An October 21st feature article in the New York Times focuses on the Boundary Waters area in northern Minnnesota, just west of Lake Superior. The feature begins with stunning photos and then presents information about the area’s history, geology, forest cover and the array of potential human activities in and around the Boundary Waters, from canoeing to mining. The Boundary Waters flow to Lake Superior.
There are no roads here. No towns or airports. There are no gas stations, businesses, cars, airplanes, electricity, phone service. There is water.
Information about ecosystem health in the Jackfish Bay Area of Concern on Lake Superior was presented at a public meeting in Terrace Bay on the evening of October 19th. Jackfish Bay is located just east of the Town of Terrace Bay, Ontario. This location was designated as a Great Lakes “Area of Concern” requiring a Remedial Action Plan, or cleanup plan, in 1987. In addition to Jackfish Bay itself, pollution let to some 15 km. of Blackbird Creek between Terrace Bay and the creek mouth at Jackfish Bay being included in the Area of Concern.
Environmental monitoring to gauge ecosystem conditions has been carried out both before and after 2011 when “in recovery” status was applied to the Blackbird Creek and Jackfish Bay ecosystem.
The environmental monitoring presentation was led by representatives of Environment and Climate Change Canada. Contaminant monitoring locations were shown on a map, noting that sampling was focused on Moberly Bay (the western arm of Jackfish Bay) and that work included sediment analysis, benthic community assessment (small bottom dwelling aquatic organisms), and sediment toxicity studies. Three benthic species were collected for tissue analysis of dioxins and furans in 2008 and 2013. A sediment trap study was also undertaken to assess contaminant levels in suspended sediment. This study showed that clean material is accumulating at a rate of approximately 2 mm. per year, that Dioxin/Furan concentrations are decreasing, and that monitored natural recovery is occurring through accumulation of newer, cleaner material.
The study pointed out that the process of natural recovery is being assisted by a thin layer of sediment which continues to cover up contamination. Additionally, the presentation pointed out that sediment concentrations of Dioxins and Furans are decreasing with time. Recent sediment data show much lower concentrations of these substances at the top 2 cm.
The presentation concluded with intended next steps including an assessment of Dioxins and Furans in suspended sediment, the amount of Dioxins and Furans entering Jackfish Bay from Blackbird Creek, a quality assessment for newly deposited sediment and an assessment of the length of time required for environmental recovery to acceptable levels.
Problems originally identified in the Jackfish Bay Area of Concern include the following:
- heavy metals,
- toxic organics,
- contaminated sediments,
- fish consumption advisories
- impacted biota due to industrial point sources (pulp mill)
- in-place pollutants (contaminated sediments).
The Terrace Bay mill now meets or exceeds all environmental regulations. The mill was fined in the recent past for environmental exceedences by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change.
Remedial Action Plan representatives of Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) and Lakehead University were in attendance at the meeting, providing related expertise and responding to questions and comments.
An October 16th article in the Toronto Star quotes a Great Lakes Fishery Commission representative as saying, “One big sturgeon could be worth almost $200,000,” noting that even legal caviar can sell for $100 an ounce or more.
Due to these prices, authorities in both Canada and USA, including Ontario Crime Stoppers, have increased efforts to address poaching for sturgeon. Such incidents often see the fish carcass being left to waste and the caviar harvested for sale. The fish is listed under the endangered species act and sport and commercial fishing for sturgeon has been banned in Ontario since 2008.
The article encourages anyone hiking or boating along waterways and noticing “furtive activity” to contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.
Telltale signs could include, “large pools of blood on the ground, piles of heavy fishing line needed for sturgeon, and, in some cases, sturgeon tied up along a riverbank and kept alive until a buyer can be contacted.”
The International Joint Commission’s Great Lakes Water Quality Board will be hosting a panel discussion, “The Great Lakes: The First Nations, Metis Nation and Tribal Perspective” on November 9th from 7 to 9 PM at Fort William Historical Park in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The general public is welcome to attend. There is no charge.
Infosuperior will be live streaming meeting audio and presentations which will be accessible via computer, tablet or mobile phone. Click one of the following links to join either the afternoon or the evening session of the meetings on November 9th. Please join several minutes early as your device may require a simple download of livestream software.
Online Audio Livestreams:
IJC Public Meeting – Afternoon Session (1pm to 5pm)
Meeting ID: 967-825-469
- Traditional opening, prayer and opening remarks.
- Presentations and discussions regarding aboriginal and tribal matters from a national perspective in both Canada and the United States
- Exploration of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and how the Board may consider and incorporate it into future work and projects.
IJC Public Meeting – Evening Session (7pm to 9pm)
Meeting ID: 225-181-997
- Public discussion hosted by the Public Engagement Work Group that will focus on indigenous people’s perspectives on the Great Lakes and specifically Lake Superior.
Panel members from the region will discuss their unique perspectives of Lake Superior, the Great Lakes and long-term challenges and their impacts on indigenous people and the overall ecosystem. Recognizing the binational nature of Lake Superior, representatives of U.S. tribes on the lake will also participate. Opportunity will be provided for public comments and questions to the panelists.
A major focus of the meeting will be to engage First Nations, Metis Nations and tribal communities on Great Lakes water quality issues, including the recently released Lake Superior Lakewide Action and Management Plan. The evening meeting is part of the Board’s 194th meeting on November 9-10, also at Fort William Historical Park and open to the public.
In a letter dated October 14, 2016, five U.S. senators (Gary Peters and Debbie Stenow – Michigan,Tammy Baldwin – Wisconsin, Amy Klobuhar – Minnesota and also Sharrod Brown –Ohio) have written to the National Science Foundation (NSF) requesting to know how the organization will incorporate Great Lakes research and education in current initiatives and support such work in future.
The senators’ letter makes the following points:
- the $5.8trillion economy of the Great Lakes region is a strong driver for the North American economy
- the Great Lakes fishery alone is worth an annual $7 billion
- research to better understand the Great Lakes ecosystem is already being carried out in the fields of biology, chemistry, physics and geology
- NSF already supports Great Lakes initiatives such as the Coastal Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability program.
The senators’ assert that the “overlap in research questions” between the oceans and Great Lakes mean that the lessons of the recent “Sea Change” report may apply equally to the Great Lakes. The senators conclude by asking for, “information on the investment the NSF has provided in recent years to support basic research and education activities related to the Great Lakes and information on futureo pportunities available to support Great Lakes related research and education activities.”
A response to the senators’ letter had not yet been received at time of posting.
Information about environmental monitoring completed in Peninsula Harbour was presented to the public at a lunchtime meeting at Marathon Town Hall on October 19th. Peninsula Harbour is the main harbour in the Town of Marathon, Ontario. One year post capping data related to the thin-layer cap for contaminated sediment was presented.
A 23 hectare thin-layer cap was put in place in 2012 in the area of highest harbour contamination. The cost of this cap was $7 million, shared by the federal and provincial governments and industry formerly located at the site.
Representatives of Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) and Lakehead University were in attendance.
2013 data showed that the cap was not moving and that there was no movement of contaminants up through the cap. Underwater video taken as part of the monitoring process showed that aquatic vegetation was beginning to colonize the cap. Collection of more substantive monitoring data will be completed in 2017.
Peninsula Harbour was contaminated by mercury used in the former chlor-alkali plant located beside the Marathon mill. This chlor-alkali plant produced chlorine for the bleaching of paper. Harbour PCB levels were also elevated.
Rationale for construction of the cap was not to “lock off” the contamination. Sand and coarser material was used which would actually mix with the top few millimeters of contaminated sediment. Rather, placement of the 15 to 20 cm. thick cap on the harbour floor was meant to speed up and help the natural process of sedimentation in the clear, low sediment waters of Superior. The cap construction started in July and was completed in August of 2012. The medium and coarse grade sand (more like gravel) placed on the contaminated harbour floor reduced the exposure of aquatic organisms to mercury and PCBs promoting a healthier ecosystem.
Public questions and comments made during the presentation included the following:
- The boat launch area should be checked for cap sand to ensure this sand is not migrating to the area of the boat launch
- Fish in Peninsula Harbour should be checked for contamination. In response to this comment, RAP government agency representatives noted that such monitoring is done on an ongoing basis. The Guide to Eating Ontario Fish is available here.
- Signage noting where the Guide to Eating Ontario Fish is available should be put in place at the boat launch
- How much sediment from the surrounding harbour area will end up on the cap? ECCC personnel responded to this question by saying that some contaminated sediment from outside the capped area would be deposited on the cap, and that some fine sediment in the capping material released during the capping activity may have also been deposited on the cap.
- A couple of recreational vessels are mooring in the area of the cap. Mooring on the cap should be prevented by signage and outreach.
- Please make the recently published Lake Superior Action and Management Plan more widely available.
Peninsula Harbour was identified as a Great Lakes Area of Concern requiring a Remedial Action Plan, or cleanup plan, in 1987. Problems identified include the following:
-degraded fish and benthic communities
-high levels of toxic contamination (i.e. mercury and PBCs) in fish and bottom sediments.
If you see a yellow submarine in the waters of Lake Superior, don’t be surprised. You really aren’t “seeing things.”
The submarine you might be seeing is unmanned and actually a “glider” being used to carry out research beneath the waters of Lake Superior. The University of Minnesota at Duluth, the Large Lakes Observatory and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are some of the organizations cooperating on this effort which utilizes National Science Foundation funding. The glider collects data deep within the lake at locations that would otherwise be totally inaccessible.
The glider utilizes changes in buoyancy resulting in forward motion in up and down arcs through the water column. Use of onboard battery power is minimal. Various glider models can remain in motion in Superior for from 25 to 100 days. The glider is given GPS coordinates telling it points to visit and the eventual point of retrieval.
Tom Hollenhorst of U.S. EPA in Duluth says use of the glider is part of the Binational Partnership (federal, provincial and state agencies cooperating to restore and protect Lake Superior) Coordinated Science and Monitoring Initiative (CSMI). This initiative entails a year of more intensive environmental monitoring carried out on a rotating, annual basis in each of the Great Lakes, including Superior.
Lead vocalist Tony Dekker and the folk group Great Lake Swimmers perform a song which begins with the line, “Lost in the Lakes” in the above 3’47” video. High Fidelity Music Blog describes the song this way, “it’s not about someONE, it’s about sometTHING. In my opinion Dekker has written this song about Canada, maybe even more specifically Ontario.”
This iconic Ontario musical group played at Crocks in Thunder Bay on Wednesday, October 26th. The group played Sudbury a day previously and was headed to Winnipeg a day later. Dekker definitely knew how to push the right buttons with the crowd assembled at Crocks on Wednesday evening, starting out the session by saying, “the drive across the top of Lake Superior is the most beautiful drive in Canada.” That definitely got the wildly cheering audience on side.
“Those familiar with the decade-long output of Great Lake Swimmers will recognize the thematic threads of beauty in the natural world, environmental issues and explorations of close personal ties that hold us together.” That’s the way the trio’s website describes the group. Put in a word, their music is “folk”, although it goes far beyond this.
As High Fidelity notes, “Lead vocalist Tony Dekker does a brilliant job of personifying the environment which Canada is famous for. ‘I was lost in the lakes”, “The mountains said I could find you here/they whisper the snow and the leaves in my ear”, “I was moving across your frozen veneer.’
In addition to Dekker on lead vocals and guitar, Great Lake Swimmers consists of long time guitarist and banjo player Erik Arnesen, Miranda Mulholland on violin and backing vocals, Bret Higgins on upright bass and newcomer Joshua Van Tassel on drums. Only Arnesen and Higgins played during the set at Crocks.
Check out this related blog on the Great Lake Swimmers which begins:
I’m not really interested in sports, and I am definitely not an athlete by any means. I do love swimming though. I’d swim anywhere; ocean, river, pool, but I especially like lakes. Having grown up in North Western Ontario I was surrounded by them. My hometown was situated around Lake Nipigon, the largest lake that lies entirely within the province of Ontario, and feeds into Lake Superior – the largest of the five Great Lakes. A fun little fact for those of you that may not know, but Lake Superior is actually the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area. I’ll tell you another thing that I know from experience, not from a textbook. Lake Superior, even in the dead heat of summer, is always FREEZING! After a good twenty minutes in the drink you’ll be jumping out to warm up………
A group of prominent Ontario residents including lieutenant-governor, Elizabeth Dowdeswell will “celebrate the majesty and meaning of the Great Lakes to ensure that they are cherished, protected and nurtured.” Two dozen group members from business, arts, media, sport, architecture and design put the project together. Economics, culture and environment are all part of the package.
A new interactive story map produced by the U.S. Forest Service provides a fascinating way to share information and engage the public. The map displays vegetation and land use changes which impact water conditions and quality. Land cover information is used to estimate water quality based on surrounding land use. These estimates show how changes in land use and forest cover can affect natural filtering processes and water quality.
View a similar map on Infosuperior – this map highlights environmental projects and environental challenges across Thunder Bay’s harbour on Lake Superior.