Saturday, May 1, 2010

Standing Up for the Public Interest

Things are getting heated up north at Kennecott's Eagle Rock mine. Last week activist Cynthia Pryor was arrested near the site even though she was on public land. Now, Native American groups are camped on land that was leased to Kennecott by the state. They plan to stay there as long as it takes.

Everybody should give Cynthia Pryor a tip of the cap, there is clearly something sinister going on when people are getting arrested on public lands. People standing up for themselves for what they know is right is what has made this country great.

Being from the Detroit area this is all very similar to the public park that Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun put a fence around and had armed goons patrolling. In a court hearing about a month ago, the Metro Times reported that if the fence that was erected around the city park was torn down by city officials they would probably be shot. What is going on with our public lands?

Here is Cynthia's story on youtube:

This is the blog for the indian group camped at the Eagle Rock site

Michigan Messenger: Native Americans camp on land leased to mining company

Save The Wild UP

Monday, April 12, 2010

Clean Water Action Blasts Oakland County Resolution

***CWA Press Release***
Oakland Commissioners Sharply Criticized for Anti-Water Vote Resolution Opposes Bill That Would Prevent Outsourcing Waters

PONTIAC, MI—Clean Water Action sharply criticized a resolution approved today, by a panel of the Oakland County Board of Commissioners, that opposes proposed state legislation that would strengthen water protections in the wake of government and corporate actions that threaten drinking water sources.

In a vote along party lines, the county board’s General Government Committee approved the resolution under pressure from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, an advocacy group financially supported by corporate and right-wing national funders.

“The message these Oakland County commissioners send with this resolution is exactly the message that China and CEOs want to hear, “said Cyndi Roper, Special Projects Director for Clean Water Action. “What the vote today says is that the groundwater that feeds Oakland County’s streams, keeps Oakland County lakes alive and is the circulatory system for our entire Great Lakes ecosystem doesn’t deserve to be safeguarded from a state government that is sometimes all too willing to allow our waters to be sold for profit and exported to thirsty countries like China.

“That’s not the message Oakland County should be sending to Lansing because the corporate lobbyists there are only too eager to kill any bill that keeps them from making more money for their CEOs.”

The county board panel’s resolution opposed House Bill 5319, which amends the Michigan Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act to classify groundwater as a public trust. Although lakes, rivers and streams have public trust protection, Michigan courts in recent years have eroded protections for groundwater as a result of suits filed by international water exporters like the Nestle Corporation. A nearly identical bill to HB 5319 passed the House with bipartisan support in 2008, but fell one vote shy of passing in the state Senate.

“We strongly urge the Board of Commissioner to reject those who want to turn Michigan’s waters over to corporate interests so, like our jobs, water can be outsourced in unlimited amounts to China and other places,” said Roper. “This is wrong, the people of Oakland County and Michigan know it’s wrong, and we hope their elected officials get the message and keep this resolution from being passed by the full board.”

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy claims the House bill is a threat to property rights, would require permits to use trout streams and would impose additional taxes and fines. None of that is true, said Roper.

“Some claim HB 5319 or public trust would require permits, taxes, and fees for withdrawal of groundwater,” said Roper. “There is nothing in HB 5319 that states or implies any such thing. Neither HB 5319 nor the public trust in water requires or authorizes permits, taxes, or fees. The public trust has nothing to do with groundwater regulation. It simply affirms and declares the overriding public trust interest in water so that government cannot interfere with or sell off or subordinate our rights of private reasonable use or public use and enjoyment of our water.“

Free Press Commentary about House Bill 5319 by lawyer/activist James Olson

Take Action: Flow For Water

Michigan House Bill 5319

Birds Eye Plant Poisons Fennville Wells

Friday, March 26, 2010

New Website Helps People Get Involved in Local Coastline Cleanups

The environmental organization Great Lakes United launched a new website called Find My Cleanup, which aims to connect community members to local cleanups going on their area.

The site already has several postings of spring cleanups going on around the Great Lakes. There is a listing for a Detroit area cleanup for Lake St. Clair on Sunday May 23, 2010. The event which is billed as the Nautical Coast Cleanup is presented by the St. Clair Shores Waterfront Environmental Committee. The event is in its 15th year and has gathered over 474 tons of debris over the years from the Lake St. Clair shoreline.

15th Annual Nautical Coast Cleanup

Find Local Cleanups in your community:
Find My Cleanup

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Closing the Great Lakes Compact Loophole

Yesterday to observe World Water Day, Michigan activists held a press conference in Traverse City to bring Michigan House Bill 5319 back into the public spotlight. The bill would close the door on the Great Lakes Compact loophole. In a press release Traverse City attorney and water activist James Olsen said “the Compact left the door wide open for out-of-Basin exports of our water intended for consumers. If Michigan does not close it, global special interests will exploit global water scarcity at the expense of Michigan’s livelihood and quality of life.”

Take Action: Flow For Water

Press Release:
Michigan Water Protectors Push for Public Trust Protection

Michigan House Bill 5319

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Report Shows Energy Industry Lacking in Mercury Emission Controls

A recent report released by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) ranked the nation's top fifty power plants based on mercury emissions. 16 of the 50 power plants were in the Great Lakes region. According to the report by the EIP, mercury removal is possible:

"Years of inaction and delay have prevented Americans from enjoying the power plant mercury cleanup that is required by the Clean Air Act. In 1990, Congress passed the Clean Air Act amendments that set in motion EPA’s requirement to regulate toxic emissions from power plants. But, in 2005, EPA backed away from a protective power plant mercury regulation and instead adopted a weak cap-and-trade scheme, a move that a federal Court of Appeals later overturned.

...Today’s power plant mercury emissions levels are no cause for celebration. When EPA adopted its weak cap-and-trade power plant mercury rule, during the Bush administration, the agency predicted that power plant mercury emissions would drop to between 31 and 34 tons per year by 2010. EPA also concluded that the use of available pollution controls aimed at reducing soot and smog pollution could reduce mercury by 70 percent, to 15 tons per year, and that even stricter cleanup requirements could reduce mercury by 90 percent, to 5 tons per year. The bottom line: Power plant mercury emissions remain unnecessarily high; emissions are significantly higher than the levels that would be achieved if power plants were required to install currently available pollution control technology like bag-houses, scrubbers, and sorbent controls."

This report comes at a time when there is much debate over whether to build new power plants. Here in Michigan there has been a lot of opposition to new coal plants in Bay City and Rogers City. While Michigan only has one power plant listed in the report, it ranked 8th in the nation for mercury emissions. The DTE Energy owned Monroe power plant emitted 1,147 lbs of mercury in 2008. That was an over 23 percent increase from 2007 and a third of Michigan's total mercury emissions for all of 2008.

EIP Report:

Saturday, March 13, 2010

St. Clair Shores Site Gets $864,000 for Cleanup

The Detroit Free Press reported yesterday that the EPA has awarded $864,000 for PCB cleanup in St. Clair Shores to clean up the 10 mile drain as well as contaminated parts of the Lange and Revere Street canals.

The EPA is installing 25 weirs which are small metal plates in the sewer line which will block sediment but allow water to still flow. They are hoping to follow a sediment trail to the source since they still do not know where the PCB's are coming from. In 2002 PCB's were removed but have since returned. On March 3 of this year upon finding more PCB's the site was recommended to be put on the National Priorities List but is still waiting approval.

Here is the EPA document describing the site as well as the EPA's findings

A Few Highlights From MSU's Great Lakes Conference

This past Tuesday I had the pleasure of attending Michigan State University's 2010 Great Lakes Conference "Learning from the Past, Looking Towards the Future." The presentations had a broad range of interesting topics and challenges that are facing the Great Lakes as we move forward into the new millennium.

“Quagga Mussel Impact on the Nearshore Zone: Why Do Our Beaches Stink?” By Harvey Bootsma Wisconsin’s Great Lakes Water Institute

Harvey Bootsma of Wisconsin’s Great Lakes Water Institute presented findings concerning the possibility that quagga mussels may be excreting phosphorous and thereby contributing to higher concentrations of near shore phosphorous. This coupled with more water clarity from the quagga mussels are perfect conditions for cladophora. Cladophora is algae that are known for contributing to unsightly muck on beaches. When cladophora die they can harbor botulism that get into fish and can lead to massive bird kills when the birds eat the fish.

While Bootsma concedes that there “is no smoking gun yet,” they suspect that quagga mussels are altering Lake Michigan’s phosphorous cycle. So far tests that they have conducted have indicated that quagga mussels are concentrating large amounts of phosphorus near the shore. The increased phosphorous acts as a nutrient source for the cladophora, while the increased water clarity of the quagga mussels also contributes to the growth of cladophora.

These findings are troubling, Bootsma says that while the knee-jerk reaction may be to limit phosphorous going into the lake, the problem is more complicated now. Further offshore, plankton need phosphorous so further limiting it could contribute to the decline of plankton that would lead to a decline of fish like alewives which feed off of plankton and in turn get eaten by bigger game fish like salmon and trout.

There is still much that needs to be known such as how the phosphorus mixes at the bottom of the lake and mussel bed, and how fast the phosphorus is at leaving the water table.

“Impacts of Climate Change on Great Lakes Ecosystems”

This talk by Dr. Kimberly Hall of the Nature Conservancy focused on how to anticipate and adjust conservation strategies based off of climate change.

According to Hall temperatures will be 6.5-7.5 degrees warmer by 2080 with increases in the winter minimum and summer maximum. There will also be more extreme heat events, and a longer growing season along with changes in wind and currents.

Hall’s talk focused on a climate adaptation clinic she took part in where they took the following approach in evaluating current conservation strategies in light of climate change:

-Estimate exposure to climate change
-Evaluate sensitivities/impacts
-Create system diagrams
-Create and revise hypotheses of change
-Evaluate conservation strategies

Other concerns related to temperature are that the warmer temperatures will broaden the range of other species in a northward push that will bring more invasive species to the region.

The other big problem will be phenological mismatches. Plants, invertebrates, and vertebrates all respond to temperatures at different rates. As they rely on each other for food, it will disrupt the food web as they respond to climate change differently.

The Nature Conservancy is currently working on making computer models to best figure out what ways are suitable to manage current ecosystems while accounting for climate change.

“Coastal Beaches: Status and Concerns” By Shannon Briggs Toxicologist MDNRE

Congress enacted the BEACH Act which appropriates $10 million per year to 35 different coastal states per year. According to Briggs Michigan does not get its fair share of funding despite having over 3,000 miles of coastline and 1183 public beaches.

When the EPA grants money, they focus more on the length of the beach season than the overall quantity of coastline. This is the reason that the American province of Samoa with its 126 miles of coastline gets the same amount of funding as Michigan. The Michigan’s coastline monitoring program has applied for some of the funds from the recent Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Otherwise the BEACH reauthorization act is threatened to be in a spending freeze until 2012.

Overall, Michigan’s beaches are doing really good despite the lack of funding for monitoring. Actions were reported only 2 percent of the time. Briggs still had concerns noting that you can’t report what wasn’t tested. They only have resources to test most beaches once a week during the swimming season. This will tell them if the water is safe to swim in or not, but it won’t tell them why the water has been fouled. One thing that they have done is to get volunteers to do routine beach sanitary surveys that ask questions like water color, if there are any smells, recent rainfall, or geese, etc. These surveys help provide a bigger picture of what is going on, giving a story behind the numbers and explaining the causes behind any pollution.

Here are some websites:

Has testing results of every Michigan public beach: Beachguard

Track CSO's and SSO's in your community

“Asian Carp: An Imminent Invasion?” By Dan O’ Keefe, Ph.D. Michigan Sea Grant

What more can anyone really say about the asian carp? O’Keefe compared the recent media hype to the Cuyahoga fire in Ohio that brought the Clean Water Act.

He highlighted some interesting facts including some of the ideal reproductive requirements of carp, which do need pretty specific conditions to reproduce:

-Temperatures above 64 degrees F
-A rise in water level
-Over 60 miles of free-flowing river that is upstream from a lake.
-Hard water

He did note that further study is needed and exceptions can apply.

O’ Keefe went on to show the areas of Michgan that are particularly vulnerable to asian carp. The lower western half of Michigan along the Lake Michigan coast is vulnerable as well as Saginaw Bay, and the southeastern part of Michigan from the St. Clair River down through Lake St. Clair and eastern Lake Erie.

O’ Keefe also pointed out that at the Lockport Lock and Dam there are three canals there. One of those canals is the old Illinois and Michigan Canal and there is the potential that the asian carp could bypass the electric barrier altogether and get through a culvert that empties into the Des Plaines River.

O’ Keefe advocated permanent ecological separation not only to stop the asian carp but a myriad of other invasive species that are found in the Chicago waterways but not the Great Lakes such as longspine daphnia, mottled fingernail clam, orangespotted sunfish, skipjack herring, and gizzard shad, just to name a few.

“Wind Farms and Coastal Communities” By Charles McKeown MSU Land Policy Institute

McKeown highlighted the current conflict that is currently going on with wind turbines and local communities and government. Michigan public act 295 required that 10 percent of Michigan’s energy should come from renewable resources. Michigan has a lot of untapped potential for wind resources, McKeown says that there is a 99 percent gap between Michigan wind power utilization and estimated capacity. Texas has already developed a third of its wind power capacity.

Mckeown compared wind power and public attitudes to puppies. Virtually everybody loves puppies and in Land Policy Institute surveys that asked the broad question of whether people were for wind power over 90 percent said they were.

There are no state guidelines for wind farms. It is an issue that is left to local planning committees. McKeown finds that the absence of local planning models, as well as the absence of knowledge for such a new technology in local governments leads to local fear and ultimately public opposition towards the issue. McKeown is looking to injecting science and rational thought to the debate.

The Land Policy Institute has been working on finding out what people like and don’t like about wind farms. In the slideshow the concerns were broke down into 5 different categories of environmental, visual, quality of life, economic, and fairness. Each issue has pros, cons, as well as the challenges of information gaps and remaining questions. The biggest issue seems to be the aesthetics and sheer enormity of the structures, as well as the feeling by some small towns that they are being exploited.

While these are all valid concerns McKeown said that renewable energy gets paid so much lip service on how it is going to help solve climate change, revitalize manufacturing, create energy security, and renew American innovation, while the reality is that we have a “wicked public policy program.”

McKeown had this following synopsis of the wicked problem in his presentation:

“A problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. Moreover, because of complex interdependencies, the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem may reveal or create other problems.”

MSU Land Policy Institute will be having a 2010 conference on April 23 at the Kellogg Center in East Lansing.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Mining Update: Kennecott Exploring New Sites in the U.P, PolyMet Hearings in Minnesota

According to the website Save The Wild U.P. the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNRE) has announced that a public comment period has begun over the leasing of over 4000 acres of mineral rights to Kennecott in southern Marquette County, northern Dickinson County, and southern Houghton County.

In other mining news Minnesota's proposed PolyMet mine that would be in close proximity to the boundary waters had hearings this week in the Minnesota state Senate. According to the activist group Friends of the Boundary Waters, the meetings were productive and focused on earlier EPA criticisms over PolyMet's Environmental Impact statement. This was in the shadow of the damage deposit bill being withdrawn by the bill's author Sen. Jim Carlson. The damage deposit bill would have increased mining industry regulations.

Here our some recent press on the PolyMet mine from the past week:
If PolyMet meets its commitments, the DEIS suggests that its proposed mine poses no serious environmental impact

Mining industry's view: Benefits are enormous, risks addressed

This is the PolyMet Mine's Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)
PolyMet Mining Inc./NorthMet Project EIS

Friday, March 5, 2010

Pharmaceuticals are an Emerging Pollutant for the Great Lakes

A new report by the Alliance for the Great Lakes explores the emerging threat of pharmaceuticals in our drinking water. While many officials say that the levels of pharmaceuticals are low enough that they are not a public risk, it is still not known how these drugs will interact with existing chemicals in the Great Lakes.

There is also no way to really stop them at the moment. Wastewater treatment systems are not equipped to remove pharmaceuticals from the drinking water. There have been recent public campaigns to educate the public to not flush prescriptions down the toilet, as well as places you can bring unwanted prescriptions to be properly disposed of. Much of the waste products still come from secreted urine from patients on medications. Other pathways that pharmaceuticals get into the waterways are from landfills, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and health care facilities.

The report makes the following recommendations: creating drugs that degrade in the environment, introducing new measures for health care workers that can reduce pollution, more research in virtually every area, drug take back programs, and manufacturers being required to list their products' toxicity information.

See the report for yourself: Protecting the Great Lakes from Pharmaceutical Pollution

Alliance for the Great Lakes Press Release:
Drugs in Drinking Water: New Report Explores Emerging Great Lakes Threat, Solutions

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Editorial: Will Michigan Put Funding for Toxic Cleanups on the November Ballot?

Today Detroit News reporter Jim Lynch highlighted the issue that Michigan's toxic cleanup program is completely out of cash. Don't act surprised. This is a story that has seemed to surface about once a year for the past few years and yet nothing has been done about it by lawmakers.

Funding to cleanup toxic sites have been through two voter approved bond issues, one in 1988 and the other in 1998. The program brought $1.3 billion to fund the program. That money will be gone this year. We have our lawmakers to thank for that. In 2008 the MDEQ tried and ultimately failed to persuade lawmakers to put a new bond on the 2008 ballot. This came amidst stories in the press about the MDEQ not having enough money to inspect all of Michigan's toxic sites and them basically warning that this crises was coming. Now, the question is whether lawmakers will have the guts to put the bond proposal on the November 2010 ballot.

Before we dive into a debate about how fiscally irresponsible it is to protect our natural resources, consider that a 2007 expose in the Kalamazoo Gazette in 2007 found that Michigan was dead last in natural resource spending compared to any other state, only spending 0.4 percent of the state's $8 billion budget to protect the environment.

While we're at it let's remember that when companies come in that put the environment at risk such as sulfide mining, or new coal plants, we have to remember that while it does produce economic benefit in the short-term, in the long-term the financial burden of cleanup ends up being the taxpayers problem. Environmental issues are often seen as a very progressive idealistic issue, but they are also a conservative issue. When dirty companies go out of business the tax burden always goes to the taxpayers. Now we are dealing with a full fledged expensive crises that compromises the health of thousands of Michiganders.

Here is another story from the 2007 Kalamazoo expose by Alex Nixon:
Toxic sites threaten valuable Great Lakes resource

Michigan Messenger story: There’s still no funding plan for cleanup at thousands of toxic sites

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

EPA Proposes St. Clair Shores site to National Priorities List

The EPA is considering putting the St. Clair Shores area at Bon Brae and Harper Avenue on the National Priorities List (NPL). The area has been plagued by PCB contamination since they were discovered in 2001 when officials were attempting to get a dredging permit. The good news is that the sites that get put on Superfund's NPL are eligible to get federal funds.

The St. Clair Shores Drain (SCSD) eventually drains into Lake St. Clair by way of the Lange Street Canal and Revere Street Canal. While drinking water is safe, according to the EPA the main pathways of exposure are through eating fish in the canals, surface water, soil, or the sediments in the canals especially in the areas where the drain discharges.

In 2002 sediment was removed from the two canals though they have been re-contaminated since then. In 2006 the EPA installed a liner in the portion of the storm sewer where the contamination is the heaviest. The storm sewer has also been re-contaminated as well.

Here is the EPA document describing the site as well as the EPA's findings

The Gratiot County Golf Course in St. Louis Michigan has been designated as a superfund NPL site. From 1956 to 1970 the Velsicol Chemical plant disposed of liquid hazardous waste by burning it at the site. In 1982 the site was put on the NPL and 68,000 cubic yards of soil was removed from the site and it was taken off of the NPL. In 2006 more contamonation of soil and groundwater was found so now the site is back onto the NPL.

Kennecott seeks to amend permit; Minnesota to Hold Hearings on PolyMet Project

The Kennecott Eagle Project has amended their wastewater treatment permit which may exempt them from having to get a federal permit which is the final regulatory hurdle that the company faces. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment will host a public meeting on Thursday March 11 at 7 PM at Westwood High School.

The proposal can be viewed here.

Associated Press reporter John Flesher broke the story:
Kennecott seeks to amend permit

In other mining news there are going to be mining hearings by the Minnesota Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee next week that will discuss the proposed Boundary Waters PolyMet mine as well as a bill that would strengthen Minnesota mining laws.

This comes after the EPA slammed the PolyMet mine proposal last week as "environmentally unsatisfactory."

The hearings are scheduled for Monday, March 8 and Wednesday, March 10. Details of the meetings are here.

The proposed "damage deposit" bill that will be discussed can be found here.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Asian Carp Roundup

The past week was a big week for the Great Lakes in terms of lobbying in Washington and for news on the asian carp. For the first time environmentalists and shipping industry representatives agreed that permanently separating the Chicago River would be feasible. The idea was that if the river was separated upstream from the locks, then shippers would still have access to the Chicago ports. The statement was said at an asian carp hearing before the Senate's Subcommittee on Water and Power.

Next week the Army Corps of Engineers will release their modified lock operation plan for the asian carp.

Water and Power Subcommittee Hearing

Saturday, February 27, 2010

EPA Rates Boundary Waters Mine Proposal as "Environmentally Unsatisfactory"

The EPA has rated the proposed Boundary Waters mine as "environmentally unsatisfactory" and also said that the impact statement was "inadequate."

Star Tribune Story:
PolyMet Mine Can't Proceed as Proposed

New Report Puts Pressure on Obama to Regulate Coal Ash Waste Sites

The Environmental Integrity Project released a report this week finding that many coal ash waste sites across the country are emitting harmful toxins into groundwater that is exceeding federal limits on drinking water standards. There are no current federal laws against coal ash or combustion wastes. The report found that many of these unregulated waste sites contained levels of arsenic as high as 145 times the legal limit as well as other dangerous toxins such as sulfates, boron, and selenium.

The report found that the Consumers Energy Karn/Weadock coal ash waste site in Saginaw Michigan had concentrations of boron and arsenic in the groundwater near the site 99 times over the legal limit. They also found that the landfills are a major contributor to arsenic in the Saginaw Bay area.

The report comes at a critical time for Michigan as there are all kinds of plans for new coal plants including the contested proposed coal plants in Bay City and Rogers City. This comes after a recent study by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) found that Consumers Energy will not need any additional energy capacity until 2020. Environmentalists have been advocating for increased efficiency, renewable energy, and gas generated energy plants.

The Rogers City plant has been particularly controversial as the coals ash would be several thousand feet from Lake Huron. The other concern is that the geography in the area is full of sinkholes and karst formations which are cracked limestones formations that get filled with underground voids or underground streams. Critics of the plant fear that the toxic chemicals would leach into the groundwater and pollute Lake Huron. Officials with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (MDNRE) have drilled at the site and determined that the site is solid and safe for coal ash disposal.

At a recent public meeting most of the local residents were in favor of the local plant since it would bring desperately needed jobs. On the other side if something was to go wrong than it could be an expensive mess for taxpayers and export pollution to other communities. The state has yet to grant the final permits for the plant.

Critics of the recently approved Bay City power plant say the fight is far from over. They are also attacking the plan of toxic coal ash disposal. One group that owns stock in Consumers Energy is asking the company to better explain the plan to dispose of the millions of tons of toxic coal ash, while other groups are trying to persuade the MPSC to not grant consumers Energy their final certificate of need which is the final permit required before construction can begin.

Environmental Integrity Report:
Out of Control: Mounting Damages From Coal Ash Waste Sites

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Asian Carp Supreme Court Case Delayed

An extension has been granted in the U.S. Supreme court case for Illinois' legal response to the case. While this is a normal legal filing it drags out the deadline until March 22. There is a sense of urgency in the asian carp case, according to Wayne State Law professor Noah Hall's blog "this increases the risk that asian carp will get into the Great Lakes before the court can even decide to take the case."

Michigan Senate holds hearing on Asian carp; briefing in Supreme Court case delayed

Saturday, February 20, 2010

More Spring Flooding and Summer Drought for Great Lakes Region

A new climate model run by Purdue researchers shows that Great Lakes states could see up to 28 percent more precipitation by 2070. Much of that increase would be seen in the winter and spring and would likely lead to increased flooding. The model shows that though it may rain more overall, the summer and fall seasons will be drier This is troubling in that it could really have an adverse effect on agriculture by disrupting the planting season, while summer and fall droughts would also negatively impact crops and intensify water concerns.

Another serious issue is water quality. The increased heavy wet weather events could wreak havoc on local waterways from combined sewer overflows (CSOs). CSO's happen when rainwater overwhelms local sewer capacity and rainwater and sanitary waste overflows onto the waterways. Last year was the worst year in awhile with 37.2 billion gallons of CSOs in the Metro Detroit area. While those numbers are bad, there is an increased focus by municipalities on green infrastructure which looks at ways to redirect and filter rainwater naturally rather than having it go into the sewer systems.

The model was based off of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that gave predictions from 1950-2099. The model assumes warmer winters ranging between 2.7 and 5.4 degrees, and warmer summers ranging from 3.6 and 10.8 degrees. The projections were put into the Variable Infiltration Capacity Model which simulates rain patterns in land environments.

One of the recommendations is that though there won't be a shortage of water, ways to store excess water may need to be found. Some municipalities such as Rochester Hills, MI are already considering measures such as this. Though it is less of a response to global warming than it is towards using the reservoir for lawn irrigation so they can avoid peak water rates from the City of Detroit. Still though, it is the same principle, and the infrastructure will be useful for the future.

The report is published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research:

Hydrologic impacts of projected future climate change in the Lake Michigan region

Science Daily
Projection Shows Water Woes Likely Based on Warmer Temperatures

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Kennecott Fiasco is Playing Out in Minnesota's Boundary Waters

Will the same Kennecott fiasco be allowed to play out in Minnesota's boundary waters?

The Detroit News ran a good story today summarizing the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) 11th hour giveaway to Kennecott, effectively selling out native americans rights and the idea that we are public stewards. The controversy arose out of the fact that that the proposed sulfide mine was located at Eagle Rock which is sacred to the Anishnabe people. What was weird was how sudden the permit was granted. A week before the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) was merged into the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (MDNRE), they ruled that the Anishnabe people's contention that Eagle Rock was a sacred place of worship could not be recognized by the state of Michigan. The MDEQ's reasoning was that the sacred Eagle Rock is not a place of worship, only buildings can be recognized as places of worship.

The Kennecott Eagle Project is scheduled to begin as early as this spring. Critics say that new mining laws known as Part 632 were not enforced and that a bad precedent has been set.

Now it seems that the floodgates have been opened for risky sulfide mining throughout the Lake Superior region. Sulfide mining is risky because when sulfide ore or the tailings are exposed to air and water it produces sulfuric acid and create havoc in an environment. It can lead to long-term consequences especially if the company goes bankrupt, then taxpayers get stuck with the bill.

Now new sulfide mines are being proposed in Minnesota's Boundary Waters. The proposed mine would be located in the geographic area known as the Duluth complex just south of the boundary waters. The Canadian company Polymet mining have proposed an adjacent open pit sulfide mine that would be located between Hoyt Lakes and Babbitt Minnesota on land in the Superior National Forest. Any contamination from the mine would go the St. Louis River that flows into Lake Superior.

Another mining company Franconia minerals is proposing another mine about 30 miles to the northeast right next to Birch Lake which is part of the boundary waters watershed.

On a personal note, I have enjoyed the epic splendor that is the boundary waters. We traveled 60 miles in a week. Canoeing and portaging from lake to lake. It is a place where you can go days without seeing anybody and the forest gets so thick in some places that you are literally walking on forest debris that is about 10 feet off of the ground. We had water purifiers but after awhile we just drank water straight from the lake with no ill consequences. Minnesota needs to be public stewards of their land for their own sake and for Canada's sake since the Boundary Waters go up into Canada.

Boundary Waters Mining Video

Precious Waters website against Minnesota Sulfide Mining

Links to the Kennecott ordeal:

Controversial Kennecott mine permits OK’d at 11th hour

Save The Wild UP

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"Carpageddon" in Ypsilanti

It was yet another contentious asian carp meeting in Ypsilanti on Wednesday. There were busloads of shipping advocates from the Chicago passenger ferry industry and shipping industry. Their message was clear: any temporary or permanent closure of the locks would be in the words of a spokesperson for Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL), "Absolutely devastating." The other messages that were hammered home was that the eDNA method by Notre Dame researchers was unproven and unreliable and that the locks are not water tight. Many also voiced concern that they did not have any industry representation involved n the process of developing a solution.

Almost the entire question session was dominated by shipping advocates. At one point an audience member yelled from the crowd "These are not technical questions, this is lobbying." Shortly after that outburst tensions remained high as a shipping advocate accused The Nature Conservancy's Lindsay Chadderton (who was representing the eDNA science) of laughing at him. "Your laughing, I'm just a common man," he then went on to ask how accurate the eDNA was percentage wise, when that answer couldn't be given the man retorted "so I'm supposed to take your word for it that it actually works?" Earlier on in Chadderton's presentation he explained how there was peer review of the science but that nothing has been published yet since everything is happening so fast. In last weeks Chicago carp meeting officials said peer reviews should be published by June.

Shipping industry advocates continued to dominate the first half of the public comment period giving the feeling that there was only one dominate viewpoint to the large group of assembled people. That changed in the second half of the public comment period as more environmentalists that advocated ecological separation began to get out their message. All in all I counted 23 comments for the shipping industry and 21 viewpoints for ecological separation of the locks and for more aggressive measures to be taken.

There was also a presence of charter boat captains that depend on the fishery that were concerned about their jobs but they were far less organized than shipping advocates.

Much of the environmentalist perspective focused on ecological separation, and the failures of the federal government in dealing with invasive species in the past. It was pointed out that the electric barrier was originally installed to stop the round goby from getting into the Mississippi watershed and ultimately failed to do so. One man with the Ohio Great Lakes Fishery Commission criticized the feds saying that they "Don't do anything until you can prove it's a problem." Other concerns pleaded that this is the chance to finally get it right and separate the invasive species pathway for good. It was pointed out that several other invasive species are in danger of using the pathway to get in the Great Lakes and vice versa.

The only two politicians that actually showed up to the meeting were Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). Dingell said the "Very best thing we can do, is close the locks." Stabenow echoed that sentiment and urged a quicker emergency response to the situation.

The award of best new word of the day has to go to Port Huron's Judy Ogden for "carpageddon."

One man had a copy of former Muskegon Chronicle reporter Jeff Alexander's book Pandora's Locks that he said everyone should read to learn more. I agree. It is an excellent book that explains in a measured non biased way of how we are where we are with invasive species. It is a long complicated story that Alexander has referred to in interviews as a "slow motion wildfire."

Jeff Alexander's Website

Great Lakes Echo Interview with Jeff Alexander about Pandora's Locks

What actions have been taken recently?

According to Charlie Wooley who is Midwest Deputy Regional Director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, they have 2 weeks access to a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter to get biologists out to where they need to be to look for asian carp. They have 3 more additional boats out gill netting and electrofishing. They are focusing on warm water areas since the asian carp prefer warmer water. Commercial fishing boats are even helping out looking for asian carp.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Free Class Shows How To Help Prevent CSOs By Starting a Rain Garden

The Southeastern Oakland County Water Authority (SOCWA) is holding the second of two free classes this Thursday on "Greenscaping Your Home Landscape: Sustainable Landscapes with Native Plants, Mulch, and Rainwater Recycling."

The program shows the best ways to start a rain garden. A rain garden is a depression in the landscape that absorbs rainwater that would otherwise go into the sewers. Too much rainwater in the sewers can lead to combined sewer overflows (CSOs) where the sewer capacity gets overwhelmed and releases sewage into the local waterways.

Rain gardens are one way that anyone can use green infrastructure in preventing CSOs from happening while simultaneously beautifying their yard.

The class goes from 6:30-8:30 pm on Thursday, February 18 at:
Bloomfield Township Library
1099 Lone Pine road, Bloomfield Hills
Registration is required

The SOCWA website has plenty of guides and tips for getting a rain garden started

Monday, February 15, 2010

As Canada Seeks Asian Tar Sands Investors, Marathon Moves Ahead With Detroit Refinery Expansion

As more American and Canadian firms turn away from Alberta's tar sands, Canada is courting Asian investors. The Canadian government recently approved a deal with the Chinese oil company PetroChina for a $1.9 billion majority share in two tar sands projects in the Mackay River and Dover areas. Canadian Prime minister Stephen Harper said to expect more energy investment from China.

The shift to Asian investment in the tar sands comes at a time of strong opposition to the energy intensive project. Major oil companies such as Shell have backed off their plans for expansion in the tar sands amidst a recent revolt by shareholders. The tar sands are controversial because producing one barrel of oil produces three times the amount of greenhouse gases than by conventional means.

The tar sands were booming when gas prices were high, but as gas prices fell so did tar sands production and plans to expand refineries. In October of 2008, environmentalists sounded the alarm that these refinery expansions would effectively export tar sands pollution to the Great Lakes region. These refinery expansions included the heavily industrial area of southwest Detroit. Marathon Oil announced that they were going to implement a $2.2 billion Heavy Oil Upgrade Project (HOUP). This expansion was abandoned in February 2009, due to poor market conditions. On February 3rd of this year Marathon Petroleum Company has announced that they will be going forward with the project.

Ironically enough, the project announcement came on the same day that The Detroit News did extensive coverage of a grassroots effort by residents of southwest Detroit to put a moratorium on industrial expansion which would stop the asphalt company Great Lakes Petroleum from opening up shop. Southwest Detroit residents of the 48217 ZIP code have the highest levels of fine particle pollution in the state.

In September of 2009, southwest Detroit residents used the EPA approved bucket brigade tool to test the air for dangerous pollutants. The bucket brigade tool is an easy to operate air sampler that is housed in a five gallon bucket. With the help of the grassroots organization Global Community Monitor, they found high levels of the hazardous substances Methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) and toluene.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment are doing air samplings and monitoring residents' results. The report should be finished in a few weeks.

Here are some related articles:

Canada looks to China to exploit oil sands rejected by US

Report: How the Oil Sands Got To The Great Lakes Basin

Marathon Petroleum's Detroit Refinery to Build Heavy Oil Upgrade Project

The Detroit News article: Southwest Detroit residents want industrial development halted in neighborhood

Bucket Brigade collects air sample, discovers high level of toxic chemicals

HOUP: Detroit Heavy Oil Upgrade Project

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Raucous Chicago Asian Carp Meeting Shows Little Promise for the Lakes

The Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee held their Chicago public meeting before a packed house on Friday afternoon. This was the first of two public meetings discussing the $78.5 million federal plan of action.

The plan called for using the locks less, aggressive treatments of the fish killer rotenone in places where the asian carp is detected, more electric barriers, flood barriers, and lots of studies and research in locating and biologically and chemically controlling the asian carp.

Most of the people at the emotionally charged meeting worked in the shipping or tourism industry along the Chicago locks. Their message was clear: they didn’t want any permanent or temporary closing of the locks of any kind, saying that it would drive them out of business.

There were a few patterns of attack by opponents of lock closure. The method of eDNA was attacked repeatedly throughout the meeting. One employee for Chicago Water Taxi said that he threw out a hairbrush recently so his DNA is in a landfill that he never visited. It is true that independent peer review of eDNA has not been completed yet. It should be finished around June, but in the meantime officials are taking any eDNA results seriously.

Another commonly echoed sentiment was that there was not yet sufficient proof that the asian carp could even live in the Great Lakes. People pointed out that random asian carp have been found in Lake Erie over the years and there has never been evidence of a sustainable population. The truth is it is not known for sure what will happen if the asian carp get into Lake Michigan. The common consensus among experts seems to be that it is not a chance worth taking.

Environmentalists hammered away at the same message that the only way to truly stop the asian carp was ecological separation. The people in favor of closing the locks were definitely in the minority at the meeting. Anytime ecological separation was mentioned there was only isolated clapping.

Meanwhile the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is still standing behind their electric barriers. The second barrier should be up and running by October of this year, and they have plans for a 3rd electric barrier. One commenter that was in favor of closing the locks raised the point that the reason the first electric barrier was originally built, was to keep the round goby out of the Mississippi watershed and that it ultimately failed to do so.

Despite the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ preference for electric barriers, the time period does not seem reasonable. Even though in the recent plan they have $13 million to expedite the second barrier, it still won’t be fully operational until October. While they may plan to build another electric barrier, Rebecca Humphries Director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment pointed out that it has taken six years to build the second barrier and it is still not fully operational.

While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has ruled out closing the locks as a short-term solution, they are basically relying on using the locks less based on these four scenarios:

“Alternative 1 – No action; Chicago and O’Brian Locks operate as normal

Alternative 2 – Modified Structural Operations – Close each week; Chicago and O’Brian Locks open 3-4 days every week, a significant reduction from current ‘show and go’ operations. Checking potential to place screens on the sluice gates and the lock gates during periods of closure.

Alternative 3 – Modified Structural Operations – Close one week / month; Chicago and O’Brian Locks closed to navigation one week per month starting in April 2010.

Alternative 4 – Modified Structural Operations – Close every other week; Chicago and O’Brian Locks closed to navigation two weeks per month starting in April 2010.”

Along with the USGS they plan to tag asian carp to see if they can get past the electric barrier. Other measures are very focused on studies and reports about eDNA and monitoring as well as the assumption that some new technological innovation or biological control will be discovered quickly enough to somehow stop the asian carp from getting into the Great Lakes while simultaneously keeping the locks open indefinitely.

The federal asian carp plan doesn’t seem to have any reasonable timeline. It seems that the plan is geared towards dealing with the asian carp after they have invaded Lake Michigan. There are no quick snappy actions other than the willingness to throw a lot of money at the problem.

Here are some good stories on the event:

Dan Egan Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Asian carp proposal isn't pleasing many

John Flesher
Environmentalists want stronger carp control plan

This is the federal asian carp plan
Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework

Friday, February 12, 2010

Large Companies are not Adequately Reporting Water Risks to Investors

A recent report by Ceres (Pronounced series) finds that many large companies fail to report vulnerabilities of water scarcity to investors. The report ranked 100 publicly traded companies on their disclosure of water risks to investors. As local water issues in the U.S. and abroad intensify, there is a serious threat to companies that their supply-chain could be adversely effected in water-stressed areas. These realities are not being addressed in reports to investors. Many companies are operating as if water is an infinite resource.

The report took companies from eight sectors: beverage, chemicals, electric power, food, homebuilding, mining, oil, and gas. These are all industries that are heavy water users. The selection of the 100 companies from these eight sectors were selected based on their 2008 revenues. The companies were systematically ranked based on voluntary and mandatory reporting.

The findings were based on a 100 point scale and the results are surprisingly low. The highest score of 43 was for the UK based beverage company Diageo. The highest average score by industry was the mining industry, while the lowest average scores went to companies in the homebuilding sectors.

This report shows how undervalued our natural resources are. It shows the old way of valuing our natural resources as a limitless bounty for the taking. This report shows a growing trend of viewing natural resources in a finite and more realistic sense. This was mainly an issue for environmentalists for years, but as water issues become more transparent and in the mainstream, investors have been the one sounding the alarm. Recently, shareholders for Shell oil showed their dismay against the energy intensive tar sands in Alberta Canada. Despite denials by Shell that this investor unrest led to them scaling back tar sands operations, the company curiously announced a week later that it was indeed scaling back expansion of the tar sands.

While it is easy for large corporations to dismiss environmentalists, investor revolts and demands over eco-accountability cannot be ignored.

Ceres Report summary

Ceres Water Report:
Murky Waters? Corporate Reporting on Water Risk

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Excerpts and Ideas from Tuesday's Congressional Carp Hearing

On Tuesday the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a Congressional hearing on the asian carp. This came the day after federal officials released their Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework that details plans and funding details of how the asian carp will be dealt with.

While there were not any huge revelations in the Congressional hearing on Tuesday, there were requests to expand the debate beyond just the asian carp. There were calls to close the shipping locks not just for the asian carp but to protect other invasive species from going to the Great Lakes to the Mississippi watershed.

There were also other calls to finish federal ballast water regulations that were passed in the House of Representatives in April of 2008. The bill has not been taken up in the Senate since. James Oberstar (D-MN) joked that the bill had fallen into a Senate black hole.

The following are brief excerpts and highlights of things that were said by the presenters at the meeting.

Major General John Peabody US Army Corp of Engineers

"Actively exploring all options"

"Any assertions that the barrier system is or has been ineffective in restricting upstream movement of bighead and silver carp are speculative. The facts are that the fish barrier system has been in continuous operation since 2002 and has performed as designed as far as we can tell."

Peabody asserted in his testimony that though environmental DNA of asian carp is an important emerging technology, since it has not been independently peer reviewed the results should be considered preliminary. An external peer review is being done and should be completed by June.

Rebecca Humphries Director of Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment

Humphries pointed out that the annual costs each year for the zebra mussel is $100 million and $30 million for sea lamprey.

"I cannot stress the following in simpler terms: once an invasive species gets established in the lakes, we cannot eradicate it."

"The threat of asian carp must be treated as a crises, and steps must be implemented immediately to address it. As early as 2003, scientists, government officials, and stakeholders were calling for ecological separation of the Great Lakes from the Mississippi watershed. But we did not act quickly enough, short-term fixes have become long-term projects, for example the installation of the second electric barrier took over six years and is still not fully operational."

Humphries Recommendations:

"Closing and ceasing operation of the O'Brien lock and the Chicago lock until a permanent ecological barrier is constructed between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi watershed. The Army Corps of Engineers must have the authority to close the locks on the emergency basis, and also a permanent basis if necessary."

We must initiate studies to seek out alternative ways to move cargo past the locks

"We must install interim barriers at other locations this year. Including barriers between the Des Plaines River and the canal and the Indiana harbor and Burns Ditch from the Grand Calumet and Little Calumet rivers to eliminate the potential for flooding between these two watersheds."

Additional studies of the biology and ecology of carp and predictive models of the areas most at risk for carp infestation.

We also will need additional dollars for monitoring based on risk analysis.

Reserve funding for rapid chemical response as needed.

We will need to operate the barriers at full voltage.

Being proactive with the citizens, so they do not unknowingly transport the species.

Matt Frank Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

"We may not have much time."

"We need to get the second barrier up." It should be up and running this year (Later on in the Q & A, Gen. Peabody said the second barrier would be fully operational by October).

We need to look at ecological separation.

"We need to move faster"

Frank also brought up the issue of ballast water and how it was passed in the House overwhelmingly but not the Senate. Frank urged the committee's oversight to move on the issue. We need to get strong federal standards on this issue that goes beyond the International Maritime Organization (IMO) standards.

"We need to move from talk to action"

David Lodge Director for the Center for Aquatic Conservation and professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame:

On how close the carp are:

"Silver carp are not only at the doorstep of the lake up at Wilmette and northern Chicago but in fact appear to be in Lake Michigan or at least in Calumet harbor opening to Lake Michigan."

Bighead carp are not yet detected in the lake.

"It's a numbers game, and if the goal is to prevent invasions in Lake Michigan, then the proximate management goal has to be to prevent additional individual fish of either species from entering Lake Michigan. It is not inevitable that an invasion by either one of these fishes will occur and our most recent results, finding Silver Carp in the lake make it even more urgent that steps are taken to prevent additional fishes from entering the lake."

This canal has already been a dangerous pathway for other species such as zebra and quagga mussels for spreading across the country. Other species such as the spiny water flea and water chestnut have also spread via the Chicago canal. New Zealand mud snail and bloody red shrimp may spread from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi system. Other species in the Mississippi system may spread to the Great Lakes via the canal such as the Brazilian waterweed and the northern snakehead.

Dr. Mike Hansen Chair of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission

"The goal must be ecological separation."

Del Wilkins Vice President of Terminal Operations and Business Development of the Canal Barge Company, Inc.

Testifying on behalf of the American Waterways Operators (AWO) National trade association for the tugboat and barge industry

"Inland waterways navigation is essential to our economy, and it is the safest most economical mode of domestic fright transportation with the smallest carbon footprint of any mode."

9 proposed actions by AWO:

1. Expedite the construction of the second electric barrier.

2. Design and implement bubble and acoustic fish barriers.

3. Immediately complete structures to stop carp during flooding.

4. Conduct research to determine the effectiveness of the electric barriers as well as the bubble and acoustic barriers.

5. Employ consistent measures to locate the fish species such as electro-fishing, netting and commercial fishing that do not interfere with the flow of commerce.

6. Fund research on biologic control agents of asian carp.

7. Sampling barges for juvenile carp and their eggs.

8. Impose further restrictions on the importation of asian carp.

9. Conduct more scientific studies on the ability of asian carp to survive in the Great Lakes ecosystem.

The AWO strongly opposes permanently closing the locks or even periodically closing the locks.

Q & A

Major General Peabody stated that the second barrier would be ready in October of this year.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering acoustic and bubble barriers.

Discrepancies between Joel Brammeier (President and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes) and Wilkins

Wilkins said that the locks won't be a permanent barrier since they leak. They wouldn't be an ecological barrier.

Brammeier clarified that he was talking about the long-term need to separate the lakes. He cited that the volume of commerce moving through the locks is less than one percent of the total for the Chicago metro area.

What are different pathways that the asian carp could be distributed into the Great Lakes?

What are the potential impacts of asian carp on the Great Lakes?

Lodge responded by saying that the silver and bighead carp are abundant south of the electric barrier so the biggest way that they could get in the lakes is through the electric barrier, especially if it is less than 100 percent effective and flooding occurs where the carp could breach the canal. Lodge said that it makes the most since to focus on the canals for now.

Other ways that the carp could invade the lakes are fishermen using young carp for bait, or the intentional release of the bighead or silver carp. There are some cultural practices that encourage releasing live carp into the lakes.

Nobody knows for certain what the impact would be on the Great Lakes, though it would probably not be a positive impact.

Will it satisfy Michigan that all of the agencies are cooperating together?

Humphries responded by saying: "Is it our goal to biologically, ecologically, and physically separate these watersheds or is it not?"

What are the long-term goals? This will direct how we deal with it short-term.

Here is a link to the asian carp Congressional hearing courtesy of The Great Lakes Town Hall:

Video of Tuesday's Asian Carp hearing

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Details of the New Detroit Sewage Plan

Coming off of one of the worst years for combined sewer overflows (CSOs) in awhile, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) recently released its: "Alternative Rouge River CSO Control Program Executive Summary." This new plan explains the DWSD's alternative to the former Upper Rouge Tunnel project. The new plan is cheaper and takes place over a longer time period of 25-years and also includes green infrastructure measures as well as grey infrastructure measures.

Green infrastructure aims at limiting rainwater from getting into the sewers in the first place. The report recommends the following points that would be implemented by "multiple City agencies and departments, as well as private and non-profit stakeholders. A $50 million budget has been established to fund Green Infrastructure projects from sewer revenues..."

1. Disconnect residential and municipal downspouts.

2. Demolish and remove vacant structures and replace with pervious land cover.

3. Use bioswales and tree trenches along roadways and parking lots to intercept runoff and reduce stormwater inputs.

4. Plant trees for uptake and evapotranspiration along roadways and open spaces.

5. Implement activities on municipally-owned properties, focusing on managing stormwater runoff in underutilized parks.

Grey infrastructure is far more expensive and instead of being preventive like green infrastructure, it focuses on how the rainwater and sanitary waste will be treated before being released into the environment. The grey infrastructure also focuses on eliminating the CSO outfalls altogether. The DWSD plan has the following CSO control projects for grey infrastructure:

1. Complete the Oakwood District Sewer Improvement Program (three construction contracts totaling $59 million).

2. Install remedial improvements at the Baby Creek Screening and Disinfection (S&D) Facility including disinfection feed system renovations, new mechanical mixers, and emergency bypass channel ($3 million).

3. Complete the Total Residual Chlorine Minimization and In-Stream Assessment program for three Rouge River CSO Control Facilities ($1 million).

4. Initiate improvements at the Hubbell-Southfield CSO Basin to maintain the operational effectiveness of that facility ($2 million).

5. Modify two Lower Rouge Outfalls to eliminate existing CSO discharges ($1 million):

• Carbon Outfall elimination
• Fort St. East Outfall diversion to Oakwood Basin

6. Eliminate the Glenhurst Outfall by constructing flow control devices and a new pump station to direct this flow to the Oakwood Northwest Interceptor ($3 million).

7. Construct two new Pilot Projects to demonstrate the effectiveness of First Flush capture tanks in conjunction with disposable nets and innovative upstream disinfection injection systems at both the 7 Mile East and Pembroke outfalls ($41 million).

8. Re-invest in existing CSO control facilities on a phased basis over the 25-year program to ensure their continued structural integrity and operational viability as they approach their design life expectancies ($40 million).

9. Construct a new CSO storage tunnel (URT-2); a 5.5-mile long, 19-foot diameter; 63-MG capacity tunnel to control 14 CSOs between Warren Avenue and McNichols; plus associated drop shafts and outfall modifications, and a 35-mgd pump station to dewater the captured flow to the wastewater treatment plant after the storm event ($484 million).

10. Upgrade the wastewater treatment plant by constructing a new Rouge River Outfall (RRO-2) with the capability to chlorinate and dechlorinate primary effluent to eliminate the existing undisinfected Rouge River Outfall (RRO-1). This project will include improvements at the wastewater treatment plant to provide flow control including gates, regulators, hydraulic structures, and instrumentation and control, plus a new outfall conduit ($130 million).

The total cost for all of these CSO grey infrastructure projects will be $764 million.

The new 25-year plan will create an average yearly debt-load of $33 million a year as opposed to the old plan that had an average debt-load of $190 million per year. The project will be implemented in five different phases over the 25-year period.

Phase I: 2010-2014 = $101M
Oakwood Sewer Segments 2, 3 ($44 M) 2010-2011
Baby Creek Remedial Improvements ($3 M) 2010
7 Mile Pilot Project (FFT & nets, NaOCl) ($17 M) 2012-2014
Pembroke First Flush Tank ($15 M) 2013-2014
Glenhurst Outfall Elimination ($3 M) 2014
Carbon/Fort St. Outfall Elimination ($1 M) 2010
Hubbell-Southfield Re-investment ($2 M) 2011
TRC Minimization & In-Stream Evaluations ($1 M) 2010
Green Infrastructure Phase I ($15 M) 2010-2014

Phase II: 2015-2019 = $218M
Oakwood Sewers Segment 4 ($15 M) 2015-2016
Pembroke Outfall Nets & NaOCl ($9 M) 2017
WWTP Outfall Gates/I&C ($30 M) 2015-2016
Re-investment in Existing Facilities ($10 M) 2015-2020
URT-2 South Tunnel Segment ($139 M) 2017-2020
Green Infrastructure Phase II ($15 M) 2015-2019

Phase III: 2020-2024 = $158M
URT-2 S. Tunnel Drop Shafts & Near Surf ($83 M) 2019-2022
URT-2 35 MGD Pump Station ($55 M) 2021-2022
Re-investment in Existing Facilities ($10 M) 2019-2024
Green Infrastructure Phase III ($10 M) 2020-2024

Phase IV: 2025-2029 = $227M
URT-2 North Tunnel Segment ($133 M) 2026-2029
URT-2 N Tunnel Drop Shafts & Near Surf ($74 M) 2029-2031
Re-investment in Existing Facilities ($10 M) 2025-2029
Green Infrastructure Phase IV ($10 M) 2025-2029

Phase V: 2030-2034 = $110M
WWTP Outfall Conduit & Cl2+SO2 ($100 M) 2032-2034
Re-investment in Existing Facilities ($10 M) 2030-2034

The state will still need to approve this new proposal. A public meeting will take place Wednesday February 10 at 7 pm at::

University of Dearborn
Environmental Interpretive Center
4901 Evergreen, Dearborn MI

"Alternative Rouge River CSO Control Program Executive Summary."

Monday, February 8, 2010

Asian Carp Forum in Ypsilanti Next Wednesday

The EPA announced another public meeting that will provide a forum for public comment and ideas on Wednesday, February 17 in Ypsilanti Michigan. The meeting is being hosted by the International Joint Commission and will bring together representatives from all over the Great Lakes as well as federal agencies such as: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, EPA, U.S. Coast Guard and various scientific experts. If you have a problem with the feds' current carp control plan, come out and tell them about it.

The meeting is from 3-6 pm at the:
Marriot Ann Arbor Ypsilanti at Eagle Crest
1275 S. Huron
Ypsilanti, MI 48197

The meeting will also have a live webcast.

DWSD Announces New Sewage Project

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) has released an alternative plan to the old Upper Rouge Tunnel Project. The newer plan is $814 million and is a 25-year project. The old Upper Rouge Tunnel project urged a quicker compliance by 2015 and had a $1.2 billion price tag. The newer project calls for smaller 5.5 mile tunnel as opposed to the old plan that had a 7 mile tunnel.

These plans were required by law since the Upper Rouge Tunnel Project was canceled last April due to the high cost. It looks as if the DWSD is going with the idea of the smaller tunnel. This is an idea that was previously proposed and rejected by the MDEQ. This is because the State of Michigan has stricter requirements on waste water than the current federal laws.

A public meeting will be held this Wednesday February 10 at 7 pm at:
University of Dearborn
Environmental Interpretive Center
4901 Evergreen, Dearborn MI

Free Press Story: Project Aims To Cut Sewage Dumping

Federal Officials Release Asian Carp Control Plan

After today's White House Carp summit, federal officials released plans to control the asian carp, called the Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework. The plan lists a bunch of short-term and long-term ways that federal agencies will deal with control of the asian carp. Such plans include building a third electric barrier, installing fences where they would prevent the asian carp from flowing into Lake Michigan during a flooding event, and using the locks less.

The plan also calls for more rotenone treatments in places where carp DNA has been found as well as development of biological controls that mirror those used in sea lamprey suppression. Officials are also calling for expanded carp DNA testing. Under the proposed plan DNA testing would double.

This new plan does not address Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox's request for closure of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal Locks. The plan also does not acknowledge the recent study done by Wayne State researchers that valued the shipping industry resulting from the locks at $70 million. The study also found that new jobs would be brought to the region from closing the locks. Cox's lawsuit is still in the works and still is aimed at having the locks closed down. The recent reopening of the lawsuit asks that the U.S. Supreme Court consider the Wayne State study as well as the new asian carp DNA that was found in Lake Michigan.

The plan is posted on the website of the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee.

This is federal officials proposed plan:
Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework

Researchers Find Link Between Gastroschisis and Atrazine

Researchers have found a link between the birth defect gastroschisis and the weed killer atrazine. The results will be presented in Chicago at the Society for Maternal-Fetal medicine's (SMFM) annual event: The Pregnancy Meeting.

Gastroschisis is when the intestines and other organs develop in an opening outside of the abdominal wall of the fetus. The research was done by the University of Washington where the state has double the average of gastroschisis. The researchers matched birth certificates to the U.S. Geological Survey's database of agricultural spraying. The researchers found that babies born within 25 km of water contaminated with atrazine were at higher risk for gastroschisis. They also found that babies born between the months of March and May were at higher risk.

This evidence comes on the heels of a recent New York Times expose that found that large amounts of Americans are exposed to atrazine in their drinking water. While the EPA disagrees that the public is exposed to unsafe levels of atrazine, many experts disagree. New studies have shown that atrazine can be dangerous even at legal levels. These studies also suggest that atrazine in the water can lead to birth defects, low birth weight, and menstrual problems.

According to the New York Times, the state at greatest risk in the Great Lakes region is Ohio. In Ohio over 40 percent of the population is exposed to atrazine. The only other state that is even close in the region is Indiana with just over 29 percent of the population exposed to atrazine. The rest of the Great Lakes states have under 10 percent of the population exposed to atrazine.

New York Times:
Debating How Much Weed Killer Is Safe in Your Water Glass

Science Daily:
Link Between Birth Defect Gastroschisis and the Agricultural Chemical Atrazine Found

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Will Anything Be Done?

We will be even more saturated by stories about the ugly, voracious, advancing, asian carp as two big meetings are set to take place next week.

On Monday the White House will host regional leaders behind closed doors to discuss what to do about the advancing asian carp. Then on Friday there will be another meeting in Chicago with representatives from all of the involved agencies and states seeking public input.

The big question will be whether any substantive action will come from these meetings. Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox is working on discrediting the argument that the Illinois economy would be severely impacted. Cox commissioned a study to find out exactly what the economic impacts would be on the Illinois economy. The study found that the claims by Illinois legislators and the Obama Administration are grossly exaggerated. The study came on the heels of a renewed preliminary injunction that Cox filed in response to new carp DNA that was found in Lake Michigan.

The study found the following:

7 million tons of cargo would be affected. This is less than 1 percent of all freight traffic in the Chicago region and 30 percent of the total Port of Chicago traffic.

The affected barge traffic equals two loaded freight trains. This is in a region that has 500 daily freight trains.

Truck traffic would increase by less than 1/10 of a percent despite shippers' claims that the increase in truck traffic would lead to deteriorated air quality.

Cargo that was affected would still be moved by ships, they just would not be entering the locks. The cargo would have to be transported the rest of the way by trucks or trains.

Overall the costs to shippers would be increased by $70 million, not $190 million as was previously claimed by Illinois and federal officials. If anything, new cargo related jobs would be created. Any lost barge jobs would be replaced by trucking or rail jobs.

The report also found that shipping has decreased in recent years from over 7.4 million tons in 2007 to over 6.9 million tons in 2008.

The report came up with three alternatives for cargo if the locks were closed.

"Alternative A. Transload all cargo between barge and truck. All existing cargo passing through the Chicago and O’Brien locks would continue to move by barge. New transload facilities would be built downstream of the barrier. All cargo would be trucked between the transload center and existing customers."

"Alternative B. Transload but some rail. Most cargo would continue to be transferred to and from trucks at the transload facilities. However, some would shift to an all rail movement. "

"Alternative C. Transload, rail, pipeline, and use of other terminals. Half of cargo would continue to transfer to and from trucks at the transload facilities. There would be more rail. Some cargo would continue to move by barge via other routes to terminals elsewhere in the region, and some would move by pipeline."

Given that the Great Lakes sport fishery is valued at $7 billion, the Great Lakes are being held hostage by Illinois officials for the paltry sum of $70 million. There are reasonable actions that can be taken. It will be interesting to see if this study is even considered in the decision making process. By the end of next week we will see whether anything will be done or if everyone will just agree that it is a problem and keep dragging it out.

The report is toward the end of the renewed motion for preliminary injunction.

Chicago Waterway System Ecological Separation: The Logistics and Transportation Related Cost Impact of Waterway Barriers

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Yet Another Carp Meeting Announced for February 12

The EPA just announced that the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee has a meeting for February 12. The meeting is four days after the White House Carp Summit and will address public comments and answer the public's questions. They will also discuss plans and listen to ideas for battling the carp.

The committee is comprised of representatives from all of the Great lakes states as well as local Illinois interests and federal agencies such as the: EPA, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, Army Corps. of Engineers, and the Coast Guard.

The meeting will take place at the Metcalfe Federal Building in Chicago from 3 to 6 pm. There will also be a live webcast.

This is the committee website.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

White House Carp Summit Date Set

The White House has set a date for the carp summit for Monday, February 8.

The meeting announcement comes a week after the U.S. Supreme Court denied Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox's request to close the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal locks. The same day that the U.S. Supreme Court denied Cox's request, carp DNA was found beyond the barrier in Lake Michigan. In response to the new DNA finding Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm along with Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle requested to meet with White House officials on the matter.

The meeting will be closed to the public and will be between Granholm, Doyle, and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, as well as Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and top officials from the EPA, Department of the Interior, U.S. Coast Guard, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Three days ago Cox and four other attorneys general requested to have a seat at the table and have been denied. Despite the denial they are still proceeding with the lawsuit that could close the shipping canal linking the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River.

Michigan legislators Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) have introduced legislation called the CARP ACT (Close All Routes and Prevent Asian Carp Today) to the U.S. Senate. The CARP ACT would immediately close the locks until a new strategy could be developed. The CARP ACT would also require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to install new barriers in the North Shore Channel and and the Grand and Little Calumet Rivers to help stop the carp migration. They would also have to conduct two studies. One would have to find ways to lessen the negative impact on commerce in the canals, while the other would address how best to deal with flooding concerns.

The CARP ACT would grant authority to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to apply fish toxicants, or allow commercial fishing and netting to help eradicate the carp. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would also be granted the authority to acquire any real estate that they need to install the barrier systems.

Michigan Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) is also in on the issue asking the Obama Administration for money to poison all of the waterways where the carp could enter the lake.

Even rocker Ted Nugent is in on the issue with a plea on Cox's website stop asian carp.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Deadly Fish Virus is Now in Every Great Lake

The deadly fish disease viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus (VHSV) has been found in Lake Superior by Cornell researchers and the U.S. Geological Survey. They tested 874 different fish from seven different sites and found positive results in fish from Paradise and Skanee Michigan, and in Superior Bay Wisconsin.

VHSV was initially found in the Great Lakes in 2003. While the virus is not contagious to humans it is very contagious to other fish. Even fish that survive the disease will remain carriers of the disease throughout their lives. The disease causes hemorrhaging of the liver, spleen, and intestines and eventually leads to internal organ failure in fish. Since 2008 and 2009 did not produce any major fish kills from VHSV, researchers are looking into causal connections between the presence of stress on the fish and mortality rates.

Deadly fish virus now found in all Great Lakes

VHSV Fact Sheet

Important Information for Anglers

While Public Opinion May be Unsure About Climate Change, it will still Impact Michigan in a Big Way

A recent poll indicates that public opinion is waning on global warming. A recent survey by the Yale Project on Climate Change shows that there is more uncertainty about global warming than when the survey was given in 2008. They surveyed 1001 people 18 years and older and found that this year only 57 percent of respondents believed that global warming was happening. This is a 14 percent drop in comparison to 2008. The people that do not believe that global warming is occurring increased from 10 percent in 2008 to 20 percent in 2010.

The survey indicates that people are more unsure about the entire issue than two years ago. When respondents were asked whether they believe if most scientists think that global warming is happening, the number actually went down from 47 percent in 2008 to 34 percent in 2010. Following that trend in the same question was the choice that asked if people thought there were a lot of disagreements over whether global warming was happening, 40 percent thought that there was. This was up from 33 percent in 2008.

The series of questions indicate uncertainty on whether global warming is a natural or manmade phenomenon. Most people do feel that if it does happen it would be a threat to them. The general consensus has been that people are less worried about global warming than they were in 2008. In 2010, just 50 percent said they were very worried or somewhat worried. This was down from 63 percent in 2008.

While this issue may be losing steam, it is still important to keep it at the forefront. Most people's focus is on the economy right now, as it should be. But let's not forget that the climate change is an economic issue that will alter our physical world in ways that will change how we make a living.

There are a laundry list of projected threats to Michigan and the Great Lakes region as a result of climate change. The projected increases in temperature will outweigh the increased precipitation from severe storms. This will also result in less winter ice which will mean more evaporation will occur. This means that all of the Great Lakes will have their water levels go down.

This will effect the shipping industry and will likely mean more dredging of shipping canals like the St. Lawrence Seaway. A 2008 study by the University of Maryland, found that a forecasted drop of the St. Lawrence Seaway by 25 percent would cost a $1.5 billion economic loss in foreign trade for the ports of Detroit, Muskegon, and Port Huron. The cost of increased dredging and the ripple effect of lost import and export jobs could lead to an additional loss of 13,000 jobs and $2.6 billion.

While precipitation is expected to increase, the way that we get rain is expected to change. We will have more storms. This will lead to more flooding and a decline in water quality from combined sewer overflows. The University of Maryland study applied damage from past flooding events and found that this could cost Michigan an additional $700 million a year in damages.

The flooding will be especially bad for the Metro Detroit area since the area is plagued by sewer overflows. The Metro Detroit area is too broke to fix the current sewage overflow problems amidst the worst sewage overflow numbers in recent memory.

As warmer temperatures come to Michigan. There will be trend of more animals and forests migrating northward. This will effect the $12 billion that Michigan forests contribute to the Michigan economy each year as well as the tourism industry. Skiing and snowmobiling will be particularly hard hit.

The agriculture industry will have to deal with more drought, higher rainfall, more soil erosion, and the threat of more invasive species from the higher temperatures.

The way we live and do business will be forever altered in the next century. It is important to remember the local consequences of issues like climate change. If climate change continues unabated it will cost Michigan billions of dollars.

Yale Project on Climate Change:

Americans' Global Warming Beliefs and Attitudes in January 2010

University of Maryland Report:

Economic Impacts of Climate Change

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

There is No Time for Debate About the Asian Carp

Will we get more than rhetoric with the asian carp?

It is a fair question to ask. Throughout the history of invasive species in the Great Lakes region the trend seems to be to pay it lip service and do little. That is why Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox does deserve praise by acting fast to do all that he legally could to close the locks. Now we are getting ready for the Washington carp summit. It sounds like some great opportunities for 30 second sound bites and some great photo-ops.

More talking. Maybe Obama will set up a symbolic task force, or better yet a scientific panel. Maybe we can build more electric barriers and never turn them on all the way. None of this posturing is new, it all sounds vaguely familiar.

There has been a long history of not taking invasive species seriously. Consider the history of bungled ballast water regulations. In 1973, shortly after the Clean Water Act was enacted a curious amendment was added that exempted ballast water from the Clean Water Act. The reasoning was that it caused little pollution.

This then put the regulation of ballast water under the watch of the U.S. Coast Guard. Even as early as 1981 there were conclusive studies that found that ballast water contained live organisms that were being transported to the lakes and had the potential for ecological harm. It took nearly a decade for the first federal law to take effect in 1990, known as the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act (NANPCA). This law was in direct response to the zebra mussel invasion that ground the city of Monroe Michigan to a halt, as the zebra mussels clogged the water intake pipes.

Even despite reauthorizing NANPCA in 1996 and renaming it the National Invasive Species Act (NISA), the laws were still a paper tiger in actually stopping the flow of invasive species. The Coast Guard still allowed the vast majority of ships through without flushing out their tanks. This was partly because ballast water was not being treated as a pollutant and because there was another gaping loophole.

Ships that have no ballast water which are referred to as NoBobs (No Ballast on Board), still contained tons of mud in the bottom of the tanks that were teeming with potential aquatic invaders and pathogens. So despite the appearance of doing something about invasive species, there were still gaping loopholes.

In 1999 California environmental groups and anglers filed a petition to the EPA to have ballast water regulated under the Clean Water Act. The EPA dragged its feet and fought the case. There wasn't a decision until 2005 and though it was a huge victory for environmental groups, the EPA would not be required to regulate ballast water until the fall of 2008. That was also the year that the U.S. Coast Guard closed the NoBob loophole. The main fight now is coming up with ballast water treatment standards.

The point of this short history of ballast water is that while we kill time holding carp summits and fighting court battles, nature goes on. It took 17 years to even admit that ballast water was harmful to the Great Lakes. It has been 37 years since the Clean Water Act and the ballast water exception and we still don't have federal ballast water treatment standards. We are running out of time on this carp issue. The idea of the carp summit has opened up a new debate about whether the carp are a threat or not. Chicago politicians are wondering why people throughout the Great Lakes basin are freaking out about the carp. It's because we have been through all of this before. We have seen many of the initial gains of the fishery and water quality of Lake Huron and Lake Erie be reversed from the unforeseen consequences of zebra and quagga mussel infestation. We have nearly had nuclear meltdowns from cladophora algae clogging the intake pipes of nuclear plants. There is nothing to debate. Invasive species are not good, and the asian carp won't be good for the Great Lakes.

Despite the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the emergency closing of the locks, Michigan legislators have persisted with the CARP ACT (Close All Routes and Prevent Asian Carp Today). Meanwhile, a date has yet to be set for the White House asian carp summit. Nobody is really sure what will happen since the Obama Administration has sided with Illinois shipping interests. Whatever does happen at the carp summit or legally, time drags on and the locks remain open. Make no mistake about it, wasting time on this issue is political posturing to narrow Illinois shipping interests.

Here are some useful links about what Michigan legislators are proposing, and the plans that the Feds have proposed.

Detroit Free Press Links: Efforts to combat Asian carp