Great Lakes

With approval by the U.S. State Department, the plan to build a new, second bridge from Detroit to Windsor is moving forward. On today's show we take a look at the community in Detroit where the bridge will be built.

Just what will happen to the Delray neighborhood? And, then, we'll speak with a woman who has hiked the shorelines of all five Great Lakes.

But first to the state Capitol, where we saw a flurry of voting last week as lawmakers put together the next state budget.

It's expected to total about $48 billion.

The Republican-controlled state House approved spending for schools and colleges as well as a budget to fund the rest of state government.

The state Senate, also controlled by Republicans, approved about half of its budget plan with more votes scheduled this week.

Now, these votes set the stage for negotiations between the two Chambers in May because the goal in Lansing is to get the budget complete by June 1st.

Joining us are Chad Livengood, Lansing reporter for The Detroit News, and Chris Gautz, Capitol Correspondent for Crain’s Detroit Business.

As we move into our middle years many of us yearn to do something to change things up in a big way.

Battle Creek's Loreen Niewenhuis took that question and really came up with something different: she got up from her desk, put on her hiking boots and started walking.

First Loreen walked around Lake Michigan.

Then she decided to walk over a thousand miles - hiking the shorelines of all five Great Lakes.

Her adventures are chronicled in her new book A One-Thousand-Mile Great Lakes Walk: One Woman's Trek Along the Shorelines of All Five Great Lakes published by Crickhollow Books.

Niewenhuis has taken off her hiking boots and joins us today on Stateside.

Listen to the full interview above.


The International Joint Commission (IJC) recommends that the U.S. and Canadian governments investigate the option of placing man-made structures in the St. Clair River to raise water levels in Lakes Michigan and Huron.

The IJC is a binational organization that develops recommendations and resolves disputes over waters between the U.S. and Canada.

More from Jon Flesher of the Associated Press:


Recent storms are improving the low water levels in the Great Lakes, at least a little.

Lakes Michigan and Huron hit record low levels this winter.

(See National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Great Lakes Water Level Dashboard for a look at Great Lakes levels in historical context.)

Ships are carrying less cargo, and boaters have had trouble getting in and out of harbors. To help with the low lake levels, the state started emergency dredging projects for some harbors. And experts say the recent storms are also helping a little.

Keith Kompoltowicz is the Chief of Watershed Hydrology for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Detroit.

It’s normal for the lakes to go up a little in the spring, but Kompoltowicz says we’ve had so much rain lately that the typical spring increases in Lakes Michigan and Huron are up by about two inches more than normal.

"There’s a huge contribution from those storms," said Kompoltowicz. "It’s looking like we came up from the first of the month through 22nd of the month. We’re up well over 5 or 6 inches, so far, from start of the month."

Two inches more on Lakes Michigan and Huron means the storms dropped 1.6  trillion gallons of water into the system.

But they’re called the GREAT Lakes, so even with all that water, Kompoltowicz says the lakes are likely to remain low.


The future of the Great Lakes, their management, and their usage were among key topics in a forum held recently at MSU's Institute for Public Policy and Social Research.

The forum focused on the key question of how we should manage these huge bodies of fresh water in order to guarantee their availability for future generations.

This is happening while the Obama Administration is asking for $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Jennifer Read is Deputy Director of the University of Michigan Water Center and Jon Allen is Director of the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes.

Both were in attendance at the forum, and they give us an overview of  what was discussed.

You can listen to the full interview above.

Dredging on the River Raisin. A mechanical dredge removing material on July 11, 2012.

Governor Rick Snyder says he’s pleased with an official opinion from state Attorney General Bill Schuette.

It says the state constitution does not allow the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund to pay for dredging and other types of maintenance on public harbors.

The governor says that affirms his position.

"As we look at, let’s look out to the future, I would not use the trust fund at all. That is not a place that I would look to for resources for this," he said.

The Governor and the Attorney General say the Natural Resources Trust can only be used to acquire and improve property for the public’s use.

Snyder and the Legislature reached a compromise earlier on an emergency dredging bill that taps into the Waterways Trust Fund and the state’s General Fund.

The money will be used for dredging this spring to clear harbors suffering from record low water levels. Low water levels could affect Great Lakes shipping and recreational boating.

Photograph by Mike Killion

When you think “surfing,” you probably think sunshine, “Aloha!” and warm beaches with palm trees. You probably don’t think winter, icebergs, and Lake Superior.

Surfing the Great Lakes is at its prime during the winter months, and this year’s delayed spring is providing a dedicated group of Great Lakes surfers with some great swells. Winter and early spring storms produce large waves that are ideal for surfing. 

Ryan Gerard is the owner of Third Coast Surf Shop in New Buffalo, Michigan. He’s noticed the effect of a late spring on surfing conditions.

“It is kind of a double edged sword,” he said. “The surf conditions have been pretty good lately because we’ve been having more of these weather conditions that bring us waves. I guess the other side of the sword is that we’re ready for summer too.”

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

President Obama is asking for $300 million for the Great Lakes in his 2014 budget. That money would go to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

It’s a huge project to clean up pollution, fight invasive species and restore habitat.

Chad Lord is the policy director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. He says there’s been a lot of progress over the last four years.

“All of these results are coming from the investments in new wetlands, buffer strips along rivers, cleaning up toxic sediments in areas around Detroit,” he says.

Illinois Dept of Natural Resources

A new study claims there is evidence that a small number of Asian Carp have reached the Great Lakes.   

Asian Carp is an invasive species that could potentially damage the Great Lakes environment and seven billion dollar fishing industry.

The paper released Thursday was written by scientists with the University of Notre Dame, The Nature Conservancy and Central Michigan University. It summarizes findings from a two-year search for the carp in and around the Great Lakes. 

Michigan chefs experiment with Asian carp

Mar 26, 2013
Sarah Payette

One of the strategies to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes is to eat the fish now living in the Mississippi River. But finding a market for millions of pounds of carp is not easy. Peter Payette wondered if people could get excited about Asian carp as a seafood delicacy. So he put some in the hands of chefs in Traverse City:

Asian Carp doesn’t taste like much. In fact, you might describe its taste as neutral.


The lower water levels in the Great Lakes are taking a bite out of the state's pocketbook.

Today, the Legislature sent a budget bill to Gov. Snyder that includes $20.9 million in funding for dredging harbors and marinas suffering from low water levels in Lakes Huron and Michigan.

Update 2:00 p.m.

Here's more on the $20.9 million approved for harbor dredging.

MLive's Tim Martin has a list of the 49 harbors and marinas to be dredged with the funds.

The bill had bi-partisan support, but State Senator Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor) voted against a bill to fund dredging of public harbors and marinas with money from the state's Waterways Fund.

"The Waterways Fund pays for things like maintaining our public marinas so that the public can have access to clean restrooms and great park locations at public marinas around the state - and they depleted that to do dredging. And to me, I just think it’s the wrong priority,” said Warren.

Supporters said it's more important to provide access to the harbors and marinas now. They say they plan to put money back into the Waterways Fund later on.

State Senator Geoff Hansen (R-Hart) said passage of the legislation today (before legislators take a two week spring break) will allow dredging to start in time for the summer boating season.

“With this emergency situation, we needed the money now. We didn’t need to wait, because it won’t do any good once we get into July and August to try and do the dredging then. We needed to put the money up front, get the bids out, get the work done,” said Hansen.

Gov. Snyder is expected to sign the bill quickly to free up the money for dredging contracts.

11:01 a.m.

The state Senate has sent Governor Rick Snyder a budget bill that includes almost $21 million to dredge Great Lakes harbors suffering from record low water levels.

We'll have more soon.

*An earlier headline read "$21 million for Great Lakes harbor dredging." $20.9 million was approved. We changed the headline.

Andrew McFarlane / Flickr

Lake levels are low, especially in Lakes Huron and Michigan, so harbors and ports want help clearing the way before boating season starts.

Gov. Snyder called it an emergency.

Members in the Legislature seem to agree as emergency money from the Natural Resources Trust Fund, a fund normally used for public land acquisition or improvement, is closer to reality.

Andrew McFarlane / Flickr

A battle over how to pay for emergency harbor dredging is brewing in Lansing. State Senator John Moolenaar (R-Midland) is sponsoring a bill that would explicitly identify harbor dredging as a proper use of  funding from the state's National Resources Trust Fund.

He says, “when it comes to recreational access to use our tremendous assets that we have in Michigan, we believe this is consistent, but we wanted to spell it out in state law.”

Environmental groups are criticizing the plan.  They say it would threaten the state’s ability to buy and improve parks and public land.

Hugh McDiarmid of the Michigan Environmental Council admits record-low water levels in the Great Lakes mean emergency dredging is necessary. But he says there are better ways to pay for it than raiding the Natural Resources Trust Fund. 

“Diverting money to dredge harbors,” he says, “would hurt communities around the state who wouldn’t have that money available for their parks and their recreational facilities.”

McDiarmid adds long-term harbor maintenance costs could drain the fund completely.  “Maybe purchasing land to create a new harbor would be a more appropriate use of the trust fund”, he says. “You know, some big investment like that rather than routine maintenance that would bleed the trust fund every year, and really should come from another source.”

Governor Rick Snyder is asking for more than $20 million for emergency harbor dredging in his proposed budget. That money would not come out of the Natural Resources Trust Fund.


I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but folks in Washington aren’t exactly getting along these days.

They couldn’t agree on how to cut the deficit, and now we’re facing automatic, across-the-board spending cuts from the federal government.

The cuts are scheduled to start March 1.

$85 billion will have to be stripped out of the federal budget this year alone.

The White House sent a press release detailing how these cuts might affect environmental programs in Michigan.

Here's what they wrote:

Michigan would lose about $5.9 million in environmental funding to ensure clean water and air quality, as well as prevent pollution from pesticides and hazardous waste. In addition, Michigan could lose another $1.5 million in grants for fish and wildlife protection.

We heard a lot about about how the sequester might affect things like airports, school funding, and Medicare, but we wanted to know more about the numbers above.

How might environmental programs in the region be affected?

Courtesy: Michigan Department of Natural Resources

In a press release today, Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources says Joseph Seeberger has both a state record and now a world record-sized Great Lakes muskellunge.

The International Committee of the Modern Day Muskellunge World Record Program (MDMWRP) recognized Seeberger’s catch as the biggest ever.  MDMWRP is a committee of muskellunge scientists, industry leaders, anglers and outdoor media personalities that formed in 2006.

Prior to Seeberger's submission, there had not been a MDMWRP world-record entry verified.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Lakes Michigan and Huron reached their lowest level ever recorded recently, and the other Great Lakes are down as well.

The Michigan Legislature and Gov. Snyder are calling for emergency dredging money to keep harbors open this summer.

Elizabeth Brackett of WTTW Chicago recently traveled to Leland, Suttons Bay, and Ludington, Michigan for her report that aired on PBS NewsHour.Here's her report on how low lake levels can lead to economic problems in shoreline towns.

In Brackett's report, Andrew Gronewold of the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory explained the low levels this way.

When the water temperatures increase, which they are right now, especially through the summertime; then, in the fall, when we have the cool air masses coming over the lakes, we have increased evaporation, and that evaporation rate has been exaggerated, particularly this year.

We're also in a year where there's been extremely low precipitation, so over the last year very little rain was coming in to the system, both in the form of snow melting in the springtime and then also direct rainfall onto the lakes themselves.

Brackett also reported on a controversy Rebecca Williams and Peter Payette talked about last week, the lack of funding for harbor dredging.

Chuck May of the Great Lakes Small Harbors Coalition said the federal government needs to do more.

Again, from Brackett's report:

The federal government actually owns these harbors, these channels. And they actually have a tax called a harbor maintenance tax that they put in place the beginning of 1985 to take care of these harbors. So far, in the past 15 years, they have collected $8 billion dollars that they have not spent on harbors.

Andrew McFarlane / Flickr

Some lawmakers in Lansing want to tap the state’s “rainy day” fund to pay for emergency harbor dredging in the Great Lakes.

A group of Republican state Senators today endorsed opening up $30 million from the fund for projects around the state.

They also offered a number of ways to fund future dredging projects.

State Senator Geoff Hansen (R-Hart) says a short-term solution isn’t enough to address record-low water levels in the Great Lakes.

“These are designed to be long-term solutions. We have the one-time, right now fix. And in the end of the day we need to have enough dollars to make that this year we’re keeping our ports open,” said Hansen.

Governor Snyder set aside over $20 million in his proposed budget for emergency dredging. That money would not come out of the state’s savings.

The lawmakers say their plan is meant to supplement Snyder’s proposal, not replace it.

Clare Brush

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been recording water levels for almost 100 years. In January, the levels in the Lake Michigan and Huron system dipped to the lowest levels ever recorded.

That’s causing problems for commercial shipping and recreational boaters.

Peter Payette has been covering this story for Interlochen Public Radio and I spoke with him for today's Environment Report.

Payette said the issue that is front and center is the need for more dredging in the smaller harbors and marinas. He says they have not been getting help from the federal government - help that used to be there.

"Traditionally, it’s been the federal government through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that has dredged these channels to keep them open, and that has not been happening, and so now with the lake levels lower that problem is really being exacerbated," said Payette.

What's impacting Great Lakes water levels?

Feb 5, 2013
The Great Lakes from space.

The Great Lakes are experiencing low water levels.

Lakes Huron and Michigan just reached record lows, and Governor Snyder recently called for an emergency action plan to address the problem.

One of our Facebook friends, Debbiedoe Nash, wrote this morning:

Over the last few years the waterline has dropped so far at our property on Huron that what once was the beach now has about two hundred feet of rocky swamp in front of it. Yikes.

So what are the causes behind these low lake levels?

We spoke with a few experts who gave us a run down of the factors, big and small, contributing to the extreme lows.


A new report from the National Wildlife Federation details ways climate change is affecting the Great Lakes states, including Michigan.

The report says there’s more heavy rainfall events, a major decline in ice cover, and warmer average water temperatures. It outlines a number of examples where wildlife and communities are reacting to the changes.


Governor Rick Snyder says emergency actions are necessary to address low water levels in the Great Lakes.

The lakes are at their lowest levels in decades.

Snyder says that could be a big threat to Michigan’s harbors.

“There’s going to be a need to do some, what I would describe as emergency dredging, to make sure we keep it open for commerce, for tourism, for many other issues. And that’s something we need to be discussing,” Snyder said.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

U.S. and Canadian leaders are getting together in Chicago tomorrow to talk about water.

There’s a pact between the two countries. It’s called the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.  It takes on all sorts of threats to water in our region, from toxic chemicals to runoff from farms and sewer overflows from cities.

Lyman Welch is with the Alliance for the Great Lakes. He says when the agreement was first signed 40 years ago, it was promising.

University of Michigan

The Great Lakes are under a lot of stress. 

34 different kinds of stress, to be exact.

That’s according to a research team that has produced a comprehensive map showing many of the things that stress the Great Lakes.  Think: pollution, invasive species, development and climate change... just to name a few. 

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Michigan's Electoral College cast votes for President Obama

"Michigan has officially cast its 16 Electoral College votes for President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. The state’s delegates met yesterday at the Michigan Senate Chambers in Lansing," Jake Neher reports.

Michigan clergy to rally against gun bill in Lansing

"Clergy from across Michigan are expected to rally in Lansing and call on Governor Rick Snyder to veto legislation that could allow concealed weapons in schools and churches. The gun bill would allow someone with extra training to carry a concealed weapon in a gun-free zone," the Associated Press reports.

Lakes Erie and Ontario are the most threatened of the Great Lakes

A three-year study has found that Lakes Erie and Ontario are the most seriously threatened of the Great Lakes, along with large sections of the Lake Michigan shoreline. As the Detroit Free Press reports,

"Among the biggest threats: Invasive mussels and lamprey that threaten the food chain, climate change that can affect water temperature and water levels, ballast water from ships that may introduce more uninvited species, a buildup of urban areas along the coast that sweeps auto and human waste into the waters during rainfall, and a continual runoff of phosphorous from farmlands."

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

A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit brought by five Great Lakes states that would force the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to erect physical barriers to prevent Asian Carp from entering Lake Michigan.

The suit claims that the Corps unwillingness to separate Chicago-area rivers and canals from the lake constitutes a public nuisance.

The AP has more:

NASA Goddard Photo and Video / flickr

This week on Seeking Change, Christina Shockley spoke with Loreen Niewenhuis. She's a Michigan author who hiked 1,000 miles to parts of all the Great Lakes.  She wanted to learn how this water that surrounds our state-- and defines our state-- works. She also wanted to learn about the concerning points for the lakes.  She'll write about this experience as well, in a book out early next year.

Andrew McFarlane / Flickr

Lakes Huron and Michigan are reaching record low water levels, and businesses along the Third Coast are feeling the effects.

Yesterday, Russell Dzuba, the harbormaster in Leland, Michigan (think Michigan's pinkie right on Lake Michigan), spoke with NPR's Melissa Block about what he's seeing out his window.

The low water levels have revealed a sand bar inside the Leland Harbor.

"...that ordinarily is not a good thing in a harbor," said Dzuba.

From the interview:

"We had an incredibly warm season - warm winter season last year, and we lost a lot of water to evaporation, and that takes place during the whole winter, as well as the summer.... Traditionally, we don't freeze as we did in the old days. It used to freeze all the way across the channel, 11 miles out to North Manitou Island. That hasn't happened here in a number of years."

You can listen to the interview here:

Last month, I posted on the low lake levels. If they continue to drop, which is expected, the low lake level record from March 1964 will be beat.

Stateside: Michigan's shores documented in the Fresh Coast Project

Nov 27, 2012
Ed Wargin

Photographer Ed Wargin is enchanted by the Great Lakes; he endeavors to document all 10,000 miles of their shores with his Fresh Coast Project.

The project's aim is to celebrate the beauty of the Great Lakes through the ephemeral medium of film photography.

"I've realized we often look at the Great Lakes in parts and pieces. The goal of the project is to try to look at the Great Lakes as one story," said Wargin.

Wargin hopes his shots of gleaming sunsets will  inform people of the state's abundant resources and thereby promote their preservation.

Hear Wargin further discuss his Fresh Coast Project on today's podcast.

There are two ways you can podcast "Stateside with Cynthia Canty"

Bruce Power / Ontario Power Generation

The Bruce Nuclear Power Plant sits on the Ontario side of Lake Huron. It’s across the lake from Michigan’s Thumb region.  Ontario Power Generation owns the plant. 

The company wants to store the lower level nuclear waste from all of their plants underground, near the Bruce plant.

They’re proposing to dig almost a half mile underground to build the facility. It would be a little more than half a mile away from the shore of Lake Huron.

Stateside: Hike, bike and kayak the Great Lakes

Nov 8, 2012
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Midwest residents may have three new ways to enjoy the Great Lakes.

At a conference in Saugatuck this week, Western Michigan University geography professor Dave Lemberg will discuss plans for a 1,600 mile route along Lake Michigan.

Lemberg spoke with Cyndy about the details of the route.