Month: July 2016

Aquatic Invasive Species Week – Tips, Info, and News

Last week marked Aquatic Invasive Species Week in Michigan, and the Department of Environmental Quality provided some basic knowledge, tips, and tricks to help residents keep invasive species out of the Great Lakes.

If you’re not familiar with the impact that invasive (non-native) species can have on the environment, the economy, and human health, take a look at this 6 minute video provided by the Michigan DEQ. (And even if you are familiar, take a look anyway – there are some pretty jaw-dropping facts in the video!)

The Michigan DEQ believes it is everyone’s responsibility to stop the spread and reduce the impact of invasive species, and provides tips for all residents and tourists on how to help. Click here for easy tips if you are a: boater/angler, aquarium/pond owner, camper, hunters/trail user, or landowner.

If you’re looking for information geared to Lake Superior, the Lake Superior Binantional Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 11.13.24 AMProgram has you covered. They’ve compiled an Aquatic Species Complete Prevention Plan, easily accessible via PDF. Click here to see.  Lake Superior’s non-native aquatic species include the round goby, the eurasian ruffe, purple loosestrife, New Zealand mudsnail, zebra mussels, sea lamprey, and eurasian watermilfoil. For an example of how much invasive species can impact your daily life, the DEQ measured lakeshore property values of houses which had eurasian water milfoil present versus those that didn’t. The properties which had the invasive water plant were, on average, worth 19% less than properties without the plant.

While invasive species have a number of different entry points to the Great Lakes, mostly their presence is due to human influence. As the DEQ states, “Modern means of transportation bring goods, services, people and invasives to all reaches of the globe. Ballast water from ships is to blame for introducing many invasive organisms to Great Lakes waters. Some exotic pets and plants that escape into the wild adapt to local conditions. Insects arriving from abroad in wood packing materials and wood products have caused irreparable damage to native trees and forests. Some invasives were brought to the U.S. intentionally as bio-controls for other invasives; others were introduced as game or food species.”

Ballast water treatment has been a hot-button issue lately, as politicians and industry are warring over how strict legislation and regulation should be. Promising news came last week as the International Marine Organization’s ‘International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments’ (BWM Convention) took a step towards being ratified completely. Originally adopted in 2004, the BWM Convention took aim and standardizing ballast water treatment guidelines to prevent the spread of invasive species. The IMO states that:

Under the convention, all ships in international traffic are required to manage their ballast water and sediments to a certain standard, according to a ship-specific ballast water management plan. All ships will also have to carry a ballast water record book and an international ballast water management certificate. The ballast water management standards will be phased in over a period of time. As an intermediate solution, ships should exchange ballast water mid-ocean. However, eventually most ships will need to install an on-board ballast water treatment system.

The BWM convention will not enter into force (be binding on its global signatories), until 12 months after 30 states representing 35% of the world’s merchant shipping tonnage have ratified it. Currently, 51 global states representing 34.87% tonnage have ratified the convention, and a Lexology article on ‘biosecurity’ and ballast water reports that “it is hoped Finland will quickly follow [in ratifying] with its 0.14% tonnage.” (Tonnage is analyzed by IMO on a monthly basis, so this figure is subject to change.)

Canada has ratified the convention, but U.S. has not, following its own set of more stringent ballast water treatment standards enforced by the U.S. Coast Guard.

 

 

 

 

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Superior Watershed Partnership gets $1mil project funding

The Superior Watershed Partnership has received more than $1 million in funding from state, federal, and private sources to coordinate and implement conservation, restoration, and pollution prevention projects around Marquette, MI. The funding will be used for the 2016/2017 field seasons.

The funded projects will cover stormwater management, habitat restoration, tree planting, and energy conservation, among others. Some of the larger projects aim to improve water quality and directly benefit Lake Superior.

An article on the Upper Michigan Source reported an abbreviated list of current Superior Watershed Partnership projects. See the projects, and their funding amounts, below:

·Coastal Wetland Restoration and Stormwater Quality Improvement ($200,000): The EPA Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) awarded this grant to restore prioritized coastal wetlands and naturally treat stormwater runoff before entering Lake Superior.

·Habitat Restoration for Migratory Birds and Pollinator Species ($88,000): This high profile project will restore important habitat for migratory birds and pollinator species along nearly two miles of Lake Superior shoreline within the Marquette city limits. Funded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

·Native Tree Restoration in Riparian and Coastal Zones ($190,000): The US Forest Service awarded this GLRI grant to plant native species of trees and remove non-native species on public and private lands along the Dead River riparian corridor and prioritized coastal zones of Lake Superior.

·Urban and Rural Watershed Restoration ($150,000): This EPA GLRI grant will fund urban and rural restoration projects including watersheds and sub-watersheds in the City of Marquette.

·Protecting Public Beaches through Improved Stormwater Management ($198,000): Phase two of this EPA GLRI bio-engineering project behind Lakeview Arena will be completed in 2016 with approved diversions to adjacent wetlands for additional natural filtration to further improve water quality and prevent beach closures. Monitoring has confirmed significant bacteria reductions to date.

·Household Monarch Butterfly/Pollinator Gardens ($7,500): Over 5,000 milkweed seed packets (totally over 150,000 seeds) were mailed to households in the greater Marquette area. In addition, the SWP and the NMU greenhouse staff provided over 3,000 free milkweed transplants to the public to benefit the endangered Monarch Butterfly.

·Great Lakes Education Mini-Grants for K-12 Schools ($18,500): The SWP Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (GLSI) program provides grants for K-12 schools to get students more involved in actual Great Lakes protection, restoration and monitoring projects. Over the last year grants were provided to Marquette Senior High School, North Star Academy, Bothwell, Sandy Knoll, Graveraet and other schools.

·Energy Conservation and Energy Assistance Program ($315,000): The SWP administers the Michigan Energy Assistance Program (MEAP) for qualifying low income families. The program includes energy conservation, insulation and state assistance with energy bills. Approximately $315,000 in energy conservation measures and energy assistance was provided to residents in the greater Marquette area during the 2015/2016 season. Funded through the Michigan Public Service Commission.

·Comprehensive Stormwater Planning ($125,000): SWP staff wrote a successful grant application for the City of Marquette through the DEQ Stormwater, Asset Management, and Wastewater (SAW) program. DEQ awarded funding for the development of a comprehensive stormwater and watershed management plan to better manage runoff from roads, parking lots and yards and to improve the quality of stormwater entering Lake Superior.

·Great Lakes Conservation Corps ($25,000): GLCC crews employ young adults 18-25 years old that complete a wide variety of conservation projects within the City of Marquette including but not limited to: dune restoration, invasive plant removal, beach clean-ups, habitat restoration and more.

To see more on the Superior Watershed Partnership, visit their website here.

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Great Lakes Gathering 2016

From July 14-17, hundreds are expected to gather at Ojibway Park in Garden River First Nation, ON for the Great Lakes Gathering. The event is a gathering inviting both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to discuss and collaborate on ideas to protect watersheds in the Great Lakes basin.

Garden River First Nation is located along the St. Mary’s River, and the gathering at Ojibway Park will be held on the shores of Lake Huron. An open invitation was issued on Feb 18 for “all Anishinaabeg, Metis and supporters to come to the shores of Lake Huron to meet, discuss, and hold ceremony together for the waters of the Great Lakes and for future generations.”

According to SaultOnline, issues discussed at the gathering will include “nuclear waste burial at the Kincardine site, the aging Enbridge Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Makinac, and Nuclear Waste Management Organization’s proposed sites for a deep geological depository site along the north shore of Lake Huron,” in addition to “the health and well being of the Great Lakes, as well as their value and import for Indigenous nations in the Great Lakes region.”

The open invitation promised a variety of cultural activities, including a sacred fire, water offerings, an Elders Council meeting, traditional healing, a ceremonial lacrosse game, storytelling, and Anishinaabemowin immersion.

 

Paddlers on the Water Keepers Journey. Credit: Water Keepers Journey Facebook page.)
Paddlers on the Water Keepers Journey. Credit: Water Keepers Journey Facebook page.)

Currently, there are three canoe teams headed toward the event, including a group of women from Wahnapitae First Nations who dub their passage the Water Keepers Journey. CBC reported that paddlers set out from Wahnapitae Lake near Sudbury on June 26, and are expected to paddle 458km for 19 days to reach Sault Ste. Marie. Their ultimate destination is the Great Lakes Gathering, and they’ll be travelling 20-30 km per day.

CBC reported that two of the women on the trip would make the entire journey: Stephanie Recollet and Josie Langelier. The other paddlers will join them at stops along the way. To keep up with the Water Keepers Journey, click here. 

If you’re in the area, participate in the Great Lakes Gathering and demonstrate productive, respectful support for its causes July 14-17.

 

 

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EPA, UMD conducting extensive summer research on Superior

Moira Harrington, assistant director of communications for Wisconsin Sea Grant in Madison, published recently in the Duluth News Tribune to give local residents a heads up about thorough, extensive research being conducted on Lake Superior this summer. According to Harrington, “a team of scientists is plying the big lake’s waters this summer to discover hidden reaches and untold stories.”

From July until October, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) will be sending vessels out to conduct research over a large expanse of Superior – rather than just one isolated area. Harrington also states that the scope of research itself will be expanded, covering a broader, more in-depth range of considerations.

The EPA will be navigating Research Vessel (RV) Lake Guardian, RV Lake Explorer II, and the U.S. Geological Survey’s RV Kiyi to pre-determined research stations (or ‘sampling sites’). They will also employ the use of autonomous underwater gliders for sampling, one of which will be supplied by UMD’s Large Lakes Observatory. The gliders are described as “yellow, torpedo-shaped samplers . . . guided by satellites and onboard computers.”

The researchers will be studying “lower food web, contaminants, the near-shore environment, deep-water organisms, aquatic invasive species, and what factors might make certain areas of the lake prone to nutrient or algae problems.” They’ll be comparing the results to previous lake studies to look for improvements or degradation in lake conditions.

Harrington also states that 15 educators from around the Great Lakes basin will be joining the scientists on the RV Lake Guardian. Specially selected by the Wisconsin and Minnesota Sea Grant programs, they’ll be assisting in research projects and will be passing their experiences with the project on to students this fall as they return to the classroom.

Harrington reports that the research team focuses on a different Great Lake every year for study. Last year, Lake Michigan was subject to the in-depth scrutiny.

To see Moira Harrington’s original article with the Duluth News Tribune, click here. 

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MV Cornelia operator pleads guilty to charges

German ship operating company MST Mineralien Schiffahrt plead guilty yesterday in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis to environmental violations. The company was charged with discharging oily wastewater in the Great Lakes from Liberian-flagged MV Cornelia, and then covering up the illegal act in the ship’s documentation.

On at least ten occasions between February to October 2015, crew members on the Cornelia dumped oil-contaminated waste water overboard while on route to Duluth, MN to pick up loads of grain destined for Africa. At least one of those discharges occurred in the Great Lakes.

Minnesota Public Radio News reported that MST is fined a total of $1 million – an $800 000 fine to the United States, and a $200 000 community service payment to help preserve the watershed of Lake Superior. The U.S. Attorney’s Office recommended that the community service payment should be awarded to St. Paul-based nonprofit Minnesota Environmental Fund. MST was also sentenced to serve three years probation.

The Cornelia, a saltie, was detained outside the Duluth Harbour last year for over a month so that the U.S. Coast Guard  and the Environmental Protection Agency could investigate. It was released on Dec. 18 so that it could exit the Great Lakes at the Soo Locks before the canals closed for winter.

To see the full story from MPR News, click here. 

 

 

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Pending Menominee metal mine decision stirring controversy

A pending metal mine dubbed ‘the Back Forty’ is stirring up controversy in the Upper Peninsula on the border between Wisconsin and Michigan. Michigan officials are weighing whether or not to let the mine be built on the bank of the Menominee River, which locals, indigenous groups, and environmental groups fear could pollute the river itself and surrounding watersheds.

The mine proposal has been in the works for over a decade and objectors are scrambling to have their concerns heard as the company, Aquila Resources Inc., makes its final presentations to Michigan officials. If it were to be approved, the open-pit, 83-acre mine would be built on the Wisconsin/Michigan border, 150 feet from the Menominee River. It is supposed to pull gold, zinc, copper, and silver out of the ground, which will be used to fuel the tech industry and make products such as cell phones, computers, cars, and other products. Aquila promises an economic boost of 450 mine jobs, 1330 construction jobs, and royalties of over 16.5 million.

As part of the Great Lakes basin, the Menominee empties into Lake Michigan, and opponents of the mine have several complaints about its proposed location. The proposed mine site borders a Native American burial ground and raised gardens. Resident retirees feel it will disrupt their quality of life, and other opponents claim it would threaten bass fishing populations and lake sturgeon conservation efforts. In addition, the mining methods use to extract metals from sulfide ores are raising particular alarm from locals and environmentalists, who fear acid mine drainage into the river and its connected lakes and groundwater sources.

The Upper Peninsula is no stranger to mining operations and their effects. Copper mines littered the area from the mid-1800s to the 1960s, churning out billions of tonnes of copper. Mining efforts have since experienced a resurgence in the area. North of the proposed Aquila site is the Eagle Mine, an underground sulfide operation close to Lake Superior that faced similar backlash in its inception.

For a detailed look at the Menominee Mine and its surrounding issues, click here to view an in-depth article by Brian Bienkowski with the Environmental Health Network. 

Menominee River, photo credit River Alliance of Wisconsin.
Menominee River, photo credit River Alliance of Wisconsin.

Though the mine straddles the Wisconsin/Michigan border, Michigan officials have final say in issuing a permit for the mine’s building and operations. The River Alliance of Wisconsin recently brought attention to the mine in an update lamenting that “Wisconsin citizens are limited in what actions they can take to express their displeasure with or influence the development of this mine.” It also stated that the Wisconsin DNR would review Aquila’s permit application, but had little say in its decision.

The update reported that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality would be holding a public hearing in August, likely at Lansing, MI,  to review all the permits Aquila is requesting for its operations at Menominee. According to the River Alliance, the MDEQ sent 200 questions to Aquila, seeking explanation and accountability for gaps in the analysis it submitted with its permit applications.

The River Alliance states that it joins the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin (MITW), Front 40 Citizens Group, and Save the Wild UP in raising awareness among Wisconsin citizens about the pending mine. As part of these efforts, the River Alliance invited the public to an event aimed at appreciating and celebrating the Menominee River. “On July 29, we are hosting a paddling excursion on the Menominee River, with help from our friends the Menominee Indian Tribe and the Front 40 citizens group.”

To see the River Alliance of Wisconsin’s update, click here. The update includes a link for anyone interested in the paddling excursion.

This year’s Mother Earth Water Walk was dedicated to raising awareness about the pending Back Forty Menominee mine. The walk is an annual advocacy event dedicated to raising awareness about water issues. For more info, click here to visit the Mother Earth Water Walk site here. 

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Canadian government declares microbeads ‘toxic’

In a move towards an outright ban, the Canadian federal government has officially labelled microbeads a toxic substance under the Environmental Protection Act. Doing so will give them the ability to ban the beads, often used in personal care products. According to an online notice by the Canada Gazette, the government is now targeting microbeads 5 millimetres in size, as opposed to the original 2 millimetres in size.

Caitlin Workman, a spokesperson for Minister of the Environment Catherine McKenna, told CTV that the government wants to ban microbeads and expects to have draft regulations ready by autumn. The government’s goal is to phase out their use in scrubs, bath products, facial cleanser, and toothpaste “to protect the long-term health of our environment and to keep Canada’s lakes and rivers clean,” Workman told CTV.

Though the government’s timeline for the banning of microbeads and import on microbead products is loosely defined at this point, companies have already taken action to stop microbead products from hitting the shelves. The notice in the Gazette says that of 14 companies that make up the Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, 5 have already stopped using microbeads in their products. The remaining 9 will follow suit by 2018 or 2019. The government’s original goal was to ban manufacture and import of microbead products by the end of 2017 and ban the sale of these products by the end of 2018.

Following similar moves in the U.S. and Europe, Parliament voted unanimously to remove microbeads from the market and ban their use. The decision was announced by the former Conservative government last August.

CTV notes that the wording in the online notice specifically targets microbeads found in personal care products. Federal officials took care to note that they rejected more restrictive wording pushed by industry stakeholders who felt that the proposed ban would over-regulate the plastics supply chain in Canada and foster “unintended stigmatization” of plastic products. The online noticed backed the rationale of their decision with United Nations research done on the harmful effects of microplastics.

To see the full article from CTV, click here.

To see the online notice in the Canadian Gazette, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

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Veterans enjoy annual fishing trip on Superior

For the last 24 years, a growing number of Minnesota veterans and charter boat captains have kept the last Monday in June open for an annual fishing trip on Lake Superior in Silver Bay, MN. The event was started by combat veteran and Lake Superior charter boat captain Jim Latvala, who wanted a way to thank disabled vets for their service. The volunteer coordinator at the time suggested he take a vet fishing. Latvala called up his fellow charter boat captains and set his sights on a bigger event, and a tradition was born.

Event participation has swelled since, and the Twin Cities Pioneer Press reported that this year 60 vets on 17 boats were scheduled for the June 27 event. Northland News Center reported that 49 vets from the Silver Bay Veterans home attended. The remainder of the participants were to come from Hastings, Minneapolis, and Fergus Falls veteran homes.

The Pioneer Press observed that the event is a complex operation, including the vets, the ship captains, and VA personnel to aid with mobility, safety, and medicinal requirements. This year, a small crane bolted to the marina’s gasoline dock helped hoist a wheelchair user and his wheelchair aboard a vessel. The charter boat captains come from communities along the shore from Duluth to Grand Marais.

Latvala explained to the Pioneer Press that it’s become easy to coordinate the annual day of the event among the ship captains. “That first year, the other captains had been skeptical. Giving up a day is giving up a day. Our season is only a few months and a lot of us book every day. It’s a long trip from Duluth, and gas is expensive. But after we were done, all of us saw how much the guys (vets) loved it. The other captains came up right away and started asking, ‘Which day next year, so I can keep it clear?’ Last Monday in June.”

The vets wake at 3:30am, attend the Knife River Marina by 5:30am, and fish until 11am. They then return to the shore to have a fish fry with the catch – this year they brought in more than 50 lake trout and salmon, in addition to 16 pounds of walleye filet donated by Pike for Vets from Grand Rapids, according to the Northland News Center. Their biggest catch was in 2013, at a whopping 154 fish.

The event is well-received by the vets, and eagerly anticipated by the vets every year, a fact Latvala is very satisfied with.

He told the Pioneer Press: “For a long time, I kept thinking we’d do this 15 years and that’ll be it. But now I know it’s never going to go away, and I’m damned proud of that. We’ve got young captains getting involved. When I can’t do it anymore, they’re gonna lift me into one them charter boats. And one of those young captains will take me fishing.”

To see the Twin Cities Pioneer Press article, click here.

To see the Northland News Center’s article and video, click here.

 

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