Great Lakes

Environment
2:37 pm
Fri August 12, 2011

Lake Michigan receives 'C' grade on new report card

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

Environment
1:30 pm
Thu August 11, 2011

No Asian carp found in search of Illinois lake

Bighead Asian carp caught in Lake Calumet last year
(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.  

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Great Lakes
5:55 pm
Thu July 21, 2011

Asian carp evidence renews calls for action

The electric barrier is located on the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal in Illinois. The barrier is supposed to keep asian carp out, but is it working?
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.

Great Lakes
3:05 pm
Thu July 21, 2011

More Asian carp DNA found near Great Lakes

USFWS employee holds an asian carp.
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."

Environment
10:55 am
Thu July 21, 2011

Congress proposes big cuts for Great Lakes projects

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.

Great Lakes
5:50 pm
Tue July 19, 2011

More details emerge about capsized boat in Lake Michigan

The boat "WingNuts" capsized in Lake Michigan.
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:

Environment
4:39 pm
Tue July 19, 2011

Current beach closures and advisories around Michigan

There are 15 beach closings or advisories around the state.
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.

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Great Lakes
12:32 pm
Mon July 18, 2011

Two sailors dead after boat capsizes in Lake Michigan

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

Great Lakes
11:24 am
Mon July 18, 2011

Coast Guard: 2 boaters found 'unresponsive'

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.

Great Lakes
8:54 am
Mon July 18, 2011

U.S. Coast Guard searching for missing sailors in Lake Michigan

The U.S. Coast Guard is searching for the missing sailors around the Fox Islands - South Fox Island pictured from Pyramid Point.
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:

Offbeat
12:00 pm
Tue July 12, 2011

Would you like to own a Great Lakes lighthouse?

This could be your view if you put in the winning bid on the Fairport Harbor West Breakwater Light on Lake Erie.
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.

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Changing Gears
1:52 pm
Wed July 6, 2011

Who Cares About Great Lakes Dredging? These Guys. (slideshow)

Engineer Tom O'Bryan says dredges like this one are basically big vacuums, chewing up sand.
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.

Economy
10:43 am
Wed July 6, 2011

When an inch means a ton (or 267 tons, to be precise)

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.

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Changing Gears
10:27 am
Tue July 5, 2011

Great Lakes harbors threatened by dredging backlog

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.

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Environment
10:56 am
Fri July 1, 2011

Swimming Upstream: Toxins in Great Lakes fish (part 7)

Advice on cleaning fish to cut away fat and remove certain contaminants.
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.

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Environment
5:01 pm
Thu June 30, 2011

Scientists: Enough talk, Great Lakes and Mississippi should be separated

Asian carp DNA detections (red) in the Chicago waterways upstream and downstream of the electric fish barriers in 2009 and 2010, according Jerde et al., 2011.
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.

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Environment
3:17 pm
Thu June 30, 2011

Swimming Upstream: Fishing for Science (Part 6)

A DNR researcher working on the annual fish survey on Lake St. Clair.
Dustin Dwyer Michigan Radio
  • An error occurred ingesting this audio file to NPR

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.

Auto/Economy
11:00 am
Tue June 28, 2011

Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce is rebranding itself

Muskegon's downtown sits right on the water's edge.
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.

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Environment
12:18 pm
Thu June 16, 2011

Power plants killing millions of Great Lakes fish every year

The Bay Shore Power Plant on Maumee Bay in Lake Erie. Lake Erie Waterkeeper Sandy Binh says this power plant is "probably the largest fish-killing plant in the Great Lakes."
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."

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Environment
10:42 am
Thu June 16, 2011

Climate change & Great Lakes restoration

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.

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