Roundup Tuesday August 25, 2009

1.  Killing bears to save bears—Bill Schneider, 8/19/09

Using “the good of the one is outweighed by the good of the many”, a Spock quote from

Star Trek:  The Wrath of Khan, Schneider describes the management of grizzly bears in Glacier National Park as a necessity.  He describes a recent pursuit of a female named Old Man Bear above Two Medicine Lake and beneath Rising Wolf Mountain’s peak.  Old Man Bear became famous for a decade’s worth of spooking the hikers around Oldman Lake, “getting bolder and bolder, and anybody in the bear management biz knows there’s no such thing as an old bold bear,” Schneider says.

“Rangers even tried aversive conditioning (ie chased her with Karelian bear dogs, shot her with rubber bullets, and other non-lethal stimuli), but that didn’t cure her of her chronic bad behavior.  She came back bolder than ever.”  Schneider says sometimes bears need to be killed for the sake of other bears as well as people.  “You think rangers enjoy shooting a mother bear with cubs?  Every ranger I ever met reveres bears.”

The tough part he says is placing the cubs in captivity.  “I personally would prefer the rangers shoot them, too, to save them from a lifetime of exile in a big city zoo.”  He says most bear incidents are due to conditioning or habituation brought on by human presence, especially handouts and careless camping.  “The Old Man Bear had been walking through occupied campsites, sniffing backpacker’s dinners, following hikers up the trail like a lost dog.  This bear was clearly a time bomb waiting to explode.”

“You could easily speculate that if rangers would have killed those two female bears in July 1967 before they killed and consumed two young women, well, we wouldn’t have had the Night of the Grizzlies, and two women who didn’t need to die might be joyfully playing with their grandchildren today,” Schneider mused.  He goes on to recount a “horrible” incident from September 1976 that left a young woman camping in Glacier in the Swiftcurrent vehicle campground mutilated and dead.  He says that though the 1967 incident changed the way the National Park Service managed bears, many were still reticent to kill bears.

The epitaph to Old Man Bear arrived while he was writing this commentary.  Old Man was killed along with another cub that died during darting and transplanting, though mouth to nose CPR was attempted on the cub.  “Now we have only one grizzly given a life sentence without parole of gawking tourists for entertainment and horse pellets for dinner,” Schneider added.

Quoting park superintendent Chas Cartwright from a national park press release, “Unfortunately this entire family group of grizzly bears had become overly familiar with humans.  Park resource personnel worked to keep this bear and her offspring in the wild for five years, but given her most recent display of over-familiarity in combination with her history of habituation, we determined that the three grizzlies posed an unacceptable threat to human health and safety; and therefore, needed to be removed from the park.”

Schneider pointed out that young grizzlies learn many behaviors from their mother.  He says zoos won’t take adult grizzlies.  His relief and preference for the deaths of the grizzlies is underscored by his attitude.  As for the one headed to the Bronx Zoo, “I say, please forgive us.  Hopefully the essence of wildness is not too deeply imprinted on this little brain.”

He says the only reason grizzlies exist on earth is because we allow them, and our tolerance is due to the limited number of maulings that have occurred, though “thousands of people hike the trails of Glacier every year, and many of them come within the “defensive perimeter” of a grizzly bear, usually without even knowing it”.  Schneider adds “I attribute this…mostly to the incredible intelligence and stealth of the creature that so expertly avoids encounters without giving up its spot on top of the food chain, the king of the mountains, the majestic grizzly bear.”

2.  New poll:  Water pipeline backed in county—Henry Brean, Las Vegas Review-Journal 8/20/09

The poll shows Las Vegas valley residents favor the pipeline that would bring water from eastern Nevada.  The poll conducted by the Review-Journal showed 52% of 400 Nevadans surveyed supported the pipeline, though support outside of Clark County sat at but 13%.  The Southern Nevada Water Authority will vote Thursday whether or not to continue to move ahead with the project.

“I see a vote of no confidence on the pipeline in Las Vegas and overwhelmingly statewide,” Executive Director Bob Fulkerson of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada replied.   The liberal advocacy group opposes the project.  Water authority General Manager Pat Mulroy said “Anybody who has been out to Lake Mead and seen what it looks like is worried.  It’s a visceral reaction to that very large bathtub ring out there.”

Mulroy and others fear a pending water shortage for Las Vegas.  With 90% of Las Vegas Valley water drawn from Lake Mead and the Colorado, and Mead’s water levels fallen during an existing drought 100 feet over the past decade, severe cuts could be triggered.  Experts say another 19 feet of loss in Mead would trigger severe cuts for Las Vegas.

If the pipeline is built, it would supply enough water for nearly 270,000 homes.  Across the state 26% were undecided about the project, while in Clark County only 19% were undecided, and the rest of Nevada showed 40% were undecided.  Washington DC-based Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc. polled Nevada residents who said they regularly vote in state elections.  Results carry a plus or minus 5% margin of error.  Sample sizes pushed margin of error in Clark County to 6% and 9% across the state.

“The fairest thing to say is the state is pretty much split,” pollster Brad Coker said.   “Water has always been a big issue in Nevada and other Western states.  People don’t want to give it up because it is considered a fairly precious resource that is in limited supply.”  A White Pine County commissioner said the more Nevadans find out about costs and the unreliable science used to support the pipeline, the more likely they would be to oppose it.

Fulkerson added that much of Clark County support had been garnished by the water authority’s “public relations effort saying if we don’t do this, we’re all going to die,” and may prove soft when all the figures are finalized.  He wants to see the pipeline go to statewide ballot for approval.  “If they don’t, they can’t keep saying it’s for the good of the state.”

3.  World youth tell leaders to clean up—Reuters 8/20/09

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) organized an international gathering of young people and children aged 10 to 24 years in Deajeon, South Korea this week to share concerns over climate change in preparation for December’s UN climate conference in Copenhagen.  Around 700 individuals from over two dozen countries participated in the event.

“We young people—3 billion of the world population—are very concerned and frustrated that our governments are not doing enough to combat climate change…we feel that radical and holistic measures are needed urgently from us all,” the youth said.  They called for more action and less talk.  The Copenhagen conference will attempt to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which set limits on greenhouse gas emissions that are considered largely responsible for global warming.

“We are the generation of tomorrow.  The decisions that are made today will define our future and the world we have to live in.  So we young people of the world urge governments to commit to a strong post-Kyoto climate regime.  It is our lives we are talking about,” delegate Anne Walraven said.

The kids call for governments to enforce stern regulations against polluters, create independently-monitored carbon regulation plans and promote green fuels.  “Make engaging environmental education mandatory in schools and universities and promote community environmental awareness—an informed public is a powerful public,” another statement read.

UNEP has planned to sponsor rallies in 100 capitals to pressure leaders to confront climate change.  The campaign has been titled “Seal the Deal!”

4.  Washington forests may be solution to state’s green-energy quest—Sandra Hines, University of Washington News 8/20/09

A recent University of Washington School of Forest Resources report commissioned by the Washington Legislature points to woody biomass as perhaps the state’s best biofuel opportunity, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and foreign oil dependency.  In addition, the report favors biomass fuels for transportation over electricity generation.  Woody biomass is made up of discarded material left from harvest or manufacturing of wood products, including materials from forest thinning and plantation-grown cottonwood tree refuse.

Three distinct advantages are attributed to woody biomass, though the report specifies that any alternative energy source should place well in all three categories to warrant further consideration.  Sustainability is the first key, a continuing renewable resource.  Washington leads the US in woody biomass availability, possessing 1/20th of the nation’s identified inventory.  At 11 million available tons annually, supply is more than abundant.

Energy independence is the second key advantage.  Washington already sports low electricity rates as well as the cleanest electricity in the nation while generating more than enough for export to other states.  All oil on the other hand is imported for use.  Biofuels could be manufactured locally from local resources, lowering dependence on out-of-state resources.

Climate change mitigation is the third key advantage.  Half the state’s CO2 emissions come from the transportation sector, far more than power plants produce in the state.  Biofuels are considered carbon-neutral.  State incentives and regulations that promote woody biomass for electrical generation should be reconsidered, the report advises.

Director of Olympic Natural Resources Center and study co-author John Calhoun said “Woody biomass is the only renewable, clean resource available in Washington that can make a significant contribution toward our energy policy goals.”  With the forest industry, pulp and paper mills already in place, a large capital investment in the resource to biofuels process is already squared away.  New investments would integrate pulp and paper mills with biofuels processing to improve efficiency.  The mills already have transportation, workforce, water supplies and treatment plants to offer.

Find the report:  “Wood to Energy in Washington:  Imperatives, Opportunities and Obstacles to Progress

5.  Oil industry details costs of climate bill—Angel Gonzalez, Wall Street Journal 8/24/09

In an industry-commissioned study intended for use in opposition to the proposed climate bill, findings say the legislation will severely cut domestic fuel production.  By 2030, refining production could fall 17% off of current levels.  Foreign dependency for refined fuel could double to 19.4%.

American Petroleum Institute hired EnSys Energy, a refining sector consulting specialist, to develop the report, considered the first view of the bill’s potential impact on the sector.  Refiners already have suffered due to recession-based fall in demand.  As per-gallon vehicle mileage increases and biofuels are developed, experts say demand will continue to decline.  At least one refinery is expected to be shuttered due to weak demand.

The Waxman-Markey climate bill’s cap and trade fees for greenhouse-gas emissions like CO2, along with additional fees tacked on for exceeding allowed emissions, are considered lethal to the industry.  Refiners would be required to obtain permits for almost half of US CO2 emissions, while only 2.25% of emissions allowances would be available to the industry, Gonzalez reported.  The electricity industry fared better with a larger share of allowances.

API’s president said the industry sought equity.  The study dismissed nuclear and new technology, suggesting doubts over widespread potential.  An international cap and trade program was also neglected in the study, which found that levying a price on carbon emissions would jack up refiner costs while lowering demand.

The study predicts refining would drop to 12 million barrels per day by 2030, down from 14.5 million per day at today’s levels.  Without nuclear power development, carbon emissions reduction technology and a robust international offset program, projections estimate refinery utilization could drop to 63.4%, down from current 83% production levels.

6.  UTA, Salt Lake City launches community share vehicle program—Nineva Dinha, Fox 13 News Salt Lake City 8/23/09,0,584525.story?track=rss

U Car Share opens around the University of Utah and Salt Lake City.  The video includes clips from Mayor Ralph Becker and U Haul/Car Share’s owner.  A membership card is necessary, though the $25 one-time fee will be waved if you apply between now and October 30.

7.  Tracy Aviary renovations move forward—Tony Jones, SLT 8/24/09

The aviary, dating back to 1938, intends to spend $19.6 million authorized by a November ballot on ambitious upgrades within the next 3 years.  Many problems will have to be dealt with to improve the facility’s attractiveness to patrons over winter months.  Drainage at the Liberty Park facility is poor, many buildings are old and weathered, open space for free roaming birds is cramped, and the entrance is considered difficult to find.

New indoor rainforest exhibits featuring the birds and habitat of Mexico and Panama will be added to the aviary.  When the badly dilapidated Wilson Pavilion is fully renovated, it will host winter aviary visitation.  The entry plaza will enjoy renovation and new shows and education facilities are planned.  “We have to get it done because we suffer a steep decline in attendance after Pioneer Day.  In the winter months, there are days when our visitor count is literally in the single digits,” project consultant Paul Svendsen said.

8.  Kirby:  Getting buggy in the desert—Robert Kirby, SLT 8/23/09

Kirby heads into the West Desert with Sonny and finds a trilobite dig site, opening the both up to Cambrian history and fossil hunting.

9.  Little-known agency helps map and build trails in Utah—Mark Havnes, SLT 8/23/09

The Rivers Trails and Conservation Assistance Program (RTCAP) is contributing to trail upgrades in Brian Head located in Iron County, Utah.  A trails master plan is facilitating identification, mapping and marking of the town’s hiking, biking, horse and motorized trail system.  Four other communities are being served by RTCAP, a National Park Service extension service.

When done, the Brian Head system will connect with Dixie National Forest and Cedar Breaks National Monument trails.  Around $15,000 in in-kind services has been offered by RTCAP and the organization will help locate trailheads, kiosks and signs.  Brian Head was one of 5 from a pool of 12 that won organizational support this year.  Selection criteria included the engagement of youth and support by ongoing government agency partnerships, such as ones that promote the health benefits of trail use.  Moab’s Lions Park was another winner.

The executive director of the Moab Trails Alliance said “We’re taking the most underutilized real estate in the county and making it a showcase getaway to the community.” She currently describes the site as looking like “nuclear fallout.”  Trails on the 155-acre plot will eventually connect with the Colorado Riverway Bridge, Arches National Park and along the Colorado River.

10.  Living History:  People have a way of turning bears into, well, animals—Pat Bagley, SLT 8/22/09

As a requiem to the killing of 7 black bears in Utah since July 1, Bagley recounts a brief history of human-bear relationships in Utah since 1848.  That year, he says a “varmint hunt” was organized on Christmas to get rid of “wasters and destroyers”.  The list included bears, wolves, wildcats, catamounts (cougars), pole cats, minks, panthers, eagles, hawks, owls, ravens and magpies.

1888 saw the Utah Territorial Legislature authorized a bounty for “obnoxious animals” such as bears.  The highest bounty year was 1915 at 200 bears.  Bagley says wolves and bears both were eventually extirpated from Utah, including the most famous and last of the Utah grizzlies, Old Ephraim.  Ephraim was killed by a shepherd in Logan Canyon in 1923, but many old bullet wounds suggested the bear’s tenacity.

Bagley says black bears were named a protected species by the Legislature in 1967.  Still, the fish and game department allowed kills without license to residents and non-residents alike up to 1970 save for during the 11-day deer hunting season.  That year, a $1 permit was initiated.  1999 saw the Department of Wildlife Resources develop a black bear management plan for the bear’s protection.  Around 300 permits are offered per year, and 2008’s take was 134 animals.

Current estimates of the bear population hover around 3,000.  The problem is not more bears, but the encouragement bears get from humans to lose their fear of people.  More important, their recognition that with people there’s food.  Campsite food lockers that are not secured and handouts encourage the shift from ranging animal to menace.

11.  McEntee:  Arguments about Snake Valley water turn to dust under local scrutiny—Peg McEntee, SLT 8/22/09

McEntee spends time with cattle rancher Cecil Garland of Callao in the Snake Valley.  After a well endowed lunch the two head off with Trib photographer Rick Egan to get Garland’s picture of current water conditions in the valley and predicted conditions if Las Vegas wins the right to build its pipeline.  Garland, 83, has been ranching in the valley since 1973.

Garland attended Thursday’s public hearing on the Utah-Nevada water deal in Las Vegas, hosted by the Southern Nevada Water Authority.  Speaking of the rush to finalize plans ahead of rising opposition, Garland said “I think they can see the fire coming over the hill on this thing.”  Garland calls the valley “one of the driest valleys in the driest area of the United States.  The springs are drying up or have dried up, the artesian wells have dried up or already have dried up, the water table is falling and the vegetation is already under stress and suffering.”

On the tour of his holdings, Garland pointed out an old swimming hole that has turned into a dried, reed-filled depression.  They looked over a field of greasewood, many dead, which McEntee identifies as a native species and “monitor for the land’s condition.”  Garland tells his life history.  He continues with a brief natural history of Lake Bonneville, with soil of “decayed vegetable matter and bird poop”, peat soil that is highly flammable and can burn continuously for months.

Garland points out the Deep Creek Range, with 12,000 foot peaks and melting snow he calls ‘new water’, as opposed to the old water dating to the Ice Age he says underlies the aquifer.  He adds the pressure the two make together is what makes the springs.  Speaking of the ecological system, he said “The only thing about it is you start tearing one piece of it apart, and it’s like raveling out a sweater, it just keeps coming apart”.  Garland doesn’t believe there is any chance that valley ecology, ranchers and residents will survive a Las Vegas water grab.

12.  ‘Earth Days’ movie opens to acclaim—Gerri Miller, Mother Nature Network 8/24/09

ESR editor’s note—The Mother Nature Network says on its “About” page that it is a “one stop resource and an everyman’s eco-guide offering original programs, articles, blogs, videos and how-to guides along with breaking news stories.”

Earth Days, Robert Stone’s Oscar-nominated documentary inspired by the first Earth Day in 1970, comes from a long-standing interest in the environment, Stone said in an interview with Mother Nature Network (MNN).  “I’m not an environmental activist who has made a film, I’m a filmmaker who has made a film about environmental activism,” Stone said.  His first environmental film was Pollution, made when he was 12.

Stone said he started thinking about Earth Days around the time An Inconvenient Truth was released, a time he characterized by renewed interest in the environment, increased focus on climate change, anticipation for the end of the Bush era and renewed governmental activism for these and other problems.  “It struck me that young people, who knew nothing about how we’d arrived at this point, seemed very confused about where to go from here.”

The root problem, Stone said, is not climate change.  Stone reflected on his own childhood, “when there was this huge interest in the environment and we were starting to address some of the root causes of our problems.  It seemed to be a history that was largely forgotten”.  Stone added that the impetus for his film was that to understand where we should go, we have to understand how we got here.

The personal stories of the people who actually “lived it and made it all happen” were important to Stone.  He says he wanted to “explain the psychology of this generation that went forth into the 1960’s with this strong desire to remake the world that they lived in.”  Rachel Carson and Silent Spring figured prominently.  “My mom read me that book when I was eight years old and it had a profound effect on me.  So did Earth Day and seeing images of Earth from space.”

Commenting on his process with archival footage, Stone said “When I make a film I see absolutely everything related to the subject.  I watch it all at high speed on videotape and when I see something I like I pick it out.  You have to go through so much crap to get those few little gems” for the basis of a good movie.  Responding to a question about how he was reaching a broad audience, Stone said “It’s very much a movie that I hope is visually engaging and stimulating and enjoyable but also has an important message to it that hopefully can help people put the stuff they’re hearing every day into a broader context.”

Stone says our most pressing environmental issues are not so different from “the ones we faced 30 years ago, before we turned our back on the environment.”  Production and use of energy as well as the problems associated with free market problem-solving for sustainable issues figured prominently in his reply.  “GM built an electric Corvair in 1967 that was in many ways better than the Chevy Volt,” Stone lamented.

In response to the question of whether or not he was hopeful about the environmental movement, Stone said “I have to be, because there’s no real alternative to being hopeful.  This is the only planet we have and this is the future for my kids and grandkids.”  Stone said a real epiphany for the environmental movement came when images of the Earth returned from space, when people recognized “we’re all in the same boat together and we all need to care for this planet and we can’t go on raping and pillaging it.  A real change took place.”  Stone called the environmental protection measures of the 1970’s a real bipartisan effort “until it got caught up in the culture wars and incited a backlash with the rise of the conservative movement and Ronald Reagan.”

“The public at large tuned out, thinking the EPA is taking care of it; they can write their checks to the Sierra Club every once in a while and go on with their lives,” Stone reflected.  He hopes environmental activists come away from the movie with the idea that “amazing change can happen when people set their mind to it and put pressure on their leaders…But we can encounter terrible setbacks if it’s not a grassroots, bottom-up movement.”

Commenting on his personal carbon footprint reduction strategy, Stone mentioned the basics:  efficient light bulbs, recycling, composting, buying local food.  He’s made efficiency modifications to the old house he owns in New York.  Speaking to the political nature of such choices, Stone said “a person who will take the time and trouble to buy a more efficient car, insulate their home, and make a few sacrifices is the kind of person who will vote for somebody who’s promoting a carbon tax or gas tax…what we really need are large systemic changes that are going to come about through the political process.”

13.  Conservation groups ask judge to block wolf hunts—AP, SLT 8/21/09

Earthjustice filed a request Thursday for 13 groups to block fall wolf hunts in Idaho and Montana.  An ongoing lawsuit by environmental groups wants federal Endangered Species Act protection returned for the protection of wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountain states.  Idaho Department of Fish and Game Commission OK’d 220 permits for the season beginning in September, while Montana has allowed for 75 permits.

14.  Corps of Engineers extends pipeline comment deadline—AP, SLT 8/21/09

The $3 billion pipeline, proposed by Colorado entrepreneur as a private enterprise, would haul water from the Green River’s Flaming Gorge in Wyoming to Colorado’s Front Range, perhaps as far south as Pueblo, Colo.  One reason for extending the comment period until September 28 was that over 40 requests have been made to US Army Corps of Engineers, the federal body responsible for the environmental study of the project which includes public comment, from agencies and organizations that want to serve as cooperating agencies in the study.

The town of Green River and Sweetwater County are two such organizations seeking cooperative agency status.  The Corps’ spokeswoman said the Corps hoped to consolidate some of these requests to a single point of contact.  The pipeline is expected to transport around 250,000 acre-feet of water per year, already designated as Colorado water shares under the Colorado River compacts.

Entrepreneur Aaron Million of Fort Collins, Colo. says he already has buyers such as municipalities and agricultural users for the water in Colorado and Wyoming.  The Corps has told Million he must release their names and locations within six months.  Strong opposition to the pipeline in Sweetwater County where Flaming Gorge lays hinges on fears the pipeline will adversely impact local businesses as well as fish and wildlife.

US Fish and Wildlife has said the analysis will have to consider impacts on several species.  And Wyoming’s governor opposes the pipeline.  Million, who claims the project is necessary to confront water shortages along the Front Range, has said if the environmental review suggests harm to the river or communities he would drop the project.

15.  Herbert:  Utah’s future is tied to energy development—Robert Gehrke, SLT 8/21/09

Newly appointed Governor Gary Herbert believes all Utah’s energy resources should be developed; coal, oil, renewables and nuclear power.  “I would hope that we could understand the benefits and the appropriate role and place for nuclear power, too, and I think the market would allow that to happen,” Herbert recently said.

Herbert believes Utahns would be more receptive to storing spent nuclear fuel from its own plants in Utah.  “If we produced our own energy, if it was an economic benefit to the people, if we had our own nuclear power plant,” Herbert expounded, “I don’t think people would be nearly as concerned if we were producing energy here and storing our own nuclear spent rods, as opposed to bringing them in from outside the state and storing them.”  Years and millions of dollars have been spent fighting the importation of nuclear waste from power plants to the Skull Valley storage facility.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu believes the US has thrown away 31 years without pursuing nuclear power, according to Herbert.  Still, Herbert believes the market will make the final determination of whether there will be nuclear power in Utah.  Former legislator and CEO of Transition Power Development Aaron Tilton, seeking to license reactors in Emery County, believes nuclear is a good market bet due to its long-term stable supply and lower likelihood of price fluctuations.

Herbert spoke Friday to the Utah Mining Association, saying “Utah is and will be at the forefront of what has been called the energy makeover of our country.”  Energy development was listed as one of Herbert’s top priorities in his inaugural speech, though plans have not been discussed.  Herbert sees work with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to assure developers will have access to resources underneath federal lands.

Speaking against renewable, geothermal and hydro-electric as central energy providers, Herbert said “The math just doesn’t work,” adding that oil, gas and coal must remain in the picture.  Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, expects Herbert to be more open to traditional energy development than former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.  Huntsman called for renewable energy development and carbon emissions caps.

“I think he’s more apt to listen to other voices than just the Al Gore lobby,” Noel replied.  He believes Herbert will remain vigilant for federal climate legislation that could hurt Utah’s dependency for power on coal.  Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance’s Stephen Bloch is hoping Herbert will take a “balanced approach to energy development.”

Bloch said he expects Herbert to explore renewable opportunities while supporting “conventional energy development where it’s appropriate,” pointing to the Uinta Basin, coal bed methane fields near Price and other existing development.  Bloch is hopeful that Herbert will avoid “flashpoints” like Nine Mile Canyon and Desolation Canyon deemed too sensitive for development.

16.  Feds award grants for irrigation pipelines in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming—AP, SLT 8/20/09

The grants will help irrigation companies in Daggett, Duchesne and Emery counties in Utah deliver water more efficiently and lower evaporation rates.  $11 million across the three states was awarded in part to reduce the 9 million tons of salt discharged into the Colorado River yearly.

17.  Comment period extended on Snake Valley aquifer deal—Patty Henetz, SLT 8/20/09

The comment period on the controversial Utah-Nevada water share deal for the Snake River Valley has been extended through September 30.  Utah Department of Resources Executive Director Mike Styler said most comments received to date have called for more time.  [Specifics of the deal can be found in editions of the Environmental and Sustainability Roundup over the past two weeks—ESR editor.]

The Southern Nevada Water Authority voted Thursday to continue to pursue a 285-mile pipeline from the aquifer and other nearby regions to boost Las Vegas’ water supply.  In addition, the authority hosted some 300 people in the final public hearing for the two state water share deal just a week after secret negotiations were finalized and made public.

Specific controversies include the fact that while the US Geological Survey estimated the aquifer’s available water at 132,000 acre-feet, accuracy was estimated at only 67%.  In addition, division of un-allocated water favors Las Vegas over Utah 7 to 1, though the Snake Valley lies mostly in Utah.  Utah legislators responded “warily” to the proposed agreement on Wednesday, concerned over the deal favoring Nevada and potential threats to water and air quality.  The upshot was that the deal shouldn’t be rushed.

18.  Great Salt Lake stands out—for mercury pollution—Judy Fahys, SLT 8/20/09

The US Geological Survey’s (USGS) extensive, recently completed report on mercury pollution in freshwater streams, lakes and wetlands across the nation did not include the Great Salt Lake (GSL)—a salt water body.  Still, a Utah-based geochemist with the USGS said it offered a “good guideline to compare ourselves to.”  Geochemist David Naftz called GSL “anomalous”, extremely high compared to data in the recent study, which showed every fish in the 291 specimen sample contaminated with mercury.

The comprehensive national data underlines high mercury contamination identified in GSL for a number of years.  Saltiness, low oxygen, sulfur and dissolved organic carbons contribute to the chemical reaction in bodies of water that converts mercury to methyl mercury, which travels up the food chain.  GSL on average showed twice the mercury levels found in over 90% of waterways surveyed nationwide.  Open waters showed up to 38 times more of the toxin than 97% of waters surveyed, and a recent wetlands sample near GSL showed over 6 times the amount found in 97% of the samples.

With 9-12 million migratory birds per year stopping by or calling GSL-area wetlands home, up-chain travel of the toxin is of especial concern.  Methyl mercury is known to cause neurological damage in humans ranging from speech impediments to IQ and other behavioral impacts.  After Naftz team identified levels of the toxin warranting high concern, Utah Division of Wildlife Services, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Utah State University, University of Utah and the US Environmental Protection Agency joined to study mercury in the lake.

Following advisories that have been established for consumption of freshwater fish in lakes and rivers statewide, mercury advisories for the Common Goldeneye, Cinnamon Teal and Northern Shoveler bird species have been issued, warning against consumption, especially for women and children.  The Great Salt Lake has no fish.

Nafitz seeks to contextualize the data in a hemispheric perspective.  Recent data corresponds to plant and animal life on the lake.  Initial findings should be made public in a few months.  The assessment could answer questions such as whether mercury is entering Utah from Nevada’s gold mines and whether Common Goldeneye ducks have been especially receptive to methyl mercury uptake.


19.  Current population growth not sustainable—A. Robert Thurman, retired Utah Public Service Commission judge, natural resources attorney and former Trib staffer, SLT 8/21/09

20.  Country needs uranium mines for power, jobs—Alan D. Gardner, James J. Eardley, Dennis Drake, Washington County Commissioners, SLT 8/22/09

21.  Urban Farming—Tribune Editorial, SLT 8/23/09


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