The Great Lakes are in peril … again

I am about to report some distressing news about the Great Lakes, so I want to preface my comments with some counterbalancing information about the wondrous lakes we call Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario.

Storm clouds over Lake Superior.

Storm clouds over Lake Superior.

The Great Lakes are indescribably beautiful, vast and inspiring. This collection of  inland freshwater seas is one of the world’s most spectacular (and economically valuable) natural resources — the Great Lakes contain 20 percent of all surface freshwater on the planet, provide drinking water for 30 million people in the U.S. and Canada and support the world’s fourth largest regional economy.

Despite the grandeur and economic importance of the Great Lakes, humans continue to abuse the freshwater seas. My latest article, in Illinois Issues magazine, explores the repercussions of that abuse.

In the article, I took it upon myself to assign human illnesses to the problems facing the Great Lakes. Lake Superior has a runaway fever, Lake Erie has COPD, lakes Michigan and Huron are anemic and Lake Ontario has PTSD. Read the article here to learn why.

DO NOT despair after reading the article. The Great Lakes deserve, and demand, a more powerful response. Please join me in doing whatever you can to restore and protect the Great Lakes. Because we all contribute in some way to problems facing the lakes, all of us can be part of the solution.

 

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Illinois governor takes bold stance on Asian carp crisis

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s recent comment that separating Lake Michigan from the Mississippi River basin is the “ultimate solution” to keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes could be a game-changer. 

Quinn made his comments at the Council of Great Lakes Governors 2013 Leadership Summit, which was held May 31 through June 2 on Mackinac Island. His comments prompted loud applause from the crowd of about 200 people at the summit, according to a report in Crain’s Detroit Business.

I was fortunate enough to be in the audience when Gov. Quinn made his stunning pronouncement, and it felt like I was hearing history in the making. The governor’s comments were enormously significant because Illinois and Indiana will play huge roles in deciding what long-term approach is used to keep Asian carp in the Mississippi and Illinois rivers from invading Lake Michigan and spreading to the other Great Lakes.

Asian carp leap into the water behind a government research boat on the Illinois River. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)

Asian carp leap into the water behind a government research boat on the Illinois River. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)

Gov. Quinn later told me that he believes the Lake Michigan and Mississippi River basins can be separated in a way that protects transportation and commerce while halting the movement of invasive species between the two basins via manmade canals in the Chicago Area Waterways System.

“We have to think big,” he said. “There are technological challenges but we are the country that built the Panama Canal and, during the Great Depression, the Bonneville Dam and Tennessee Valley Authority.”

Kudos to Gov. Quinn for his bold stance and for showing leadership on the Asian carp issue.

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Growing concern about Great Lakes nuclear hot spots

Two recent news items should give pause to anyone who loves the Great Lakes and the 30 million people who rely  on the lakes for drinking water.

The Palisades nuclear power plant in West Michigan.

The Palisades nuclear power plant in West Michigan.

Great Lakes United and the International Institute of Concern for Public Health released a stunning map of nuclear hot spots in the Great Lakes basin. The map identified nuclear power plants, a proposed nuclear water dump near Lake Huron and other sites.

Four days after that map was released, the Palisades nuclear power plant in West Michigan released 79 gallons of “slightly radioactive water” into Lake Michigan. The owner of this troubled power plant assured the public that no harm was caused by the “slightly radioactive” water (which, to me, sounds like someone claiming they are “slightly pregnant”).

Together, these two items demonstrate that nuclear power remains a serious — and potentially growing — threat to the largest source of surface freshwater on the planet.

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Taking stock of the Great Lakes on Earth Day 2013

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.

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:

Continue reading

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Asian Carp Doomsday Clock nears midnight after study suggests some of the invaders are in the Great Lakes

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.Picture2

“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.

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Rivers recover as Michigan steps up pace of dam removals

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)

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.

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BBC produces amazing video of flying Asian carp

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.

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