Great Lakes

Environment
9:57 pm
Tue October 11, 2011

Research paints mixed picture on mercury levels in Great Lakes

Mercury levels in the Great Lakes have dropped over the past 40 years.

But those levels are still high enough to pose risks to humans and wildlife, especially in many inland lakes, according to a new summary of the latest research on Great Lakes mercury levels.

Researchers summarized 35 new scientific papers to get a clearer picture of mercury in the Great Lakes.

The good news: due to pollution controls, those levels continue to go down.

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Environment
7:02 am
Thu October 6, 2011

EPA plans habitat work in Huron-Manistee Forest

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says several projects planned for the Huron-Manistee National Forest in northern Michigan will restore wildlife habitat while providing jobs.

EPA said Wednesday it will devote $592,400 to the projects. They'll include improving habitat for several threatened or endangered species, including the Karner blue butterfly, the piping plover, the Kirtland's warbler and the Massasagua rattlesnake.

Other work will focus on removing invasive species and stabilizing stream banks.

The money will come from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a wide-ranging plan to fix environmental problems in the lakes and their tributaries. In August, EPA announced that $6 million of the Great Lakes
money would be directed to projects designed to hire unemployed workers.

Officials have scheduled another announcement for Thursday at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Environment
4:06 pm
Wed September 14, 2011

Beachcombers rejoice, rights affirmed along Lake Erie

A beach on Ashtabula Harbor along Lake Erie. The Ohio Supreme Court has affirmed the public's right to stroll along the beaches.
user nico paix Flickr

The Michigan Supreme Court settled a dispute like this back in 2005, after a neighbor had sued another neighbor for walking along their beachfront property.

The court ruled that the right to walk along beachfront property extends up to the ordinary high water mark in Michigan. The high water mark was defined, in-part, this way by the Michigan Supreme Court:

"The point on the bank or shore up to which the presence and action of the water is so continuous as to leave a distinct mark either by erosion, destruction or terrestrial vegetation, or other easily recognized characteristic."

Now, the Ohio Supreme Court has chimed in. From the Associated Press:

The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that beachcombers can legally walk from the water to the "natural shoreline" along properties bordering Lake Erie.

The Wednesday ruling comes in a case pitting thousands of lakefront property owners against the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which establishes public access rules.

In a 7-0 decision, the court reversed an appellate ruling that said property owners' rights extend to the point the shore and water meet on any given day.

The high court also rejected state arguments that public access should extend to a high water mark established in 1985.

Justices define the natural shoreline as "the line at which the water usually stands when free from disturbing causes."

It says its ruling reaffirms decisions dating to 1878 and state law enacted in 1917.

Environment
3:32 pm
Mon September 12, 2011

Michigan fishing and tourism industry leaders to discuss Asian carp

Michigan sport fishing and tourism leaders don't want this big, ugly fish swimming in the Great Lakes
(courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)

Michigan’s tourism and fishing industries will discuss how to form a united front against Asian carp during a conference Tuesday in Lansing.  John Goss, the Obama Administration’s "carp czar," will be the keynote speaker at the  conference.  

Asian carp present a threat to the Great Lakes’ multi-billion dollar sport fishing and tourism industries, according to Steve Yencich, president of the Tourism Industries Coalition of Michigan.  The coalition is organizing the carp summit.   

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Environment
3:50 pm
Thu September 1, 2011

Help wanted: Great Lakes cleanup

The federal government says it will spend six million dollars to hire jobless workers for Great Lakes cleanup projects.

Conservation groups often make the claim that environmental cleanup and restoration efforts are good for the economy.

Andy Buchsbaum works for one of those groups. He heads the Great Lakes office of the National Wildlife Federation, which lobbied aggressively for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The federal government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the initiative. It includes projects like toxic pollution cleanup, restoring wildlife habitat, and fighting invasive species.

Buchsbaum says projects like those will need lots of engineers, landscapers and construction workers.

“They’re the people who actually move the dirt, move things around, constructing sewage facilities, cleaning up contaminated sediment. All those activities have a variety of direct jobs associated with them.”

Buchsbaum says there are also indirect jobs created when those people start spending money on things like groceries and rent.

The Environmental Protection Agency is likening the hiring initiative to the Civilian Conservation Corps – the New Deal program that put single, unemployed men to work doing manual labor.

Environment
12:14 pm
Wed August 31, 2011

Swimming Upstream: A documentary from The Environment Report

Photo by Lester Graham

We've been spending the past couple months going on fishing trips, and talking to people who fish for fun and for a living... to bring you stories about everything you never knew you wanted to know about fish and fishing in the Great Lakes.

Today, you can hear the result of our effort in a special one-hour documentary we're calling Swimming Upstream.

We'll tag along on a salmon fishing trip with Lester Graham, go on an Asian carp rodeo on the Illinois River, meet commercial fishers (both tribal and non-tribal), and go fishing with Dustin Dwyer as he gets into the mind of a fish.

We think of the Lakes today as a great place to play on the beach, to swim, to go fishing. But those huge, beautiful lakes are changing.

The changes are happening so fast that the agencies which manage fishing cannot keep up with them.

On average, a new foreign species gets into the Lakes every seven months. Each could be a threat to the lakes and the fish in the lakes. We explore the health and future of the Great Lakes, and hear stories about fish and the people who catch them.

Listen to it here:

Or tune in today at 1pm and 8pm on Michigan Radio to hear Swimming Upstream and let us know what you think.

Find out more about fish consumption advisories: in Michigan,  in Ohio, in Wisconsin, in New York, and in Illinois.

Environment
4:20 pm
Fri August 26, 2011

EPA awards grants for Detroit-area water cleanup

NASA via flickr.com

The US Environmental Protection Agency has awarded more than $2 million in grants to Detroit-area water restoration projects.

These grants will go to four Metro Detroit projects. They include efforts to reduce toxins in the Rouge and Detroit rivers, and to eliminate e. coli sources near Macomb County beaches.

Congressman John Dingell says those projects represent “indispensable investments. But he notes that in a tough fiscal environment, “We’re going to have a difficult time defending” them.

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Environment
9:27 pm
Wed August 24, 2011

Federal Court says "no" to closing Illinois canal to prevent Asian carp from reaching Lake Michigan

A federal appeals panel has rejected a request by five Great Lakes states for an immediate order to close shipping locks on Chicago-area waterways and take other steps to prevent Asian carp from invading Lake Michigan. 

The three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday against the request by Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.  The states were appealing a decision by a federal district judge in Chicago last December. 

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Environment and Economy
4:48 pm
Wed August 24, 2011

EPA wants to hire unemployed for Great Lakes clean-up

There are 30 pollution hotspots or "areas of concern" on the U.S. side of the Great Lakes (four of the "areas of concern" are shared with Canada). A new EPA project aimed at employing workers could lead to clean up in some of these areas.
U.S.E.P.A.

The U.S. has suffered from a bad economy for the last three years.

Parts of the Great Lakes have suffered from bad pollution problems for the last several decades.

Now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to use money from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) to put people to work cleaning up pollution in the region.

From an EPA press release:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced that the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is setting aside approximately $6 million for federal agencies to sign up unemployed workers to implement restoration projects in federally-protected areas, on tribal lands and in Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes basin. EPA will fund individual projects up to $1 million. To qualify for funding, each proposed project must provide jobs for at least 20 unemployed people.

“These projects will help to restore the Great Lakes and put Americans back to work," said EPA Great Lakes National Program Manager and Regional Administrator Susan Hedman. "In a sense, we will be using these funds to create a small-scale 21st century Civilian Conservation Corps."

The AP reports that Congress has appropriated $775 million over the past two years for the GLRI.

One of the GLRI's main goals is to clean up toxic hot spots known as "Areas of Concern" around the Great Lakes.

These Areas of Concern have been identified for decades, but clean-up efforts have stalled as funding for clean-up has been scarce.

EPA officials say they will award funding for these new clean-up projects by the end of September.

Environment
1:02 pm
Tue August 23, 2011

How to kill invasive species aboard a Great Lakes freighter

Two of the Indiana Harbor's 10 ballast tanks were treated to kill invasive species. The real-world test was conducted with the cooperation of the American Steamship Company.
James Marvin Phelps Flickr

Invasive species introduced into the Great Lakes by the shipping industry have caused enormous economic and ecological damage. Some estimates put the costs of invasive species in the Great Lakes at billions of dollars annually.

Quagga mussels, round gobies, and spiny waterfleas have spread all over the place in the Great Lakes, disrupting the food chain.

The question is, how do you get rid of these critters that can hide in the nooks and crannies of a ship's ballast tanks?

The critters get in when a ship pumps in ballast water in an overseas port. They hitch a ride across the Atlantic or Pacific and get dumped in U.S. waters.

Today the EPA requires ships to "swish and spit" before entering U.S. ports. That means international ships have to flush out their ballast tanks with salt water from the open ocean before coming in.

It's a sanitizing method that several states and environmental groups say is inadequate, and they're pushing the EPA to do more. But nobody knows what kinds of ballast water treatment systems will work AND will be cost-effective to shipping companies.

The Duluth News Tribune has a story today about an effort that is thought to be the first "major-scale test on the Great Lakes" of a ballast water treatment system.

It's being tested on a 1,000 ft. Great Lakes freighter. Freighters that stay in the Great Lakes don't bring the invasive species in, but they can help spread invasives from port to port around the region.

They Tribune reports the researchers treated 1.8 million gallons of ballast water in the ship with lye - a caustic chemical often used as an industrial cleaning agent. Before the ship reached it's destination port, they neutralized the treated water with carbon dioxide before releasing it.

One of the biggest challenges in combating invasive species in ballast tanks, is how best to sanitize such a large amount of water sitting in the complex maze of a ship's hull:

“The good news is that we were successful in delivering the biocide at this huge level for a 1,000-foot laker, then successfully delivered the neutralizer, all while the Indiana Harbor was on the job,” Phyllis Green, superintendent of Isle Royale National Park and the instigator behind the effort, told the News Tribune.

The Tribune reports that research into the real-world test is ongoing. Water samples from the ballast tanks will show whether the lye killed organisms "and whether the treated water was then successfully neutralized to prevent environmental harm."

Results of these tests should be available next month, the paper reports.

Commentary
11:03 am
Fri August 19, 2011

Tourism’s Bright Spot

Nobody needs me to tell them that this has been a rough decade for Michigan’s economy. The roughest since the Great Depression of the nineteen-thirties.

And, as the stock market plunge indicates, a return to the prosperity we used to take for granted is nowhere in sight.

That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t a few bright spots, and one of the brightest has been tourism. A few weeks ago, I spent an hour with George Zimmerman, who runs Travel Michigan the official state tourism promotion agency.

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Environment
9:26 am
Thu August 18, 2011

3 adults, 6 kids rescued from Partridge Island

MARQUETTE, Mich. (AP) - Authorities rescued three adults and six children from Partridge Island in Lake Superior who had been on the water in a 12-foot boat.

The U.S. Coast Guard says the boat was "beset by weather" on Wednesday afternoon and they got a call for help via cell phone.

A crew from Coast Guard Station Marquette and rescuers from the Marquette County sheriff's department responded. A Coast Guard rescuer swam to the beach and helped the nine onto a sheriff's
department boat, and they were transferred to the Coast Guard boat.

No injuries were reported. All nine were transported to Coast Guard Station Marquette.

Environment
2:55 pm
Sun August 14, 2011

Michigan State leading multistate freshwater study

Turtles on the Fort Gratiot Nature Trail, MI
Flickr user mdprovost

A Michigan State University scientist is leading a team of researchers to study how lakes, streams and wetlands are connected to their surroundings.

Associate professor of fisheries and wildlife Patricia Soranno is using a $2.2 million National Science Foundation grant to examine land use and climate change's effect on freshwater ecosystems.

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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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