Copper-confused Salmon, Drought, and Why 40 Years After the Clean Water Act, the Water's Still Dirty

For your reading (and viewing) pleasure on this Thursday afternoon:  First off, a phenomenal collaborative effort by the folks at Oregon Public Broadcasting's EarthFix. In this special report, they take a look at the ways in which the nation - and the Northwest in particular - are still struggling to fulfill the goals of the Clean Water Act, 40 years after it was enacted. Fellows that contributed to this multimedia reporting effort include Ashley Ahearn and Robert McClure.

Clean Water Act's Anti-Pollution Goals Prove Elusive

Beside Seattle’s notoriously polluted Duwamish River, an excavator scoops up small pieces of waste metal and slings them onto a rusty mountain at Seattle Iron & Metals Corp.  A pile of flattened cars and trucks squats nearby amid vast sheets of scrap metal.

For at least the last four years, this automobile shredder and metal recycler has dumped more pollutants into the river than allowed under the federal Clean Water Act, government records show. The levels have ranged higher than 250 times above what’s known to harm salmon that migrate through the river... Read, hear, and see more.

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KUNC's Kirk Siegler takes a look at how the agricultural community in Colorado is preparing for the results of wide-spread drought:

Amid Severe Drought, Colorado Farmers Brace for Losses

For more than a hundred years, northeast Colorado’s farming-dependent economy has boomed thanks to a mostly reliable supply of snow melt and runoff from the Rocky Mountains that’s channeled to a complex web of irrigation ditches and reservoirs.

But this year, historically low snow pack coupled with a searing heat wave extending from Colorado to the Midwest has left many farmers bracing for huge losses... Read and hear more.


Penny for your thoughts? No thanks, if you're a coho salmon.  Tasha Eichenseher with National Geographic News Watch takes a look at the deleterious effects of too much copper:

Will Overdosing on Copper Make you More Susceptible to Predation?

Only if you are a young coho salmon, or similar aquatic species.

A new study published in the latest edition of Ecological Applications reports that small amounts of copper in water can deaden a salmon’s sense of smell, which normally alerts the fish to the presence of predators.

When olfactory systems are fully functional, the fish will detect a compound called Schreckstoff—German for “scary stuff.” Schreckstoff wafts from nearby fish that have been attacked and it cues yet-unharmed fish to stay still and on guard. Previous studies had already established that copper affects a fish’s sense of smell, and that a dulled sense of smell changes a fish’s behavior.

But Washington State University (WSU) postdoctoral research associate Jenifer McIntyre and her colleagues put two and two together. They exposed juvenile coho salmon to copper and pitted them against cutthroat trout, a common coho predator.

Watch this video of what happens when coho salmon—some that are exposed to copper and others that aren’t—are warned of an approaching predator (10 micrograms/L = 10 parts per billion).... Read more and watch more.