In honor of Earth Day, I thought it appropriate to explore the current state of the Great Lakes — the good, bad and ugly. The lakes today are far healthier than in 1972, when Congress passed the federal Clean Water Act. Water quality has improved in most areas of the lakes and rivers that feed into North America’s freshwater seas, many fisheries have recovered and concentrations of several pollutants have decreased. That’s the good news.
Sleeping Bear Dunes in northern Michigan, a source of incredible beauty and the victim of invasive mussels that fuel algae blooms, which have killed thousands of birds.
The bad news: The lakes face a host of new problems, including the spread of foreign mussels and other aquatic invasive species, new pollutants that are transported to the lakes by wind currents, and the resurgence of nuisance and toxic algae blooms across much of Lake Erie and isolated parts of lakes Michigan, Huron and Ontario.
Despite enormous challenges, and the threat of an Asian carp invasion, the Great Lakes remain a source of incredible natural beauty, economic importance and the source of drinking water for 30 million people. I offer this brief assessment of the Great Lakes for two reasons: There can never be too many news articles, blog posts, books, poems or songs written about these incomparable freshwater seas; and I love lists. Here goes:
Posted in Air pollution, Asian carp, Birds, Climate, Fish, Great Lakes, Invasive species, Pollution, Water
Tagged fish, Great Lakes, invasive species, Lake Erie, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, Lake Ontario, Lake Superior, pollution, water, zebra mussels
Some Asian carp are likely living in southern Lake Michigan and western Lake Erie, according to scientists at the University of Notre Dame. Researchers recently announced that they found more Asian carp DNA in western Lake Erie and southern Lake Michigan. The study contradicted government claims that Asian carp DNA found in those lakes likely came from bird feces or stormwater runoff from cities.
Scientists have yet to find a reproducing population of Asian carp anywhere in the Great Lakes. They have only found genetic traces of the fish in Lake Erie and Lake Michigan.
“The most plausible explanation is still that there are some carp out there,” Christopher Jerde of the University of Notre Dame, the lead author, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “We can be cautiously optimistic … that we’re not at the point where they’ll start reproducing, spreading further and doing serious damage.”
How will government agencies prevent Asian carp that are likely in Lake Erie and Lake Michigan from reproducing? And is it possible to keep massive populations of Asian carp that are bearing down on the Great Lakes via several rivers from invading the lakes? No one knows. (Check out this graphic see the Asian carp’s steady advance toward the Great Lakes)
I don’t mean to be a pessimist, but I fear the Notre Dame scientists are documenting the leading edge of the next Great Lakes disaster. For that reason, I’ve adjusted the Asian Carp Doomsday Clock to 11:59 — one minute before the witching hour of midnight. This clock strikes midnight if or when scientists find a reproducing population of Asian carp in any of the five Great Lakes. I hope and pray that that day never arrives, but I’m also a realist.
Posted in Asian carp, Fish, Great Lakes, Invasive species
Tagged Asian carp, boating, Chicago, doomsday clock, fish, invasive species, Lake Erie, Lake Michigan
The nonprofit news organization Inside Climate News won journalism’s top prize, the Pulitzer Prize, on April 15 for its coverage of the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill and subsequent articles that exposed serious problems in the nation’s oil pipelines.
The online news service won the award for a series of articles called, “The Dilbit Disaster: Inside The Biggest Oil Spill You’ve Never Heard Of.” It detailed the dangers of shipping Tar Sands oil from western Canada to refineries in the Great Lakes region and lax government oversight of the industry.
Detroit Free Press graphic
The articles take on added significance now because the company that caused the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill, Canadian energy giant Enbridge Energy, wants to ship more Tar Sands oil and diluted bitumen (DilBit) to refineries in the Great Lakes region. Tar Sands oil is more toxic than conventional crude oil and poses more serious environmental risks if spilled into water. The reason: It sinks.
Environmental groups are raising concerns about plans to ship more Tar Sands to Midwest refineries and another plan to ship crude oil from North Dakota oil fields across the Great Lakes in freighters . (Read more about that here).
It’s worth taking a few minutes to read the Inside Climate News articles on DilBit. They detail the serious environmental risks inherent in piping Tar Sands oil long distances, especially in a region that is home to the world’s largest source of surface freshwater.
Posted in Energy, Great Lakes, Oil, Pollution, Shipping, Water
Tagged dilbit, Enbridge, Great Lakes, Oil, pollution, Tar Sands, water
The state of Michigan is making strides in restoring rivers by removing obsolete and dangerous dams. I wrote about the issue for an online magazine called Bridge. You can read the article here.
There are about 2,500 dams in Michigan and the vast majority will exceed their expected lifespan of 50 years by the year 2030. Removing obsolete dams is one of the quickest ways to restore natural conditions in a river. Dams alter water temperatures, disrupt the natural movement of sediment, fish and other aquatic life, and effectively bisect river ecosystems.
The Paw Paw River in southern Michigan was set free when the obsolete Watervliet Dam was removed. (Environmental Consulting & Technology photo)Michigan has about 2,500 dams and most will exceed the average lifespan of a dam (50 years) by 2030. Removing an obsolete dam is one of the quickest ways to restore a river.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources deserves credit for following the lead of other states, such as Wisconsin, that have made dam removal an integral part of river restoration programs.
Posted in Fish, Great Lakes, Water, Wetlands
Tagged dams, ecology, fish, Michigan, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, rivers, water, wildlife
Leave it to the BBC, one of the world’s great news organizations, to produce an incredible video of Asian carp leaping in the air. The secret: High speed video coupled with ominous sounding music. The result is a video that is at once mesmerizing, fascinating and horrifying.
This stunning video is one more reminder of why we cannot let these menacing fish invade the Great Lakes. The results would be catastrophic.
Here’s a bit of good news that will brighten a gray spring day in the Great Lakes region: Baby bald eagles recently hatched for the first time in decades along the north shore of Lake Ontario.
The bald eagle population has made a stunning recovery in many parts of the Great Lakes over the past 50 years. The iconic birds were driven to the brink of extinction in the 1960s by the insecticide DDT, which caused reproductive failure and eggshell thinning.
Banning DDT led to cleaner fish in the Great Lakes region, which allowed bald eagles to thrive. The presence of baby eagles along the north shore of Lake Ontario is another sign that the Great Lakes are now much cleaner than they were a half century ago. Read more about the bald eagles in Hamilton here.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday that the coal-fired Lake Michigan ferry SS Badger will be allowed to operate — and continue dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan — for two more years.
The ferry SS Badger has dumped its coal ash into Lake Michigan for decades.
The Badger, which sails between Ludington, Mich., and Manitowoc, Wis., has dumped about 500 tons of coal ash into Lake Michigan each shipping season. This has been going on for decades, even though it’s a clear violation of water pollution regulations.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has a good summary of the issue, which you can read here.
The ferry’s owners now have two years to solve this problem or mothball the polluting ferry for good. Personally, I hope they find a cleaner fuel to power the historic ship. But this has to be their last chance to solve this problem — the company has been allowed to use Lake Michigan as a trash can for far too long.