Great Lakes

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.

Phault / Creative Commons

A bill introduced in the state house would ban wind farms in the Michigan’s portions of the Great Lakes.

The bill was co-signed by Republican State Representative Jon Bumstead. His district includes communities along the Lake Michigan shore, north of Muskegon.

Jeffrey Simms Photography / Flickr

Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin and Senator Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican, will co-chair the U.S. Senate’s Great Lakes Task Force for the next two years, the Associated Press reports.

Levin has been on the task force since 1999. Kirk is taking over the position for fellow Republican Senator George Voinovich who retired earlier this year. The AP explains:

The bipartisan group deals with Great Lakes issues that involve the federal government. It has supported an interstate compact to protect water supplies and funding for programs such as invasive species control and cleanup of contaminated sediments.

Kirk said Tuesday he hoped the panel also would develop legislation to crack down on dumping raw sewage into the lakes.

In a statement released on Senator Levin's website yesterday, Levin said:

“I am pleased that Senator Kirk will serve as co-chair of the task force, and I’m excited about our prospects to protect and enhance our Great Lakes. The task force has led the way to passage for legislation to clean up contaminated sediments, fight invasive species and prevent the diversion of precious fresh water from the Great Lakes basin. I look forward to working with Senator Kirk and I am confident that he will help add to that important legacy.”

Carping Criticism

Mar 17, 2011

Remember the Asian carp, which migrated up the Mississippi, into the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and which experts feared were about to get into Lake Michigan?

That’s where things stood when I first talked about this issue here more than fifteen months ago. Since then, traces of carp DNA has been found in Lake Michigan, though there is no evidence that a permanent breeding population has been established there.

Big fish kills in Lake St. Clair and along the St. Clair river this winter puzzled some residents and scientists in the area. The Detroit News reported that, "the cause of the massive fish die-offs, which began in mid-December, remains a mystery to state investigators...Dead gizzard shad is a common sight this time of year — but not in the tens to hundreds of thousands being reported this winter."

(Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources)

The Obama Administration’s point man on the Asian Carp crisis says there’s no way to speed up the efforts to permanently keep the invasive fish from reaching the Great Lakes.

The Asian Carp have destroyed native fish populations in the Mississippi River and have swum within a few miles of Lake Michigan.  There are concerns that if Asian Carp enter the Great Lakes ecosystem, they will overwhelm and destroy the region's multi-billion dollar fishing industry.

Several members of Congress want the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed up their 5 year review of possible action plans to stop the carp. Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow says time is important.

 “We have to have a sense of urgency about it.  The Army Corps is studying this issue now, but it’s going to take them several years…we don’t have several years.  We need to get this done as quickly as possible.”   

But Obama Administration Carp Czar John Goss says the 18 month schedule proposed by members of Congress is not enough time. 

 “Realistically I think it’s going to take substantially longer than that to get the right solution in the long term.”

Major General John Peabody is the commander of the Corps of Engineers ‘Great Lakes & Ohio River’ Division. He says finding a solution will take more than 18 months. 

“I never say never, because you don’t know what you don’t know about the future.   But in our judgment it’s not possible because of the complexity of the situation.”

The president’s top people on the Asian Carp crisis held a public hearing today in Ypsilanti.

LouisvilleUSACE / Flickr

John Goss, the Obama Administration's so-called "Asian carp Czar" will be in Ypsilanti, Michigan today. Goss, along with federal officials from the U.S. Corps of Engineers, will discuss long-term strategy for keeping the invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. The Associated Press reports:

The Army Corps is conducting a study of how to stop migrations of invasive species between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins. One option is separating the man-made linkage between the two watersheds in the Chicago area.

The study is scheduled for completion 2015. Legislation introduced in Congress last week calls for a quicker timetable.

Michigan congressman Dave Camp had hoped he could cut off federal funding to reopen the Chicago Sanitary Canal.  The canal could be the main path of Asian Carp may take from the Mississippi River watershed to Lake Michigan.   The Associated Press reports last night's vote wasn't close: 

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

President Obama released his 2012 budget yesterday.

In it, he calls for major cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

The goal of this multi-year program is to restore habitat... clean up pollution... and keep new invasive species out of the Lakes.

Initially, President Obama requested $475 million for the first year of the program. He got that under a democratic Congress.

Congress is wrestling with how much money to allocate for the second year (this current fiscal year).

President Obama's budget deals with the third year of GLRI funding.  Obama wants to cut $125 million out of next year’s budget for the program.

I talked with Jeff Skelding, the campaign director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, to find out what this might mean. He says:

"The state of Michigan has a huge stake in this. They need their share of that funding to insure that restoration activities proceed forward under severely challenging economic times."

Skelding calls the GLRI "probably the most historic restoration program ever enacted by Congress for the Great Lakes." He says there is strong bi-partisan support for the program from the Great Lakes Congressional delegation, which makes him hopeful.

Well, it’s Valentine’s Day, and Mother Nature has shown Michigan a little love, at least. The temperature this morning was about forty degrees warmer than just a few days ago.

That makes a considerable difference when you have a puppy who wants to go for a mile and a half walk every morning, regardless of the weather. Nevertheless, Michigan needs all the love it can get.

Bug_girl_mi / Flickr

A group of environmentalists is calling on Congress to fully fund Great Lakes restoration projects in the federal budget.

They say the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is working to clean waterways and drinking water, and create jobs in the Great Lakes region.

Jeff Skelding, with the Healing Our Waters coalition, says talk of budget cuts in Washington, D.C. have Great Lakes conservationists on guard:

There are those in Congress who would gladly take the axe to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative without a second thought. Our message to Congress is – cutting successful Great Lakes restoration programs that protect drinking water, safeguard public health, create jobs and uphold the quality of health for millions of people is exactly the wrong thing to do.

The coalition hopes Congress will approve $300 million dollars for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the coming weeks.

Kate.Gardner / Flickr

John Goss, the Obama administration's so-called 'Asian carp czar,' was in Traverse City yesterday to talk about how the federal government is trying to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. Goss said the government is moving as fast as possible to keep the species out of the Lakes. There's concern that if the carp made their way into the Great Lakes it would devastate the waters' ecosystem.

Kate.Gardner / Flickr

Want to hear how the federal government plans to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes? Well, now's the time. John Goss, the Obama administration's point man in the fight against Asian carp, will be part of a federal delegation visiting Traverse City today for back-to-back public meetings.

The Associated Press reports:

The officials will outline their strategy and take comments on a long-range study of how to prevent the carp and other invasive species from migrating between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins.

Environmentalists, Michigan and four other Great Lakes states want to sever the man-made link between the two aquatic systems. The Army Corps of Engineers is conducting the study and says that's one option.

Activists also say the study's planned completion date of 2015 isn't soon enough.

There's concern that if the Asian carp make their way into the Great Lakes that they could wreak havoc on the lakes' eco-systems.

flickr user molajen

The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting "a bizarre scene evolving along the Chicago lakefront."

Geese and mallard ducks are apparently gulping down thousands of dead fish that are in the ice or floating in the open water around the ice.

The paper quotes Lake Michigan Program biologist Dan Makauskas who says:

"Gizzard shad are pretty sensitive. On the toughness scale, [they] are pretty soft."

Some biologists attribute the die-off to lower oxygen levels because of ice cover around the lakefront.

Former Muskegon Chronicle reporter Jeff Alexander wrote about a gizzard shad die-off on Mona Lake in Muskegon County back in 2008.

That die-off was attributed to a hard winter as well. From Alexander's report:

Gizzard shad die-offs are common in several area lakes. The fish often die during winter as ice cover decreases oxygen levels in the water; the fish also die from thermal shock when the lake warms up rapidly in the spring, said Rich O'Neal, a fisheries biologist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Gizzard shad are members of the herring family and are native to the Great Lakes.

Photo by Rebecca Williams

Governor Rick Snyder picked outgoing Republican state Senator Patty Birkholtz to lead the Office of the Great Lakes. As you might guess, the director of this office oversees all things Great Lakes. Birkholtz will advise the governor and make policy recommendations on everything from Asian carp to water use.

Birkholtz says protecting the Great Lakes will lead to a stronger economy.

“When we have a healthy Great Lakes system we have more jobs here in this state as well as regionally, and if we don’t have a healthy Great Lakes system it’s a detriment to not only the jobs situation but also businesses locating here."

Silver carp jump behind a motor boat
USFWS

The Obama Administration announced it will dedicate more resources to keep Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes.

Today, a coordinated group of state and federal agencies released the 2011 Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework.

In it the group calls for increased monitoring and further study on the pathways carp can use to get into the Lakes.

The Detroit Free Press reports the framework calls for:

$47 million worth of new projects... to combat Asian carp and prevent their spread to the Great Lakes. The new work includes a new laboratory in Wisconsin that will do increased DNA sampling for Asian carp around the lakes, aiming to take 120 samples per week.

The additional money is expected to come from money that was originally allocated from other Great Lakes clean-up projects.

Current distribution of the Bighead Carp
USGS

Update December 3rd 5:13 pm:

Marc Gaden of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission says "as far as I know, no one thinks there are any Asian Carp in Lake Erie." He says Lake Erie is colored red in the USGS map above because two Bighead carp were found in commercial fishman's nets several years ago. They colored the entire Lake red based on these two incidents.

December 1st 5:27 pm:

The state of Michigan has suffered another legal setback in its effort to keep Asian Carp from reaching the Great Lakes.  

A federal judge in Chicago has denied a request by Michigan and several other states to order the closure of canals which link Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River basin. Asian Carp are a voracious invasive species.  The carp have devastated Mississippi River fish populations.  

“The court agreed that Asian Carp are indeed a threat," says Joy Yearout,  a spokeswoman for Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, '"But the judge also ruled the actions the federal government has taken over the last several months prove they are addressing the threat enough to make it not immediate enough to require a court order."

Federal agencies have stepped up construction of electric barriers to keep Asian Carp from passing into Lake Michigan.  Other methods are also being studied. 

The states may continue their legal fight.  They are also asking President Obama to order the canals closed.

Carp caught in Lake Calumet
USFWS

The Associated Press reports that The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation is giving $500,000 to the Great Lakes Commission to help it find ways to stop the invasive Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes.

The fish started make their way up the Mississippi River system more than ten years ago after they escaped from fish farm ponds in the south. They were imported to control parasites in the ponds. 

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