Month: June 2017

Scientists Meet Citizens in Terrace Bay

Blackbird Creek
Blackbird Creek near Terrace Bay, Ontario. The creek flows into Jackfish Bay on Lake Superior.

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC)  recently suggested that scientists working near Terrace Bay meet with local residents. ECCC field crew members were joined by an Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC)  Great Lakes Environmental Scientist. The result was a unique learning experience for local residents during a June 21st gathering.

Area of Concern

Scientist were in the Terrace Bay area as part of efforts to track environmental conditions at Jackfish Bay on Lake Superior and also Blackbird Creek, which winds some 14 km./8 mi. from Terrace Bay to Jackfish Bay. The stream receives effluent from the Aditya Birla Terrace Bay mill. Both the creek and Jackfish Bay were declared a Great Lakes “Area of Concern” in 1987 due to problems associated with contamination.

Contaminants of concern in Blackbird Creek and Jackfish Bay include dioxins and furans, which resulted from elemental chlorine bleaching of  pulp at the Terrace Bay mill. These problems resulted from the earlier days of mill operation and regulations are now much more stringent. Process changes (e.g. elimination of chlorine bleaching, secondary treatment), and regulatory monitoring and reporting requirements resulted in improved effluent quality, especially related to turbidity, Total Suspended Solids, Sulfur, Biological Oxygen Demand, pH, Total Phosphorus, metals, phenols, resin fatty acids, chloroform, toluene, and dioxins (LU 2010).

“In Recovery” Designation

In 2011, Jackfish Bay AOC was formally declared an Area of Concern in Recovery, and it was determined that monitored natural recovery was the mechanism of action to be taken into the future. This “In Recovery” designation was based on both government and community consensus after all scientifically feasible and economically reasonable actions were implemented and additional time was required for the environment to recover.

Key Questions

Each scientist at the gathering explained the portion of the field work for which they were responsible. First, an ECCC representative shared long-term questions meant to inform monitoring, as follows:

(1) What is the contribution of suspended sediment to Jackfish Bay and its Moberly Bay arm, measured in both quality and quantity?
(2) What is the estimated time for environmental recovery in the Blackbird Creek/Jackfish Bay system?
(3) What is the safe sediment concentration to ensure protection of insect-eating birds and mammals, and fish-eating mammals?

Answers in the Sediment

Terrace Bay and area residents learned that monitoring being carried out by ECCC is meant to assess the quality and quantity of suspended sediments flowing out of Black Bird Creek and into Jackfish Bay. ECCC representatives explained that the study will assess whether the creek is still a source of dioxin/furans and other contaminants, and if so, how much. They also said the study will asses how much suspended sediment is coming from the creek.

MOECC’s Great Lakes Environmental Scientist explained that data acquired through the monitoring process will assist in estimating the time required to reach safe sediment concentrations. MOECC will be establishing these safe sediment concentrations as part of the 2017 study.

MOECC’s Great Lakes Environmental Scientist explained that MOECC’s summer 2017 field work will address item #3 above by developing a site-specific bioaccumulation model for organisms living in sediment, with the end goal of determining a safe sediment concentration for dioxins and furans. Local residents learned that safe sediment concentrations will be determined using data from the top 3 cm. of sediment at 7 stations, also fish tissue collected during the 2017 field season, and previously collected tissue from sediment dwelling organisms.

Cooperation with Aditya Birla

Residents from the Terrace Bay area were happy to have the opportunity to interact with Great Lakes Scientists and commented on the positive cooperation between federal and provincial environmental agencies. All agreed that cooperation with Aditya Birla Terrace Bay would provide additional insight into environnmental conditions. The mill carries out regular environmental monitoring.

While Terrace Bay mayor Jody Davis sent regrets due to a previous engagement, the Town of Schreiber was represented by Chief Administrative Officer Don McArthur, also residents of Terrace Bay, Rossport and representatives of both Aditya Birla Terrace Bay as well as the Métis Nation of Ontario.

Support for the Jackfish Bay Remedial Action Plan is provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and Lakehead University.

 

 

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Lake Superior Action Plan presented in Nipigon (June 22)

Cover of the Lake Superior – Lakewide Action and Management Plan (2015-2019)

On June 22, the Nipigon Bay Public Advisory Committee met to receive an update on the status of the Area of Concern. Twenty-one people were in attendance representing a wide variety of environmental interests that included Chief Ed Wawia and representatives of the Red Rock Indian Band, Lakehead University, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Environment Canada, Parks Canada and members of the public.

After opening introductions Rob Hyde (Environment and Climate Change Canada) gave a presentation on the Lake Superior Lakewide Action and Management Plan (commonly referred to as the LAMP).  Rob’s presentation focused on the conditions, stressors, and potential actions that could be undertaken to protect Lake Superior. With regard to the environmental conditions in Lake Superior, he said that although recent data showed declines in fish populations, the fishery and most habitat types were in good condition. He reported that contaminants affecting water quality were generally stable or decreasing, especially mercury inputs from within the basin which had undergone very large reductions. He also mentioned stressors like aquatic invasive species and climate change, which might entail increased weather variability, including extremes.

Following Rob’s presentation, Tara George (Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change) presented an overview of the environmental monitoring that would be happening in Nipigon Bay during the summer of 2017. Nipigon Bay monitoring objectives include those associated with the Nipigon Bay Area of Concern and trends related to historical sediment contamination in the area adjacent to the former Norampac Mill.

Presentations were followed by roundtable updates from various organizations:

Red Rock Indian Band – Watershed Management Plan (presentation)

Alyssa Ray gave a presentation on the Watershed Management and Climate Change Adaptation Plan that was being developed by the Band. She noted that the purpose of the plan was to create a community-led initiative that mapped the valued ecosystem components within the watershed, identified vulnerabilities with respect to development and climate change, created a dialog about the environment and Lake Superior watershed, and built environmental capacity in the community. She also outlined the need to define the geography of the watershed, also baseline monitoring through community engagement. She noted that Lakehead University and the Grand Portage Tribe of Lake Superior Chippewa would be providing technical support.

Lakehead University – Lake Superior Streams (presentation)

Nathan Wilson (Lakehead University) presented information about the stream assessment work conducted in 2016 for approximately 50 smaller streams on the north shore of Lake Superior, including the Nipigon Area. He said the effort focused on quantifying environmental conditions including aspects like water quality, and where possible, fish populations.  He discussed how some of the streams were selected and the methods utilized for data collection.

Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (OMNRF)

Kyle Rogers (OMNRF) presented the group with an update noting that the OMNRF had just completed the Nipigon Bay portion of a nearshore brook trout electrofishing program. He also noted that community index netting was being undertaken in the Nipigon area. Kyle said that electrofishing for walleye in the Nipigon River and around the former Norampac mill would be completed in the fall. He said the above OMNRF monitoring actions were part of efforts to better understand Nipigon Bay fish populations.

Parks Canada

Judy Rosenthal (Parks Canada) updated the group about a successful BioBlitz event in Red Rock attended by more than 400 elementary students, Parks Canada’s ongoing work to develop a Visitor Experience Strategy for the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area (NMCA), and receipt of a 22’ rigid inflatable hull boat for their planned environmental monitoring program. She also mentioned that they had recently hired a permanent ecologist and a three-year term geomatics technician. She said Parks Canada was hoping to use a drone to conduct monitoring of the Pukaskwa Pits on NMCA islands.

Red Rock Wastewater Treatment Plant Construction

Jim Bailey (Lakehead University) reported that a call for tenders for construction of a new Red Rock Wastewater Treatment Plant had been placed by the Town of Red Rock in the Chronicle Journal edition of June 10th.

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC)

Kate Taillon (ECCC) presented an update on the status of Nipigon Bay as an Area of Concern noting Environment Canada’s commitment to long-term monitoring. She said that Nipigon Bay was one of five Areas of Concern that ECCC hoped would be removed from the list of Great Lakes Areas of Concern by 2019.

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Water Level Woes

Let’s talk water levels. Despite growing concern over low water levels in recent years, the Great Lakes are seeing record highs and coastal flooding in 2017. There has been talk among residents and the scientific community that low flows are a sign of climate change. So how do we contextualize the extreme spike in water levels causing flooding in southern Ontario, Quebec, and upstate New York? [photo credit: photographer Daniel Williams surveys the Toronto skyline from flooded Toronto islands.]

Spring 2017: reversing trends

As early as April, the International Joint Commission predicted that the Great Lakes water levels were expected to stay above the long term average.

On June 12, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent a news release stating that not only did they expected Great Lakes water levels to be higher than average – they were to continue being higher through the fall. Keith Kompoltowicz attributed the prediction to above average precipitation on the Great Lakes, and very wet conditions in April and May. Kompoltowicz is chief of Watershed Hydrology at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District.

The release went on to state that summer water levels for lakes Superior, Michigan-Huron, St. Clair, and Erie were forecasted to be at their highest levels since 1996-1998. After severe precipitation events in the spring, Lake Ontario has set a record high monthly mean water level in May. The Army Corps states that, “at 248.96 feet, May’s level was the highest monthly mean for any month in the 1918-2016 period of record.”

The Army Corps have only been measuring water levels within the last century, since 1918. Lake Ontario’s previous record was set in 1952, at a height of 248.56 feet.

Flooding woes and pointed fingers

You’ve probably heard it broadcasted throughout the spring on national radio, television, and news headlines. High water levels have wreaked havoc on a number of coastal communities in the Great Lakes basin, and along the St. Lawrence seaway. Residents of southern Ontario, Quebec, and upstate New York are coping with devastating flood damage to homes, businesses, and infrastructure, including “shoreline erosion, flooded roads, battered breakwalls, submerged docks and boat launches.” The ever-popular Toronto islands have sustained severe flooding as well. The Toronto Star reports that flooding has cancelled ferry services until July 31, distressed island-dwelling homeowners and businesses, and left the bustling islands bereft of thriving tourism. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has bemoaned broader economic fallout for U.S. communities as well, lamenting “devastating” effects seasonal tourism in an article by CityNews.

Some residents and local officials, including Gov. Cuomo, feel the International Joint Commission bears the blame for exacerbating flood damage. The IJC is in charge of the board which decides how much water to release from the Moses-Saunders power dam in Cornwall, ON, which increases outflow of water from Lake Ontario to the St. Lawrence River. Gov. Cuomo is quoted in the CityNews article as stating that the IJC “pulled the trigger too late on releasing outflows.” Water had been held back in Lake Ontario in the spring, due to flood-level spring runoff in the Ottawa River. Massive precipitation compounded the problem.

Credit: City News

The IJC has responded that no one could have predicted the record spring rainfall which raised water levels. Beginning on June 14, the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board gave approval for the Moses-Saunders power dam to begin releasing outflows of 10,400 cubic metres per second – the highest outflow ever released on a sustained basis. The decision didn’t come lightly. The IJC must factor in the effects that higher outflows will have on already flooded communities downstream, as well as increased currents affecting cargo ship traffic. An article from CBC also warned recreational boaters to take caution in the increased current.

As of June 21, the IJC stated that the dam was still operating at 10,400 cubic metre per second outflows. It also reported that continued monitoring demonstrated no adverse effect to communities downstream, and that water levels in the Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence were beginning to decline.

Where does Superior stand? 

Like the rest of the Great Lakes, Superior’s water levels are higher than normal. As of June 6th, U.S. Army Corps’ data showed that the Big Lake was sitting 7 inches higher than the June average. (Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers chart published via Cleveland.com on June 6).

The Corps updated their data on June 23rd, showing that Superior increased to an 11 inch difference for the long-term June monthly average. It also shows that it was only 2 inches under the highest-ever monthly average on record, dated 1986.

 

Why do Superior’s water levels matter? Its increase is not as notable as the other lakes  – the 11 inch June monthly average difference pales in comparison next to Michigan-Huron’s 15 inches, St. Clair and Erie’s 19 inches each, and Ontario’s 28 inches.

Very simply, it matters when we take into account the “bath-tub” effect of the basin. Reading left to right on this chart shows the relative elevation of the lakes. If one basin rises, it spills into the next. Topographically, Superior is at the highest elevation; which drains to lakes Michigan and Huron; which drains to St. Clair and Erie, and so on. As can be seen, the last stop is Lake Ontario. If water levels are elevated in the higher basins, such as Superior and Michigan-Huron, that spells drainage trouble for the already-taxed Lake Ontario.

credit: Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Water Resources

The Corps prediction, as of June 23: “Lake Superior’s outflow through the St. Marys River is projected to be above average in June. Lake Michigan-Huron’s outflow into the St. Clair River, and Lake St. Clair’s outflow through the Detroit River are also predicted to be above average. Lake Erie’s outflow into the Niagara River is forecasted to be above average, and outflow of Lake Ontario into the St. Lawrence River is projected to be above average for the month of June as well.”

As with other Great Lakes regions, coastal communities on Lake Superior have seen, and continue to see, high levels of precipitation in spring and continuing into summer. For all the lakes, high precipitation was compounded by spring runoff from melting snow in surrounding areas.

The big picture

CBC columnist Don Pittis wrote an article at the beginning of June to help readers contextualize rising water levels in terms of cost – both economic and environmental. Pittis frames his June 1 piece starkly: “[As] U.S. president Donald Trump hints he will pull out of the Paris climate agreement, experts are warning that taxpayers must be prepared to eventually spend big in order to cope with changing climate in the Great Lakes Basin.”

[note: Pittis’ column was posted to CBC as of 5 a.m. EST on June 1. By 2:41 p.m. EST on the same day, CBC reported that Trump had officially announced U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.]

Pittis begins his article by pointing out that fluctuating water levels can have positive impact on the Great Lakes ecosystems. He states that “the rise and fall of water levels recharge wetlands and scour shorelines.” Hydrology is a critical component of Great Lakes habitat.

Consulting with McMaster University engineering professor Gail Krantzberg, who has been studying the Great Lakes for 30 years, Pittis notes that most of the recent economic studies undertaken about water levels have focused on the impact of low levels – not high. Engineer David Fay, an advisor to the IJC, corroborates this.

“Certainly on the upper Great Lakes, the levels were low for a little over a decade,” says David Fay, a Canadian engineer who advises the IJC.

He says levels on Lake Huron hit an all-time low in 2013, forcing ships on the St. Lawrence Seaway to reduce loads and cutting the amount of water available for generating electricity. Ferry services were interrupted, marinas were left high and dry, and recreational property users faced with a long, mucky hike out for a splash in the lake.

The low water levels in the upper Lakes were blamed on climate effects: low precipitation and warm temperatures that led to poor ice cover and higher rates of evaporation.

The volatility of climate change can also contextualize why the Lakes are seeing a massive spike in water levels after years of consistently low measurements. While some fluctuation is to be expected, and can even be positive, increasingly extreme weather makes it difficult for organizations like the IJC to predict and manage water levels.

Using the bath tub analogy, Pittis provides a lengthy explanation of why this year’s factors were particularly difficult to control under the ‘Climate effects’ and ‘Pull the plug’ sections of his column. 

Because water levels remained low for many years, land owners were increasingly tempted to develop properties closer to shorelines. Now that the levels are surging back, business owners and residents are seeing property damage from flooding. This makes Great Lakes coastal management – which Infosuperior reported on in the June 1st newsletter – a particularly hot topic for researchers, residents, and municipalities alike.

As Pittis points out, the fluctuations are becoming more extreme, and therefore more expensive. While the tally of flood damage continues to roll into the hundreds of millions, or billions, “the biggest expense will be rebuilding public infrastructure to cope with increasingly volatile conditions caused by climate change.”

He quotes University of Windsor water engineer Tirupati Bolisetti to explain why climate fluctuations mean big bucks for taxpayers.

Bolisetti’s own research shows that while the number of rainy days is declining, “any given rainfall is significantly higher than we used to have in the past.”

“When you have to design the stormwater or flood-control structures, what used to be 25-year storm events have become five-year storm events now,” he says. “What used to be 100-year storm events have become 25-year storm events.”

So what kind of spending will be required in the Great Lakes Basin?

“If I had to project the costs for the reconstruction and upgrading of the infrastructure for climate change preparedness, it will be easily a few hundreds of billions,” says Bolisetti.

credit Daniel Williams

Further reading:

International Joint Commission (IJC): Great Lakes Water Levels and Flows

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Great Lakes Water Levels Weekly Report (Updated every Thursday afternoon)

InfoSuperior Tools – Lake, River, and Climate Data (includes several monitoring tools such as a Great Lakes Water Level Viewer and real-time river flow data from Environment and Climate Change Canada, NOAA, OPG and more.)

 

 

 

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Relief and remediation for Grassy Narrows

Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change released the following statement on June 28:

Statement from the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change on Ontario’s Investment of an Additional $85 Million for Remediation in the English-Wabigoon River System

June 28, 2017 10:00 A.M.

Glen Murray, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, issued the following statement today on Ontario’s investment of an additional $85 million for the remediation of the English-Wabigoon River system:

“Mercury contamination has had a profound impact on the people of Grassy Narrows First Nation and Wabaseemoong (Whitedog) Independent Nations, and has to be properly addressed. In February 2017, on behalf of the Ontario government, Minister Zimmer and I made a commitment to the First Nations to take action on remediation of mercury contamination in the English-Wabigoon River system. This commitment involves working with First Nations and partners to first identify all potentially contaminated sites, and then create and implement a comprehensive remediation action plan for the river system.

As an immediate next step and in addition to previous funding commitments, Ontario is providing $85 million in dedicated funding for the remediation of the English-Wabigoon River system. This historic financial commitment will be devoted to the cost of the remediation, including the engineering design and implementation of remediation measures and long-term monitoring. These funds will be spent in partnership with First Nations through the negotiation of a collaborative governance model. The remediation options that are chosen will be based on the scientific fieldwork that is currently underway and in partnership with First Nations.

Chief Fobister, Chief Paishk, Minister Zimmer and I make up the membership of the political leadership table, whose mandate it is to ensure the remediation of the river system is done in a timely manner and meets the commitments made by the Ontario government to the First Nations. We are committed to setting up a structure to cooperatively manage the funds and I look forward to our ongoing discussions.

This $85 million commitment builds on the current scientific work and ongoing community engagement, funded by the province. To date, the province has provided $2.5 million for this accelerated science, sampling and analysis work, which will inform the extent of the mercury contamination and determine which remediation options may be the most appropriate for each site. We will be providing an additional $2.7 million this year to accelerate the work now underway. This brings the total budget to $5.2 million for scientific pre-remediation work in the English Wabigoon River system.

We are determined to right these historic wrongs, and we realize that actions speak louder than words. For these reasons, we are committed to working with the First Nations and respecting their leadership. The $85 million commitment is a definitive action that will ensure we can fulfil our commitments to the local First Nations and the remediation of the river system.”

 

Gary Wheeler Communications Branch
Gary.S.Wheeler@ontario.ca
416-314-6666

Contact information for the general public 416-325-4000
1-800-565-4923

Ruth Gebremedhin Minister’s Office
Ruth.Gebremedhin2@ontario.ca
416-325-5281

 

Available Online

Disponible en Français

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Crude News: New Additions to Research on Great Lakes Oil Transportation

On June 8 and 9, the Great Lakes Commission held a symposium to discuss oil transportation issues in the Great Lakes region. The symposium, which was held in Cleveland, OH, presented three new research papers commissioned by the GLC to discuss “the current state of crude oil infrastructure, the economic impact of crude oil transportation, and environmental sensitivity of Great Lakes waters to oil exposure.” The research papers were released via a GLC press announcement on June 7.

Oil transportation has been a controversial topic in the Great Lakes basin as of late. Residents, environmental activists, politicians, and academics have expressed fears about the safety of Enbridge’s aging Line 5, located between Lakes Huron and Michigan. Concerns mount over Enbridge’s proposed Line 3, planned to skirt along the edge of Lake Superior, and the TransCanada Corporation’s Energy East pipeline, proposed to run through the Lake Superior basin north of Thunder Bay, and across the Nipigon River, the largest river entering the Great Lakes.

Link to Dec.. 14, 2016 Infosuperior Article on Oil Shipments On and Around Lake Superior: RIGHT THROUGH HERE

Titled “Crude Move: Oil Transportation Infrastructure, Economics, Risks, Hazards, and Lessons Learned,” the symposium was open to the public via webinar broadcast. The Crude Move symposium boasts that it was the first of its kind to focus on discussions around regional transportation, how crude moves, economics and financial analysis of the region’s oil industry, hazards and risk, emergency response, and lessons learned from the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River region and the New Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

In addition to presenting the three research papers (links provided below), the symposium also saw the debut of a website with research resources for crude oil transport. The website collects a series of publications on crude oil transport risks and benefits, as well as a series of webinars that were conducted by Ohio Sea Grant in summer 2016. The GLC reported in its June 2017 issue of The Advisor newsletter that reportage and videos of the symposium will be posted to their Oil Transportation in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Region project site as soon as they’re available.


The papers were commissioned using a grant from the Mott Foundation in August 2015. The GLC is careful to note that the opinions, findings, and conclusions in the research papers represent those of the authors.

Taken from the GLC’s website, the papers are summarized as follows:

Status of Infrastructure Related to Crude Oil Transportation in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Region

Author: Dr. Bradley Hull (John Carroll University)

Summary: This paper reviews the crude oil pipeline, rail, and waterborne infrastructure in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River region. It briefly discusses the region’s refineries as well as infrastructure projects outside of the region that may have a significant impact on the region. The paper also discusses crude oil supply projections and the impact which might be expected in the region.

The Economic Impact of Crude Oil Transportation in the Great Lakes

Authors: Dr. Marcello Graziano (Central Michigan University); Peter Gunther (Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis, University of Connecticut); and Dr. Eva Lema (Central Michigan University)

Summary: This report presents an introductory analysis to the economic contribution of crude oil transportation across the Great Lakes Region, while presenting currently available data.

Environmental Sensitivity to Oil Exposure in the Great Lakes Waters: A multimodal approach

Authors: Dr. Jerome Marty (University of Waterloo); Adrian Nicoll, (Carleton University)

Summary: The objective of this study is to complete a sensitivity analysis to oil exposure in the Great Lakes, based on a spatial, multimodal approach that includes oil transported via marine, rail, and pipeline transport modes. This analysis provides a visual tool to compare the contribution of the sensitivity of various sources of oil transported in the Great Lakes basin.

 

 

 

 

 

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New trails to blaze on Superior

Water recreationists, rejoice! On June 9, CBC Superior Morning reported that a new section of the Trans Canada Trail opened – the Lake Superior Water Trail, a 1,000 km water trail along the north shore of Lake Superior.

The water trail is comprised of 16 access points from Thunder Bay’s Fisherman’s Park near the mouth of the Current River to Gros Cap Marina Park near Sault Ste. Marie. Project coordinator Joanie McGuffin told CBC that the entry points have been outfitted with composting toilets, bear-proof garbage receptacles, recycling containers, and universally accessible docks set up to accommodate paddlers transitioning from wheelchair to kayak. The entry points will be maintained by partner communities such as Rossport, Schreiber, Terrace Bay, and Marathon.

The Lake Superior Water Trail is part of the Great Trail by Trans Canada Trail, stretching 24,000 km from ocean to ocean. The LakeSuperior trail connects to a cycling route in Sudbury, giving paddlers and cyclists a chance to extend their exploration of northern Ontario. It is also connected to Trans Canada Trail designated hiking trails, including the Voyageur Trail (being developed between Thunder Bay and Manitoulin Island), Casques Isles Trail, Nipigon River Recreation Trail, and coastal trails in Lake Superior Provincial Park and Pukaskwa National Park. The aim is to connect paddlers, cyclists, and hikers in their journey to enjoy Canada.

The water trail project is the result of joint collaboration between Trans Canada Trail, Trans Canada Trail Ontario, and the Lake Superior Watershed Conservancy, working together with First Nations communities, coastal municipalities, Ontario Parks, and National Parks.

Residents of Superior’s coast know that a journey on the big lake is a serious undertaking, and not without safety and tourism concerns. The Lake Superior Trail’s website reports that kiosks at each entry point will display safety info, photos and maps connecting the water trail to hiking and cycling trails, parks, B&Bs, food services, cultural attractions, and other local services of note. The website also has a designated Trail Safety page, explaining required safety equipment and best practices in water safety.

The Lake Superior Water Trail is unique in that its span follows Canadian coastline, following the lead of sister trails on Superior, such as the Wisconsin Lake Superior Water Trail, Michigan Lake Superior Water Trails, Minnesota Lake Superior Water Trail.


To view CBC’s article on the Lake Superior Water Trail, and to hear McGuffin’s interview with CBC Superior Morning, click here. 

To see the Lake Superior Water Trail website, with links to safety protocols, trail maps, trail features guide, and entry points, click here. 

 

 

 

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Thunder Bay Harbour Contamination Raises Questions

Aerial view of Thunder Bay North Harbour showing shoreline fine paper mill operations (circa 1980).

On June 7, 2017 the Public Advisory Committee to the Thunder Bay Remedial Action Plan met. After introductions and a review of the previous meeting minutes the group moved on to the following agenda items:

North Harbour Contamination (presentation)

Jim Bailey provided an overview of mercury and other contaminated material in Thunder Bay North Harbour including the location, extent, toxicity and potential next steps. Curniss McGoldrick (Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change) followed this presentation with a review of the Environmental Review Tribunal order on the Superior Fine Papers property. The roles and responsibilities of the different agencies with respect to the Canada-Ontario Agreement were also discussed.

During discussion, the following questions/points were made:

Federally Contaminated Sites List

  • What is preventing the Thunder Bay North Harbour from being listed on the Federally Contaminated Sites list?
  • A question was asked about the Canada – US Binational agreement respecting the Great Lakes basin ecosystem (the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement) and whether it included reference to resolution of Thunder Bay North Harbour contamination. An additional comment was made that if North Harbour was mentioned in the agreement, perhaps this could prove useful in assisting to have North Harbour added to the federal list of contaminated sites.
  • Is the Port Authority full aware of all the potential implications of being on the Federally Contaminated Sites list?
  • What are the health implications of fishing and other uses of the North Harbour area?
  • How is the contaminated sediment and solutions for North Harbour different than those for the Northern Wood Preservers (NOWPARC) project?

Partnerships

  • Is Cascades involved in remediation discussions as an industrial partner?
  • Abitibi as an entity has evolved to become part of Resolute Forest Products; what are Abitibi’s environmental responsibilities?
  • At some time there was a North Harbour Steering Committee which included Cascades, as well as Provincial and Federal partners; why was the PAC and, nearby business owners with a substantial financial stake in the outcomes, not included?
  • Out of respect for the Robinson-Superior Treaty, what is the involvement of the PAC with the Fort William First Nation?
  • Is there the possibility that the Public Advisory Committee or one of the subcommittee’s could assist by facilitating discussions amongst key stakeholders?
  • Are the PAC Terms of Reference available on the InfoSuperior website (www.infosuperior.com)?
  • Is it worthwhile to form a smaller group, or subcommittee, to act on some of these suggestions?
  • Can we ask that a Transport Canada representative attend a future PAC meeting?

Jurisdictional Challenges

  • Is the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) responsible if there is contaminated groundwater leaking into the harbour? (i.e., is this the Province’s responsibility?)
  • How did the issue of water contamination within the harbour become a separate issue from the land-based contamination?
  • A coordinated effort to identify a lead would be beneficial
  • Will the funding be the same scheme as other Great Lakes cleanup projects (i.e. one-third Province, one-third Federal, and one-third industry)

Ongoing Work

  • Are the recommendations of this Public Advisory Committee to be considered once a project lead has been identified?
  • If filling the knowledge gaps will not impact the outcome at all, then is it worth working on filling in these gaps?
  • Do we know what studies on mercury, or the North Harbour, are currently being undertaken or anticipated?
  • Are there any potential research opportunities for the North Harbour area such as phytoremediation options or alternative solutions?

Earthcare representative Rena Viehbeck also noted that the Earthcare Advisory Board would be bringing a resolution to Thunder Bay City Council seeking formal resolution for action on North Harbour.

Fish and Wildlife Habitat Impairment (presentation)

Nathan Wilson (Lakehead University) provided an overview of the work he intends to do over the summer to develop a habitat strategy for the Thunder Bay Area of Concern. This could include developing a list and rationale for various potential habitat projects as well as mapping these locations.

 

 

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Want to sail Superior this summer?

If you’re looking to participate in sail racing this summer, the Duluth Keel Club has a message board looking to connect race boat owners with crews, and crews with race boats.

Applicants are asked to send a message to the Keel Club so it can be posted on their website. The keel club asks applicants to include their name, request, a description of sailing experience, and contact info.

The messages can be found on the Duluth Keel Club’s website, toward the bottom of their home page. It is under a header labeled ‘The Crew Board.’ The link to send a message can be found there.


To see the Duluth Keel Club website, click here. 

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Lake Superior Makes Legal History

 

DULUTH, Minn., May 16, 1969, NYTimes“The role of politics in pollution was highlighted in the recent Federal hearings here on the potential pollution of Lake Superior, the vast 31,820-square-mile expanse of blue water that is, from a practical stand-point, the last of the uncontaminated Great Lakes…”

This is the opening line of a New York Times article about a situation which for years put Lake Superior in the headlines across USA and Canada. News about the situation became common knowledge in households around Lake Superior, as residents became increasingly concerned as the situation evolved, twisted, turned, and disturbed.

Beginnings

The situation centres on Reserve Mining at Silver Bay, Minnesota on Lake Superior’s U.S. North Shore. The company funneled tonnes of rock into Lake Superior every day. Enough to fill a railroad car every two minutes. Around the clock. For 25 years. As a result, the company became embattled in a protacted legal battle and the case became an environmental and legal landmark.

To understand what happened at Silver Bay, it is helpful to understand the taconite production process at its mine. Mine rock delivered to the Reserve Mining facility was crushed, separating useable ore from waste rock to produce dark grey taconite pellets for the steel industry. Taconite pellets contain about 65% iron, created by crushing ore into fine powder and separating out magnetite through magnetism. Bentonite clay is then used as a binder, combined with limestone and then fired at high temperature. The resulting pellets are hard, durable, and well suited to bulk marine shipping across the Great Lakes in freighters, ending up in steel mills on the lower lakes. As an example, the Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank on November 10, 1975, took some 26,000 tons of taconite pellets to the bottom of Lake Superior.

Reserve mining began discharging to Lake Superior in 1955. Rock waste, or “tailings” slurry, contained approximately 40% asbestos fibres. For many years, concern over this discharge continued to grow. In fact, this was an early example of “binational” concern about Lake Superior. The issue gained an extremely high level of attention in the media and residents of Lake Superior cities like Duluth, Thunder Bay, Marquette, and Sault Ste. Marie became very aware of the Reserve Mining situation.

Drinking Water

Concern centred on one thing – drinking water. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chemists found microscopic fibres in the water and tests of Duluth’s water supply showed 100 billion fibres per litre of water. Research into water chemistry was made easier because fibres were not found naturally in Lake Superior, making research results very clear. When national television networks and the largest newspapers in U.S., like the New York Times, began to cover the story, standard denials about health concerns were no longer enough. Communities around the entire lake began to take very close notice, especially since government agencies noted a link between asbestos to cancer.

Reserve Mining tailings facilities on Lake Superior at Silver Bay, Minnesota, June, 1973. Photo: By Donald Emmerich, Photographer (NARA record: 3045077) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Prove It!

The situation brewed for many years and became a full-scale legal battle in August, 1973 when three states and a consortium of environmental groups took Reserve to court. Headlines from New York Times newspapers of the day read:

Politics Roils Hearings on Lake Superior Pollution (May 19, 1969)

Pollution Fought on Lake Superior (March 4, 1973)

Reserve Mining Permitted to Continue Lake Dumping (June 15, 1974)

Judge Miles Lord presided over the case. Lord had deep roots in Minnesota’s Iron Range, having grown up there with brothers who worked in the mines and even an in-law who owned a mine.

Reserve Mining contended they had no alternative but to dump the tailings slurry into the lake. Minnesota Pollution Control Agency didn’t believe the company had not considered land based disposal. Finally, a court order forced the company to produce documentation, including detailed engineering designs, showing that they had in fact, long considered land based disposal of tailings. The case was beginning to round a corner.

 In April of 1974, Judge Lord, frustrated at Reserve’s constant denials and delays, endeavoured to negotiate a settlement. The Reserve Mining Company Chair was put on the stand but refused to cooperate in efforts to move tailings output to a land based system. Media reports from the time say that Judge Lord was furious. That same day, he ordered a halt to any Reserve Mining tailings inputs to Lake Superior. The ruling put 3,00o people out of work immediately. The news reverberated through communities heavily involved in mining around Lake Superior, in both Canada and U.S. The ruling was also front page news across the U.S. This was the first time a U.S. judge had ever ordered such a shutdown.

The case didn’t end there. Reserve appealed and won. They were granted leave to continue dumping to Lake Superior but had to construct a land-based disposal system and start utilizing this new system once complete.  Jobs were cited as an important part of this decision. Health risk was weighed against this important driver of Minnesota’s economy. Reserve built a $370 million disposal system almost 6 square miles in size. The company stopped dumping to Lake Superior.

Settlement Ends Mine Dumping Suit, (April 25, 1982)

Legal Landmark

The decision on this Northern Minnesota situation, directly linked to human health and the well-being of thousands of residents within the Lake Superior basin, was a legal landmark. The case also became one of the most expensive pollution prevention cases in U.S. history. The decision has also produced a legacy. Careful assessment of risk is now a central element of legal cases involving the environment, human health, and the economy.

Epilogue

On August 7, 1986, Reserve Mining Company filed for bankruptcy. Liquid assets were sold and the company did not reopen. Assets were purchased by Cyprus Minerals three years later and operation was started with new owners and management.


To see the Wikipedia entry for United States vs. Reserve Mining Company, click here. 

To see the MNopedia.com entry for United States vs. Reserve Mining Company, click here.

To see the entry for State of MINNESOTA et al. v. RESERVE MINING COMPANY et al. No. A-232. UNITED STATES v. RESERVE MINING COMPANY et al. No. A-262, click here. 

To see ‘Enemies of the People: Asbestos and the Reserve Mining Trial,’ an article by the Minnesota Historical Society, click here. 

 

 

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Trump budget proposal axes Great Lakes funding in 2018

On May 22, the Trump administration released its budget proposal for 2018. It does not include any funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). The budget proposal was initially submitted to Congress on March 16.

On page 87, the budget files US Environmantal Protection Agency “Geographic Programs” as an elimination, transferring the responsibility for regional environmental clean up onto states and local communities.

The official justification for the budget elimination suggests that “These activities are primarily local efforts and the responsibility for coordinating and funding these efforts generally belongs with States and local partnerships,” and goes on to conclude that “The Geographic Programs, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Chesapeake Bay Program, have received significant federal funding, coordination, and oversight to date. State and local groups are engaged and capable of taking on management of clean-up and restoration of these water bodies.”

The Detroit Free Press also notes that the national Sea Grant program also gets the axe for 2018. The Michigan Sea Grant, jointly run between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, has conducted Great Lakes research and project facilitation since 1969. Strong Sea Grant programs have also run for many years in both Wisconsin and Minnesota

These cutbacks are accompanied by a proposed 45% reduction in EPA funding for categorical grants to states. States use the funding to enforce regulation of federal environmental laws, like the Clean Air and Clean Water act.

The Detroit Free Press breaks down the budget cuts, percentage wise:

Overall, the EPA faces a 31.4% cut under Trump’s budget plan; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers a 16.3% cut; the National Science Foundation a 10.7% cut. The budget eliminates funding for Energy Star energy efficiency programs and several other voluntary partnership programs related to energy and climate change.

It is important to note that the budget proposal is not official until it is passed by Congress. The Free Press notes several Republican and Democratic lawmakers and representatives have spoken out against the proposed measures.


To view the proposed 2018 U.S. federal budget, click here. Cuts pertinent to the GLRI can be found on page 87.

To read the Detroit Free Press article, click here.

 

 

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