The poor environmental practices of the former Soviet Union and other eastern European states over many decades is well documented. While these were most glaring for industrial plants and mines, they also spread to agriculture.
One of the lesser-known disasters came from a lack of systems thinking in irrigation. To create vast new areas of irrigated agriculture, the wetlands around lakes were drained to provide water for newly created farms. The unintended consequence was that where water, carrying oxygen, used to flow from the surrounding wetlands into the lake , now the net flow was directed away from the lake.
Lakebeds became desperately short of oxygen, while nutrients, probably from fertiliser runoff, were plentiful at the surface, leading to algae growth. Algae and other organic matter have a high biological oxygen demand and these large blooms further depleted the oxygen content of the lake. The jelly-like material on these eastern European lakebeds is known as sapropel (from the Greek sapros and pelos, meaning putrefaction and mud, respectively), and there is a lot of it.
Sapropel, though very rich in organic material such as algae, humic acid, and some living bacteria, is mostly waterand, luckily, can be easily pumped out. Removal of sapropel helps restore the lake to a place where many species can live. The challenge, however, is to find a use for it.
Romanian billionaire Dinu Patriciu has suggested using it as fuel, and this may yet prove to be commercially viable. But removing the large quantities of water takes energy; the challenge is to work out how to produce more energy than is consumed in retrieving the sapropel from the lakebed.
Another, and very different, approach is being taken by Zander Corporation, a Lancaster-based company. Zander has developed two classes of products from sapropel, which they call AgriZan and ClearEarth. These address several very important needs.
Tests by Zander, and engineers at Stopford Engineering, have shown that ClearEarth has strong binding properties for heavy metals, such as cadmium, lead and mercury. Industrial waste water contaminated with these metals, or water leaching from waste dumps, can be cleansed by flowing through ClearEarth. Further experiments have demonstrated that ClearEarth is a good bioremediation medium (using biological organisms to solve environmenal problems) for soils contaminated with hydrocarbons such as diesel or motor oil. Bioremediation is well established and regulated across Europe for such applications, and a new, effective material is likely to find a ready market.
Equally interesting is the application of AgriZan to improve efficiency of delivering water and nutrients to seeds and young plants. When seeds are growing, they demand water from their surroundings. Even very efficient drip irrigation systems waste water, and most conventional irrigated agriculture is worse, mainly because water is provided whether the plant needs it or not. With a material like sapropel, the water is bound as if in a sponge, and is provided to the plant when it needs it. Nutrients are similarly held and provided on demand. Tests on this material show that its effectiveness in soil seems to last over a very long period, several growing seasons.
A prolonged drought and green tides have resulted in severe pollution along the Nakdong River, one of the country’s four major rivers, turning its water alkaline and dropping the concentration of dissolved oxygen.
In the scorching heat on Wednesday, eight employees of the Nakdong River Environment Research Center and the North Gyeongsang branch of Korea Environment Corporation boarded a water surface cleaning vessel to collect water samples from 10 points located 1 to 5 kilometers (0.6 to 3.1 miles) north of the Gangjeong-Goryeong Weir - a barrier smaller than a conventional dam - in Daegu.
The 30 samples from those spots will be used to conduct a detailed examination of the algal blooms, an assessment first introduced in February by the Ministry of Environment.
Upon reaching the last spot, a reporter from the JoongAng Ilbo who accompanied the researchers made a special request, asking them to measure the dissolved oxygen and pH levels on the water’s surface and at every subsequent meter below.
The pH level at the water’s surface stood at 8.9, a value that reached beyond the scale used for the evaluation of water quality in rivers and lakes, which is between pH 6 and 8.5. The alkalized water was assessed to be “very bad.”
Alkalinity is a measure of water’s capacity to neutralize acidic substances - acidic pollution from wastewater, for example. Water that is too alkaline can harm water quality as well as a river’s ecosystem, causing algal blooms or green tides, and changing the chemistry within a body of water.
Dissolved oxygen at the surface was 10.7 parts per million (ppm), but the level fell sharply to 0.3 ppm eight meters below - indicating that there was barely any oxygen. If the dissolved oxygen level stays lower than 2 ppm, the water quality is considered to be “very bad,” in accordance with evaluation standards, making it uninhabitable for fish and other creatures. The law also stipulates that water evaluated as “very bad” cannot be used for drinking and industrial purposes, even after an advanced water treatment process.
“The water is lacking oxygen not only because of the algal bloom, but also because pollutants dumped into the riverbed by the sporadic rain these days are being decomposed,” said Cheon Se-eok, head of the Nakdong River Environment Research Center.
Environmental organisations have pointed to the number of newly built weirs along Korea’s four major rivers, including the Nakdong River, claiming that they are obstructing the natural flow of the rivers and causing algal blooms.
Directions have been issued to about 48 industrial units polluting River Ganga to close down, the Rajya Sabha was informed on Monday.
The Ministry of Environment & Forests has identified 764 grossly polluting industries discharging 501 million litres per day of waste water into Ganga and its major tributaries, Minister of State for Water Resources and Ganga Rejuvenation Santosh Kumar Gangwar said in his written reply.
"704 industries have been inspected under National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) programme by NGRBA Cell, CPCB till May, 2014. Directions have been issued to 165 industries, of which 48 are closure directions under Section-5 of E(P) Act, 1986," he said.
The State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) are required to implement effluent discharge standards by the industries.
Gangwar said action has to be taken against defaulting industries by SPCBs under powers delegated to them by the Central Government under relevant provisions of Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
To another question on jurisdiction of NGRBA, he said, the Ministry of Environment and Forests has informed that on the recommendations of NGRBA, three power projects - Loharinag Pala, Pala Maneri and Bhaironghati hydro power projects were halted in 2010.
"Further, stage 1B project was also halted in 2010, after National Environment Appellate Authority quashed environmental clearance for the project. In the last three years, no hydro power project has been halted by the Government," Gangwar said.
Replying to a related question, the Minister said,"A comprehensive River Basin Management Plan for Ganga is being prepared by a consortium of seven IITs (Kanpur, Delhi, Madras, Bombay, Kharagpur, Guwahati and Roorkee).
"The objective of the plan is to suggest comprehensive measures for restoration of wholesomeness of Ganga system and improvement of its ecological health, with due regard to the issue of competing water uses in the river basin."
"The plan would take into consideration requirements of water and energy in the Ganga Basin, while ensuring that fundamental aspects of the river system are protected. The IIT consortium is proposing to submit its report by the end of August," he said.
Work to create a £1m wetland habitat on the banks of the Thames near Wallingford has taken a step forward, thanks to an environmental grant.
Environmental charity Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment has donated £10,000 to create the habitat.
It is part of the River of Life project, taking shape on 50 hectares of farmland – the size of 62 football pitches – owned by the Earth Trust. There they are creatung semi-natural habitats to attract wildlife including brown hares, otters, lapwings and skylarks.
Phase one , digging out wetland features along a 2.5km stretch of the river, was completed in December, thanks to support from the Environment Agency.
Earlier this year the second phase started to plant reedbeds, restore wet woodland, and create wildflower meadows.
Chris Parker, head of land management at the Earth Trust, based at Little Wittenham, said: “The new habitats we’re creating and restoring will be beneficial to all sorts of species.”
About 5,000 reed plants have been brought in and over the next two years wildflower meadows and wet woodland areas will be created.
The project last month won a national award from the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM), for Best Practice in Practical Nature Conservation.
Earth Trust director Jayne Manley added: “We’re really pleased our achievements have been recognised.”
Graham Scholey, conservation technical specialist for the Environment Agency, said: “We were so pleased to be able to collaborate closely with the Earth Trust in this major landscape-scale habitat creation project.”
The new habitat will link directly to Little Wittenham Wood, a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest and Special Area of Conservation.
During phase three of the project a new pathway will be created through the area so that visitors can see the new habitats.
Pictured: Earth Trust estate manager Chris Parker, left, with Environment Agency biodiversity officer Jon Woodcock at a reed bed.
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