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community weblog - [ Environment ]

Keeping an eye on the Great Lakes canary

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Back in the 1970′s, Lake Erie – often referred to as the Great Lakes’ “canary in the coal mine” – was closely monitored by government agencies. As lake health improved, that scrutiny was gradually withdrawn and funds diverted elsewhere. But with the advent of new problems, from dead zones and algae blooms to invasive species like Asian carp, there are again many eyes on the lake. And as independent producer Karen Schaefer reports, the samplers are coming up with some surprising discoveries.  more...


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Falling Lake Michigan Water Levels Could Lead To Rising Pollution

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 If the Lake Michigan water level drops six inches, the locks in and out of the Chicago River will have to be closed to keep polluted water out, federal officials said on Monday.

Durbin held a wake up call by the lake, which is 28 inches below average and only two inches above its 1960 low point.

Army Engineer Col. James Schreiner said if the level continues dropping, locks might have to be closed to keep polluted water from the lake.   more...



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Drought’s a Grinch – years from now

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Ken Prince, owner of KP Tree and Nursery in Allendale, is one of many Christmas tree growers in the state who faces a potential business crisis because of last summer’s drought.

“Drought was bad for planting new trees,” Prince said. “We are going to ramp up the planting by 30 percent to make up our loss from the drought.”

He said the loss is hard to measure. “We will only see the loss in eight to nine years because we probably won’t have enough trees at that time.”

“The real impact is not about this year’s trees,” said Bert Cregg, a Michigan State University horticulture professor.

He said Christmas trees need eight to ten years to grow to marketable size so the impact will not appear at least until them.  more...



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Boating experts call low-water levels a disaster

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Boating experts along the Lakeshore call low-water levels a disaster that's getting worse all the time.

R.J. Peterson, the owner of Tower Marina in Saugatuck, says low water levels are causing harbors to disappear in the Saugatuck-Douglas area.  Now, Peterson is working with Gov. Snyder on finding a solution to the problem.

Along parts of the Kalamazoo River where boats used to set sail, now birds stand on dry land.

"Its been totally neglected," says Peterson.

Peterson says he spends $100,000 on dredging the harbor, but it's never enough.

"There was no one in the state of Michigan who felt the slightest responsibility for these harbors," says Peterson.  more...



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About to run aground on EPA rules, coal-fired ferry seeks to rewrite the law

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When is an earmark not really an earmark?

A fresh bit of Congressional finagling raises that question in regard to yet another special favor for the coal-burning, ash-dumping carferry S.S. Badger – known to many in these parts as a stinky, creaky and rather pricey way across Lake Michigan that still beats the long drive around Chicago.

Since 2008, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began court-ordered regulation of various dumping practices by Great Lakes ships, the Badger has been promising to clean up its act. In return, EPA granted a five-year pass Lake Michigan Carferry, as the operating company is known more...



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Ballast bill rejected in House

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Federal legislation that was created to combat the growing problem of invasive species in the Great Lakes was defeated in Congress on Wednesday, though critics said the measure was too weak.

Rep. Louise Slaughter, co-chair of the Congressional Great Lakes Task Force, said language in the legislation was flawed and would have endangered the ability of New York state to enforce more stringent standards on vessels that dump their ballast water stored in tanks. The tanks are often filled in international waters, where species not native to the United State are collected, and are then released into local lakes and rivers.  more...


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Water levels in Lakes Huron, Michigan head for record lows

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The dipping water levels in Lake Michigan have left docks out of the water and beaches extending hundreds of feet into West Grand Traverse Bay northwest of Traverse City.


Lakes Michigan and Huron sank to their lowest November levels in nearly a half a century and are expected to set new monthly and all-time record lows by early next year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers predicts.

A continued lack of rain and snowfall in the Great Lakes basin will lead Lakes Huron and Michigan to break the record monthly low set in March 1964 — 576.05 feet above sea level — while all of the lakes are predicted to see lower-than-normal water levels.

"It's looking like new record lows will be set in January and February on those lakes," Keith Kompolotowicz, chief of watershed hydrology for the corps, said of Huron and Michigan.   more...



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Water Runs Through Us: Muskegon's port more than just shipping business but also a tourist draw

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BBC Elbe ship enters Muskegon ChannelJim Fuhlman spent more time than he’d like to admit watching the ships on the Mart Dock from his seventh floor room in the Shoreline Inn.

Here with his wife, Sharon, the Fuhlmans were in Muskegon at the beginning of October visiting family. There aren’t 462-foot ocean-going cargo ships unloading huge turbine blades and tower sections back home in Cedartown, Ga. between Atlanta and Chattanooga, Fuhlman said.

“It was intriguing,” Fuhlman said of the commercial ship operations going on below his hotel balcony. A retired office furniture plant manager, Fuhlman said shipping is an area of business that he really never understood but has always drawn his attention.  more...



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National Parks protect Great Lakes nearshore land and water

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Filmmaker Ken Burns and his longtime cohort Dayton Duncan are getting a lot of buzz now over their latest blockbuster documentary, The Dust Bowl, a two-part series that examines farming practices of the early 1900s that led to what many consider America’s worst ecological catastrophe.

Three years ago, they captivated PBS viewers with a six-part documentary, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.

Both have some lessons that can be applied to the Great Lakes region’s near-shore water quality.  more...



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Great Lakes algae concerns city councillor

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Windsor city councillor Hilary Payne is searching for answers after viewing a video on the effects of algae on area lakes.

The video, produced by the Essex Region Conservation Authority, raises awareness to what it calls a pressing issue.

Payne, who said Lake Erie is "a disgrace," is calling on the federal government to take immediate action.

"This has basically turned Lake Erie into something like the Dead Sea," he said. "Millions of dollars were spent back in the '70s and '80s to keep phosphate out of the Great Lakes. We'd thought we had solved the problem but ... it's worse than ever."  more...



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How low indeed

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The News-Review reports Harbor Springs is lowering its docks to contend with ultra-low Lake Michigan water levels. The Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council asks "How low can we go?" in its quarterly Current Reflections. For some of us we can still picture small fishing boats going under the Harbor dock back in 1964 when historic low water levels were recorded.

Of course those same some of us can remember 1986 when the lake levels were at historic highs.  more...


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As Great Lakes plummet, towns try to save harbors

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For more than a century, easy access to Lake Michigan has made Onekama a popular place for summer visitors and a refuge for boaters fleeing dangerous storms. Now the community itself needs a rescue, from slumping lake levels that threaten its precious link to open water.

The Great Lakes, the world's biggest freshwater system, are shrinking because of drought and rising temperatures, a trend that accelerated with this year's almost snowless winter and scorching summer. Water levels have fallen to near-record lows on Lakes Michigan and Huron, while Erie, Ontario and Superior are below their historical averages. The decline is causing heavy economic losses, with cargo freighters forced to lighten their loads, marinas too shallow for pleasure boats and weeds sprouting on exposed bottomlands, chasing away swimmers and sunbathers.  more...



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Dogs may threaten beach health, water supply

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Environmentalists and public health experts want that new puppy to come with a lifetime supply of plastic bags, preferably biodegradable

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency(EPA), the 78 million dogs in the United States create 10 million tons of feces annually, polluting waterways and posing a threat to public health.

Michigan has 3,288 miles of coast line, the second only to Alaska’s, and all those beaches are irresistible to dog owners.

“Pets can contribute fecal pollution to our waterways. This is mostly in the spring to fall when we are out enjoying the water with our pets,” said Joan Rose, the co-director of the Center for Water Sciences of Michigan State University.  more...



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Great Lakes Filled With Plastic Bits

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plasticThe Great Lakes are swimming with tiny specks of floating plastic, posing threats to both wildlife and human health.

Adding to years of research that have already documented gyres of plastic pieces swirling in the oceans, the new study is the first to officially add the world's largest freshwater ecosystem to the list of natural places affected by plastic pollution.

As scientists continue to investigate how much plastic is out there, where it's coming from and how it's moving between lakes and from lakes to sea, the findings may eventually offer strategies for mitigating the problem. more...



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Round goby, an invasive fish, appears to be making way up Rouge River in southeast Michigan

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PHOTO: Inland Seas Education Association reported the first finding of a Round Goby fish in the Grand Traverse Bay Tuesday, June 22, 2004.  The Round Goby originates in the Caspian Sea and is thought to have hitch hick in the bilge of a ship into the Great Lakes. The fish was first reported in the Great Lakes in 1990 when one was found in the St. Claire River. The round goby appears to be making its way up the Rouge River in southeast Michigan, raising concerns among those working to improve the health of the waterway. A team on Friday, Nov. 23, 2012 found more than a dozen of the greedy predators while sampling sections of the Lower Rouge River in Inkster, said Sally Petrella of the nonprofit group Friends of the Rouge.  (AP Photo/Traverse City Record-Eagle, Douglas Tesner)An invasive fish called the round goby appears to be making its way up the Rouge River in southeast Michigan, raising concerns among those working to improve the health of the waterway.

A team on Friday found more than a dozen of the greedy predators while sampling sections of the Lower Rouge River in Inkster, said Sally Petrella of the nonprofit group Friends of the Rouge.  more...



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