AmeriScan: September 12, 2002

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Drought Drains Rivers, Reservoirs

WASHINGTON, DC, September 12, 2002 (ENS) - Continuing drought throughout the western United States has depleted river flows and dried up reservoirs in many areas.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation says that while water continues to be delivered in most areas, the storage levels in many Reclamation reservoirs are well below average.

From the Missouri River westward to the Pacific Ocean, one half of the contiguous United States is now experiencing drought conditions. In the Southwest, dry conditions are expected to continue at least through autumn, with most basins in southern Colorado, southern Utah, Arizona and New Mexico reporting less than 50 percent of average seasonal precipitation.

"The reality of this drought has hit farmers, large and small communities, power users, wildlife, boaters and anglers hard," said John Keys, commissioner of Reclamation.

"Westwide, the Bureau of Reclamation's facilities have proved to be the last and best line of defense against the ongoing drought," Keys continued. "For example this year's runoff into the Colorado River and Lake Powell has been only 14 percent of normal."

The Colorado River Basin is experiencing its third consecutive year of below average runoff, Keys noted. At the end of August, Lake Powell was about 60 percent full with 14.6 million acre-feet of water and Lake Mead was about 67 percent full with 17.2 million acre feet stored, and those levels will continue to drop if the drought stretches on as forecasted.

In New Mexico's Rio Grande Basin, the power plant below El Vado Reservoir - used to supply supplemental electricity to Los Alamos National Laboratories - shut down on August 15 due to lack of water.

Seasonal precipitation amounts were near or above normal in parts of the Pacific Northwest, although several basins were below average, including eastern Oregon at 64 percent. In Idaho, the Boise River system is at 61 percent, the Payette River system is at 88 percent, and the Upper Snake River system is at 32 percent, all relative to 30 year averages.

While eastern Oregon experienced the greatest shortages, many water users in the Idaho basins recognized early that there would be a shortage and implemented conservation measures that allowed them to continue to receive water through this year's growing season.

With the exception of most of Texas and Oklahoma and parts of North Dakota and South Dakota, all of the Great Plains states are suffering from severe to exceptional drought. The entire state of Colorado is experiencing extreme drought.

Natural inflows to Bureau reservoirs in the Klamath and Trinity Basins range from 35 percent to less than 10 percent of normal. Farmers in the Klamath Project have been told they need to reduce demand by 10 percent in order to have enough water to get them through the irrigation season. Those reductions would also allow the resumption of water deliveries to the wildlife refuges in the project.

Next week, the American Water Resources Association (AWRA) will hold its first Water Resources Policy Dialogue, focusing on ways to increase the security of water supplies, sustainable water use and drought management, environmental restoration and watershed wide management. The conference will be held September 17-18, 2002 at the Loews L'Enfant Plaza Hotel in Washington, DC.

For more information on the Policy Dialogue visit AWRA's website at:

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Electronics Manufacturers Help Fund Recycling

SACRAMENTO, California, September 12, 2002 (ENS) - Responding to proposed legislation, several electronics manufacturers have created a new program to boost recycling of electronic products.

The Electronics Recycling Shared Responsibility (ERSR) program is intended to bring consumers, municipalities, retailers and electronics manufacturers together to share in the responsibility for managing, reusing and processing obsolete or unwanted consumer electronic products. The program emphasizes proper management of televisions, computers and computer monitors.

Leading electronics manufacturers Panasonic, Sharp and Sony Electronics have partnered with Nxtcycle, a leading recycler of electronic products. The manufacturers will underwrite the costs of recycling their branded products at a variety of one time and ongoing collection efforts in California, Idaho, Utah and other states.

The program was announced after California began forbidding landfills from accepting computer monitors and televisions last year, and two Democratic state senators introduced a bill that would impose fees on new monitors and televisions to help pay for their recycling. Other states are now considering similar legislation, and Representative Mike Thompson, a California Democrat, has introduced a bill before the U.S. Congress to require such fees nationwide.

Growing amounts of electronic waste are overwhelming landfills, where they may leach toxic metals and chemicals into soil and groundwater. Many electronic components are shipped overseas for recycling, where the often end up in toxic dumps with few environmental controls

The ERSR program promotes a self sustaining, community based consumer electronics recycling model. By recycling as many products as possible and using the separated resources in new products, the program returns resources to the production process and reduces demand for virgin raw material.

The program involves electronics manufacturers who will subsidize the processing fees of their respective branded products brought to collection sites by consumers; municipalities that organize collection events or sponsor drop off opportunities at waste processing and management facilities; and consumers who may be asked to pay a modest fee for collection and transportation. Fees for non-participating brands would be higher.

Nxtcycle is working to add additional electronics manufacturers to the program. Additional information on the program, along with a list of scheduled events and drop off locations, is available at:

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Chesapeake Bay Studied for New National Park

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland, September 12, 2002 (ENS) - The National Park Service (NPS) has been asked by Congress to consider whether parts of the Chesapeake Bay should be added to the national park system.

The special resource study will explore if and how the NPS could and should further efforts to celebrate and conserve the Chesapeake. The study will examine whether having additional Chesapeake Bay resources within the national park system would make sense and would advance partnership efforts to conserve the Bay.

The NPS will try to define whether there are concepts or ways that areas of the Bay might fit within the National Park System. Concepts might match existing types of park system units or may be something new and appropriate to the unique resources of the Chesapeake Bay. Or the study may find that it would be inappropriate to create a new unit focused on the Bay.

A final study report will be presented to the NPS in mid-2003, including recommendations regarding potential new park units, for submission to Congress. If creating a unit of the National Park System focused on representative areas of Chesapeake Bay is recommended, moving forward would require legislation passed by Congress and signed by the President.

The study opens with a series of public workshops around the Bay region in September 2002. The workshops - open to all who are interested - will include an overview of initial study concepts, followed by discussion groups with attendees to help develop and refine these or other concepts.

Public workshops will be held from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm at the following locations:

Suggestions, comments and ideas collected at the public workshops and via the study web site at:, will help refine or revise concepts for a draft report. The draft will be presented for discussion and feedback at a second set of public workshops in early 2003.

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Mealybugs May Help Fire Ants Spread

COLLEGE STATION, Texas, September 12, 2002 (ENS) - Invasive mealybugs may be aiding the advance of invasive fire ants, a new study suggests.

While the spread of imported fire ants has received much public attention, another invader has been sucking the juices from plants in lawns and fields: a legless mealybug. Scientists from Texas A&M University have discovered that these bugs may be a key to the success of the infamous invasive fire ants.

The study was launched after the scientists noticed mealybugs and aphids living in underground shelters close to fire ant colonies.

"It seemed clear that there was potentially something important to it all," said coauthor Ken Helms.

Helms and coauthor S. Bradleigh Vinson studied grasses and plants from four sites in east Texas, looking for mealybugs and aphid colonies on or near the base of plants. They took samples of mealybugs and aphids from more than 2,100 shelters around 86 fire ant mounds throughout the spring, summer and fall, when the ants are most active.

With the mass of bugs they collected, they went to work determining how many and what types of aphids and mealybugs were present. During their study, Vinson and Helms also noticed the ants built the shelters for the other insects out of nearby materials on the ground.

The researchers found that almost 70 percent of the biomass collected from the underground shelters near the ant colonies was the invasive mealybug Antonia graminis. These legless creatures, native to Asia, were first noticed in the U.S. in the 1940s, and it is unclear how they entered that country.

The mealybugs now live in more than 80 countries around the world. Native aphids and other native varieties of mealybugs, some with legs, others without, were found in the shelters too, but nowhere near the amount of the legless invader.

The researchers are not sure why the ants build shelters for other insects. Some of the colonies of imported fire ants were observed tending these insects on plants, without shelters. Such a symbiotic relationship may allow the ants to feed without the dangers associated with crossing across the ground outside to reach aphid and mealybug colonies on exposed plants, and also protect the aphids and mealybugs from predation.

Using previous studies of other ant-aphid relations, Helms and Vinson determined about how much honeydew, or energy, the aphids and mealybugs would produce for the ants. They discovered that an average of 32 percent of the daily energy for a fire ant colony comes from A. graminis alone.

Vinson and Helms investigated this link further by surveying sites throughout the southeastern U.S. They discovered similar relationships between the ants' shelter building and mealybugs.

"Associations between some invasive species might be crucial to their success. Because of human commerce, species are frequently transported outside their native ranges, but very few actually become established at their new location, and of those, very few become successful enough to be considered invasive," Helms said. "Both S. invicta and A. graminis are major invasive species, and our study shows that their association could be an important factor in explaining their success in the southeast United States."

The study, "Widespread association of the invasive ant Solenopsis invicta with an invasive mealybug," appears in the September issue of the journal "Ecology."

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Catalysts Make Natural Gas Buses Cleaner

LOS ANGELES, California, September 12, 2002 (ENS) - Transit buses powered by low emission compressed natural gas (CNG) can be made even cleaner with oxidation catalyst controls, shows a study by the California Air Resources Board.

"This study confirms that overall emissions from CNG buses continue to be cleaner than diesel engines that use low sulfur fuel and particulate traps," said Barry Wallerstein, executive officer of the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), which handles air pollution control for Orange County and major portions of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

"Further development of emissions controls for CNG buses should make them cleaner yet," added Wallerstein. "We are on the right track in promoting the use of CNG and other alternative fuel vehicles in our region to reduce air pollution."

In tests conducted on two CNG transit buses equipped with oxidation catalysts, CARB scientists found their nitrogen oxide emissions to be about 50 percent less than diesel buses fueled with low sulfur diesel and equipped with a particulate trap.

Nitrogen oxide emissions contribute to the formation of ground level ozone and fine particulate matter, or PM10. Those are the southern California region's two worst pollutants, associated with health effects including increased hospitalizations, worsened asthma symptoms and premature deaths.

The CNG bus had comparable emissions to the diesel bus for particulate matter mass and total number of "ultrafine" particles. PM10 particles are smaller than 10 microns - one micron is one millionth of one meter - or about one-seventh the diameter of a human hair. Ultrafine particles are five to 100 nanometers in diameter - one nanometer is one billionth of one meter - and can be inhaled deep into the lungs.

CNG buses, either with or without oxidation catalysts, also have lower emissions of carbon dioxide than diesel buses. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

Compared to a diesel bus, the CNG bus did have higher emissions of aldehydes, a class of compounds including formaldehyde, but the test methodology used is not considered adequate to measure this low level of concentration, Wallerstein said.

The two CNG buses tested had engines and catalysts made by different manufacturers. In the carbon monoxide emissions test, one CNG bus had higher emissions and the other had equivalent emissions as the diesel bus, indicating that a catalyst can be tuned to reduce carbon monoxide emissions to very low levels.

AQMD is now sponsoring research with major engine manufacturers to further reduce emissions from natural gas engines, and to further optimize the emissions reduction performance of oxidation catalysts on CNG vehicles. The agency plans to sponsor research to develop particulate traps as well as cleaner lubrication oils for CNG vehicles.

CARB's study is available at:

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Critical Habitat Designation for Piping Plover

WASHINGTON, DC, September 12, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has designated critical habitat for the Northern Great Plains population of piping plover, a threatened shorebird.

The designation includes 183,422 acres of habitat and 1,207.5 river miles in Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska.

Designated areas of critical habitat include prairie alkali wetlands and surrounding shoreline; river channels and associated sandbars and islands; reservoirs and inland lakes and their shorelines, peninsulas and islands. These areas provide primary courtship, nesting, foraging, sheltering, brood rearing and dispersal habitat for piping plovers.


A piping plover guards three eggs on a shallow nest scraped into the sand. (Photo courtesy USFWS)
"The Service designated only those lands that we determined were essential to the plover's conservation based on the best scientific information currently available," said Ralph Morgenweck, the USFWS director for the Mountain-Prairie region. "We will continue working cooperatively with landowners to conserve prairie habitat and prairie species including the piping plover."

Critical habitat identifies specific geographic areas that are essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and which may require special management considerations. Its designation affects activities where federal funding or a federal permit are involved.

The USFWS excluded a total of 13,154.5 acres and 130.5 river miles that had been proposed as critical habitat for the piping plover in June 2001. The North Dakota National Guard property on Lake Coe was excluded because the Camp Grafton Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan provides enough benefits for piping plovers, the USFWS said.

The agency also excluded 15 alkali lakes and wetlands in North Dakota and Montana after additional review of all of the data found they did not meet the survey criteria for numbers of times birds were found at sites. Nelson Reservoir was excluded because a Memorandum of Understanding between the Bureau of Reclamation, the USFWS and local irrigation districts, and a biological opinion are in place to help manage and conserve piping plovers.

Lake Francis Case was removed because additional information obtained during the comment period indicated piping plovers did not nest in this area. Also, operations of this lake make the availability of habitat during the nesting season very limited.

The area designated along the Platte River was reduced by 23 miles and the Niobrara River was reduced by nine miles after review of additional information received during the comment period.

A description of the critical habitat designation, including maps, is available at:

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EPA, Black Officers Address Environmental Crimes

WASHINGTON, DC, September 12, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) have created a training and public awareness partnership to address environmental criminal issues.

The partnership was conceived after President George W. Bush issued a challenge to law enforcement officials to address environmental criminal issues cooperatively. The president called for greater team work in addressing environmental criminal issues and for increased knowledge of environmental crime enforcement techniques.

The partnership with NOBLE will assist in combating environmental crimes in economically disadvantaged areas. The EPA will conduct an environmental criminal enforcement educational program for NOBLE members, which will include formal training on detecting, responding to and investigating environmental crimes, including illegal asbestos removal, lead paint hazards and illegal hazardous waste dumping.

More than 100 black police chiefs will receive the specialized training from the EPA early next year. The campaign will also distribute brochures titled: "Learn the Signs of Environmental Crime."

The EPA and NOBLE believe the partnership will increase awareness in minority communities, and will increase participation in enforcement activities among minority law enforcement officers.

"Those who have committed environmental crimes in disadvantaged neighborhoods often did so with an intolerable sense of impunity," said John Peter Suarez, assistant EPA administrator for enforcement and compliance. "We will work closely with NOBLE and local officials and communities to ensure compliance equality in communities that have born the brunt of environmental degradation for too long."

Poor communities hold a disproportionate number of toxic waste sites, polluting industries and other sites that may contaminate the environment. The environmental justice movement works to provide equal justice and equal protection under all environmental statutes and regulations without discrimination based on race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status.

From 1994 to 2000, the EPA addressed 914 justice related environmental crimes. In addition to this partnership, the agency has joint state/local partnerships that operate as multi-agency task forces and include law enforcement officers from all levels of government. These task forces often address environmental justice related environmental crimes.

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Model Solar Homes Entered in National Contest

WASHINGTON, DC, September 12, 2002 (ENS) - College students around the country are completing 14 custom designed solar powered homes for a competition and display in Washington DC.

The houses will be transported to the nation's capital for the Department of Energy's (DOE) first Solar Decathlon, a team competition among universities to design and build the most energy efficient solar powered homes. To win the Solar Decathlon, a team must blend aesthetics and modern conveniences with maximum energy production and efficiency.

"The Department of Energy is proud to sponsor the first ever Solar Decathlon, a university competition that brings together our nation's brightest minds to demonstrate practical ways of producing and using energy efficiently in the home," said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. "President Bush and I are committed to helping students and consumers make winning decisions about how they use energy. Because when we power our lives with clean energy, we protect our own future. And when we protect our future, we are all winners."

The Solar Decathlon will be held on the National Mall from September 26 to October 5. Sponsors of the contest, in addition to DOE, include BP Solar, The Home Depot, EDS, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

"Each of the unique homes that will comprise the Solar Village on the National Mall marks a significant step forward in innovative residential design, and advanced, energy efficient engineering," Abraham added. "These exciting new concepts demonstrate that we can have comfortable and appealing homes that use only energy from the sun. That's an important contribution to our nation's energy security and to our environment."

Each house, limited to about 500 square feet for purposes of the competition, will be judged on 10 criteria to determine which most efficiently employs solar energy for heating, cooling, hot water, lighting, appliances, computers and charging an electric car. A jury of world renowned architects will evaluate the attractiveness, livability and effectiveness of each home's design, while experts from DOE and NREL will measure each home's energy production and use.

The Solar Decathlon gives architecture and engineering students practical experience with the design and construction of solar powered, energy efficient buildings. DOE provided each team with a $5,000 stipend toward the construction of their solar house. The teams are raising the rest of the money they need to design, construct and transport the houses to Washington, DC.

The Solar Decathlon will be open to the public. Exhibits with information on each team's home, the contest and renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies will be adjacent to the Solar Decathlon village on the Mall.

For more information on the Solar Decathlon, visit: