Great Lakes & the Environment
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 »
Illinois becomes first state to ban products with plastic microbeads
With the passage of SB 2727, Illinois has become the first U.S. state to ban the manufacture and sale of personal care products and over-the-counter drugs that contain plastic microbeads.
The bill is in large part a response to a recent two-year survey of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes. It found that microbeads (tiny particles often too small to be captured by wastewater systems) account for the highest count of plastic pollution in the freshwater system.
Starting in 2018, Illinois will prohibit the manufacture of personal care products with microbeads; the sale of these products will be banned a year later. A slightly longer time frame is in place for banning over-the-counter drugs that contain plastic microbeads. Legislation has also been introduced this year in four other Great Lakes states: Michigan, Minnesota, New York and Ohio. Under a bill passed by the New York Assembly (AB 8744), the microbeads ban (for personal care products only) would take effect in 2016.
Some manufacturers, meanwhile, have already begun to phase out the use of plastic microbeads in their products.
Lakes Ontario and Erie have particularly high levels of plastic pollution.
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 »
State legislation in Great Lakes calls for ban on products found to be regionwide source
of plastic pollution
When they embarked on a two-year survey of the Great Lakes’ open waters, researchers expected to find a fair amount of plastics.
But the sheer amount of the pollution, and the size of the plastic particles that were found, is what caught the attention of State University of New York Professor Sherri Mason and her research group. Their findings have, in turn, piqued the interest of state legislators. 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 »
Wisconsin town's request for Lake Michigan water seen as big test of how 5-year-old Great Lakes compact will work
For years, the Wisconsin city of Waukesha has had a water problem: High levels of radium in the town’s supply of drinking water, and a federal requirement that it find a new water source by 2018. Its proposed solution to this local problem will require support from the entire Great Lakes region. In an application formally submitted this fall to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Waukesha proposes withdrawing an average of 10.1 million gallons of water a day from Lake Michigan. The town, a western suburb of Milwaukee, lies entirely outside the Great Lakes basin. 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 »
Lawmakers pledge greater regional cooperation in battle against aquatic invasive species
Aquatic invasive species have long been recognized as a serious threat, and one way that could better address it is a harmonization of state laws and regulations along with improved cooperation among jurisdictions. 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 »
Legislative update: Measures on ballast water, invasive species and offshore wind energy introduced or passed in state legislatures
Numerous Great Lakes-related measures have been introduced, advanced or signed into law in the region’s state capitols over the past few months. Here are a few of the bills and resolutions being followed through the Great Lakes Legislative Caucus' state legislative tracker. More »
Low water levels result in new funding for dredging in Michigan, stronger push for new
As the year began in Michigan, a new legislative caucus was emerging inside the Capitol with at least one clear priority for 2013 — improve the condition of the state’s recreational and commercial harbors. Michigan Sen. Goeff Hansen, co-chair of the recently formed Legislative Waterways Caucus, describes the current situation at some of his state’s public harbors and recreational marinas as an “emergency." 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 »
Advocates cite successes of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative as historic program faces uncertain funding future
Since 2009, an unprecedented amount of federal money has been flowing into this region to protect and restore the Great Lakes. On top of other existing programs in place, more than $1 billion has been allocated through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative — viewed at the time and now as a historic commitment by the federal government to clean up the lakes and protect them from ongoing threats such as invasive species. But it is unclear whether similar levels of help can be expected on Great Lakes projects in the future, due to budget concerns and policy gridlock in the nation’s capital. 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 »
Legal attempts to force Asian carp action hit another barrier
A group of states wanting to wall off Asian carp entry into the Great Lakes via the Chicago Area Waterway System have run into another legal stumbling block.
In December, The Washington Post reports, a federal judge threw out a lawsuit brought by Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Those states want to force the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to physically separate the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River system, where Asian carp have spread and already wreaked ecological havoc. The two water systems are currently connected via a network of rivers and man-made canals in the Chicago area.
The decision is the latest in a string of legal defeats for states seeking a way to require immediate action by the Army Corps. The Corps is conducting a study on how to prevent the spread of Asian carp and other invasive species between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River.
Earlier this year, too, the U.S. Congress passed legislation requiring the Corps to release a study on Asian carp prevention by 2013. That study will include options for preventing carp from entering the Great Lakes via the Chicago Area Waterway System as well as other possible points of entry in the region.
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 »
Michigan forms council to lead battle against invasive species
In the last decade, the eight states and two provinces of the Great Lakes basin came together to protect water quantity — through work on a compact and companion agreement designed to halt diversions and better manage the region’s water resources. 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 »
Interstate dispute surfaces over future of ballast water rules
Some Great Lakes governors are at odds with one another over a fight against a common enemy — aquatic invasive species.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, New York has been asked to ease its ballast water regulations (set to take effect in August 2013) for ships on the Great Lakes. The governors of Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin, along with the Canadian government, made the request.
Wisconsin is one of three Great Lakes states (along with Michigan and Minnesota) with a ballast water permitting program up and running. But New York’s rules would be the region’s most stringent, with discharge standards exceeding those of the International Maritime Organization. At issue is the technological feasibility of implementing standards tougher than the IMO’s and the impact that New York’s rules could have on the shipping industry.
For years, Great Lakes states have been calling for a stronger federal response. Later this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will propose a new Vessel General Permit; also pending is the U.S. Coast Guard’s final rule for a ballast water discharge standard. Under the first phase of this proposed rule, the IMO standard would be used. Tougher federal rules would follow as ballast water treatment technologies, and the ability to test them, advance.
Study sees some good, some bad in implementation of Great Lakes compact
As the historic Great Lakes compact made its way through state legislatures, much of the media coverage on the agreement focused on its ban of out-of-basin diversions.
But the compact did much more. 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 »
Bills seek to reduce red tape for businesses needing state permits
Lawmakers in Minnesota and Ohio have passed bills aimed at making it easier and faster for new businesses to obtain state permits.
Minnesota’s legislative auditor issued a report earlier this year that found inconsistencies in response times on permit applications, citing waits of up to a year.
HF 1/SF 42, signed by Gov. Mark Dayton last month, seeks to address that issue by directing the state Department of Natural Resources and the Pollution Control Agency to streamline and simplify application processes. The law sets a goal of 150 days for permit decisions, reports the Brainerd Dispatch. Appeals of permit decisions will now go directly to the State Court of Appeals instead of district courts.
The bill is being lauded as a way to reduce red tape and spur job growth. Critics have raised concerns that environmental protection will be weakened as review processes are sped up.
Legislation approved in Ohio, SB 2, requires state agencies to analyze each proposed rule or regulation and its impact on businesses. A legislative review committee can deny a proposal if it finds that a regulation is not justified. State agencies must also develop customer-service standards and integrate them into the job descriptions and performance evaluations of employees.
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 »