Great Lakes & the Environment
As political tides change,
advocates of protecting Great Lakes celebrate year of progress
After a tumultuous year in national politics, and in advance of a new U.S. Congress and presidential administration, advocates of Great Lakes protection and restoration won some important legislative victories at the tail end of 2016.
Those accomplishments, perhaps most notably a formal authorization of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, provide the region with some much-needed certainty about federal Great Lakes policy during a period of change in Washington, D.C., said Chad Lord, policy director of the Healing Our Waters Coalition. More »
States put greater emphasis on lead testing after water crisis in Flint
When the problem of tainted drinking water created a public health crisis in the Michigan city of Flint, the state’s legislators had two clear missions to fulfill.
First, fix the problem, with strategies — both immediate and longer-term — that help affected residents, bring back some normalcy to their lives, and then assist in the entire community’s recovery.
Second, find ways to prevent the problem from ever occurring in another Michigan city. And that idea of prevention has spread well beyond the borders of Michigan, with legislators in nearby states taking notice of the crisis and beginning to think more about the safety of the water supply in their own districts. More »
Phosphorus-fed algal growth leads Michigan to label part of Lake Erie watershed ‘impaired’
Though it likely won’t change much of the work already under way to protect western Lake Erie from excessive algal blooms, Michigan’s recent designation of its part of the watershed as “impaired” signals the importance of reaching new binational goals to control phosphorus runoff. More »
Already allowed in Ontario, fish farming in Great Lakes proposed in Michigan
Could the Great Lakes be used even more to satisfy the U.S. demand for seafood?
There is no question that U.S. consumers seem to have an insatiable appetite for it. In addition to the production of $9 billion worth of edible fish in 2015, we imported more than $20 billion worth. And as a result of decades of overfishing, natural fisheries cannot meet global demand — about half of all seafood is farmed fish from China, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. More »
Interstate compacts can be valuable tool in protecting invaluable resource: water
When Charles Fishman, author of the acclaimed book “The Big Thirst,” praised the Great Lakes compact this summer at the Midwestern Legislative Conference Annual Meeting, he also called for Kansas and Nebraska to lead an effort to create a similar interstate agreement to protect the Ogallala Aquifer. But what are compacts and how do they work? How well do they work? And how could they help the Midwest preserve and protect its water resources? More »
In keynote address to legislators, author Charles Fishman lays out case, and strategies, for securing Midwest’s water future
As freshwater becomes an ever more precious resource, the Midwest, as custodian of the Great Lakes and the Ogallala Aquifer, is sitting on the liquid equivalent of a gold mine’s mother lode, Charles Fishman, author of “The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water,” told attendees at the 71st Midwestern Legislative Conference Annual Meeting. More »
Regional body of state, provincial officials pores over Waukesha diversion proposal
The end of a years-long journey by a Wisconsin town to use the Great Lakes for its supply of drinking water appears near, and the entire process has helped mark the beginning of a new era in regionwide management of this invaluable resource. The precedent-setting nature of the decision on this proposed diversion was clearly on the minds of state and provincial officials when they met this spring for meetings in Chicago. More »
Michigan considering tougher copper, lead pipe regulations
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has proposed tightening the state’s lead level guidelines to 10 parts per billion by 2020, stricter than the current federal mark of 15 ppb.
The proposed change, announced at a meeting of the Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee, is part of a package of proposals that also includes annual water testing at day care centers and schools as well as a requirement that local governments create inventories of lead water pipes and then develop plans to replace them.
Critics of both Snyder’s plan and the federal Lead and Copper Rule say neither addresses the true lead danger level of 5 ppb.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is in the process of updating the Lead and Copper Rule, a process that began in 2010. Proposed changes are expected to be submitted to the U.S. Congress in 2017. The rule applies to about 68,000 water utilities nationwide. It requires them to take remedial action to improve pipe corrosion controls or eventually replace lead pipes if 10 percent of sites tested for lead or copper exceed the “action level” of 15 ppb.
The Michigan proposals require approval by the state Legislature.
Aging infrastructure, lead pipes, nitrate runoff and funding among challenges vexing Midwest’s drinking water systems
The crisis in Flint, Mich., has pushed drinking water quality into the forefront of national conversation, but problems with the Midwest’s aging drinking water infrastructure are not new.
Plenty of lead pipes nearing the end of their service lives remain, and nonpoint source pollution from agricultural runoff besets watersheds and municipal water systems before ultimately afflicting the Great Lakes, Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico. More »
As Michigan water crisis boils, legislators mull ‘right to water’
As the realization that a generation of children in Flint, Mich., has been exposed to lead poisoning by their own water sets in, some Michigan lawmakers are pushing to enshrine access to clean, safe water in state law as a basic human right. More »
New federal budget maintains funding for key programs that help protect Great Lakes
In the weeks following congressional passage of an omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2016, Great Lakes advocates were hailing the federal legislation as a victory for protecting and restoring the world’s largest system of fresh surface water. More »
Michigan’s new plan for Lake Erie adds focus on
algae-generating invasive mussels
Under a new plan to reduce harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie, the state of Michigan is putting a greater emphasis on the fight against two of the freshwater system’s most destructive invasive species.
The Department of Environmental Quality released its multipronged strategy in November. The plan mostly focuses on policies that better control the amount of phosphorus entering Lake Erie: for example, stricter permitting requirements for municipal wastewater systems and preventing nutrient runoff from agricultural operations. More »
New Ontario law encourages
local initiatives as part of wide-ranging strategy to protect lakes
With enactment of the Great Lakes Protection Act in October, Ontario is not only deepening the province’s commitment to the freshwater system, it also is hoping to spur more locally driven projects and initiatives. Glen Murray, the province’s minister of the environment and climate change, says the new law (Bill 66) is needed to help the lakes “withstand the impacts of the changing climate and keep them drinkable, swimmable and fishable for generations to come.” More »
States, federal government spending $74 million this year on Asian carp control plan
States and the federal government have been pouring millions of dollars into a wide range of plans to stop Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes. New electric fish barriers have been built. The movement and presence of Asian carp continues to be intensely monitored, in part through cutting-edge eDNA technologies. Commercial fishing operations (hired by the state of Illinois) have removed more than 3 million pounds of Asian carp. As co-chair of the state-federal Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee, Mike Weimer is helping oversee these and many other prevention strategies. In 2015 alone, he told lawmakers, the committee will fund a total of 43 projects at a cost of $74 million. More »
Getting to the nonpoint:
States pursue new strategies to protect water quality, with an increased emphasis on preventing nutrient runoff from farms
The Water Quality Initiative in Iowa, a new law in Minnesota requiring vegetation buffers along public water bodies, and the likelihood of "water quality trading" in Wisconsin are examples of how states in the Midwest are trying to curb nutrient runoff and protect water quality. More »
EPA study: Work in protecting lakes has accelerated, but much more needs to be done
What can $1.7 billion in federal funding do to help restore an invaluable resource in the Midwest?
Quite a bit, at least according to a recent federal study outlining the progress made during the first five years of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, or GLRI. More »
Decision closer on Wisconsin town's proposed diversion of Lake Michigan Water
A Wisconsin town’s plan to divert an average of 10.1 million gallons of Lake Michigan water per day may soon be in the hands of the region’s eight governors.
The city of Waukesha’s request is expected to be an important test of how basinwide decisions are made under the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Water Resources Compact.
More states taking steps to ban products with plastic microbeads
Across the Great Lakes region this year, bills have been introduced to ban the manufacture and sale of certain products containing plastic microbeads.
This legislative trend began last year, in response to a two-year scientific study of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes. Its conclusion: Microbeads (tiny particles that are often too small to be captured by wastewater systems and that are also part of the trash left on beaches) account for the highest count of plastic pollution in the freshwater system. More »
Ohio law aims to keep nutrient runoff from reaching Lake Erie
Less than a year after a harmful algal bloom temporarily cut off the city of Toledo’s drinking water supply, Ohio lawmakers have passed groundbreaking legislation to keep pollutants out of Lake Erie. SB 1, signed into law in early April, establishes several new provisions to prevent nutrient runoff.
For farms located in the western Lake Erie watershed, manure and fertilizers containing phosphorus and nitrogen can no longer be spread on frozen, snow-covered or saturated ground. According to The Toledo Blade, that ban also applies to days when heavy rain is forecast. The penalty for noncompliance is as much as $10,000.
The new law also bans the open-lake disposal of dredged material, requires additional phosphorus monitoring at wastewater treatment facilities, and creates the state-level position of harmful algae management and response coordinator.
A coalition of Great Lakes advocacy groups hailed SB 1 as a “good step,” but also urged policymakers to do more. It wants Lake Erie states and provinces to develop new monitoring plans and a timetable to cut the flow of phosphorus pollution into the lake by 40 percent.
To protect Great Lakes, advocates say, protecting six-year-old federal Restoration Initiative must be a top priority
Over the last six years, nearly $2 billion has flowed from Washington, D.C., in support of more than 2,000 Great Lakes-related projects.
Much progress has been made under the historic Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, says Todd Ambs of the Healing Our Waters Coalition, but it’s far from a job done.
In each of his proposed annual budgets since fiscal year 2010, President Obama has included a line item to fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. But will the initiative continue once he leaves office? More »
Nebraska finds new funding stream to
protect water resources
by Tim Anderson ~ November 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Nebraska will be making a $32 million investment over the next two years in a new fund designed to improve water management and sustainability. At least initially, dollars for the Water Sustainability Fund will come from the state’s cash reserves.
Creation of the fund came a few months after a task force created by the Legislature (LB 517) concluded that “Nebraska stands at a critical juncture with water issues” — for example, the depletion of aquifers, reduced flow of surface water (due to groundwater pumping), and an interstate dispute with Kansas over use of the Republican River. (That dispute has reached the U.S. Supreme Court.) In addition to creating a new funding stream for water projects, LB 1098 (signed into law this year) requires local natural resources districts to work together on basinwide plans for managing shared water resources.
The state’s Natural Resources Commission, which will administer the new fund, has also been restructured. The governor will now appoint a majority of the commission members. Previously, most members were elected to represent particular river basins across the state, according to Unicameral Update (the newsletter of the Nebraska Legislature).
States, provinces collaborate to address threat of invasive species
Ever since Asian carp were found to be dangerously close to entering the Great Lakes, the region’s states and provinces have been on high alert. Part of their response has been to work more closely together, and earlier this year, the governors and premiers signed a mutual-aid agreement that formalizes the process for how jurisdictions assist each other when an invasive-species threat arises. More »
Legislators in region protest proposed U.S. law limiting state regulation of ballast water
Close to 50 state lawmakers from the Great Lakes region have signed a letter expressing “strong opposition” to federal legislation that would greatly limit the role of states in regulating the discharge of ballast water from transoceanic vessels. More »
Drinking-water crisis in city of Toledo leads to new initiatives in Ohio — and calls to do more
Millions of people rely on the Great Lakes for their drinking water. But for a short time in early August, about 500,000 of those people — in the Ohio town of Toledo —were told not to use it due to an algae-related contamination.
The problem of algal blooms is nothing new in western Lake Erie (the shallowest of the Great Lakes), but as Joel Brammeier of the Alliance for the Great Lakes notes, the incident in Toledo still served as a wake-up call. More »
Bacteria counts at Great Lakes beaches often exceed national safety standards, study shows
The millions of people going to a Great Lakes beach might not see and probably don’t want to think about the E. coli bacteria present in the freshwater system’s near-shore waters.
But the bacteria are there — and sometimes at counts that exceed a standard for swimmer safety set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Bacteria counts, in fact, are more likely to be higher on a beach in the Great Lakes than in any other coastal region of the country, according to “Testing the Waters,” a June report by the Natural Resources Defense Council. More »
Minnesota takes steps to address loss of crucial bee populations
Bees are in trouble. The major pollinator of our fruit, vegetable and nut crops, they are also responsible for such agricultural staples as alfalfa, canola and sunflower.
What role can states and provinces play in helping save the population of their — and the continent’s and the world’s — pollinators? The region’s legislators explored this question in July during a session of the Midwestern Legislative Conference Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee meeting, and learned how one state, Minnesota, already took significant steps in 2014. More »
Michigan legislators intensify fight against proposed nuclear-waste disposal site near Lake Huron
A proposal to store nuclear waste less than a mile from Lake Huron is drawing increased scrutiny and opposition, with Michigan lawmakers again weighing in with a new round of legislation and resolutions.
If its project is approved by Canadian regulators, Ontario Power Generation would build a 2,230-foot-deep geologic repository that would hold low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste. More »
Dust pollution from open petcoke piles sparks push in Illinois, Michigan for enclosed storage
During the last year, residents of neighborhoods in Chicago and Detroit have had to deal with growing piles
of petroleum coke, or petcoke. These piles were often left uncovered, allowing winds to disperse black dust
into surrounding communities and nearby waterways. How can and should this residue be safely stored
and transported? Proposed legislation in Illinois and Michigan would provide greater oversight and require
more of the facilities storing the petcoke (storage is usually not done by the refinery, but instead by an
company). More »
Michigan bills look to block path for invasive species by deterring their transport through state
Under a package of bills introduced in February, Michigan lawmakers are seeking to better close a sometimes-overlooked pathway for invasive species to enter the region’s waterways — the transport and trade of live organisms. More »
Six Midwest states join effort to halt EPA runoff-control plan, saying it limits state autonomy
In a case involving management of a watershed hundreds of miles east of his state’s border, and that will be decided by a U.S. appeals court in Philadelphia, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has taken much more than a passing interest. He is leading a coalition of states that have filed an amicus brief asking the federal court to reject the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to require states in the Chesapeake Bay region to develop processes to reduce nutrient runoff (nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment). More »
Plenty of options, but no clear answers on next steps to prevent Asian carp invasion
In a January study exploring ways to prevent the movement of invasive species such as Asian carp between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River systems, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers offers plenty of options, but no definitive answers on what to do next. Reaction to the much-anticipated report, too, has highlighted continuing divisions in the region over how to attack the Asian carp problem. More »
Minnesota partners with farmers, and feds, on new certification program to protect water quality
With the goals of protecting water quality and providing regulatory certainty to farmers, voluntary state programs that certify land-management practices at agricultural operations are cropping up across the country. Minnesota is one of the latest states to adopt such a program, and is backing it up with state dollars to help farmers adopt new conservation practices. More »
In Midwest, states mixed on need for new water quality standards
A push in Iowa by environmental groups to establish new state water quality standards ended in defeat this fall.
In a unanimous vote, the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission rejected a proposal to create numeric standards for nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. The Sioux City Journal reports that state officials want more time to study the efficacy of current nutrient-reduction strategies before implementing any new rules.
Across the Midwest, concerns about nutrient pollution have increased due to a rise in harmful algal blooms, which can create “dead zones” in water bodies and force the closure of beaches due to health concerns. For more than a decade, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has encouraged states to set science-based numeric standards to control how much nitrogen and phosphorus is discharged into the nation’s water bodies.
Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin already have numeric standards in place. Wisconsin has the region’s most comprehensive standards; they apply to discharges of phosphorus into lakes, reservoirs, rivers and streams. According to the EPA, Indiana and Ohio are scheduled to have numeric standards by 2016. Ohio’s standards will be among the most comprehensive in the nation.
Legislators voice concerns about Ontario proposal to store nuclear waste near Lake Huron
Ontario Power Generation is planning to build a deep geologic repository less than a mile from Lake Huron in order to store its nuclear waste. The repository, if licensed, could open by 2018. It would be the first permanent disposal facility for radioactive waste to operate in the Great Lakes basin. More »
Sea lamprey resurfaces as invasive threat, spurring Wisconsin to consider new control programs
On a recent fishing trip off Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin Sen. Robert Cowles made a surprising — and unwelcome — catch. It was a sea lamprey, one of the most destructive invasive species ever to enter the Great Lakes. That discovery has since led Wisconsin lawmakers down an unfamiliar path — considering the use of state dollars for sea lamprey control, which has long been left to the federal governments in Canada and the United States. More »
New policy priorities emerging in fight to protect Great Lakes
by Tim Anderson ~ July/August 2013 ~ PDF of Stateline Midwest article»
After a decade of major policy accomplishments in Great Lakes protection and management, new concerns and legislative priorities are emerging, including efforts to stem the rise in algae growth and address the impact of low water levels and climate change. More »
Midwest's carbon footprint declined over past decade; state-level data also highlight shift from coal to natural gas and renewables
The Midwest’s carbon footprint got smaller over the past decade, a period of time in which the region’s mix of sources for electric power also changed significantly. According to federal data released in May, total energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide declined in all but four Midwestern states between 2000 and 2010: Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. On a per-capita basis, South Dakota’s carbon footprint was smaller as well. More »
Controversial changes to Wisconsin mining law approved; groundbreaking bill on fracking introduced in Illinois
The potential of a new "underground economy" in the Midwest is leading to various new proposals that pose important economic and environmental questions. Recent examples include contentious iron ore mining legislation in Wisconsin and a new fracking bill in Illinois. More »
Record-low water levels, rise in algal blooms among concerns linked to changing
Great Lakes climate
In December, water levels on lakes Michigan and Huron reached an all-time recorded low.
And concerns about this trend have never been higher — as reflected in much of the discussion at a January meeting in Chicago that explored the new Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. More »
Illinois, Michigan look to improve water infrastructure, stop sewage from reaching waterways
Every year, billions of gallons of raw sewage, trash and personal hygiene products flow into the Great Lakes. And as a 2012 report by the Alliance for the Great Lakes notes, this problem poses not only environmental and health risks (due to the bacteria, viruses and pathogens in untreated sewage), but has economic costs as well (the forced closure of beaches, for example). More »
Illinois OKs hike in license fee to bolster state parks funding
Concerned about the condition of the state’s parks, Illinois lawmakers voted in November to boost funding for the system through a $2 increase in license-plate fees.
Over the past 10 years, the Chicago Tribune reports, staffing and budget levels for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources have been cut by more than half.
Along with the additional dollars that will come from the higher license-plate fee, the DNR is exploring other revenue options as well, including charging out-of-state visitors to the parks. Illinois is one of three Midwestern states (along with Iowa and Ohio) that don’t charge park entrance fees, according to a 2012 National Association of State Park Directors survey.
The same survey found that every state uses a unique mix of revenue sources to fund its parks. Michigan, for example, is the only state in this region where general fund dollars are not used. It instead relies largely on park-based revenue, including a $10 “recreation passport” that motorists can purchase when renewing their vehicle licenses. The passport allows entry into all Michigan state parks. In Minnesota, a significant portion of the state parks budget comes from lottery sales. In addition, some proceeds from a sales tax hike approved by Minnesotans in 2008 go to state parks.
Some Michigan lawmakers say time has come to revisit, relax state's standard for vessels discharging ballast water
Five years ago, Michigan issued its first ballast water permit — the result of legislation passed in 2005 and of decades-long concerns about the ecological and economic impact of aquatic invasive species. The move was widely regarded as a historic moment in Great Lakes protection. But some Michigan legislators say the time has now come for their state to revisit its unique permitting standards. More »
New binational agreement adds climate change, invasive species and phosphorus reduction to list of Great Lakes threats in need of attention
When the history is written about Great Lakes policymaking in the early 21st century, at least two groundbreaking initiatives will stand out. More »
What are Midwestern states’ policies on public notification of lawn pesticide application?
American citizens and businesses spent almost $62 billion on landscaping services in 2007, according to U.S. Census data. And to help keep those lawns and gardens pest-free, more than 102 million pounds of pesticides are applied yearly in the United States, according to Beyond Pesticides, a nonprofit group advocating for limited use of pesticides. More »
Indiana, Ohio part of world’s largest cap-and-trade water program
A signing ceremony this summer set up the world’s largest water quality cap-and-trade program. It’s not centered in Europe or on the East or West coasts, but in the Midwest. Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio became the first states to adopt the same set of trading policies and procedures to limit the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus running off into the Ohio River. Under the Ohio River Basin Water Quality Trading Project, farmers will adopt best practices that limit nutrient runoff; power and wastewater treatment plants will then be able to buy credits, even across state lines, from the farmers. More »
All Great Lakes states now set to implement, comply with compact
With Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich’s signing of HB 473 into law in June, each of the eight Great Lakes states now has water-management plans in place to comply with a historic agreement designed to protect the world’s largest system of fresh surface water. More »
Price tag to stop Asian carp with ecological barrier
estimated in billions of dollars
With concerns high about the potential impact that an Asian carp invasion
could have on the $7 billion Great Lakes fishing industry, policymakers have
another dollar figure to consider — $4.3 billion, the estimated price tag of the
lowest-cost alternative to physically separating the Great Lakes and Mississippi
River watersheds. More »
U.S. House passes bill stripping states of authority
to regulate ballast water discharges
The political, environmental and economic battle over the future of laws and
regulations governing ballast water discharges has taken some new turns during
the latter half of 2011. In this region, a dispute has surfaced among some
governors over how stringent state-level permitting programs can and should
be. Meanwhile, in the nation’s capital, moves are being made to take such decisions
out of the hands of governors and
legislatures. More »
Fight against aquatic invader continues: Eating Asian carp in Illinois, stopping advances in Minnesota
Ever since they escaped fish farms in the southern United States, Asian carp have been eating their way up the Mississippi River.
Now Illinois is trying to turn the table — by increasing the use of the invasive species caught by fishermen as food for an anti-hunger campaign in the state and as a delicacy for overseas customers. More »
Amid glut of new environmental regulations, EPA praises Kansas’
Increased environmental regulation of agriculture by the federal government
is not just a perception by farmers, it is a reality. Water, dust, animal
facilities, fuel tanks and pesticide spraying are the subjects of just some of
the new rules set in recent years. More »
What do states in the Midwest charge for hunting and fishing
licenses, and what kind of discounts do they offer?
Midwestern states vary a great deal regarding the types
of hunting and fishing licenses they offer, as well as how much they charge for
each permit. More »
Michigan codifies program to help farmers meet environmental rules, adopt conservation practices
A voluntary program that helps Michigan farmers ensure that they are complying
with environmental regulations and implementing soil- and water-conservation
measures has become one of the state’s newest laws. More »