Great Lakes

The Mackinac Bridge on a warmer day.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A new bill in Congress would shut down an oil and gas pipeline beneath the Straits of Mackinac, if a study shows it's a significant risk to the Great Lakes.

Michigan Congresswoman Candice Miller introduced the Great Lakes Pipeline Safety Act on Wednesday.

The legislation calls for a comprehensive analysis of the environmental and economic threat that Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline poses to Great Lakes waters.

Ken Bosma / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Representatives from the Great Lakes and Canada met last week to consider a Wisconsin city's request to pump water from Lake Michigan.

The groundwater in Waukesha is contaminated with radium, so the city wants to draw about 10 million gallons of water from Lake Michigan daily.

The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Water Resources Regional Body came up with a tentative plan that would reduce the number of communities in a future water service area.

Fishing on Lake Huron
U.S. Department of the Interior

The lake trout used to be the fish to catch in the Great Lakes. But by the 1950s, severe overfishing and an infestation of an eel-like, blood-sucking parasite called the sea lamprey had drastically reduced the number of lake trout and other fish.

Then, a fish called the alewife invaded the Great Lakes through man-made canals.

Without enough lake trout to keep them in check, alewife populations exploded, and have since varied wildly year to year. Dead alewives have been spotted washed up on beaches in piles stretching miles along Great Lakes coasts.

In 1964, the Department of Natural Resources hired a fish biologist named Howard Tanner. They asked him to figure out how to deal with the alewife problem, and left him with an order: “Make it spectacular.”

David Schwab looked at 840 simulated spill scenarios. This map shows the probabilities of where oil might go after a spill in the Straits of Mackinac.
From the UM Water Center report

Enbridge Energy has maintained that their twin oil and natural gas liquid pipelines under Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac are safe.

But what if one of them did break open? Where might the oil go?

Today, the University of Michigan’s Water Center released new computer simulations to help answer that question.

David Schwab is a hydrodynamics expert with the Water Center.

“I don’t know any place where the currents are as strong, and change direction as quickly, and as frequently as in the Straits of Mackinac,” Schwab said.

Somewhere beneath the waves of Lake Michigan lies the wreck of the 'Andaste'
flickr user Daniel X. O'Neil / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Anyone with even passing knowledge of the Great Lakes knows that there are secrets beneath those waves: ships that have foundered.

Many have been found, and their locations are well known, but there are still mysteries to be unlocked.

One of the biggest dates back to a night in September 1929. The ship Andaste was headed from Grand Haven to Chicago when it vanished in a sudden storm on Lake Michigan.

Only 17 miles from Lake Michigan's shore, Waukesha, WI, wants to replace its irradiated drinking water with water from the lake
flickr user Rachel Kramer / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

More than 40 conservation groups across the Great Lakes are urging the region's eight governors to veto a proposal to divert water from Lake Michigan.

Waukesha, Wisconsin wants to build a pipeline to the Great Lakes, because its groundwater supply is contaminated with radium.

The federal government has ordered the city to find a new source of drinking water by 2018.

NOAA

A group of business, industry, government, and environmental organizations in the Great Lakes region are asking presidential candidates to commit to protecting the lakes.

The coalition asked each candidate yesterday to support a specific list of priorities it calls the Great Lakes Protection & Restoration Platform.

Screencap from Google Maps / Google / Google

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is holding public meetings on Tuesday about a proposal to divert water from Lake Michigan.

Waukesha, Wisconsin wants to build a pipeline to the Great Lakes.

It has a radium problem in its groundwater supply. Radium occurs naturally, but it’s a carcinogen.

The city wants to divert 10.1 million gallons a day from Lake Michigan in the beginning, and up to 16.7 million gallons a day by 2050.

A sewage main for the Detroit sewer and water system.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A new report from the Environmental Protection Agency says communities in the eight Great Lakes states will need close to $80 billion to update and replace wastewater infrastructure in the next 20 years.

The recently released 2012 Clean Watersheds Needs Survey says national waste water management needs total $271 billion. 

That includes general water treatment plant infrastructure, storm water management systems, and aging sewage systems.

Flickr user USFWSmidwest/Flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

  

An industrial chemical is showing up in trout from the Great Lakes. It’s called perfluoro-1-butane sulfonamide, or FBSA.

Researchers traced this chemical back to several products on the market. Those include detergents and surfactants first used in 2003. Surfactants are materials made to stainproof and waterproof products.

S.S. Badger
Madmaxmarchhare / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Correction: An earlier version of this story said the historic designation was already official.

It looks like the SS Badger will have to wait a little longer before it's named a National Historic Landmark. 

Last week, it was reported the Badger had already earned the designation.

According to a post on the National Historic Landmark Program's social media page, the vintage car ferry's application is still under review:

frankleleon / flickr creative commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Plastic microbeads  found in soaps, facial scrubs, cosmetics and toothpaste will be phased out starting in 2017 under bipartisan legislation signed by President Barack Obama yesterday. 

The legislation was co-sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich, and Rep. Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey. It is intended to protect the nation's waterways.

"Microbeads may be tiny plastic – but they are big-time pollution, especially for our Great Lakes," said Upton.

Lakes are getting warmer worldwide

Dec 18, 2015
user Rhonda Noren / Flickr

A study of 235 lakes around the world shows water temperatures are on the rise. The overall average increase was 0.61 degrees per decade over the past 25 years. Four of the five Great Lakes were included in the study, with deeper, colder Lake Superior showing the biggest temperature gain – about three times the worldwide average.

The ongoing temperature change could be damaging to Michigan's lake ecosystem and economy, says Donald Uzarski, director of the Institute for Great Lakes Research at Central Michigan University. 

Flickr user Jenn Durfey/Flickr

Waukesha wants to build a pipeline to the Great Lakes.

The city is in southeast Wisconsin, 17 miles from Lake Michigan. It has a radium problem in its groundwater supply.

Radium occurs naturally, but it’s a carcinogen.

Dan Duchniak, general manager of the Waukesha Water Utility, says as the city’s groundwater supply has been drawn down, it’s made the high radium concentration worse.

“And ultimately the radium exceeded the federal drinking water standard and we are now under a court order to come into compliance with that, and the means by which we are going to do that is to develop a new water supply,” he says.

The city has to come up with a permanent solution for its radium problem by 2018.

Fishing on Lake Michigan.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore / Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Although domestic clean energy efforts are leading to decreases in mercury pollution in the Great Lakes, a new International Joint Commission report says that increased reliance on fossil fuels overseas poses new concerns.

The IJC report urged the Canadian and U.S. governments to better monitor for mercury in the Great Lakes after noting increased levels of mercury in some fish in some parts of the Great Lakes.

The SS Edmund Fitzgerald in May of 1975.
Bob Campbell / NOAA

I had a friend I never met in person.

His name was Mike Simonson and he was a reporter for Wisconsin Public Radio based in Superior.

Mike and I spoke often by phone when he filed stories for the Great Lakes Radio Consortium – the predecessor of The Environment Report.

Mike had done a lot of interviews and research on the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. He spoke with many people who are still personally connected to the ship. He was our “go-to-guy” whenever we looked back on the sinking.

DAVID KENYON MICHIGAN DNR

Snowy owls are doing some unusual things again this year.

The last two winters, people in Michigan saw a lot of them. There were big migrations of owls called irruptions – that’s when they fly south from their breeding grounds in the Arctic.

This year, researchers don’t expect those big numbers again, but they are surprised by how early owls are arriving.

Most snowy owls start arriving here in the middle of November into December, but owls started showing up in the Great Lakes region in mid-October this year.

Pinhole-sized leak plugged on sunken barge in Lake Erie

Nov 7, 2015
Tom Kowalczk

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - The U.S. Coast Guard says divers in Lake Erie have found and plugged a pinhole-sized leak on a sunken barge near where an oil-based substance has been spotted in recent weeks.

The Coast Guard says there appeared to be a colorless liquid coming from the tiny leak.

Crews have been monitoring the site near the U.S.-Canadian border since discovering a sheen on the surface late last month.

The substance is believed to be coming from the barge that sank in 1937 and is on a federal registry of the most serious pollution threats to U.S. waters.

Gord Cole

A report on fish farming in the Great Lakes suggests Michigan should move carefully if it allows the industry to start up.

State officials asked a panel of scientists to study the issue. There have been two proposals from companies that want to start raising rainbow trout in net pens in the Great Lakes.

Canadians raise millions of trout in Lake Huron every year and some people want Michigan to do the same.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

The Coast Guard is investigating a leak from a 78-year-old tank barge in western Lake Erie that's believed to be the Argo.

It sank in a storm in 1937.

Keith Grasman, Calvin College. / From USFWS Field Notes site

Researchers are finding flame retardants and stain repellent chemicals in herring gull eggs in the Great Lakes region.

These chemicals are used in a lot of consumer products, but they can last a long time in the environment and some of them can build up in the food web.

Two recent studies on perfluorinated chemicals and flame retardants found some newer forms of these chemicals in the birds’ eggs that we don’t know a lot about.

Flickr user Kenneth Lu / Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Michigan lawmakers are talking about banning tiny balls of plastic in products sold in Michigan.

A lot of us use products with microbeads in them. They’re tiny, perfectly round plastic beads that companies add to face and body scrubs and toothpaste.

We wash them down the drain, but they’re so small that wastewater treatment plants can’t filter them out.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

This week, the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New York ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to write new rules for the ballast water in ships.

Four environmental groups sued the EPA over its current ballast water rule.

Invasive species can get into the Great Lakes in ballast water. Salties are ships that cross the ocean, and lakers are ships that travel only within the Great Lakes. In the decision, the judges criticize the EPA for exempting lakers from certain regulations. 

This photo of Microcystis, a kind of cyanobacteria, was taken in Lake Erie in late July of this year.
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Michigan officials are taking a victory lap in their efforts to reduce the amount of phosphorus flowing from state farms and other sources into Lake Erie. 

Phosphorus helps those slimy, bright green blooms of toxic cyanobacteria grow.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

There are more than 180 species in the Great Lakes that are not supposed to be here.

Euan Reavie is a researcher with the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

“Duluth-Superior harbor is the most invaded freshwater port in the world,” Reavie says. “This is kind of the end of the water road for a lot of ships that come in here.”

Legislator wants to ban fish farming in Great Lakes

Sep 24, 2015
NASA / Wikimedia Commons

A Republican state lawmaker is introducing legislation to ban commercial fish farming in the Great Lakes.

State Senator Rick Jones (R) said fish farms are a source of pollution, invasive species, and disease that harm native fish populations.

They generate concentrated amounts of fish waste that can cause widespread algae blooms and damage recreational areas, according to Jones.  

Researchers from the University of Michigan looked at how far oil might travel with a 12-hour release in the Straits of Mackinac.
UM Water Center

The scenario: Someone has spotted oil on Lake Michigan in the Straits of Mackinac. They place a call to an emergency response center.

What happens next?

Today, Enbridge and other emergency response officials will test whether their emergency oil spill response plan is effective.

Painting of a boy grabbing a sea lamprey by Mark Heckman.
Painting by Mark Heckman, courtesy of Thunder Bay Press.

Officials are reporting significant progress in the battle against an invasive, fish-killing Great Lakes parasite.

The Great Lakes Fishery Commission says the population of sea lampreys has reached a 30-year low in Lake Huron and a 20-year low in Lake Michigan. 

Map showing the location of Waukesha, WI.
Screencap from Google Maps / Google

The city of Waukesha, Wisconsin has a contamination problem in its aquifer, and the federal government has ordered the city to find a new source of drinking water by 2018.

Waukesha is just a mile and a half outside the Lake Michigan watershed, so tapping Great Lakes water seems like the most obvious solution to the city’s problem.

The Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
USACOE

When it comes to keeping American industry up and running, it's hard to overstate the importance of the Soo Locks.

The big ships carrying iron ore from northern Michigan and Minnesota on Lake Superior must pass through the Soo Locks to get to the steel mills that are on the lower lakes.

So when there's a problem at the aging locks, you can bet that business and shipping interests are sounding the alarm bells.

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