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Great Lakes

Wayne State University Press, 2017

The story of the Great Lakes is one of remarkable beauty and extraordinary violence.

According to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, the Lakes have collectively claimed some 6,000 ships and 30,000 lives. As long as ships have been on the Lakes, ferocious storms have been swallowing those ships—and their crews—whole.

It’s that grim yet compelling history that Cindy Hunter Morgan explores in her new collection of poems, Harborless. The collection is Morgan’s telling of 40 different Great Lakes shipping disasters, stretching across two centuries.  

Part of a map of the easternmost oil and natural gas liquid pipeline that shows areas of "coating delamination." The east line shows 11 such areas. The west line shows seven.
Enbridge document submitted to the EPA

An Enbridge work plan document shows areas where a protective coating around its twin oil pipelines running through Lake Michigan might be failing.

Enbridge posted the document on its website last fall. It shows 18 specific areas along the pipelines where there is “coating delamination.” The 64-year-old pipelines were installed with a coating around them to protect for corrosion.

Microbeads on a penny.
Courtesy of The 5 Gyres Institute

The International Joint Commission, a treaty organization that advises the United States and Canada, says the two countries should do more to keep microplastics out of the lakes.

Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that are five millimeters or smaller. Microbeads are used in things like soap and toothpaste. Microfibers are tiny fibers that wash off our synthetic clothing, like fleece.

Those tiny plastics can end up in the Great Lakes and can get into fish.

Harrietta Hills Trout Farms co-owner Dan Vogler wants to produce up to 300,000 pounds of trout at the historic Grayling Fish Hatchery.
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Congressman Dan Kildee, D-Flint, is proposing a ban on certain types of fish farming in the Great Lakes region.  

In Fenton today, Kildee said federal laws are needed to replace a patchwork of state laws in the region that are insufficient to regulate the aquaculture industry.    

“These fish farms create all sorts of pollution…and increase the likelihood of significant impact on habitat,” says Kildee.  

Here are Kildee’s two bills:

Asian carp at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium.
Kate Gardiner / Creative Commons

Federal officials say they'll continue efforts to prevent Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes, despite uncertainty about what Donald Trump might propose.

The Obama administration has spent over $388 million since 2010 to shield the lakes from the invasive fish, which could disrupt food chains and compete with valuable native species.

Officials say they've budgeted $42 million this year for Asian carp projects. They include further study of ways to fortify defenses at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam complex on a carp-infested Illinois waterway leading to Lake Michigan.

One of the anchors used to hold Line 5 in place under the Straits of Mackinac.
Screen shot of a Ballard Marine inspection video / Enbridge Energy

Legislation has been introduced in Congress calling for a shut down of Enbridge's Line 5 if a federal study shows that it threatens the Great Lakes.

Line 5 is the controversial, 63 year-old underwater pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.

The legislation would require the federal government to conduct a study to determine the economic and environmental risks to the Great Lakes from possible failures of Line 5, and it puts a 12 month deadline on completing the study.

Republican Dave Trott and Democrat Debbie Dingell are co-sponsors of the legislation.

Waves on Lake Michigan.
user ellenm1 / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Tsunamis in the oceans are often triggered by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. But scientists say there’s a kind of tsunami that’s also a common occurrence on the Great Lakes.

These waves aren’t nearly as big as the ones on the oceans, but they can be deadly.

One reported to be 10 feet tall hit a Chicago pier in 1954 and seven people drowned.

Here's a meteorological model of that event:

Adam Bechle is a researcher at the University of Wisconsin. He says tsunamis on the Great Lakes are not so different from the ones in the ocean.

The Great Lakes from space in April 2003.
NASA

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - A U.S.-Canadian agency is considering additional ways to measure the safety of Great Lakes water for drinking and activities such as swimming and fishing.

The proposals were developed by researchers with the International Joint Commission, which advises both nations on issues involving shared waterways.

Scientists who advise the commission say assuring good water quality in the Great Lakes will require accurate measurements of not just treated drinking water, but also the sources of that water.

Courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources / Flickr Creative Commons -- http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The International Joint Commission (IJC) says the U.S. and Canada should create a strategy to reduce toxic chemicals called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in the Great Lakes. This comes from a new IJC report released Wednesday.

"The PBDEs polluting our Great Lakes are toxic substances of great concern," says the Canadian Section's IJC chair Gordon Walker in a press release

David Lobbig / Courtesy of Jenny Chipault

In the last few weeks, roughly 600 birds have died along the shore of Lake Michigan. They washed up on the beaches within the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, with more dead birds reported on beaches in the Upper Peninsula.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

It’s the busy time of year for commercial fishing on the Great Lakes. But the price of whitefish is about half what it was three years ago, because of problems with international trade.

Double-crested cormorant
USFWS

There’s now more evidence that manmade chemicals can spread far and wide.

 

Researchers have found a chemical called PFPIA in cormorants, northern pike and bottlenose dolphins. The chemical has been used in pesticides, and it belongs to a group of chemicals called perfluorinated acids. They’re used to make cookware non-stick and make carpets stain resistant.

 

Amila DeSilva is a research scientist at Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Reviving Michigan's coastal marshes

Sep 22, 2016
Allison Smart, a biologist with the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, examines wild rice in Arcadia Marsh.
Peter Payette

 

Most visitors to northern Michigan are looking for sugar sand beaches on the Great Lakes. But if you’re a spawning fish or a migratory bird, you might be looking for a coastal marsh.

The Great Lakes used to be lined with coastal marshes that were full of native plants and wildlife. But in lower Michigan, many of these places been drained, plowed, polluted and, more recently, overrun by exotic plants from other parts of the world.

 

Some conservation groups are working to restore and protect the marshes we have left.

Microplastics widespread in Great Lakes tributaries

Sep 15, 2016
A Healthier Michigan / flickr creative commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Tiny particles of plastic are prevalent in rivers that flow into the Great Lakes, according to a new study by scientists with  the U.S. Geological Survey  and the State University of New York at Fredonia.

The study found  microplastics in every sample taken from 29 Great Lakes tributaries in six states. These tributaries account for more than 20% of the total river water running into the Great Lakes.

Screencap from Google Maps / Google

A group of cities near the Great Lakes is appealing a decision to let Waukesha, Wisconsin draw water directly from Lake Michigan. 

Waukesha asked to divert water from Lake Michigan because its own water source is contaminated. 

Great Lakes governors approved the diversion, but many Great Lakes mayors disagree. 

A group of 120 of them – members of The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative – is appealing. 

Allyse Ferrara and Doug Stange pose with an alligator gar.
Courtesy of Allyse Ferrara

It has scales so tough Native Americans once used them as arrowheads.

It can grow longer than a horse, and it loves to munch on Asian carp.

It's the alligator gar!

This ancient fish is found in the south, but they're being restocked in rivers and lakes as far north as Illinois in hopes they might control Asian carp and, in turn, protect the Great Lakes. 

Proposed salmon cuts upset some fishermen

Jul 19, 2016
Headed out to go salmon fishing on Lake Michigan near Grand Haven.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A proposal to reduce the number of Pacific salmon stocked into Lake Michigan has upset some sport fishermen. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently took a poll of its advisory group.

It found about 40% of those surveyed were against the plan.

Millions of king salmon have been planted in Lake Michigan since the 1960s, as many as seven million fish a year at the peak. That has created a booming sport fishery.

But there is not much food for salmon in the lake these days, so fewer fish are being stocked.

Sleeping Bear Dunes
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

The U.S. and Canada have added polybrominated diphenyl ethers to their list of "Chemicals of Mutual Concern."

PBDEs are a class of flame retardants in furniture, electronics, car seats and the padding under our carpets. But the toxic chemicals don’t stay put. They leach out and build up in people and in wildlife.

Dave Dempsey is a policy advisor with the International Joint Commission. The IJC advises both countries on Great Lakes issues.

Auchter's Art: Water Diversion Worries

Jun 24, 2016
JOHN AUCHTER / AUCHTOON.COM

Artist's POV:

Remember the comedian Sam Kinison?

It's fine if you don't.

In fact, I would advise against YouTubing him. (And I disclaim all responsibility if you do.)

But back in the 1980s he had a particularly edgy standup bit about world hunger and Western popular reaction to it (Feed the World, USA for Africa, etc.). As was his style, Kinison suckered you in with a low-key, seemingly reasoned assessment of the situation, then, BANG!, smacked you upside the head with a loud, audacious screaming rant.

The city of Waukesha worked on their proposal for more than five years.
FLICKR USER IMAGE-PRO https://flic.kr/p/91DHsU

 

The governors of the eight states bordering the Great Lakes have said "yes" to Waukesha.

The Wisconsin city will be allowed to draw up to 8.2 million gallons of water from Lake Michigan each day. The city made the request because its groundwater source is contaminated with radium.

This is the first big test of the Great Lakes Compact which was formed by the Great Lakes states eight years ago to keep the lakes' water from being diverted by thirsty cities and states outside of the Great Lakes Basin.

Jack Lessenberry
Michigan Radio

This Week in Michigan Politics, Jack Lessenberry talks about an approved plan for Waukesha, Wisconsin to divert water from Lake Michigan, Enbridge Energy's announcement that it will spend $7 million on new equipment to clean up oil spills, and the growing use of body cameras in police departments.

In full disclosure, Enbridge Energy is a financial supporter of Michigan Radio.


Enbridge Energy

Increased public and political pressure has led Enbridge to invest $7 million in equipment to protect against a spill from the 63-year-old pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac. The Canadian energy company hopes to bring safety reassurance to Michigan through a series of community open houses near Line 5.

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.

 

map of michigan
Screencap from Google Maps / Google / Google

The city of Waukesha, Wisconsin will likely find out Tuesday if it can draw water from the Great Lakes to replace its own contaminated water.

Governors from eight Great Lakes states are expected to vote on the request. Any of the states can veto the diversion. Waukesha is the first community to request a diversion since the adoption of the Great Lakes Compact in 2008.

Environmental groups and some elected officials objected to the diversion, saying it could set a bad precedent.

Enbridge Energy's Line 5 oil and liquid natural gas pipelines run under Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Congress has ordered stronger safety measures for pipelines carrying oil and other fuels in the Great Lakes region.

The requirement is contained in a bill that cleared the Senate on Monday and the House last week. It now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The measure re-authorizes a federal program that regulates 2.6 million miles of pipelines nationwide.

Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan says it designates the Great Lakes as an "unusually sensitive area," where pipelines must meet tougher standards for safe operations.

A snapping turtle
Jessica Kosiara

A recent study published in Environmental Monitoring and Assessments finds turtles are getting doses of heavy metals such as lead and copper.

Matt Cooper is one of the co-authors of this study. He’s a research scientist at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin.

Courtesy of Tony Reidsma

Lake Michigan residents and business owners are expressing concern over rising water levels. Just three years ago, however, the concern was about record low water levels in the Great Lakes.

Al Steinman, president of the Annis Water Resources Institute at Grand Valley State University, told Stateside that there’s no need to worry about such a significant fluctuation in lake levels.

“People need to be patient,” Steinman said. “These water levels go up and down. It’s part of the natural cycle.”

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.

Decaying sea walls on Lake Michigan in Chicago.
Flickr user Mike Boehmer/Flickr / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Water levels in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron were at record lows three years ago. At the same time, water levels for the other Great Lakes were well below average.

This year is a bit different. Lake Michigan could be at a near-record high. The lake has risen four feet since that all-time low in January 2013.

Kathleen Torrenson is the president of Torreson Marine in Muskegon. She joined us today on Stateside to discuss how the changing water levels have affected her business and others located along the shoreline.

Torreson said these new high water levels are good for the boating business in the Great Lakes.

“It allows our customers and the people using the water a lot more flexibility in where they’re going and what they’re using,” she said.

But it’s not all good news.

“On the other side of the coin, high water tends to be really, really tough on fixed objects, like sea walls and fixed docks and things like that, things that were built when water levels were at other depths,” Torrenson said. “And as the water comes up and up, they become more prone to damage and erosion, kind of like what they’ve been seeing along the beaches.”

Torrenson said another effect of the sea level rise is that there’s “a lot less beach” compared to a couple years ago. Another flip side, however, is businesses like hers have had to do far less dredging to keep the lake deep enough for boats coming in near the shore.

A photocopy of a photo of Line 5 being installed in 1953.
State of Michigan

The state of Michigan, environmental groups, and reporters like myself have been asking Enbridge for more specific information about the condition of the pipelines for more than two years now.

The company has released limited information in the past, but stopped short of releasing detailed reports that show the condition of the pipelines. When it comes to this kind of information, the company holds all the cards. 

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