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In The News: Losing Mussel? Try Clean Water

Happy Tuesday, ecoSPEARS readers! Every week, our team will pick three news articles from the previous week to highlight and cover that may have otherwise been overlooked or overshadowed by other media highlights from that week. For today’s blog blurb, we’re going to look at articles covering issues faced by the Housatonic River, Wisconsin, and Malibu, CA.

Our first article of the week comes from the Massachusetts state government. Today, May 1st, state and federal environmental officials will be hosting an open house to the public for comments, questions, and concerns regarding funding efforts for Round 4 of the Housatonic Watershed restoration program, as well as issues faced within the prior three rounds. Round 4 is expected to be the final round of funding necessary for the restoration of the watershed to, “compensate for natural resources that were injured or lost as a result of the release of hazardous materials from the General Electric facility in Pittsfield into the Massachusetts portion of the Housatonic watershed.”

The restoration program was funded through a $15 million settlement from GE reached in 2000. Round 4’s timeline which will be showcased at 5pm today is expected to have roughly $1 million of funding available for the restoration project’s completion over four priorities including Wildlife Resources and Habitat, Environmental Education and Outreach, Recreational Uses, and Aquatic Biological Resources and Habitat.

Map of the Housatonic River watershed in Massachusetts.

Pittsfield, MA citizens living near and along the Housatonic River have expressed concern over GE’s desire to localize dumping of PCB-contaminated soil and sediment from portions of the river, arguing that the company is liable to find out-of-state landfills or sites for the material. GE has argued there is no way to do so without drastically increasing the cost of the project, which in turn will slow cleanup progress and prevent the project’s completion while meeting necessary criteria.

Our next article comes from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, where scientists are determined to pinpoint the cause of freshwater mussels dying en masse. On top of several invasive species of mussels in the Green Bay and Fox River watersheds, Wisconsin’s native 51 species of freshwater mussels face decimation from pollutants including PCBs. Jesse Weinzinger, a conservation biologist with Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), says that 24 of the state’s native 51 species of mussels, “are listed by the state as either endangered, threatened, or of special concern.”

Wisconsin is home to 51 native species of freshwater mussles, of which 24 face endangerment.

The problem isn’t localized to Wisconsin, however. Weinzinger states that 70% of the world’s species of freshwater mussels show declining numbers than they have in the past. WDNR is currently undergoing a three-year study to further analyze the state of freshwater mussels in Wisconsin’s rivers and waterways. The full article from Wisconsin Public Radio’s website also states that the DNR asks for citizens to take pictures of freshwater mussels they find and submit them with descriptions to the website of the Wisconsin Mussel Monitoring Program. This, Weinzinger says, will aid WDNR in analyzing data on the mussels to pinpoint contamination sources and help aid in environmental reconstruction efforts to prevent further decline of the mollusk’s numbers in the wild.

Our final article from the week comes to us from Malibu, CA. The Santa Monica-Malibu United School District (SMMUSD) has proposed plans to combine student populations from Juan Cabrillo Elementary School and Point Dume Marine Science School. The decision, which was proposed by the school board to families of students at both schools as well as local residents, comes after a 2016 court case in which SMMUSD was, “mandated to replace pre-1979 door and window frames at [the high school] and Juan Cabrillo Elementary School due to PCBs – or cease using the affected buildings completely – by December 31, 2019.”

A map of Malibu showing the distance between Juan Cabrillo Elementary School (1) and Point Dume (2)

The proposed plan would combine two elementary school populations to see close to 400 students at Point Dume which in turn drew concerns from teachers, parents and residents about condensed traffic and over-crowded classrooms, which in turn could impact the education of the young students. SMMUSD also said in statements that there were no future plans to separate the student population again in the future after PCB cleanup work at Juan Cabrillo is concluded. Even if this were to happen, there are talks to have the Juan Cabrillo campus become the new site for Malibu Middle School in 2019 upon completion of the PCB cleanup.

And that’s all for this week, readers! Remember to check back in every Tuesday for our blog blurbs of the previous week’s environmental news highlights.

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For more information on the organizations and agencies mentioned in this post, please click the following links:

State of Massachusetts

Massachusetts Housatonic River Watershed Restoration Program

University of Wisconsin-Green Bay

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District

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