Great Lakes

Kevin Dooley / Flickr

Lake Michigan gets an overall ‘C’ grade on a new report card from the Senate Great Lakes Task Force. Beach water quality and lake water levels got ‘D’ grades, scoring lowest on the report card. Superfund cleanup efforts got a ‘B’ and the fight against invasive species like Asian carp got a ‘C.’

Matt Doss is with the Ann Arbor-based Great Lakes Commission. He says the poor grades will help the state.

“It’s going to help hold us all accountable for improving these grades moving forward,” he said. “We can do better and we need to do better.”

The Great Lakes Commission works to improve the health of all five Great Lakes.

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom

(courtesy of the Illins Department of Natural Resources)

State and federal wildlife officials say their latest search has turned up no Asian carp swimming in an Illinois lake close to Lake Michigan, though they admit they can’t say there are no carp in the lake. 

“We’re saying if there are fish there…they’re there in very low abundances," says Kevin Irons,  the head of the state of Illinois’ office of Nuisance Aquatic Life.   He says no Asian carp were found during a recent four day search of Lake Calumet.   Carp DNA was found in the lake recently.  

USACOE

There is new evidence that Asian carp may have slipped past electric barriers in Chicago-area waterways. The barriers are meant to keep the fish from reaching the Great Lakes.

The news has launched a new wave of arguments over the threat posed by the invasive species.

The Army Corps of Engineers turned up nine positive tests for Asian carp DNA out of hundreds taken from Chicago-area waterways.

Federal officials say that’s not proof the invasive species is getting closer to Lake Michigan, or that it poses an imminent threat of infesting the Great Lakes.

The state of Michigan is suing the federal government to get the shipping locks shut down as an emergency precaution.

John Sellek is with the Michigan Attorney General’s office. He says there is a growing body of evidence that the threat exists.

“How many more warnings do we need at this point that that impending tragedy is coming? The time for studying is over. It’s time to take action.”

The state is appealing a judge’s refusal to close the Chicago shipping locks while the Army studies ways to permanently ensure Asian carp don’t become a Great Lakes problem.

USFWS

Scientists have been testing the water in the channels and rivers above an electric barrier desiged to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

They've found DNA evidence of the carp in Lake Calumet in the past. Now they've found more.

From the Associated Press:

Scientists have turned up more genetic evidence of Asian carp above an electric barrier designed to keep them from invading the Great Lakes.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this week reported that nine water samples taken in May and June from Chicago-area waterways contained DNA from silver carp, one of two Asian species threatening to enter the lakes after migrating northward in the Mississippi River and its tributaries.

Hundreds of other samples had no carp DNA. But environmentalists say the latest findings show the electric barrier isn't enough to protect the Great Lakes. They want to sever the link between the lakes and the Mississippi basin near Chicago.

The federal government's Asian carp program coordinator said Thursday there's no evidence the fish are getting through the barrier.

DNA evidence can be a sign that Asian carp are in the water, but not necessarily so. It could just be that Asian carp scales or mucus are in suspension in the water column in that area.

Though one researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey says you're much more likely to find the DNA evidence before you find any fish:

"These fish are remarkably cryptic. They are very sensitive to nets and boats. They are not caught by accident by guys with rods and reels."

By the time Asian carp make themselves known, they tend to be breeding and well-established, he said.

"It's typical for a species to putter along at a barely noticeable level for several generations... but when you get the density high enough, you are definitely going to start noticing them."

Photo by Arthur Cooper

The U.S. House Appropriations Committee just passed a bill that contains some pretty major cuts to Great Lakes funding.

There are a couple of things being targeted:

One is Great Lakes restoration money. That’s being used to clean up pollution, restore habitat and fight invasive species. That pot of money is facing a 17 percent cut.

There are also much bigger cuts aimed at a program that helps cities upgrade their sewage treatment plants... and keep the sewage from overflowing into rivers and lakes. That program’s getting cut by 55 percent.

Jeff Skelding directs the Healing our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. He calls the bill a huge step backward.

“And let me be crystal clear on the following point: gutting clean water programs will not save the country money. In fact, it will cost us more.”

He says problems like sewage contamination on beaches and invasive species are getting worse.

The bill could come up for a full House vote as early as this weekend.

screen grab from raw video

More details have emerged about the deaths of two sailors participating in the Chicago-to-Mackinac race. A teenager was one of the six crew members who survived when the boat capsized during a storm.

From the Detroit Free Press:

C.J. Cummings was one of eight sailors tossed into the waves of a storm at 12:20 a.m. Monday. About 5:30 a.m., the phone rang with word that C.J. was OK and on shore at Charlevoix, along with his teenage friend sailing with the group.

"Hey, Dad," were the first words Chip Cummings heard from his son.

"Typical teenager," the relieved father said Monday, taking a deep breath. "Yeah, it was quite a rough ride."

The captain, Mark Morley, 51, and his girlfriend, Suzanne Bickel, 41, both of Saginaw, drowned.

Organizers of the Chicago-to-Mackinac race say they've never experienced a fatality in the race's 103 year history until Monday.

The Free Press reports the survivors were C.J. Cummings, 16; John Dent, 50; Stan Dent, 51; Peter Morley, 47; Stewart Morley, 15, and Lee Purcell, 46.

Morley and Bickel were found under the capsized boat strapped in. Tethers are often used in storms so crew don't get tossed from the boat. If the boat capsizes, crew members can cut the lines. Bickel and Morley's tethers were tangled, according to one rescue diver.

ABC News 7 in Chicago has this raw video of the capsized boat:

user andrea_44 / Flickr

When bacteria levels get high, county health departments close the beaches. The latest news of a beach closure is on Lake St. Clair:

A week after the Macomb County Health Department gave the all-clear message to swimmers at Memorial Park Beach in St. Clair Shores, the beach has again been deemed unsafe for swimming.

The department issued a no-swimming advisory today for the beach because of high E. coli levels

Blossom Heath in St. Clair Shores remains under the no-swimming advisory because of its E. coli levels, as it has been since May 26.

County health departments issue the warnings and closures, and the state keeps track of them.

The Michigan BeachGuard System has a map with red flags marking closures and advisories.

Currently, there are 15 advisories or closures at public beaches around the state - that's 15 out of 1,211 public beaches.

Linda Stephan, from Interlochen Public Radio sent this update on the missing sailors:

DETROIT (AP) - The Coast Guard says divers have found two people missing since their boat capsized in Lake Michigan during the annual Chicago-to-Mackinac Island race and that the two are "unresponsive."

The Coast Guard did not indicate in its news release whether the two boaters were alive or dead.

Authorities say a Charlevoix County dive team recovered the two boaters about eight hours after the reports the boat had flipped.

The boaters' names have not been released.

The other six people aboard the sailboat WingNuts were rescued. The boat capsized early Monday near the Fox Islands, west of Charlevoix during the Chicago Yacht Club race.

user jimflix / Flickr

A boat capsized last night during the Chicago-to-Mackinac Island sailboat race last night.

This from Peter Payette, news director at Interlochen Public Radio:

GSA.GOV

You've got 1 day 3 hours left to put your bid on the Fairport Harbor West Breakwater Light in Fairport Harbor, Ohio on Lake Erie.

Current bid is $39,500 (you might need to scrape a little paint).

Or if living in a red tube is your idea of fun, you might consider the Kenosha North Pierhead Light on Lake Michigan in southeast Wisconsin. The auction for this light closes tomorrow as well, July 13.

The Washington Post has a story on the federal government's efforts to auction off old, out-of-date lighthouses that no longer serve as navigational aids because of the advent of radar, unmanned light towers, and satellite navigation.

They first try to sell the lighthouses to groups or other public entities that will preserve the lighthouse for historical purposes. If that doesn't work, they go up for public auction.

Right now, the U.S. General Services Administration wants to give away 12 historic lighthouses to state or local entities, nonprofit corporations, historic preservation groups, or community development organizations.

Four of these historic lighthouses are on the Great Lakes.

Kate Davidson / Changing Gears

We brought the story of the Great Lakes dredging backlog to your radio and computer screen.

But sometimes, you need more of a visual. (Even more than my 18 million ovens post.)

So click through to my slideshow to meet some of the people affected by sediment buildup in regional shipping channels.

Chart courtesy of the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force

Who knew an inch could make such a difference?

In our piece this week on the Great Lakes dredging backlog, we introduced you to Mark Barker, president of The Interlake Steamship Company.  I called him “a man who measures revenue with a ruler.”

To see what that really means, check out the nifty chart from the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force (above).

It shows how much cargo a ship can hold for every inch of water it occupies. For the biggest vessels – the “thousand- footers” – one inch of draft corresponds to 267 tons of cargo. That’s why every bit of clearance matters to shippers trying to get the most bang from every trip.

Great Lakes harbors threatened by dredging backlog

Jul 5, 2011

The Great Lakes form a sprawling ecosystem of nature and industry.  In a strong economy, ships can transport up to 200 million tons of cargo across these waters each year.  But now the shipping industry has declared a state of emergency.  The cause is a region-wide dredging backlog.  Shippers worry sediment buildup threatens to choke some navigation channels.

Image courtesy of Wisconsin Sea Grant

Today, we wrap up our series, Swimming Upstream. Dustin Dwyer traveled all around the Lower Peninsula to gather stories for this series. And today we have a story we wish we didn't have to do. It's the story of toxins in our fish. 

Here's Dustin's story:

A few weeks ago, Joe Bohr got a surprise. He's a researcher for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. He was looking at some numbers for PCB contamination in carp caught in canals in St. Clair Shores.

Jerde et al.

The Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basin are connected, but it's an artificial connection.

Around the turn of the last century canals and channels were dug that reversed the flow of water.

Waters that used to flow into Lake Michigan now flow into the Des Plaines River and eventually into the Mississippi.

The reversal was a way of separating Chicago's sewage from its drinking water supply.

And with more than 2 billion gallons of water a day flowing out of Lake Michigan, it's the largest diversion of Great Lakes water.

Undoing what was done around a hundred years ago has been considered crazy talk because of the expense involved, but some scientists are now embracing that idea.

In a new paper released in the Journal of Great Lakes Research, four lead scientists (Jerry Rasmussen, Henry Regier, Richard Sparks, and William Taylor) argue that the costs of permanent separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basin are worth it.

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

This week, we've been hearing stories about fish, for our series "Swimming Upstream." For today's story, Dustin Dwyer paid a visit to some researchers with the Department of Natural Resources. The DNR tracks fish populations at sites around the state. Dustin went aboard with the team on Lake St. Clair, and sent us this report.

BigMikeSndTech / Creative Commons

President Cindy Larsen says they’ll now be known as the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce.

“It does seem simplistic in a way that a name change could make such a difference. But people put a lot of time and energy when they think about the names of their companies of their children, of anything that they name. So a name does make a difference.”

Larsen says they hope adding ‘lakeshore’ to their name will give people a positive visual image that better reflects the region’s identity.

screen grab from YouTube video / sWestern Lake Erie Waterkeepers and Ohio Citizen Action Education Fund

Power plants around the region are responsible for killing hundreds of millions of fish each year, according to an investigative report from the Chicago Tribune.

The Tribune's environmental reporter, Michael Hawthorne, looked at thousands of pages of industry reports documenting fish kills obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

Hawthorne reports that the reports "highlight a threat to the Great Lakes ecosystem that has largely gone unaddressed for years."

Photo by Rebecca Williams

There’s an enormous project underway to clean up and protect the Great Lakes. It’s called the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. People are doing things like cleaning up toxic hot spots... restoring wetlands... and trying to keep Asian Carp out of Lake Michigan.

Melinda Koslow is with the National Wildlife Federation. She’s an author of a new report on how climate change might affect these projects. She says scientists are finding the climate in the Great Lakes region is already changing.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - A new report says it would be technologically feasible to raise water levels in Lakes Huron and Michigan to make up for drop-offs caused by more than a century of dredging and other human activity.

But the report obtained by The Associated Press says it would take decades to accomplish the task and the price tag could exceed $200 million.

The study is scheduled for public release Friday. It was conducted by a team of engineers and scientists for the International Joint Commission, a U.S.-Canadian panel that advises both nations on Great Lakes issues.

They're trying to determine whether it would be worthwhile to place underwater dams, gates or other structures at the upper end of the St. Clair River to reduce the volume of water escaping Lake Huron.

Backcomp.gif: National Weather Service, Wilmington, NC

This week, state lawmakers will discuss what can be done to better protect people from rip currents on the Great Lakes. It’s estimated that about 30 people drowned in the Great Lakes last year because of rip currents. 

Rip currents form when powerful winds or surges of water press along the shoreline.  The water must eventually flow back out.  When it does the rip current created can prove too strong for even the best swimmer to escape. 

Flickr user Davichi

Sometimes getting caught can be a good thing.

A kayaker on the Manistee River in the northwestern Lower Peninsula recently was stopped by officers who were checking canoes and kayaks for safety equipment. The Department of Natural Resources says a man was adamant that he didn't need a life jacket or any other flotation device.

Just moments later, he flipped his kayak and landed in 51-degree water. Conservation officers Steve Converse and Sam Koscinski pulled him into their patrol boat and took him to shore.   

flickr Kate Gardiner

Federal and state officials have a new plan for dealing with the threat of Asian Carp invading Lake Michigan.    There are fears that the carp may destroy the Great Lakes fishing industry. 

The plan includes stepping up tracking of the invasive fish species and contracting with Illinois fishermen to catch the carp before they can reach Lake Michigan.

asiancap.org

 TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Federal and state officials are beginning a series of projects to pinpoint how close Asian carp are to the Great Lakes and reduce their numbers in Chicago-area waterways near Lake Michigan.

The Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee released a $7 million monitoring and sampling plan Monday.

It uses a variety of techniques to determine how many of the invasive fish are in the Chicago waters, remove as many as possible, and detect any flaws in an electric barrier designed to block their path to Lake Michigan.

In addition to netting and electrofishing, officials say they'll add new tools, including an underwater camera that can help determine whether fish are getting through the barrier.

Biologists say if Asian carp become established in the Great Lakes, they could starve out other species.

user pencefn / creative commons

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - A Canadian power company is no longer seeking U.S. permission to ship 16 scrapped generators with radioactive contents across three of the Great Lakes, but says it
hasn't abandoned the plan.

Bruce Power Inc. withdrew an application this month for a transport license from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Canada's Nuclear Safety Commission had granted the company permission in February to ship the generators, but U.S. approval was also needed because the vessels would cross into U.S. territory.

The Kincardine, Ontario-based company seeks to send the generators to Sweden for recycling. Environmentalists and other critics say transporting the school bus-sized devices on the Great
Lakes would be risky.

The company says it's delaying the shipment to allow further talks with opponents, including native tribes.

The federal budget left many groups wanting more money, but those lobbying to restore Lake Michigan and the rest of the Great Lakes are actually pretty pleased with the President and Congress.

Andy Buchsbaum co-chairs a group that’s trying to get enough funding over five years to restore the Great Lakes. He says the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative didn’t get all the money it wanted in the 2011 federal budget. But Buchsbaum says given the tight economic times, the $300 million they did get will keep the program on track.

“The Great Lakes did remarkably well this year in the federal budget, and the people in this region will benefit from it.”

In Michigan, Buchsbaum says the money is being used to restore wetlands. It’s also being used to get rid of toxic hot spots, such as the so-called black lagoon in the Detroit River area. And it’s being used to prevent Asian Carp from getting into Lake Michigan.

Buchsbaum says both parties supported Great Lakes restoration because of the economic benefits, and everyone wants their children to be able to swim at the beaches and drink the water.

-Julie Grant for The Environment Report

Photo courtesy of USFWS

There’s a decision looming for Lake Huron that would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. The state must decide whether it should keep putting chinook salmon in the lake. The fish has been the driving force behind sport fishing in the Great Lakes. But the salmon’s future in the Upper Lakes is now questionable.

It’s hard to overstate how drastically salmon transformed the Great Lakes after they were introduced more than 40 years ago.

Ed Retherford is a charter boat captain on Lake Huron. He says in the old days on a weekend in Rockport he’d see cars with boat trailers backed up for a mile or two waiting to launch. But that’s all gone now.

“You’d be lucky, except maybe for the brown trout festival, you’d be lucky to see twenty boats there on a weekend. It just decimated that area. You can imagine the economics involved.”

Chinook or king salmon practically disappeared from Lake Huron about seven years ago. Most of the charter boats are gone now because the kinds of fish that remain are just not as exciting to catch as salmon.

State officials figure little towns like Rockport lose upwards of a million dollars in tourism business every year without the fishery.

Business owners and politicians are trying to figure out how to make Michigan a manufacturing hub for things like advanced batteries, wind turbines, and solar panels.

They’re gathering at the Clean Energy Manufacturing Workshop in Ann Arbor today and tomorrow. The workshop is being put on by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy along with Ann Arbor SPARK.

Steven Busch will be paying pretty close attention.

He’s with Energetx Composites Company in Holland. It’s a spin-off company of Tiara Yacht. Before the economy went south, their main business was building high end yachts. Now, they make blades for wind turbines.

“The basic manufacturing process is very similar. We have the expertise on how to handle large, big, bulky things.”

He says they’re planning to stay in Michigan.

“Michigan offers the best engineering and manufacturing skill set probably in the world. Geographically, the Great Lakes are a great opportunity as a place to be able to ship products over the water.”

Busch says he’d like to see more training programs at universities and community colleges – and more retraining programs for former auto workers who want to get into the business.

United States Geological Survey

Ecologists from the University of Michigan say invasive zebra and quagga mussels are causing dramatic changes to the ecosystems in northern Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Their report says action must come soon to stop the spread of the mussels in the Great Lakes.

Donald Scavia  is the Director of the University of Michigan Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute. He's one of the authors of a new report that says the changes are happening quickly and require more attention than they are getting now:

“Our management strategies need to be able to be reviewed and modified every couple of years rather than every couple of decades.”

Scavia said the zebra mussels make it difficult to predict the conditions of the Great Lakes from year to year.

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