The proposed Trump budget includes, among many other agency cuts, massive cuts in funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). Launched in 2010, the GLRI receives about $300 million a year in federal funding to help states and tribes with environmental projects around the lakes like cleaning up toxic sludge in tributary rivers, keeping invasive Asian carp out of the lakes and helping reduce the threat of harmful algae blooms.
The Great Lakes region stretches across eights states and the health of the lakes affect more than 30 million people in the United States and Canada. The lakes hold 84 percent of all surface freshwater in North America. Efforts to restore the lakes also represent a diplomatic collaboration via the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the two nations. With the EPA spearheading U.S. activities, the agreement was first introduced in 1972 and was updated most recently in 2012.
The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement of 1987 identified 43 geographic areas of concern: 26 in the U.S., 12 in Canada and five shared between the two countries. These were locations suffering environmental degradation as a result of human activity. In 2012, the updated agreement reaffirmed these areas and the effort to restore them.
Since being identified, four areas in the U.S. and three areas in Canada have been removed from the list because they have been restored. Two of the recovered U.S. sites received nearly $13 million total funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
Restoration of White Lake, Mich., an area of concern delisted in 2014, spurred new real estate development, said Richard Hobrla, head of the Great Lakes Coordination Program within the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
“If [the Trump budget] went through as it’s proposed, it would be fairly catastrophic,” Hobrla said. Although he expects some funding cuts, Hobrla doesn’t think the GLRI will be completely shut down. “There’s just too much support for the EPA and for the program and for the general goals of clean water and clean air.”
Nevertheless, some areas could be heavily affected if funding stopped. Torch Lake, Mich., on the shore of Lake Superior, is one example of a trouble spot that needs more work, according to Hobrla, who speculates that a loss of funding from GLRI would mean it might never get cleaned up. For similar areas of concern that have not significantly improved, Hobrla thinks it’s unlikely there would be state funding to support these initiatives if federal funding were to be drained.
A 2011 study by the University of Michigan found that more than 1.5 million jobs are directly connected to the lakes, generating $62 billion in wages annually. The Rust Belt states that border the Great Lakes rely on the lakes for shipping and transportion of goods and commodities. The influence of the lakes however, extends beyond factories. According to the Brookings Institution, every dollar spent on the GLRI brings in $2 worth of long-term economic gains.
The EPA is also responsible for monitoring Great Lakes Water quality. When bacteria is high, municipalities might close swimming beaches. A major problem for the lakes is phosphorous pollution and associated algae blooms, which can deplete oxygen. Low oxygen levels can kill fish, putting vital fisheries at risk.
In addition to funding, the EPA provides research that helps local jurisdictions make decisions, as well as assistance with coordination to hold these jurisdictions accountable. While Trump’s proposed cuts may not pass, a significant reduction in the EPA’s budget may have wide-ranging effects.
The room was bursting at the seams as members of the Public Advisory Committee to the Thunder Bay Remedial Action Plan, joined by members of the Thunder Bay Field Naturalists and members of the public, discussed ways, means and locations where Thunder Bay’s waterfront habitat could be improved in quality and quantity. The meeting also garnered online participation through Infosuperior’s meeting livestream. The session was held at Lakehead University on the evening of April 12th.
Waterfront development and industry have impacted harbour environmental conditions for well over a century. One of the objectives of the Thunder Bay Remedial Action Plan is to increase productive habitat for fish, wildlife, birds and plants, keeping in mind economic balance within this Great Lakes working harbour.
The session began with a presentation on some of the ingredients which make for sustainable quality habitat, gleaned from Environment and Climate Change Canada’s document entitled, “How Much Habitat is Enough.” The presentation can be viewed here. This initial presentation was followed by local historian Bill Skrepichuk, who provided historic photos and information about earlier conditions along the shoreline, beginning in about 1870. Reg Nelson, of Lakehead University’s Geospatial Data Centre then displayed a map showing several potential locations along the waterfront where habitat might be revitalized.
The above map is for “brainstorming” purposes only. It is intended only as a visual aid to discussions about improved quality and quantity of Harbour habitat. Link to a larger version of the map here.
Public Advisory Co-chair Frank Edgson facilitated discussion and input about the merits of various sites. Local knowledge was a key factor in this brainstorming session. The result of the exercise was identification of a handfull of preferred sites which might benefit from remedial work to enhance productive habitat, be it sheltered nursery conditions for fish, native plants, animals or birds. A map outlining waterfront locations which might benefit from remedial measures to increase habitat is being developed and will be attached to this post as soon as it is ready. The map denotes locations which “rose to the surface” during meeting discussions as preferred locations for further examination as to potential for habitat enhancement.
Remedial Action Plan representatives, including Public Advisory Committee (PAC) Co-chairs Frank Edgson and Jean Hall-Armstrong, PAC members and Remedial Action Plan Coordinator Jim Bailey would like to thank everyone who took time to attend the meeting and join in developing this habitat enhancement strategy for the Thunder Bay waterfront. Special thanks to the Thunder Bay Field Naturalists, so many of whom attended, also to Reg Nelson of the Lakehead University Geospatial Data Centre and Bill Skrepichuk for their extremely informative maps, photographs and presentations.
Further suggestions for harbour habitat enhancement are welcomed and can be sent to jfbailey at lakeheadu dot ca or by telephoning Jim Bailey at 807-343-8514.
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Harbour fish and wildlife habitat has been degraded over more than a century of development and waterfront industrial activity. For example, extensive waterfront wetland areas in the Intercity area have been all but obliterated. PAC members hope to identify locations along the waterfront which would benefit from rehabilitation work. Wetlands can be very productive for all manner of wildlife including plants, animals, birds and fish. Pockets along the waterfront still retain remnants of original wetlands. Some of these wetlands have been severely encroached upon through infilling by wood waste and other materials. Rehabilitating one of these sites, or a complex of such sites, is an option put forward by both the PAC and members of the Thunder Bay Field Naturalists.
Several harbour habitat rehabilitation projects have already been completed through the The Thunder Bay Remedial Action Plan. Infosuperior’s interactive map of these sites is accessible here.
- Minutes from February 8th PAC meeting
- Map of Lakehead University Campus showing ATAC building
(enter the university from Balmoral at Beverly)
- Delisting Criteria: Loss of Fish Habitat
- Delisting Criteria: Loss of Wildlife Habitat
- Presentation Outlining Information Contained in the Document, “How Much Habitat is Enough”
- Presentation: Submerged Substrate Mapping in the Thunder Bay Region
- Presentation: Potential Funding Sources for Habitat Projects
- Reference Document from Environment & Climate Change Canada: “How Much Habitat is Enough?”
- A presentation outlining recent steps to address lost of habitat
- A summary document outlining actions and monitoring to address loss of habitat, as cited in the 2012 RAP Update.
- Map of Thunder Bay Harbour Properties for Potential Habitat Development
Catherine Meharg of Nipigon, Ontario (formerly of Terrace Bay), kindly agreed to supply one of her photos for the banner section in our March 31st, 2017 newsletter. Another of Catherine’s recent Rossport photos is provided above. A little background from the photographer herself:
…An early start, since I don’t like getting up before the sun.
Today was different. A 05:30 rise, quick cup of tea, no breakfast and stumbled out the door in the dark. What we saw was incredible. The colours of the cold late winter sky on the horizon lighting up the thin shimmering coating of ice in one of the protected bays of Lake Superior.
A camera doesn’t lie. The lens sometimes sees what the circuitry of the brain doesn’t.
As I snapped images musical notes from underneath the carpet of ice played, echoing across the bay. Imaginary whales sang from shore to shore. My heart and brain raced with excitement and joy. I still couldn’t grasp what my camera was showing me.
Two sets of Catherine’s recent Lake Superior photos follow:
Great Photos tell a story: Lake Superior is Worth Protecting
Do you have some Lake Superior photos you’d like to share. Do you know of someone else who has some great Lake Superior photos. We’d like to hear from you. Infosuperior has just less than a thousand subscribers on both the Canadian and U.S. sides of Lake Superior. We will provide full credit to the photographer and link back to other work from the photographer. We make no money from the photos and have only one objective: increase awareness of the beauty of Lake Superior, thereby increasing support for Lake Superior protection. Get in touch with Infosuperior at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. We can be reached at jfbailey at lakeheadu dot ca.
Thanks to cross-border collaboration involving several organizations, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has purchased one of the last privately owned, undeveloped shorelines between Duluth, Minnesota and Thunder Bay, Ontario. The deal is the latest in a string of Lake Superior conservation purchases, as outlined below in the links section.
Known as Big Trout Bay, the property is located just minutes from the international border, and 45 minutes from Thunder Bay on the shores of Lake Superior.A map providing an overview of the purchase is accessible here.
Big Trout Bay’s densely forested land is crucial to several native species, including bald eagles; and peregrine falcons, which are assessed as a special concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. The 1018 hectare/2515 acre property is composed mostly of coastal boreal forest. Nearly half of Canada’s bird species rely on boreal habitat like Big Trout Bay to complete thir life cycle, and many of these species migrate throughout the Americas.
The property also includes 21 km./13 mi. of undeveloped shoreline with towering cliffs, stretches of open bedrock, and rugged cobble beach. These shoreline areas are especially important for biodiversity, as they provide varied habitat for species such as bird’s eye primrose, lake trout and moose.
Thunder Bay – Rainy River Member of Parliament Don Rusnak attended the March 29th NCC announcement in Thunder Bay and had this to say, “On behalf of the Hon. Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, I want to congratulate the Nature Conservancy of Canada and thank its many Canadian and American partners and donors for helping to make this binational initiative possible. The Government of Canada is pleased to support their habitat conservation efforts through the Natural Areas Conservation Program. Working together, we can keep the Great Lakes beautiful, healthy and productive today and for generations to come.”
Funding contributors to this multi-million dollar purchase include the Government of Canada through the Natural Areas Conservation Program, the JA Woollam Foundation, the Nature Conservancy’s Wisconsin and Minnesota programs, the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, the Bobolink Foundation, the Rogers Foundation, The Conservation Fund, Green Leaf Advisors and many individual donors in both Canada and USA.
James Duncan, Nature Conservancy of Canada Vice President, Ontario Region summed the purchase up this way, “This is a massive international undertaking, but when faced with the potential loss of habitat and wildlife on the largest frewshwater lake in the world, thinking big is essential. Most importantly, this project gives us hope that the landscapes we love today will be here for others to enjoy tomorrow. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to make substantive and tangible progress on our overall goal of protecting Lake Superior’s North Shore.”
The Nature Conservancy of Canada has been working to conserve land along Superior’s North Shore for 15 years, and this most recent acquisition brings the total conserved to 3,557 hectares/8789 acres of protected land that is open to the public for low impact activities, such as hiking.
Participation: To participate, please register at: https://attendee.gotowebin ar.com/register/81312242200697 37986. Once registered, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.
- The Cooperative Institute for Limnology and Ecosystems Research
- NOAA – Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory
- University of Michigan – Natural Resources and Environment
Title: Lake Superior: A Warming Ecosystem
The Great Lakes St. Lawrence Cities Initiative has announced selection of John Dickert as the organization’s next President and Chief Administrative Officer. Dickert will succeed David Ullrich, who will step down from his position this summer as Executive Director after fourteen years and will continue as a Senior Advisor to the Cities Initiative. Currently serving as the Mayor of Racine, Wisconsin, Dickert brings decades of experience in local, state and federal government relations, strategy, fundraising, and coalition building.
“The work of the Cities Initiative is vital to the health and protection of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River,” says Dickert. “I am thrilled to step into this position with the Cities Initiative and work with a dynamic coalition of 128 other mayors to ensure the voice of local government is a part of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence decision making.” Ullrich added, “Mayor Dickert has been a strong force in our organization for years, and I am confident the positive presence of the Cities Initiative will continue under his leadership.”
Dickert brings a breadth of experience in real estate, consulting, development, and lobbying to the Cities Initiative, including Government Affairs Director of Wisconsin Credit Union League and real estate agent for First Weber Group. Mayor Dickert also worked for Congressional offices at the federal and state level, including Congressman Les Aspin, State Representative Dale Bolle, State Representative Jeannette Bell and Congressman Peter Barca. He received his bachelor’s degree in political science and communications from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse in 1986.
Since his election as Mayor in 2009, Dickert has been actively engaged with the Cities Initiative as a director on the board since 2010 and chair from 2014 to 2015. As Mayor, Dickert has been involved in numerous water resource-related organizations, including the U.S. Conference of Mayors Water Council and the Wisconsin Coastal Management Commission, and overseen the revitalization of Racine’s waterfront areas, most notably North Beach and the Root River.
The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative is a coalition of 128 cities from the United States and Canada representing over 17 million people who work together for the long term protection and restoration of the resource. The mayors work closely with state, provincial, federal, tribal, first nation, and non-government organizations from across the basin to protect, restore, and sustain one of the largest freshwater resources in the world.
Join Kelsey Jones-Casey, a Fullbright Fellow at Lakehead University, for a conversation about climate and weather variability in our region, and how it is impacting our well-being. The session takes place from 7 to 9 p.m. on March 29th at the Township of Nipigon Office, 52 Front St, Nipigon, Ontario.
Kelsey will be guiding group discussions about our connections to the land, our observations of changing weather patterns, and the impact of these changes on our well-being. This is the first of three community conversations that will be held on the Canadian north shore of Lake Superior.
Infosuperior will be posting information about similar events in Lake Superior North Shore communities, as it becomes available. Everyone is welcome to the Nipigon event which is free of charge.
For more information about this project, visit www.borealheartbeat.com.
Listen to a February 2nd CBC interview about the project.
The rich history of the St. Marys River includes developments like locks for shipping, hydro-electric power generation, “compensating works” which assist in managing Lake Superior water levels, also industry including steel and pulp and paper mills. These developments cover a brief span of time. Historical perspective is needed to achieve a deeper understanding of the waterway.
Many people might not realize that at one time, fish were so abundant in the rapids that this outlet to Lake Superior became the site of huge regional gatherings of Anishinaabe – Ojibway. Now, the entire river flows through some kind of man-made structure and it is difficult to realize the importance of this area as both a sustainable source for food and a cultural meeting point.
For many years, work has been ongoing to restore benefits associated with the river. This is not limited to activities like fishing but also includes work to clean up industrial pollution. The St. Marys River flows between two nations so these efforts have been “Binational”, coordinated through the St. Marys River Remedial Action Plan, or cleanup plan. An attendent public committee has advocated for and achieved progress on cleanup over almost three decades and is comprised of residents of both Michigan and Ontario. Environment Canada, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, also Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Lake Superior State University and Algoma University are all strong supporters of river cleanup.
A new video produced by Michigan’s Issue Media Group and released March 13th by the Great Lakes Commission (GLC) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) highlights efforts to make the St. Marys River swimmable, fishable and drinkable. The video centres on The Little Rapids Restoration Project, reestablishing flow to the Little Rapids section of the river for the first time in more than 50 years. This work is expected to lead to both environmental and economic benefits such as improved habitat for native fish populations, revitalized tourism and sport fishing opportunities on the river, and better community access via a new pedestrian walkway at Sugar Island.
Mike Ripley represents the Chippewa-Ottawa Resource Authority and is featured in the St. Marys video. “This area, the area where Lake Superior flowed into the St. Marys River over the Big Rapids [further upstream near the outlet of Superior], was a very important place to the Native people of the area because of the incredible abundance of fish and wildlife that was available,” Ripley said. “Thanks to the restoration work here, we hope to see more opportunities for fishing for all people and for future generations. Restoration of the Little Rapids is something people can truly be proud of.”
The GLC implements its restoration work through a regional partnership with NOAA, in close coordination with local, state and federal partners.
On Monday, March 7th Lakehead University hosted a roundtable discussion at Thunder Bay Art Gallery entitled “What Can We Do About Mercury In Our Water?”
The event was held as part of Lakehead University’s Research and Innovation Week. The focus of this year’s event was sustainability. The talk was well-attended by people genuinely concerned with mercury as a contaminant and the potential impact the substance has on our environment and our health.
Lakehead University interim vice-provost Peggy Smith served as moderator for the roundtable that included Lakehead University’s Canada Research Chair in Freshwater Ecology and Fisheries Michael Rennie, University of Western Ontario’s Canada Research Chair in Environment and Sustainability Brian Branfireun, Lakehead University biology professor Peter Lee, who works on mercury issues with Seine River First Nation, and Judy Da Silva, an internationally-recognized environmental activist and member of Grassy Narrows First Nation.
The roundtable discussion was particularly timely due to ongoing concerns about mercury at Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong (Whitedog) First Nation in Northwestern Ontario. In addition, Thunder Bay is also struggling to deal with mercury-contaminated sediment in its harbour on Lake Superior.
During the roundtable, Dr. Lee explained that mercury issues in the Seine River situation were not well known to the public and were associated with man-made reservoirs. He pointed out that methylmercury (MeHg) is a more toxic form of mercury. He said the presence of higher MeHg concentrations in dam reservoirs in comparison to reference lakes is well documented. He also explained that as mercury makes its way up the food chain, fish consumption becomes a major source of mercury ingestion by humans.
Dr. Lee went on to say that during work to better understand mercury in the environment, residents of Seine River First Nation collected their own fish samples. He said there was a very high level of expertise among some of the Seine River Band members in collecting and dealing with fish utilized in the scientific process to determine contaminant levels.
Dr. Brian Branfireun pointed out that understanding mercury in the environment, along with its impacts, was far from a linear process, involving many factors. He said the process of “methylation”, whereby “methylating bacteria” in aquatic ecosystems transforms inorganic mercury into methylmercury, is dependent on many environmental factors. He stressed the importance of understanding that rates of methylation vary widely and are dependent on factors unique to individual ecosystems and locations. He emphasized the importance of additional research about environmental factors affecting methylation.
At times during the roundtable, all of the academics deferred to Judy Da Silva, not only on matters related to the impacts of mercury on the health and well-being of Grassy Narrows residents, but also on scientific matters. She was asked about early fish sampling protocols; the size of these samples; what year sampling had begun; in which years sampling had been carried out and who were the scientists involved? Judy answered all of these questions and pointed out, that over several decades, a very robust scientific team had evolved and was still working towards positive resolution of the English-Wabigoon mercury situation.
She said that research scientist Dr. John Rudd, lead author of a recent paper examining cleanup options, was part of this team. Judy displayed in-depth knowledge of all aspects of the mercury situation, including impacts on the communities of Grassy Narrows and Whitedog.
When asked about the recent Ontario government announcement to carry out mercury cleanup in the English-Wabigoon, Judy expressed sincere appreciation. She also expressed reservation, saying it had been a long road and community members told her, “we will believe it when we see it.”
Read more…(the latter part of this linked article contains further background information about mercury).
Learn how Lakehead University Northern Environments and Cultures Masters level student Samuel Pegg is researching risk communication associated with mercury contamination in Thunder Bay Harbour (3′ video).
Copies of the report on English-Wabigoon River cleanup options are available from riverrun2010 at gmail dot com.
Communicating risk: Lakehead University masters student Samuel Pegg outlines research associated with mercury contamination in Thunder Bay Harbour (3′).
Lakehead University graduate student Samuel Pegg (Masters of Northern Environments and Cultures) will be researching how various risks are currently understood and communicated in the Thunder Bay Area of Concern. Four hundred thousand cubic meters of mercury-contaminated sediment and pulp-like material lie within the northern portion of Thunder Bay Harbour. Dealing with this contaminated sediment will require a complex solution that includes a multitude of voices.
Under the direction of Dr. Rob Stewart, Department of Geography and the Environment, Samuel will be getting a better understanding of how risks associated with this contaminated site are currently perceived. Samuel will also developing a set of recommendations to better enhance public understanding of this risk.