Great Lakes

National Wildlife Federation

We have some encouraging news from the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. They've just released an interactive map that pinpoints success stories across the region efforts to restore the lakes with projects funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Let's get an idea of what these success stories are and the challenges to the lakes that still remain.

For that we turn to Andy Buchsbaum, the director of the National Wildlife Federation's regional Great Lakes Office. He joined us in the studio today.

Listen to the full interview above.

The U.S. Senate has passed its 2013 Farm Bill, a huge piece of legislation - totaling almost a trillion dollars. We'll found out just what's in the bill, and why, as Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow likes to say, "Michigan is written into its every page."

And, we got an update on the Detroit mayoral race after one of the front-runners got kicked off the ballot.

First on the show, we continue our look at the Great Lakes. Yesterday, we talked about the state's "blue" economy, using our water resources to create jobs and boost industry here in Michigan.

So, today, let's turn to some encouraging news about our lakes from the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. They've just released an interactive map that pinpoints success stories across the region, efforts to restore the lakes with projects funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

To get an idea of what these success stories are and the challenges to the lakes that still remain, we turned to Andy Buchsbaum, the director of the National Wildlife Federation's regional Great Lakes Office.

A three day conference is getting underway in Marquette today, looking at the unique needs of cities on the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.

More than a hundred American and Canadian cities are part of the group organizing the conference.

Dave Ulrich is the executive director of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.

He says this year’s conference is focusing on the effects of climate change on Great Lakes cities, particularly on water levels on the lakes.

The Great Lakes from space.

The term "economy" is used constantly in news stories or opinion pieces about Michigan, its trials and tribulations, its budding recovery.

But John Austin would like to get us all thinking about the "blue economy," the one that is based on the Great Lakes and water-related industry.

John is the director of the Michigan Economic Center, which is affiliated with the Prima Civitas Foundation, and he joined us in the studio today.

Listen to the full interview above.

It wouldn't be summer without a search for Jimmy Hoffa. We spoke with Michigan Radio's Jack Lessenberry about why we're still fascinated by the Hoffa disappearance all these years later.

And, we talked about the huge economic changes to mid-America with the author of the new book, "Nothin' But Blue Skies: the Heyday, Hard Times, and Hopes of America's Industrial Heartland."

And, Donna Posont, the director of Opportunities Unlimited for the Blind, joined us to discuss her group’s new project, Michigan Birdbrains.

Also, a diver found a bottle containing a message from nearly 100 years ago at the bottom of the St. Clair River. He joined us to talk about his discovery.

First on the show, the term “economy” is used constantly in news stories or opinion pieces about Michigan, its trials and tribulations, its budding recovery.

But John Austin would like to get us all thinking about the "blue economy," the one that is based on the Great Lakes and water-related industry.

John is the director of the Michigan Economic Center, which is affiliated with the Prima Civitas Foundation, and he joined us in the studio today.

Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr held his first public meeting yesterday evening. We found out what Orr had to say and what city residents thought about his message.

And, after months and months of hearing about record-low water levels in the Great Lakes, new predictions now show levels could climb some 2 feet over the summer. We spoke with Al Steinman, the Director of the Annis Water Resources Institute at Grand Valley State University to get the details.

Also, the CEO of AutoBike, Inc. joined us today to talk about how bicycle businesses have benefited from the growing interest in cycling.

First on the show, that huge pile of petroleum coke lying alongside the Detroit River is triggering a growing sense of alarm. 

You may recall, we spoke with New York Times journalist Ian Austen here on Stateside about the origins of this mountain of "pet coke" that's growing in Southwest Detroit. It's a byproduct of tar sands oil refining used in energy production. When mixed with coal, it can be used as a low-cost fuel.

The piles are being brought-in by trucks  from the Marathon Petroleum Refinery in southwest Detroit, and the pet coke is being stored by a company called Detroit Bulk Storage for the OWNER of the pet coke: Koch Carbon.

US Congressmen John Conyers and Gary Peters and others have been voicing concern about the health and environmental risks of storing these piles of pet coke.

Nick Shroke is a professor of law at Wayne State University in Detroit and the executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, and he joined us today to discuss the issue.

NASA Goddard Photo and Video / Flickr

There are new reports that expect Lake Michigan and Lake Huron to climb nearly two feet this summer.

One comes from the Army Corps of Engineers, which projects lake levels to rise by 20 inches. 

Al Steinman is the Director of the Annis Water Resources Institute at Grand Valley State University. 

Steinman attributed much of the rising water levels to significant rain this spring. 

"We've risen eight inches since April."

Two northern Michigan representatives want to keep the picturesque shoreline of the Great Lakes free of spinning wind turbines.

New legislation introduced by Republicans Greg MacMaster and Ray Franz would stop any proposed research or production of offshore wind power in the Great Lakes that border Michigan.

It would also ban it for the future.

Critics say the bill lacks foresight.

"We think it is a mistake to limit research in this area," said James Clift, policy director of the Michigan Environmental Council. "We have a number of universities who have gotten grants to do research on offshore wind. It may be decades down the road, but to restrict our ability to even learn the possibilities there is extremely shortsighted."

Illinois Dept of Natural Resources

The Great Lakes governors are meeting this weekend on Mackinac Island.

There may have been a small breakthrough on a plan to deal with the threat of Asian carp spreading into the lakes.

There’s been some tension among the Great Lakes states over what to about Asian carp spreading from the Mississippi River system to Lake Michigan.

The two join at a shipping canal in Chicago. The Great Lakes Council of Governors agreed to adopt a common strategy to fight the spread of invasive species.

The curious history of a tasty little Great Lakes fish

May 28, 2013
Photo courtesy of The Cove. Used with permission.

Not too long ago, we reported that native fish are doing really well in Lake Huron.

The fish involved are not exactly well known species. But there is one that’s a household name in lakeshore communities. Its success is sparking some scientific debate.

A fish cocktail

The owners of The Cove in Leland have a problem. Food and travel writers who pass through seldom forget to mention the Chubby Mary®.  It’s a Bloody Mary with a smoked chub in it.

Mario Batali even put a photo of the cocktail on Bon Appetit’s website along with his endorsement.

The problem is there aren’t many chubs for sale these days because they are really hard to find in the 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.