Great Lakes

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Organizations protecting the Great Lakes are being promised a big boost from the federal government.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack says hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent on conservation programs in eight significant regions of the country, including the Great Lakes.   The announcement was made near Bay City this afternoon. 

Tiia Monto / Wikimedia Commons

The common tern used to nest in great numbers in the lower Great Lakes region, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. But in recent decades, common tern nests and their brown speckled eggs have largely disappeared from the region. 


Spring is here and warmer air has finally come to the region, but we're still surrounded by five refrigerators – the five Great Lakes.

Lake Michigan broke a record this past winter for total ice coverage, so you know there won't be many people swimming in the lake over Memorial Day weekend.

The lakes will, however, have plenty of fisherman on them. And with the cold water and warm air, they might experience fog.

But have you ever seen a fog bank like this?

Asian Carp
Kate.Gardner / Flickr

When you hear the words "Asian carp," chances are that nothing good will come to mind.

We know they're big, ugly, lightning-fast, voracious eaters, and a highly invasive species. 

And there are great fears as to what could happen if they decide to make the Great Lakes home. 

Duane Chapman is a research fish biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey. He leads their Asian carp research. Chapman is among scientists who say there has been an up side to all the studies they've been doing since the Asian carp came onto our radar screens. 

He joined today us on Stateside.

*Listen to the full interview above. 

Google Maps

Its official name is the Deep Geologic Repository project (DGR).

It's a proposed underground site to store nuclear waste. A site that would be located less than a mile from Lake Huron near the town of Kincardine, Ontario. It’s about 11 miles northeast of Port Huron on the Canadian side of the lake.

If Ontario Power Generation wins approval, its underground site could store 52 million gallons of low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste – again, less than a mile from the source of drinking water for many millions of Americans and Canadians.

Nuclear scientist Frank Greening once worked for Ontario Power Generation.

He says some of the materials that would be stored underground are hundreds of times more radioactive than what was told to Canadian government officials who are considering the site.

*Listen to our interview with Frank Greening above.

Pushing to expand the ban on a lawn care ingredient

Apr 29, 2014
Julie Grant

Cyanobacteria blooms continue to plague Lake Erie. Farms and wastewater have gotten a lot of attention for contributing nutrients that create these harmful blooms.

More recently, the spotlight has focused on lawn care. Grass fertilizers can also contain phosphorus that winds up in waterways. Michigan and other states around the Great Lakes have already banned lawn fertilizers that contain phosphorus. Now international regulators and others are pushing Ohio and Pennsylvania to do the same.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

I thought I knew a lot about the Great Lakes, until I met Chris Gillcrist. He’s the kind of guy you want on your Trivial Pursuit team.

This is the kind of fact I learned from him every few minutes:

“The first millionaire in American history is John Jacob Astor. It’s a guy trading beaver pelts from the Great Lakes and sending them to Europe.”

Gillcrist is the executive director of the new National Museum of the Great Lakes. It opens this Saturday, April 26, in Toledo.

There are a lot about shipwrecks here, sure,  but Gillcrist wants you to know it’s much more than that.

“We look at it as retrofitting American history to more accurately depict how the Great Lakes impacted the nation as a whole over the past 300 years,” he says.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Monahan’s Seafood Market in Ann Arbor carries soft-shell crabs from Maryland, Alaskan salmon, and Florida red snapper.

But at the moment, they’re fresh out of Great Lakes whitefish.

Bernie Fritzsch manages the fish market.

“We’re hoping to see it today, but we haven’t seen it for the last week,” he says.

Coast Guard tops in drunken boating arrests

Apr 13, 2014
Facebook/U.S. Coast Guard

MARBLEHEAD, Ohio – A U.S. Coast Guard station that watches over western Lake Erie led the nation in drunken boating arrests last year. 

The Coast Guard says officers with Marblehead station charged 67 people with boating under the influence in 2013.

The average gas mileage of new vehicles sold in the U.S. has steadily been improving, and greenhouse gas emissions are at an all-time low. The Environmental Protection Agency also recently set new emissions standards, scheduled to be phased in between 2017 and 2025, that will reduce the amount of sulfur found in gasoline.

But is the slow and steady climb in fuel economy and emissions enough? On today’s show, we ask if the Obama administration's 2016 and 2025 fuel efficiency goals setting the bar too low?

Then, a new documentary film brings us the story of the Great Lakes as seen through its ice.

And, last month, Gov. Snyder confirmed a financial emergency existed in Royal Oak Township. Can other communities learn from Royal Oak’s situation?

Also, the Share Art Project is a collaborative effort among artists at the Buckham Gallery, students and the Genesee Valley Regional Center. We spoke to a Buckham board member about the program and an upcoming exhibit.

First on the show, there have been two big developments this week in the high-stakes showdown over Detroit's pensioners, its art treasures and creditors, who hope bankruptcy judge Steven Rhodes will pressure the city to put those art treasures on the table.

There's a lot to try to sort out. So, as we do each Thursday, we spoke to Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes.


Those of us who live in Michigan grow up with an ingrained awareness of the Great Lakes. We drink their water, sail and swim in them, build homes and cottages on their shorelines, and live with the weather they help produce.

The Great Lakes are an economic power-player. They contribute one trillion dollars to America's gross national product. And let's not overlook that $4 billion Great Lakes fishing industry.

A new documentary film brings us a unique look at the Great Lakes. PROJECT: ICE explores the crucial role that ice has played and continues to play in shaping and maintaining Michigan's most important resource.

The executive producer and director of PROJECT: ICE, Bill Kleinert, joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

*Support for Arts and culture coverage on Stateside comes in part from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts.

It's no surprise that shipping conditions on the Great Lakes are miserable, even though spring has officially sprung and the shipping season officially opened March 25.

No commercial traffic has yet made it to the Soo Locks and ice is still four feet thick in some places, particularly in Lake Superior. On today’s show, we speak with a member of the U.S. Coast Guard about what's being done about this.

Then, what happened as World War II brought women and minorities into Detroit's assembly plants?

And, the Detroit bankruptcy is starting to affect the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. Water prices could go up, impacting consumers far outside the city. Daniel Howes joined us for our weekly check-in to tell us more.

Also, Phil Cavanagh became the third candidate to enter the race to replace Robert Ficano as Wayne County Executive.

First on the show, Michigan's economy may be pulling itself up and out of the Great Recession.

But our schools are still mired in an "education recession" and all of our children are paying the price.

That's the finding of the newest State of Michigan Education Report from The Education Trust-Midwest.

It's an eye-opening exercise to see how our state's schools and student performance compares to two states that are powering ahead in the national assessment: Massachusetts and Tennessee.

What lessons can Michigan learn from those two states?

The co-author of the new education report, Amber Arellano of The Education Trust-Midwest, joined us today.


The Detroit Tigers weren't the only ones to hold an Opening Day.

The Great Lakes shipping season officially opened March 25.

And, unlike Opening Day at Comerica Park, this one is much less well attended.

No surprise: The near-total ice coverage on the Great Lakes has led to a very slow start to the shipping season and a whole lot of ice-cutting for the U.S. Coast Guard.

Mark Gill is the director of vessel traffic services for the U.S. Coast Guard in Sault Ste. Marie, and he joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.


A treatment that kills zebra and quagga mussels could soon be available for use in lakes and rivers. It’s very effective and safe.

But it is not likely to undo much of the ecological damage done to Michigan waters by invasive mussels.

It could be good news, though, if you’re a clam.

Chief Petty Officer Alan Haraf / Coast Guard

The Coast Guard says crews didn't find any more oil during the latest search of the Lake Michigan shore following last week's spill at BP's northwestern Indiana refinery.

Last Monday, BP's oil refinery in Whiting, Indiana south of Chicago spilled crude oil into Lake Michigan. The company estimates the spill to be somewhere between 630 and 1,638 gallons. The oil made its way into the lake through a malfunction in the refinery's cooling system. 


ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - The University of Michigan is planning a wide-ranging study of how people in the Great Lakes region can adapt to changing water levels.

Don Scavia of the university's Graham Sustainability Institute announced the study Thursday in Ann Arbor at the conclusion of a seminar on the topic for scientists, policymakers and advocates.

It will be modeled after a broad analysis that university experts conducted last year on the natural gas extraction process known as "fracking."

Great Lakes levels fluctuate with the seasons and over longer periods. They've risen substantially in the past year after a sustained low period, but it's uncertain how long the comeback will continue.

Scavia says that shoreline property owners, communities and businesses need to accept that lake levels will not remain stable and make necessary adjustments.


TRAVERSE CITY – A group of U.S. senators wants the federal government to move faster on preventing Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes through waterways in the Chicago area.

Eleven senators from states in the region sent a letter Tuesday to the assistant secretary of the Army, whose office oversees the Army Corps of Engineers. The letter asks a series of questions about when the Corps might begin tasks such as adding barriers at the southernmost lock in the Chicago Area Waterway System.

It also asks what authorization the Corps needs from Congress to move more quickly toward short- and long-term solutions.

The Corps issued a report in January with options for blocking the invasive carp's path to Lake Michigan, but says Congress and regional stakeholders must choose the final plan.


My neighbors and I officially had our last "pond hockey" game over the weekend. We moved everything off the ice as things started to melt.

So the ice in the region has reached its peak, right? No one thinks we're going to be hit with another prolonged polar vortex, do they? 

Let's hope not.

With the most frigid part of this winter over, let's look at the record books for ice cover on the Great Lakes.

Here's what we know.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

President Obama’s 2015 budget includes some cuts to Great Lakes programs.

Obama is asking for $275 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. That would be $25 million less than the current funding level.

Todd Ambs is the campaign director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. He says if the cuts go through, you'd see projects slow down.

“Whether it’s a contaminated cleanup project that’s underway but not completed, or a habitat restoration effort or dealing with the problems of keeping aquatic invasive species out of the Great Lakes.”

Great Lakes ice levels as of March 4, 2014. The blue areas show open water.

The last time I posted on this (on Feb. 26), the ice levels on the Great Lakes had dropped off.

There had been a slight warm-up and some strong winds that had opened up the water.

But it's been cold since then, and the ice levels have increased on the Great Lakes. Here's a graphic showing you where the ice levels stand as of yesterday. The blue areas show the open water:

As I mentioned in my previous post, ice formation on the lakes is dynamic – constantly changing.

User: Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Flint mayor declares war on blight

"Flint Mayor Dayne Walling is calling for a $70 million "war on blight" to help tear down nearly 6,000 buildings in the financially troubled city. Walling made the declaration Monday in his State of the City speech," the Associated Press reports.

Great Lakes 90% covered with ice

All of the Great Lakes combined have 90% ice cover. According to the Detroit Free Press, "that's the most ice cover in 34 years."

Lawmakers want to ban term "retard" from state law

"Michigan lawmakers are looking to remove the terms 'mental retardation' and 'mentally retarded' from state law. Bipartisan bills would strike references to outdated language such as 'retarded' from various statutes and instead use terms such as 'developmentally disabled' or 'intellectually disabled'," the Associated Press reports.

R. Greaves / NOAA GLERL

It might seem a little counterintuitive, but right now, a bunch of scientists are thinking about how high the water at Great Lakes beaches will be this summer.

Early last year, the Lake Michigan-Lake Huron system hit record low water levels.

It made life tougher for the shipping industry, and it’s hard on people who run Great Lakes ports.

Russell Dzuba is the harbor master in Leland.

“For us, it’s shallow. When we went to dredge this year we had to go a foot deeper and the world was a foot shorter, if you will,” he says.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Massive blooms of cyanbacteria (sometimes referred to as blue-green algae) and dead zones in Lake Erie: These used to be major environmental problems around the most urbanized Great Lake back in the '60s and '70s, but they are problems once again.

Now, an international agency that keeps an eye on the health of the Great Lakes is calling for more action.

The International Joint Commission, a U.S.-Canadian agency, wants sharp cutbacks on phosphorus runoff getting into Lake Erie.


Update: March 5, 2014, 3:36 p.m.

The Great Lakes are again icing up and approaching the 1979 record. See this post for more.

Original post: February 26th, 2014, 11:17 a.m.

This frigid winter has us watching the record books again. The record for the most amount of ice cover on the Great Lakes was set back in 1979. That's when the ice cover reached the 95% mark.

Archeologists studying a wooden beam pulled from northern Lake Michigan this summer can't say whether it is a piece of the first European ship to sail the upper Great Lakes or a post from an old fishing net. The group managing the project is close to issuing a report to the state archeologist, but it won’t reach any firm conclusion.

Read on to discover the evidence that points to each conclusion.

Lizzy Freed

Very few people are amused with what this winter has brought Michigan.

The Associated Press wrote that the polar vortex (let's be honest, vortices) covered 79% of the Great Lakes in ice. 

It's not a record, but it's well above the long-term average of about 51 percent.

Farm in rural Michigan
user acrylicartist /

The farm bill has about $57 billion for conservation.

Director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition Todd Ambs says a lot of people don't realize the farm bill is where we find the largest source of conservation money from the federal government.

"That’s because there are so many activities that happen on the land that bring us our food, that if done improperly can have a very adverse impact on the soil and also to surrounding waterways," he says.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

State lawmakers want to know whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is inflating the cost and time it would take to keep invasive species out of the Great Lakes.

Army Corp officials will face questions from legislators Tuesday about a report it released last month.

It says separating the lakes from the Mississippi River would take more than two decades and up to $18 billion to complete.

Many state officials and environmental groups say separating the two watersheds is the best way to prevent Asian carp and other species from moving into the Great Lakes.

Cold temps cover 79 percent of Great Lakes in ice

Feb 9, 2014
National Park Service

CHICAGO (AP) - This winter's bitter cold temperatures in the Midwest have covered a stunning 79 percent of the Great Lakes in ice.

It's not a record, but it's well above the long-term average of about 51 percent.

Lake Michigan is about 63 percent frozen. And the second largest lake in the system, Huron, is about 85 percent covered.

Lake Erie, at 93 percent, has the most ice cover.

The data comes from the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

Brian Murphy

Let's call today Throwback Tuesday, and go way, way back to the 1920s.

That's when Sir Alexander Fleming stumbled on a mold that stopped bacteria from growing in a petri dish. He called it penicillin.

Ever since that huge discovery, people have been looking all over the Earth for more organisms that can fight disease.

Brian Murphy has been searching at the bottom of the Great Lakes.