The Environment Report

Tuesdays & Thursdays at 8:50 a.m. and 5:45 p.m.

The Environment Report hosted by Rebecca Williams explores the relationship between the natural world and the everyday lives of people in Michigan.

Flint resident Michael Poole says he has enough water in his basement, "I could probably put it in a big ol' barrel and take a shower for days."
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Michael Poole doesn’t buy the line that filtered tap water is safe for him and his neighbors to drink.

“There may be a day when I might be able to trust” the water, he says. “But until then, I’m getting this right here.”

More than 300 union plumbers from cities across Michigan came to Flint this February to volunteer to replace faucets and filters.
Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

You know how they say politics makes strange bedfellows? Well, sometimes the environment does, too.

Leaders from the United Steelworkers, the Sierra Club, the Utility Workers Union and the National Wildlife Federation, among others, recently got together for a meeting of the BlueGreen Alliance: blue for labor, green for the environment. After 10 years of this partnership, labor and environmentalists are more friends than enemies.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Big, ugly blooms of cyanobacteria form on Lake Erie when excess nutrients — mostly phosphorus — run off from farms and sewage treatment plants. A kind of cyanobacteria called Microcystis produces a toxin that can hurt pets and make the water unsafe to drink.

That happened in Toledo in 2014, when the city had to shut down its drinking water supply.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tries to predict what’s going to happen with the blooms on Lake Erie each year.

Watkins Lake.
Legacy Land Conservancy

We officially have 103 state parks in Michigan now.

The new park is called Watkins Lake State Park and County Preserve. It’s 1,122 acres in Jackson and Washtenaw counties.  

The state just closed on its part of the land last week (717 acres). The Michigan Department of Natural Resources used $2.9 million from the Natural Resources Trust Fund to buy the property. Washtenaw County bought the rest of the land, and the park will be managed by both the DNR and the county.

Enbridge Energy says they’ll spend $7 million over the next two years to buy new clean up tools in case there’s a spill along its Line 5 pipeline.   There has been a lot of controversy surrounding Line 5 where it crosses at the Straits of Mackinac. At the
Enbridge Energy

Officials with Enbridge Energy say they’ll spend $7 million over the next two years to buy new clean up tools in case there’s a spill along its Line 5 pipeline.

 

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding Line 5 where it crosses at the Straits of Mackinac. At the Straits, the oil and liquid natural gas pipeline splits into two smaller diameter pipelines to make the underwater crossing.

 

Gov. Snyder speaks at a Flint news conference.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

It’s been almost six months since the Flint Water Task Force blamed the culture of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for the Flint water crisis.

The Task Force said a culture of quote “technical compliance” exists inside the drinking water office.

Its report found that officials were buried in technical rules – thinking less about why the rules existed. In this case, making sure Flint’s water was safe to drink.

Headed out to go salmon fishing on Lake Michigan near Grand Haven.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

50 years ago, officials put Pacific salmon into the Great Lakes to eat an invasive fish called the alewife, and a huge sport fishery was born.

These days, you can still catch both coho and chinook salmon. But people are worried there's not enough food in Lake Michigan for chinook salmon.

A grass carp.
Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee

Researchers say they’ve found grass carp eggs in the Sandusky River for the first time. The river flows into Lake Erie near Cedar Point.

Grass carp are a type of invasive Asian carp. This is the first time scientists have had direct confirmation that the fish are reproducing in the river.

Holly Embke found the eggs. She’s a master’s student at the University of Toledo.

“The reason we were looking where we were looking in the Sandusky River was because we thought there was the possibility of spawning, so it wasn’t wholly surprising to find eggs,” she says.

DTE's St. Clair Power Plant in East China, Michigan.
user cgord / wikimedia commons

DTE Energy is the state’s largest utility. It provides electricity to more than two million people in southeast Michigan. Until very recently, DTE leaned on coal-fired power to generate about 3/4 of that electricity.

But that’s about to change dramatically.

The news came down this week that DTE will close three of its remaining coal-fired power plants between 2020 and 2023.

Two of those plants are just south of Detroit, in River Rouge and Trenton. The other is in St. Clair County.

Dave Reckhow is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Flint’s water is still not safe to drink without a filter.

A lot of people have been asking whether the water is safe for bathing. Federal and state agencies say it is.

Double-crested cormorant
USFWS

A federal judge in Washington, D.C. has halted programs to reduce the number of cormorants in the Great Lakes region. The federal government and tribes in Michigan kill the birds to protect yellow perch, walleye and other fish. But the judge said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service overstepped its bounds when it authorized killing cormorants in more than 20 states.

Peter Payette visited the Les Cheneaux Islands in Michigan this week to talk to people who live there.

A bighead carp at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

There’s a coalition of federal and state agencies working to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

It’s called the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee. It just came out with its carp plan for this year.

photo of a monarch butterfly
user Jim, the Photographer / Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The federal government has a competitive program for state wildlife grants.

Michigan and Wisconsin are getting $500,000 to help protect several species of bees and butterflies that are in trouble.

Jim Hodgson is with the Midwest Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“They’re partnering together to restore grassland, prairie, and savanna habitats that will benefit the rusty patched bumblebee, the yellow patched bumblebee, monarch butterflies, the frosted elfin, mottled dusty wing butterfly, and the endangered Karner blue butterfly,” he says.

Life stages of ticks.
CDC

It’s that magical time of year, when you need to start checking yourself for ticks.

The blacklegged tick is the kind of tick we have in Michigan that can transmit Lyme disease, and it’s been expanding its range in our state.

Flint river
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Studies suggest even low levels of lead exposure can hurt a fetus’ development in the womb.

And for months now, the state health department has been looking into whether the Flint water crisis caused problems with pregnancies.  

Meanwhile, researchers at Hurley Medical Center are investigating whether the lead in the water increased the number of miscarriages.

But it turns out that trying to track miscarriages is really tough.

A magazine cover criticizing Canada's stance on climate change.
Kyle Pearce / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

New research finds people often stay quiet when it comes to talking about climate change.

It’s not because they’re afraid of being disliked.

A study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that people avoid bringing up the subject for two main reasons:

1) People underestimate how much other people care about the subject.

2) People feel like they don’t know enough about the science of climate change to hold a discussion.

Punkin Shananaquet, a member of the Gun Lake tribe, holds a Gete Okosman squash at the Gteganes Farm.
Jijak Foundation

There's an ancient variety of squash that was largely forgotten about. But it’s been rediscovered.

Tribes around the Great Lakes region are sharing the seeds of this squash with each other and with small farmers.

Sarah Hofman-Graham works at Eighth Day Farm in Holland, Michigan. She invited me to a dinner party featuring a soup made from an ancient squash. The soup tasted sweet and mild.

Climate activists see bringing climate change into the classroom as a simple matter of updating the science curriculum. But a recent survey revealed that science teachers are often ill-equipped to deal with the subject.
nl.monteiro / Flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

 


A survey published in the journal Science earlier this year showed that most science teachers spend little time teaching climate change - just an hour or two a year.

 

But making climate change a classroom priority doesn’t always win you fans.

 

Boat on Northport Bay, Lake Michigan
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A lot of us in Michigan are passionate about going up north.

“I remember the good old days when my dad would pack us up in the station wagon and head up north. It was 80 acres in the middle of nowhere … I’m heading to Petoskey on Wednesday and on Thursday or Friday to Whitefish Point and Tahquamenon Falls… Tomorrow, I’m making my annual pilgrimage to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.”

Those are comments from Michigan Radio's Facebook fans, answering the question, “Anyone headed up north this weekend?”

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A report from the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association and Public Sector Consultants released last month outlines the state's water infrastructure issues. 

MITA leadership gave testimony to the Flint Water Public Health Emergency Select Committee, a joint committee headed by State Sen. Jim Stamas, R-Midland, this week. 

Statewide, drinking water infrastructure is underfunded by anywhere between $284 million and $583 million. Stormwater and wastewater groundwork is short $2.14 billion, conservatively, according to the reoprt.

Calvin Lutz is a cherry farmer in Manistee County.
Peter Payette / Interlochen Public Radio

Fruit growers have a new problem: they can’t buy enough young trees to plant in their orchards.

This is especially true for cherry farmers in Michigan who depend on nurseries in the Pacific Northwest. It could get worse, and some farmers are preparing for a day when they can’t buy any trees.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

City officials around the country are trying to figure out how to make changes in their communities to adapt to climate change.

Researchers from the University of Michigan and the University of North Carolina looked at 44 of these climate adaptation plans, and found they were a mixed bag.

Emory University researchers have found that six out of 10 Michiganders tested still have elevated PBB levels.
Michele Marcus / Emory University

In 1973, a plant owned by Velsicol Chemical made a mistake and shipped a toxic flame retardant chemical to a livestock feed plant. The chemical is called polybrominated biphenyl, or PBB. It took about a year to discover the accident. Millions of Michiganders ate contaminated beef, chicken, pork, milk and eggs.

Water running from tap
jordanmrcai / Creative Commons

A common practice by operators of municipal drinking water systems is getting more scrutiny.

Last week the first criminal charges were filed in connection with the water crisis in Flint.

One of the charges caught my attention, because it includes a practice that’s the norm in Michigan cities.

DNR Fisheries Biologist Tim Cwalinski holds a sturgeon with Michigan State University students on the Black River.
MSU

Lake sturgeon are a threatened species in Michigan. And there’s one spot in the state where the fish are in particular danger.

One group gets together every year to watch over them, and they want your help.

Most people never see this rare fish -- which is too bad, because they’re quite a sight. Lake sturgeon can live to be 100 years old and can weigh hundreds of pounds.

They spawn in several rivers in Michigan in the spring – but parts of the Black River in the northern-lower-peninsula are shallow, so you can see these fish as they swim upstream.

Rolf Peterson

This year’s winter study on the wolves and moose of Isle Royale is out today.

It says it appears there are only two wolves left – down from three last year, and a high of 50 in the 1980s.

Rolf Peterson is a research professor at Michigan Tech University. He says these last two wolves are closely related.

“They’re father and daughter and they’re also half-siblings, because they share the same mother," he says.

Courtesy of Warren Taylor

When you walk through the supermarket, you might see food labeled organic or fair trade. Now, some food companies are also starting to identify genetically modified ingredients. A law is set to take effect this summer in Vermont that would mandate GMO labels. Large food manufacturers have been lobbying Congress to stop it. But one milk producer in our region doesn’t think the Vermont law goes far enough.

The Canada warbler is declining throughout its range in the U.S.
US Fish and Wildlife Service

Some kinds of birds are doing better in our changing climate, and others are declining. These changes are happening in similar ways in both the U.S. and Europe.

Those are the findings of a new study in the journal Science.

Phil Stephens is a senior lecturer in ecology at Durham University in the UK, and he’s a lead author of the study. 

Stephens and an international team of researchers studied data on more than 500 common species of birds over a 30 year period (1980-2010) in both Europe and the U.S.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Because of the Flint water crisis, the U.S. EPA wants more transparency about where the nation’s lead lines are. Specifically, the EPA wants to know how many lead service lines there still are underground, and they want to know exactly where they are. As we reported Tuesday, many Michigan cities do not know this basic information, it’s not just Flint.

The EPA also wants water systems to post the results from water tests to prove cities are in compliance with the Lead and Copper Rule.

This week, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality gave the feds an update on these requests.

Michigan Radio

Because of Flint’s water crisis, regulators are asking water systems to answer a couple of seemingly basic questions: Where are Michigan’s lead water pipes? How many are left in the ground?

We’ve found the answers are hard to come by.

Lead leaches into drinking water from old lead service lines or lead solder, and from some plumbing in people’s home. A service line is the pipe that takes drinking water from the water main under the road into your home.

Nowadays, those lines are usually made of copper, sometimes plastic. But back before the 1950s, lead was pretty common.

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