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Environment & Science

City of Ann Arbor Public Services Administration

Ann Arborites can rest easy that they will not be asked to volunteer to limit their water consumption over the Thanksgiving weekend, according to Robert Kellar, spokesman for the Ann Arbor Public Services Administration.

Kellar said a leak that might have led to a temporary shutdown of Ann Arbor's water treatment plant has been isolated and is getting fixed. 

Kellar said the leak was discovered last weekend in one of two intake pipes to Ann Arbor's treatment plant. 

"The staff did an excellent job. There's not a threat at this point to the quality or the use of people's water," said Kellar. "So everybody should enjoy their holiday."

According to Kellar, the possibility had always been remote that the leak might lead to temporary voluntary water restrictions. He said they were presented to Ann Arbor City Council on Monday night as part of considering a worst case scenario.

Photo by Scott McArt, used with permission.

We’ve heard a lot about honeybees and how important they are as pollinators. But bumblebees pollinate wildflowers and crops, too, and some kinds of bumblebees are in trouble.

aerial photo of the Great Lakes
National Oceanic and And Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

The Great Lakes Commission and Lawrence Technological University are teaming up to protect the Great Lakes by changing the way cities think about rain water.

They want to explore new ways communities can handle storm water to prevent things like flooding and sewage overflow into the lakes.

Michael Polich is a program specialist with the Great Lakes Commission. He says cities often view alternate storm water technologies as different and untested, making them hesitant to implement new ideas.

inside of lead service line
Terese Olson / University of Michigan

Ever since the Flint water crisis, Michigan cities and citizens have started paying attention to lead in drinking water pipes and faucets and the potential dangers they pose.

You might have lead pipes, or fixtures that contain lead, in your home without even knowing. Many cities are only replacing the public side of lead service lines. So determining what's coming into, and what's inside your home is up to you.

There are lead service lines in older communities across Michigan. Because of their age and population size, it’s fair to say the bulk of Michigan’s lead service lines are in cities in Southeast Michigan.

I spent a lot of time trying to determine which Detroit suburbs have lead service lines and how many. I wanted to see how far out into the suburbs lead was found in underground water pipes.

It was relatively easy (albeit an expensive FOIA bill near $2000 for these "public documents") to track down which communities were testing lead lines. But figuring out how many lead pipes were in each community is nearly impossible.

Documents: US Steel sought to keep chemical spill secret

Nov 16, 2017
Ken Lund / Flickr Creative Commons HTTP://MICHRAD.IO/1LXRDJM

Environmentalists are questioning why the public wasn't notified about an October chemical spill into a Lake Michigan tributary that U.S. Steel asked Indiana regulators to keep confidential.

Documents released by the University of Chicago's Abrams Environmental Law Clinic show that U.S. Steel's plant in Portage, Indiana, released 56.7 pounds (25.7 kilograms) of chromium on Oct. 25 after a wastewater treatment system malfunction. That's nearly double what the plant is permitted to release of the potentially cancer-causing chemical over 24 hours.

A dive team works on Line 5 under the Straits of Mackinac.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

It’s been a steady drip-drip-drip of revelations from Enbridge Energy about its Line 5 — the oil and gas pipelines running beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

The latest revelation is that there are more spots where the protective coating has worn off — lots more spots, even though a year ago we were told there weren’t any coating gaps.

The latest admission from the Canadian energy company drew a quick response from a plainly exasperated Governor Snyder, who called Enbridge’s “lack of transparency” to be “deeply troubling.”

But what are we hearing from Michigan's business leaders?

notices
Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

Because of the Flint water crisis, several Michigan cities are making long term plans to replace old lead water pipes that connect homes to the water main.

That is good for public health, but well-meaning municipal water operators can actually make lead exposure worse if they’re not careful.

There’s a mix of lead and copper pipes buried near the corner of Trinity and Florence in a neighborhood on Detroit’s northwest side. When I visited a month ago the block was lined with nice, two story brick homes and orange construction barrels. It smelled like diesel.

As thousands of hunters head out with rifles today, a tiny group of Michiganders heads out with birds instead. We talk with one of those falconers on Stateside​. Also today, an ecologist says biodiversity could be the planet's "insurance policy," but only if we act fast. And, we learn Michigan State University sports doctor Larry Nassar is considering a guilty plea to charges he sexually assaulted young athletes.

Researchers manipulating the number of plant species in an experimental plot to determine how biodiversity impacts the productivity of ecosystems.
David Tilman

Biodiversity.

It's one of those scientific terms we hear and think, "That's a good thing. We need it,” without truly knowing why it's a good thing.

A University of Michigan and Smithsonian study now helps us understand. The researchers found biodiversity is even more powerful and important than they thought it would be.

Courtesy of Chris Wysocki

Firearm deer season starts today and thousands of hunters are heading out with their rifles. But around this time of year, there's a tiny group of Michiganders heading out with birds instead.

A diver inspects Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac for a possible dent.
Enbridge inspection video shared with the state of Michigan

There’s something that seems to have united state officials and representatives across party lines and despite political disagreements.

That something is a new safety report from Enbridge Energy on Line 5, the pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

1992 LCR document from Battle Creek
Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

One of the things Flint’s water operators got in trouble for was falsifying records; for saying the city was testing homes at the highest risk of having elevated lead levels when it was not. But records obtained by Michigan Radio show Flint is not the only city in the state that tested the wrong homes over the years and potentially underestimated lead in water.

The biggest culprit for high lead in tap water is the lead water pipes that connect a house to the water main. That’s why cities are supposed to test those homes.

Hillary Miller

The Next Idea

FEMMES, Females Excelling More in Math, Engineering and Science, is a group of University of Michigan graduate students and faculty who are working to get girls in the 4th through 6th grades excited about science and to get them thinking about going into STEM fields. They do this through hands-on activities and presentations that show science in action.

We reported on FEMMES back in 2014 and decided to check back in three years later. Hillary Miller, a PhD candidate in cell and molecular biology at the University of Michigan and a part of FEMMES, joined The Next Idea to provide an update.

construction workers
Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio

Public and political pressure from the Flint water crisis is beginning to shape new, tougher water regulations in Michigan - and other states are taking notice.

If passed, they’d be the strongest such measures in the country.

Two years ago, when news broke about the Flint water crisis, lots of people wondered if Michigan’s governor would resign. That’s because emails show Rick Snyder’s top aides had concerns about Flint’s water long before pediatricians and scientists proved there was a huge problem.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

A bill that environmental groups say would be a step backward in the fight against invasive species in the Great Lakes is on its way to Governor Rick Snyder's desk.

Snyder has opposed the bill, according to spokesperson Anna Heaton, but has not said whether he will veto it.

Grass carp
USGS

There are several federal agencies in charge of trying to control Asian carp, and they just came out with their latest report to Congress on how those efforts are going.

Beehive
Barry Chignell / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Have you ever thought of a bee as a healer? 

Adam Ingrao was serving in the Army until his career was ended by an injury. After his discharge, he somehow landed on beekeeping. He found that tending hives was powerful and healing.

Today, Ingrao is working on his doctorate in entomology, and he's helping other vets to discover the healing power of bees and beekeeping by founding a program called Heroes to Hives.

Map of animals that have evolved in cities.
Marc Johnson & Jason Munshi-South

Cities are creating new ecosystems, and they’re changing the way some creatures evolve. Those are the findings of a new paper in the journal Science.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

More than 185 species of foreign fish, algae, plants, insects, and viruses have been brought into the Great Lakes. Many of them are invasive species that are damaging the lakes, such as zebra mussels, quagga mussels, round gobies, and Phragmites.

About a third of those invasive species were brought here in the ballast water of ocean-going ships. As they picked up their ballast water in foreign ports, they sucked up aquatic life along with it.

Natural gas power plant in California
David Monniaux / Wikimedia Commons

The reliability of our power supply is vulnerable to climate change. But the grid can be made more adaptable.

Those are the conclusions of a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change.

On this Halloween day, we hear how hauntings and paranormal activities abound in Michigan. We also learn about the honor system state legislators have when it comes to spending campaign donations. And, researchers explain what sheep have to do with a possible cure for Huntington's Disease.

Dani Mettler / Flickr - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

There's no way to sugarcoat a diagnosis of Huntington's Disease. When a patient has it, they know they're dying from it.

The nerve disease can't be cured, and it causes mental illness and a host of physical symptoms as it progresses.

Yet there's a potentially promising front in the war on Huntington's: sheep.

Wild rice harvesting
Dan Kraker

For generations, Native Americans in the northern Great Lakes have harvested wild rice. It's an important food source. For some it's a way to make a little extra cash. And it's a cultural touchstone that tribal members are trying to pass on to younger generations.

These types of supports have been installed over the last 12 years.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Enbridge Energy reported today that damage to anti-corrosion coating on Line 5 occurred in 2014, but the company never told the state. The reason? Enbridge engineers who found the damage never told higher-ups about it. They said the pipeline was safe, so there was no reason.

But state officials say this is one more instance of Enbridge not sharing information about the line that carries oil and gas beneath the environmentally sensitive Straits of Mackinac.

St. Lawrence Seaway
Kunal Mukherjee / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Even among those who live in the Great Lakes State, there is a lot of confusion about the health of the Great Lakes.

Some believe that because the lakes are clearer than ever, they’re more healthy, when in fact that clarity is due to invasive species killing off the bottom of the food chain.

Water faucent in Flint.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s drinking water regulators need more resources to do their jobs correctly. That’s one of the major takeaways of a detailed federal audit released Thursday afternoon.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched the audit almost two years ago, right after the state at least started to acknowledge that there was a serious problem with Flint’s drinking water.

Sunflowers on the shoulder of a highway
Jocelyn Hall / MDOT

The Next Idea

Scientists have known for a while that America’s bee population is in trouble — some types are even ending up on the endangered species list. Pollinator insects like bees are crucial to food production, and, in agricultural states like Michigan, keeping that population alive and healthy is a big deal.

A small but colorful pilot project at the Michigan Department of Transportation aims to provide some late season meals for those hard-working bees. 

Sea lamprey
Photo courtesy of USFWS

Lakes Superior and Erie have too many sea lampreys.

The invasive fish latch onto big fish like lake trout and salmon and drink their blood and body fluids. A single lamprey can kill up to 40 pounds of fish in its lifetime.

East Rockford Middle School
Rockford Public Schools

One West Michigan school community can feel more at ease. Water samples from East Rockford Middle School were tested, and show no signs of toxic chemicals.

The chemicals that were tested for are known as PFAS, and they are often used to waterproof leather goods.

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