and animal species. Native fish, unable to survive in the colder water, have left the river and have been replaced by non-native species. The high water flow is expected to help displace non-native species to the benefit of endangered native fishes such as the humpbacked chub.

USGS scientists will be monitoring how the high flow releases affect the survival of a population of young humpback chub in the Grand Canyon near the confluence of the Little Colorado River.

Non-native rainbow trout, a predatory species, are a resource for anglers below Glen Canyon Dam in the first 15 miles, to Lees Ferry. Surveys to determine the relative abundance of trout were just completed by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. These surveys will be repeated in mid-December to determine the effect of the high flows on trout populations and trout diet.

The water released during the experiment will not change the amount of water to be released over the course of the 2005 Water Year. The Annual Operating Plan calls for releasing approximately 8.23 million acre-feet of water from Glen Canyon Dam. That water is sent down river and captured in Lake Mead for use by the Lower Colorado River Basin States. The test flows are factored into that annual volume.

Flows later in the year will be adjusted downward to factor in the additional water released this week.

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EPA Files Suit to Keep Anacostia River Free of Raw Sewage

WASHINGTON, DC, November 22, 2004 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has filed a lawsuit against the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) for violating the Clean Water Act by permitting raw sewage to flow into streams and rivers in Maryland's Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Discharges of raw sewage are illegal under the Clean Water Act.

The lawsuit was welcomed by an alliance of conservation groups that threatened a similar suit two months ago. On September 22, four conservation groups - the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Anacostia Watershed Society, the Audubon Naturalist Society and Friends of Sligo Creek - announced their intent to sue WSSC for illegally allowing sewer overflows, polluting the Anacostia River and its tributaries, and endangering public health.

The federal agency's action prevents the conservation groups from filing their own lawsuit, but they have the option to intervene in the federal suit on behalf of their members.

"We are pleased that our threat to sue WSSC finally prompted the EPA to do its job to stop the sewer authority from allowing raw sewage to contaminate our streams, streets, and parks," said Nancy Stoner, director of NRDC's Clean Water Project.

"We will be watching closely to make sure that the government is truly serious about pursuing this case, that the problem is fixed, and that public health is protected."

The conservation groups are urging the Commission to overhaul its sewer collection and pipeline system and establish procedures to monitor and prevent overflows.

According to WSSC's reports to Maryland's Department of the Environment, from January 2001 through July of this year, WSSC's sewer system experienced 445 overflows that dumped more than 90 million gallons of raw sewage into the river.

WSSC's system includes approximately 640 pipe stream crossings and hundreds of miles of sewer pipes that run alongside Maryland rivers and streams. The sewer pipes are more than 50 years old, and many are broken, decaying and exposed.

The Anacostia Watershed Society, which has been documenting WSSC sewer system problems, estimates that there are hundreds of miles of broken and separated pipeline that may be leaking sewage into Maryland's ground water.

"The public is at risk for contracting such waterborne illnesses as gastroenteritis, which includes vomiting and diarrhea, and hepatitis," said Stoner. Boaters on the Anacostia River in Maryland have contracted skin infections on their hands and bodies after coming into contact with the water. And when sewers back up, local homeowners wind up with basements filled with sewage, which is a threat to their health.

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Soybean Rust Found in Five States

BELTSVILLE, Maryland, November 22, 2004 (ENS) - Soybean rust, a destructive fungus that slashes soybean yields, has now been found in five southern states, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland confirmed on Friday.

Soybean rust has been detected in Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and Mississippi, the USDA lab said.

Florida, which grows about 11,000 acres of soybeans, is the latest state to hear a rust diagnosis. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson said the fungus has been found in samples collected from an experimental test plot managed by the University of Florida/Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences in Quincy, Florida.

Florida extension agents were prompted to look in their soybean test plots because of notification by Louisiana State University that Soybean rust had been found in their extension service test plots.

Pathologists strongly suspect that Hurricane Ivan, which hit the panhandle of Florida in mid-September is responsible for the spread of the disease from South America.

Severe outbreaks in the last few years in South America have heightened concern for the spread of the disease to North American soybean growers.

The Soybean rust pathogen, Phakopsora pachyrhizi, which is easily spread through windborne spores, is a fungus that causes small lesions on the foliage and pods of soybeans and several other legume hosts, including lima beans. Soybean rust can reduce yields by 50 percent or more.

Soybean rust also infects kudzu, the invasive nuisance weed that has spread throughout Florida, and serves as a reservoir for the soybean rust pathogen. Forage legumes, such as yellow sweet clover, also serve as a refuge for soybean rust in the off season.

The impact of the fungus this season is expected to be minimal because most soybeans have been harvested.

The Florida Agriculture Department is working jointly with the University of Florida/IFAS and the USDA to immediately determine the extent of the disease, coordinate diagnostic activities, and conduct training of surveyors and growers for accurate detection of the disease.

Current management strategies include emphasis on early detection and timely fungicide applications. Varieties of soybean that are rust resistant may become available.

The USDA says a coordinated approach will be required by all soybean producing states to effectively manage this disease.

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Farmers' Guide to Navigating the Legal Minefield of GMOs

PITTSBORO, North Carolina, November 22, 2004 (ENS) - The commercial production of genetically modified organisms, (GMOs), "has created a legal minefield for American farmers and requires that farmers be particularly sure footed," says the "Farmers' Guide to GMOs," just released by the Farmers' Legal Action Group (FLAG) and Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI-USA).

Co-author and attorney David Moeller of FLAG says that whether farmers grow genetically modified crops, conventional crops, or are certified organic, the use of GMOs in commercial agriculture can affect operations and have costly legal ramifications.

"After almost a decade of commercial production, we have reached that point," Moeller said, "where every farmer has a stake and has to be fully aware of the legal ramifications. No farmer should buy seed for next season without having a grasp of the information contained in this Guide."

Co-author Michael Sligh of RAFI, said, "The problems GMOs are creating for farmers are getting increasingly complex. We at RAFI felt it was time to invest in a collaborative effort to inform all farmers of the risks and legal liabilities involved and help them protect their self interests."

Contamination of organic or conventional crops is an ever-present risk. "In a world of widespread production of GMO crops, what one farmer plants may seriously affect all of his neighbors' crops. Certain crops, such as corn and canola, cross pollinate, causing genetic material to migrate," Moeller said.

"Farmers may be unable to market contaminated non-GMO crops, and GMO growers may face liability for unintentional contamination of their neighbors' crops."

Development and marketing of genetically engineered crops is concentrated in a few biotechnology companies - Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta and Aventis - who control most of the technology and the resulting seed and chemical markets.

Moeller said farmers assume significant obligations and legal liabilities when they sign GMO contracts. "Common obligations include how and where to plant, including creating 'refuges' of non pest-resistant varieties; giving up the right to save seed; opening up their fields and all records, including filings usually subject to the Privacy Act, to inspections; and agreeing to specified remedies if the farmer violates the agreement."

FLAG is a nonprofit law center dedicated to providing legal services to family farmers and their rural communities to help keep family farmers on the land.

In most cases, saving seed is prohibited for GMOs and there are stiff penalties for saving seed from a GM crop.

A recent U.S. Supreme Court case limited a statutory seed saving exemption, and a Canadian case ruled that a farmer could not save seed from a crop contaminated with GMO technology. "Farmers may not save seed containing patented genes resulting from accidental cross pollination from a neighboring GMO group or any other source," Sligh said.

Farmers who sign a technology agreement have little recourse if the company asks to inspect their fields. Where there is no contract, farmers should seek legal counsel and require the company to show cause. In every case when samples are demanded, farmers should make sure an identical independent sample is taken and analyzed, Moeller said.

For conventional and organic farmers who want to keep their crops free of engineered genes, selection of uncontaminated seeds, planting at a distance from GMO crops, creating buffer areas, and meticulous cleaning of equipment and storage areas are all important.

Moeller counsels farmers to avoid making broad statements of non-GMO warranty and to emphasize efforts made to prevent contamination beginning, of course, with the statement that seed has been certified GMO free. Organic farmers risk losing their certification through contamination with transgenic characteristics.

Recent research on the costs and benefits of GMOs shows that pesticide use has increased on herbicide tolerant crops. Sligh says this is due primarily to farmers' reliance on a single herbicide - glyphosate, trademarked Roundup - that must be sprayed in increasing amounts to keep up with the shift in weed populations toward more difficult to control species and the development of resistance to certain weeds.

Read the Farmers' Guide to GMOs at: www.flaginc.com and www.rafiusa.org.

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Northern Spotted Owl Still Threatened With Extinction

WASHINGTON, DC, November 22, 2004 (ENS) - The Northern spotted owl continues to warrant the protection of the Endangered Species Act as a threatened species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has concluded after a formal five year status review of the species.

The review found that the risks faced by the species when it was first listed such as habitat loss on federal lands, have been reduced due to the success of the Northwest Forest Plan and other management actions.Still, habitat loss continues, especially on private lands, and wildfires appear to be removing habitat at an increasing rate.

The species' overall population in Washington, Oregon and California continues to decline and new potential threats have emerged that need more research - fire, competition from barred owls, and West Nile virus.

The steepest declines were documented in British Columbia, Washington, and northern Oregon - about 50 percent of the geographic range of the northern spotted owl. This area supports about 25 percent of all known northern spotted owl activity centers, and contains more than 25 percent of all northern spotted owl habitat, most of which is federally managed.

The Service conducted its review following an April 2002 lawsuit filed by the Western Council of Industrial Workers, which represents about 10,000 workers in the forest products industry. They claim that protection afforded to the owl limits their logging activities.

The Service chose an independent contractor, Sustainable Ecosystems Institute (SEI), to review, analyze and summarize all scientific and demographic information about the northern spotted owl that has become available since it was listed on June 26, 1990.

SEI convened a panel of experts who, with a staff of scientists and outside experts, reviewed thousands of pages of data and reports over a period of 10 months. SEI held four public meetings to gather more information and to air preliminary findings.

SEI's report, "Scientific Evaluation of the Status of the Northern Spotted Owl," provided the primary biological basis for the conclusions of the five year review. The report made no recommendation on the listing classification of the owl.

The Service then convened a panel of seven agency managers, assisted by species experts, who met to review the SEI report and other information in the context of federal policy and guidelines.

"We can celebrate the success we've had in reducing habitat loss on federal lands, but at the same time we must recognize that there are new risks out there that could present an even greater threat to the species," said Dave Allen, director of the Service's Pacific Region. "Our conclusion is that while the species is still threatened it does not need to be elevated to endangered status."

The five year review can be found on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pacific Region website at: http://pacific.fws.gov/ecoservices/endangered/recovery/5yearcomplete.html.

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Ohio EPA Calls Public Hearing on Ashland Chemical Mess

ASHLAND, Ohio, November 22, 2004 (ENS) - The Ashland Specialty Chemical Company at 1745 Cottage St. in Ashland, Ohio has contaminated the soil and groundwater around its 21.5 acre site to the extent that the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) is recommending restrictions be imposed to prevent public exposure.

Deed restrictions would be placed on the property to limit future use of the site to commercial and industrial purposes. Restrictions also would prohibit the use of ground water and restrict excavating soil more than five feet below the surface without Ohio EPA approval, the agency said last week.

Contaminants at the site include toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes, chloroform, chloride, dichloroethene and trichloroethene.

The state EPA has scheduled a public information session followed by a formal hearing at 7 pm on December 1, to answer questions and accept comments about a plan to clean up the Ashland Chemical site.

The western part of the property contains the main plant, which includes a building with manufacturing and warehousing operations, an aboveground raw materials tank farm, tanker loading area, an enclosed drum storage area, outdoor drum storage area and a 12,000 gallon aboveground fuel oil storage tank. The eastern area includes two buildings containing adhesive products and warehousing operations.

Previous cleanup activities at the site included upgrading the tank farm to a concrete structure to prevent chemicals from contacting the soil, closing leach beds and sealing floor drains inside the building.

Potential contaminant sources include two soil piles created during the tank farm upgrade and other soils near the tank farm and leach beds.

Ashland Specialty Chemical is a division of Ashland (NYSE: ASH), a transportation construction, chemical, and petroleum company. A Fortune 500 company, Ashland has sales and operations throughout the United States and in more than 120 countries around the world. Company operations include four wholly owned divisions: Ashland Paving And Construction, Ashland Distribution, Ashland Specialty Chemical and Valvoline.

A copy of the Ohio EPA's preferred cleanup plan has been made available for review at the Ashland Public Library, 224 Claremont St., Ashland. The preferred plan and related documents can be reviewed at Ohio EPA's Northwest District Office by calling 419-352-8461 for an appointment.

Ohio EPA will accept written comments on the plan through the close of business December 10. Anyone may submit written comments on the preferred plan by writing to Ghassan Tafla, Site Coordinator, Ohio EPA Northwest District Office, 347 North Dunbridge Road, Bowling Green, Ohio 43402. Comments also can be faxed to Tafla at 419-352-8468 or e-mailed to him at [email protected]

The public meeting will be held at Ashland City Council Chambers, 206 Claremont Ave. During the hearing, the public can submit comments for the record regarding Ohio EPA's recommended cleanup plan. These comments will then be considered before a final cleanup design is chosen.

Ohio EPA will consider all comments received, then will issue a final plan to "assure the site is cleaned and maintained in a manner that protects human health and the environment," the agency said.

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Super Value Fined for New York Underground Storage Tanks

SPRING VALLEY, New York, November 22, 2004 (ENS) - Super Value Incorporated, the Spring Valley, New York based owner of numerous gas stations throughout New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, has agreed to pay a penalty of $132,500 for violations of federal underground storage tank regulations at 12 of its New York facilities. Super Value is headquartered in Spring Valley, New York.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the agreement on violations that occurred at Super Value owned stations in Monsey, Spring Valley, West Haverstraw, Chester, Yonkers, Middletown, Brewster, New City and Stony Point.

"In areas like central New York where many people particularly those in more rural communities get their drinking water from wells in their backyards, it's essential that tank owners follow EPA's regulations to the letter," said Jane Kenny, EPA regional administrator.

"Gas leaking from underground tanks can contaminate residential wells. These situations are preventable and inexcusable," Kenny said.

As a result of information provided by the company at the EPA's request, the agency determined that 12 gas stations were operating tanks in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The violations included failing to upgrade the tanks by the December 22, 1998 deadline and failing to check for leaks.

Underground storage tanks range in capacity from a few hundred to 50,000 or more gallons, and are used to store gasoline, diesel, heating oil and other fuels, waste oil and hazardous substances at gas stations, marinas, government facilities and large industrial sites.

Leaks from tanks often contaminate the soil around the tanks, and can cause unhealthy gasoline vapors to settle into the basements of private homes and apartment buildings.

Underground storage tanks have historically been the nation's number-one source of ground water contamination, with over 30,000 leaks and spills from tanks reported annually. EPA and state underground storage tank regulations were put in place to prevent releases of petroleum, and, if a release does occur, to insure that it is addressed immediately.

In addition to the financial penalty, Super Value is required to submit proof to the EPA of compliance with all release detection and reporting regulations at all of its New York facilities. Super Value has also agreed to develop and implement a training course on compliance for all its employees responsible for the operation and maintenance of tanks. Failure to comply with these requirements may result in additional penalties.

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U.S. EPA Helps Retrofit Chinese Buses with Clean Diesel

WASHINGTON, DC, November 22, 2004 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), China's State Environmental Protection Administration, the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau and other organizations have begun a project to retrofit a fleet of buses and trucks in China with clean diesel technology.

Environmental impacts of diesel exhaust emissions include its contribution to ozone formation and acid rain. In Beijing alone, close to 1,000 vehicles are being added to the roads each day.

The project parallels the 34 diesel retrofit projects that have been completed with EPA assistance or are currently underway across the United States.

The EPA is committing $250,000 and plus work hours to this demonstration project and other collaborative efforts to reduce emissions of particle pollution and other diesel emissions in China.

"We will share cleaner emissions control technologies and fuels with China as part of EPA's commitment to a cleaner global environment," said EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt. "It helps them and it helps us."

Fine particulate matter and other emissions from older diesel powered trucks and buses contribute to air pollution in Beijing and throughout China and pose serious public health concerns.

Because of the increasing number of vehicles on China's roads, emissions and air pollution are also increasing. By using cleaner fuel and new technologies, which can be installed rapidly and inexpensively on existing vehicles, this retrofit demonstration project is expected to reduce particulate emissions and other air pollutants in an existing diesel vehicle fleet by 40 percent.

As a member of the global Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles, the United States is assisting developing countries to cut emissions from diesel trucks and buses. The EPA establised a retrofit partnership for 20 buses in Mexico in June, and the agency is working on similar projects with Chile, India and Thailand.

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