Andrew Malone / Flickr

Nobody grows more blueberries in the U.S. than Michigan. In the past, many growers were exempt from wetland regulations. But the federal Environmental Protection Agency is making Michigan tighten its wetland regulations and blueberry production is a part of that.

The state will have to prove to the EPA that the proposed changes will follow federal laws, including the Clean Water Act.

Nathan Sharkey / Creative Commons

Michigan has lost millions of acres of wetlands over the last century. But the state’s still got roughly five million acres left. 

“Wetlands are really, really important to clean water. They’ve been called nature’s nurseries and nature’s kidneys,” said Grenetta Thomassey, who heads Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council in Petoskey.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - For the second time in recent years, the Michigan Legislature is rewriting environmental laws in ways that critics say would make it easier to develop sensitive wetlands. Business interests say the changes would provide adequate protections while boosting the economy.

The state Senate approved a bill this week that would make numerous changes in laws dealing with wetlands such as swamps and marshes, which absorb floodwaters and perform other vital tasks.

Gov. Snyder's office

Wetlands can be a thorn in the side for some developers. They stand in the way of new construction and there are so many rules and regulations for building on or near them.

There's a reason for that. Michigan has lost most of its wetlands:

Recently, much wetland destruction has been caused by commercial, industrial, and residential expansion. The estimated 11 million acres of Michigan wetlands existing in pre settlement times has now been reduced to less than 3 million acres. Recent legislation has slowed the loss rate somewhat but threats to these habitats, particularly the smaller wetlands, continue in many areas.

Gov. Rick Snyder and Ducks Unlimited hope a new fundraising license plate will help protect and restore wetlands in Michigan.

More from Gov. Snyder's press release:

“Michigan’s wetlands play a crucial role in the life cycles of our plants and animals, reduce flooding and provide natural recreation,” Snyder said. “These Ducks Unlimited plates will support the preservation of our wetlands.”

Revenue raised by sales of the plates will go toward the Ducks Unlimited Fund in the Department of Treasury, and only will be used for maintenance of Michigan wetlands. Ducks Unlimited will pay $15,000 upfront to defray plate production costs.

Fundraising plates also exists for several other causes in the state.

The plates cost $35 in addition to registration fees, of which $25 goes toward the cause. Renewing the plate costs $10 extra.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Purple Loosestrife is a widespread invasive plant. It’s taken over wetlands in every state in the US except Florida. But now, scientists consider Purple Loostrife an invasive species success story.

Purple Loosestrife are the tall bright purple flowering plants you see mixed in with cattails lining the edge of many lakes and wetlands.

A long road before success

It’s been more than a year since a pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy ruptured. More than 843,000 gallons of tar sands oil spilled into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River.

The Environmental Protection Agency says much of that oil has been removed from the creek and the river. But the EPA says there are still close to one hundred areas of submerged oil on the bottom of the river. Enbridge is now working to remove that oil.

The company recently missed an EPA deadline to clean up all of the submerged oil and contaminated soils.

Jason Manshum is an Enbridge spokesperson.

“Well, you know, while we have focused on completing that directive by that deadline, we have not been willing to sacrifice that work quality solely in order to meet a specific date on a calendar.”

Manshum says they ran into a number of obstacles... hot weather, storms, and a shortage of the special equipment they need. And the biggest challenge: those areas of submerged oil expanded.

“Keep in mind, the river is obviously a moving body of water, nothing stays constant, nothing is the same. So we found some of those submerged oil locations had shifted and some had expanded.”

Both Enbridge and the EPA have previously stated that it’ll be impossible to clean up every last drop of oil.

“It’s pretty common, most people think it should be easy to get it all out, and it’s just really not.”

Mike Alexander is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. He’s one of the incident commanders on the cleanup site.

“When you get down to smaller quantities, they get harder to get, just the nature of how the river’s different at different locations, it gets trickier, it’s not an easy project, it’s going to take time.”

The spill happened smack in the middle of some of the most sensitive wetland areas in the state.

Lynn Davis, Farm Drainage in Ohio
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A few years back, we at the Environment Report did a comprehensive series called, "The Ten Threats to the Great Lakes." Doing our best to make it comprehensive, we broke each of the Ten Threats into several stories.

We joked that the "Ten Threats" series turned into a 33-part series as we dug deeper into the issues.

For the series, I traveled to northwest Ohio and met with Lynn Davis. His grandfather had started a farm drainage business in 1910 using a steam powered trenching machine. Davis later took over the business from his father and uncle.