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

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Trash Paradox

There has been a lot of rhetoric lately about Michigan's loss of revenue from imported garbage. We are importing less trash due to the struggling economy. Or in other words, people are consuming less. A few years ago I worked for Clean Water Action and if there is one thing that most Metro Detroiters agree on, it is that importing garbage from neighboring states is a bad deal.

Another bad deal is relying on imported garbage to fund necessary programs. In this case, Great Lakes Echo reports that the garbage fees go towards landfill inspection to make sure that the landfill is safe. This creates a paradox. The more garbage we take in, the more liability we assume. What do we get out of it? If we're lucky we can fund the landfill inspection program. It is easy to see that this is a bad deal for Michigan.

Other states don't charge Michigan's measly 21 cents per ton, because they know that importing trash is bad business. Ohio charges $4.75 per ton while Wisconsin charges $12.98 per ton. The solution seems to be to modestly raise the rate 35 cents according to the Great Lakes Echo article. That would help short-term, but something is fundamentally broken here. Relying on imported garbage to raise revenue just shows how desperate and cash strapped the state is.

Here are the top 5 five counties for solid waste imports measured by cubic volume.

Macomb County: 3,741,197
Wayne: 2,855,857
Genesee: 2,393,825
Monroe: 1,742,990
Berrien: 1,277,146

MDEQ Report of Solid Waste Landfilled in Michigan

When a garbage decline is bad for the environment

Opportunity at the trash dumps

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

2009 Metro Detroit Sewage Numbers

Last year was a bad year for combined sewage overflows in Metro Detroit. Over 37 billion gallons of sewage overflowed into Metro Detroit waterways in 2009. This total was an 11 billion gallon increase from 2008.

Combined sewer overflows (CSOs) occur when it rains. Older sewer systems receive municipal waste along with storm water. During heavy rains the sewers fill up and rather than having sewage back up into streets and basements, the sewage is then released into the local waterways.

The main way that Metro Detroit is dealing with sewage treatment is by building retention treatment basins. These basins hold the excess storm water and sewage and are supposed to hold and treat the wastewater. What often happens is that the sewage only gets partially treated. This means that the sewage is treated with chlorine and the solids are allowed to settle. This is better than just releasing raw sewage but it does not get rid of all of the dangerous pathogens.

All sewage categories were unusually high in 2009. One category that was higher than normal was diluted raw sewage. In 2008 there were 1.2 billion gallons of diluted raw sewage released into metro Detroit waterways while 2009 brought over 5 billion gallons of diluted raw sewage. This is significant because this is untreated sewage. To put it in perspective how high this number is consider that in 2007 the rest of the entire state of Michigan excluding Wayne County only had 3 billion gallons of CSOs.

The annual rainfall for Detroit was nearly the same. The total rainfall for 2008 was 33.98 inches while 2009 brought a little bit more rain for a total of 34.12 inches. It is hard to blame the rain for this large increase in CSOs.

The majority of these high sewage numbers occurred during nine wet weather events where each time at least a billion gallons of partially treated sewage and diluted raw sewage were released into the waterways. The biggest CSO of the year occurred between March 7 and March 16. A total of over 8.6 billion gallons of sewage overflowed into the Detroit and Rouge Rivers. 6.9 billion gallons were partially treated sewage while the other 1.7 billion gallons was diluted raw sewage.

The nine biggest Wayne County CSO events yielded 75 percent of the total Wayne County CSO releases. Over 90 percent of the diluted raw sewage releases for Wayne County also occurred during these nine events.

Despite the recent problems much progress has been made. Consider that in 1988 there were 613 CSO outfalls throughout Michigan. As of 2008 that number has been reduced to 154 CSO outfalls. Recently though, progress has stalled.

The biggest problem that municipalities are facing comes down to money. It is really expensive to overhaul the sewer systems. The Upper Rouge Tunnel Project would have greatly reduced CSOs for Metro Detroit but it had to be abandoned last April because of the $1.2 billion cost. The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) would have had to hike water rates 16 percent and that was seen as unreasonable in today’s economy.

The Upper Rouge Tunnel Project was part of a court mandate to reduce CSOs into the Rouge River. This was part of the conditions of 2008 litigation brought by the EPA. The city has until 2015 to comply with the court order. Now that the project has been canceled the DWSD is drafting new plans. Two possible outcomes are a smaller tunnel, though that has already been rejected once, partly because Michigan has stricter wastewater standards than the EPA. The other possible outcome could be getting more time to comply.

There are other less expensive methods to curbing CSO overflows. One is green infrastructure. There are things that anyone can do such as using rain barrels to collect rainwater rather than directing rainwater to sewers. You can use the collected water to irrigate your flowers or garden.

Other green infrastructure solutions include green roofs. Where gardens are planted on roofs to reduce rainwater, these roofs also last longer than your conventional roof though the initial installation cost is higher.

Any time you can avoid directing rainwater to the sewers you are helping to combat CSOs. A lot of this can be achieved through rethinking how we design structures such as buildings or parking lots. A simple green oasis can help reduce the burden of CSOs on waterways and is aesthetically pleasing.

These are important issues since global warming is expected to change precipitation patterns in the Great Lakes. It will rain less often, but when it does rain it will be intense storms. This will wreak havoc on the local waterways if our infrastructure is not updated.

These are how the numbers shake out for 2009:

Macomb County
Partailly Treated Sewage: 2,092
Diluted Raw sewage: None
Raw Sewage: 3

Oakland County
Raw sewage: 12 million gallons
Diluted Raw Sewage: None
Partially Treated Sewage: 139 million gallons

St. Clair County
Raw sewage: 13 million gallons
Diluted Raw Sewage: 57 million gallons
Partially Treated Sewage: 156 million gallons

Wayne County
Raw sewage: 156 million gallons
Diluted Raw Sewage: 4.95 Billion gallons
Partially Treated Sewage: 29.2 Billion gallons
Blended Effluent: 574 million gallons

Raw sewage: 184 million gallons
Diluted Raw Sewage: 5 billion gallons
Partially Treated Sewage: 31.4 billion gallons
Blended Effluent: 574 million gallons
Total: 37.2 billion gallons

These are my 2009 totals in excel format available for download HERE.

It has every individual release along with where and when it happened along with which waterways were affected. I also summarized the ten biggest CSO events of the year.

All of this data came from the MDEQ website.

(Important note)
There are gaps in data for Dearborn. Of 54 total combined sewer overflow events for Dearborn, 28 event dates had a volume total for the amount of partially treated sewage released into the waterways. The other 26 CSO events had incomplete data. Between the beginning of 2009 and July 11, there were 968 gallons of partially treated sewage released into the waterways from Dearborn. After July 11, Dearborn quit reporting the total volume of sewage that was released into the environment.

More Resources

Steve Neavling wrote a great story in the Free Press on the sewers today:
Aging sewage systems breed record bacteria in our waters

This is a great story about the sewage overflow issue from The Windsor Star:
Windsor cleans up act as Detroit spews sewage into river

Anybody that wants to see the Rouge River up close and personal should check out the book Up the Rouge! by Joel Thurtell.

Toxic Waters New York Times Series

EPA Report on Climate Change and CSO Mitigation on the Great Lakes

Green Cities, Great Lakes: The Green Infrastructure Report

by Jason Tafilowski

Asian Carp: Politics as Usual

My last blog was about the asian carp it seems fitting that I will start up again with that issue on the day that the US Supreme Court decided to not temporarily shut down the navigational locks to keep out the Asian carp.

Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox brought the suit in late December after Asian carp DNA was found past the Chicago Sanitary Ship Canal's electric barrier. The order brought open an old Supreme Court case that left open a challenge to the Chicago diversion if it could be shown that the diversion was doing harm to the Great Lakes.

Since the lawsuit was brought Cox quickly got Wisconsin, Ohio, New York, and Minnesota on board with the lawsuit since recreational fishing in the Great Lakes is estimated at $7 billion. The only people openly against temporarily shutting down the locks were Illinois officials like Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill), U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill), U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorsen (D-Ill), and Obama's Great Lakes czar Cameron Davis.

Make no mistake about it the do-nothing approach is a risky move politically. It shows an irrational unwillingness to work with the neighboring states. The refusal to at least temporarily shut down the locks until a solution can be found is borderline insane and reckless. There is a fighting chance to stop the Asian carp and to save recreational boating and the fishery and instead of using every tool we can to stop it, Illinois officials have doomed us all to a do-nothing approach. They have chose local special interests over everyone's interests.

If the Asian carp does get into the Great Lakes everyone will know who to blame. There will be a nasty political fallout. One could argue that is already happening. After the 15-month old Great Lakes Compact was signed into law bringing all of the Great Lakes together in a unified act of legislation, we are becoming divided. It didn't have to end up this way. We could have worked together to try to stop the carp and there wouldn't be a scapegoat, instead it is just politics as usual.

Asian carp DNA found in Lake Michigan; Supreme Court rejects remedy

Supreme Court turns down Asian carp remedy

Carp-fighting lawsuit doesn't aim to flood Chicago

Back for 2010

I have not blogged for awhile. Well I'm back online now for 2010.