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Environment & Science

A cyanobacterial bloom on Lake Erie in 2013.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The buildup of nutrients in western Lake Erie can trigger algae growth – and contaminate drinking water in nearby cities. That happened as recently as 2014, when Toledo residents could not drink their water for two days.

Stateside 3.27.2017

Mar 27, 2017

"Alternative facts" exist amidst scientific research. Today on Stateside, we learn how to figure out what's true. We also hear why local governments and school districts are wrestling with unfunded pension liabilities.

The existence of alternative facts in science has also caused confusion in the realm of climate change, where a large portion of the population are skeptical about it, despite overwhelming scientific evidence to support it.
Curran Kelleher / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

It was a verbal tug-of-war that thrust the term "alternative facts" into our vocabulary.

NBC's Chuck Todd grilled White House counselor Kellyanne Conway over the Trump administration's insistence on inflating the crowd size at the president's inauguration.

But pushing out "alternative facts" is not new. It's been happening in the scientific arena for decades.

Jeff Reutter / Ohio State University

The Michigan Agri-Business Association, a trade group representing agricultural interests, is launching a campaign to educate farmers about best practices to keep chemical fertilizers and manure from flowing into streams and rivers that lead into Lake Erie.

The fertilizers and manure contain nutrients that encourage the growth of toxic cyanobacteria. 

a squirrel
Steve Burt / Creative Commons / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Here’s one way to react to a warming planet: get smaller.

We know mammals literally shrank, during a massive global warming event 56 million years ago. Imagine an early horse ancestor the size of a cat.

Now back then, the earth was 46 degrees hotter on average than it is right now.

So researchers wanted to know: do mammals still experience shrinking - a.k.a. dwarfing - during other, less intense periods of warming?

ellenm1 / Flickr, http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

You know how in old Disney cartoons and movies, spring arrives and all the birds and woodland creatures just wake up all at once?

That’s kind of how nature works, too.

But new research suggests that what we typically think of as spring: flowers blooming, ice melting... is starting to change.

What caused the Flint water crisis?
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Federal money to upgrade water systems is on a fast track toward Flint. The state House has agreed to spend $100 million dollars from the EPA and kick in another $20 million from the state.

This is unusually fast action. The federal government approved the money just last week.

“People have been thirsty for action inside the city of Flint,” said state Representative Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint). He says it’s true the city’s water now meets federal safe drinking water standards, but people don’t trust the water is safe.

Photo courtesy of Birmingham Public Schools

The state has proposed an agreement to fix some ongoing problems at Detroit’s wastewater treatment plant.

The consent order from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality cites the Great Lakes Water Authority, which runs the plant, for a number of environmental violations over the past year.

The plant was supposed to stop operating five outdated sewage sludge incinerators in March, 2016. But the GLWA kept using them after a fire seriously damaged new, cleaner replacement equipment that same month.

Potter Park Zoo

Potter Park, Michigan's oldest public zoo, is working to preserve one of the world's most critically endangered species. Now it's waiting on approval to transport an eastern black rhino male from Texas, in hopes that it may breed with of the zoo's female rhinos.

The Ingham county board of commissioners must approve the cost of the move before the zoo can proceed.

Dog plays in Lake Michigan
tmannis / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

President Donald Trump wants to eliminate federal support of a program that addresses the Great Lakes' most pressing environmental threats.

Samples of various drinking water pipes.
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Some state lawmakers got an early peek at Governor Rick Snyder’s new lead rules that are supposed to be rolled out this week.l A top state environmental official shared some details in testimony before a state House budget subcommittee.

 

chumlee10 / Flickr Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A large Toronto-based mining company has started expanding one of its projects near Marquette. But it will need approval from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality if it wants to finish the tunnel it started building in July. 

Lundin Mining is asking the state agency to change its current permit to allow for the completion of the tunnel, which would connect its Eagle Mine site to a mineral deposit nearby. The deposit has large amounts of nickel and copper ore, but Lundin is still unsure whether the area would be profitable to mine.

screenshot from Enbridge report to the state

It was standing room only at a relatively obscure state board meeting today.

The Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board heard a presentation from the oil and gas company that owns Line 5 – an oil and gas pipeline that runs along the bottom of Lake Michigan near the Mackinac Bridge.

“This pipeline is in as good a condition as it was the day it was installed. Our corrosion prevention system is doing its job," Kurt Baraniecki, director for Integrity Programs for Enbridge, told the board. "Our monitoring efforts are effective.”

New rules forbid chocolate as bear bait in Michigan

Mar 10, 2017
Ken Thomas / wikimedia commons

Hunters won't be allowed to bait bears with chocolate for the 2017 hunting season.

The DNR's Natural Resources Commission passed new regulations that apply to bear hunting, including a ban on bait containing chocolate or cocoa products. 

Chocolate is popular with hunters as a bait for the same reasons it's attractive to humans -- it's sweet and high in calories. But chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine that is toxic to many animals, including dogs, bears, and many species of wildlife such as wolves and coyotes.

tEdGuY49 / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Detroit’s incinerator is in hot water with state regulators again, but many people think the proposed punishment lets it off the hook too easily.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality cited the state’s largest incinerator for a number of violations in 2015 and 2016. The “waste-to-energy” facility provides power to sections of the city’s core.

Those violations included violating emissions limits for sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and particulate matter. The agency says the incinerator also failed to monitor emissions properly.

Mackinac Bridge
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

In a new report released today, the National Wildlife Federation took a look at data on currents in the Straits of Mackinac. That’s where Enbridge’s twin pipelines run along the bottom of Lake Michigan.

Mike Shriberg is the executive director of the Federation’s Great Lakes office.

“What this report shows is that there are additional stresses on this pipeline beyond what it was designed for," he says.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The U.S. EPA is making long term revisions to the 25-year-old Lead and Copper Rule. The new rules are expected to come out this year. A top EPA official says one of the biggest changes could be an expensive one.

Because of the water crisis in Flint, city officials now know there are more than 20,000 lead service lines, the water pipes connecting homes to a water main, still buried underground in Flint.

Because of Flint, we know that other cities are now at least trying to figure out how many lead service lines they have and where they’re located.

Map and charts of Legionnaires' disease in Michigan in 2015
Kaye LaFond/Michigan Radio

In 2014 and 2015, Genesee County saw the largest outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in at least a decade. The outbreak coincided with the city of Flint's switch from Detroit city water to water from the Flint River (and the subsequent lead exposure crisis).

 

Spring thaw may bring fish kills to Michigan waterways

Mar 8, 2017
NOAA / Flickr Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

As ice and snow melt, Michiganders should not be surprised to come across fish kills.

The state Department of Natural Resources said winter conditions often cause die-offs of fish and other aquatic creatures like frogs, toads, turtles and crayfish.

According to the DNR, winter kills are the most common form of fish kill. They are most often found in shallow lakes, ponds, streams and canals as winter ends.

The sinkhole in Macomb County.
Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio

FRASER, Mich. (AP) - It likely will take until Thanksgiving to repair damage from a broken sewer line that caused a football field-sized sinkhole on Christmas Eve north of Detroit.

Macomb County Public Works chief Candice Miller said Tuesday that the cost of the work would be determined Monday when a contract is awarded. 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/claudio_alvarado/15597292482/

 

What’s the first thing you do when you’re waiting at the post office or a bus stop?

Likely, you whip out your smart phone. That's according to Daniel Kruger, a scientist with the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.

A lighthouse on Pelee Island in Lake Erie.
Richard Hsu / Flickr

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a health advisory for microcystin. That’s the toxin that shut down Toledo’s drinking water supply in 2014.

It’s released by a kind of cyanobacteria that’s been forming on Lake Erie every year, and it can hurt your liver.

satellite map of Michigan, the Great Lakes
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Early budget indications suggest the Trump administration could slash funding for the Great Lakes.

There are many possible cuts to EPA programs. Great Lakes restoration money could be cut by 97%, and money for beach monitoring could be also at risk.

Courtesy photo / Holland BPW

The state is close to running out of money to clean thousands of abandoned, polluted properties all across Michigan.

The state spends about $15 million a year cleaning up abandoned industrial sites. The money comes from bond sales approved by voters back in the 1990s. That pot is almost exhausted.

Governor Rick Snyder has proposed a one-time shift of money to pay for the cleanup program in the coming fiscal year. The money would come from the fund that pays for decontaminating underground fuel tanks that’s financed by a portion of gas taxes.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

State officials are directing Michigan poultry producers to follow their bird flu prevention procedures.

There have been a rising number of reports of Avian influenza outbreaks in Europe and Asia this year.  

In Tennessee, poultry farmers are having to kill tens of thousands of chickens this week, after bird flu was discovered in a flock there.

There have been no cases of bird flu in Michigan this year.  

USGS

  LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan is turning to the public for help fighting Asian carp.

The state plans to offer a prize to someone who can come up with a way to keep the invasive fish out of the Great Lakes.

Michigan's Legislature and governor allocated $1 million to develop a global invasive carp challenge. Details on how much prize money will be offered are being worked out. Officials also haven't determined how many winners might be chosen.

The challenge will go live this summer in collaboration with crowdsourcing company InnoCentive.

Original plan for natural gas pipeline route. This plan has now changed.
Draft FERC filing / EnergyTransfer

There are a pair of natural gas pipelines being planned for Michigan. One is called NEXUS. Its main owners are Spectra Energy and DTE Energy. The other pipeline is called Rover. It's owned by Energy Transfer, which owns close to 5,000 Sunoco gas stations.

Both will carry natural gas from the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania, crossing Ohio, through Michigan, and into Canada. They could use eminent domain powers granted to them by the federal government. A lot of homeowners along the route are not happy.

Tom Whitten / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

 

It's an especially precarious time for Lake Erie's future.

That's according to Jeffrey Reutter, an aquatic biologist and limnologist from Ohio State University who has studied the lake since 1971.

It's his belief that if we lose the EPA, we lose Lake Erie.

Bottles of water
Flickr user Daniel Orth / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

The public has more time to comment on a bottled water company's plan to pump more groundwater out of a West Michigan aquifer

Nestle Waters North America wants to increase the amount of water it's pumping from a well in Osceola County from 250 per minute to 400 gallons per minute.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says it’s waiting for Nestle to respond to a request for additional information. The state says it expects a response by March 16.

Forest road
Flickr user christopherpeplin / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

In some parts of Michigan, there are forests that can take you back in time. Old-growth forests of towering trees offer a rare glimpse at what Michigan looked like before the logging boom of the late 1800's.

Donald Dickmann, a professor in Michigan State University's Department of Forestry, told Stateside where visitors can see stands of old-growth trees in Michigan.

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