Michigan Energy & Environment

IPR brings you the stories and sounds of nature Up North. Hear about our changing natural world, and the challenges northern Michigan faces with a growing economy and a fragile ecosystem.

Boardman River Dams and Restoration Project

A group charged with removing hydroelectric dams along the Boardman River says it passed the halfway point in fundraising for the removal of a second dam.

Brown Bridge Dam has already been removed and leaders with the Boardman River Dams and Restoration Project say they are on track to have Boardman Dam down by the end of next year. That’s the dam that crosses Cass Street south of South Airport Road.

This week the group announced it’s raised an additional million dollars, bringing the total raised so far for Phase II to $5.7 million.

If even hearing the word “ragweed” makes your eyes water, you might be one of the nearly 45 million Americans with seasonal allergies. Researchers say climate change is fueling the rise in allergies and asthma.

Jenny Fischer has been taking over-the-counter medication for allergies for a long time. Without it, she suffers cold-like symptoms: a runny nose, sneezing and congestion. An allergy pill usually made it better. But a couple of years ago, things started to get worse.

“I’d be out at 5:30 in the morning walking my dog, and it would just be huffing and puffing. And, you know, I couldn’t catch my breath. It's scary," she said.

Rick Pluta / Michigan Public Radio Network

UPDATE 2:35PM: Our story has been corrected because the ballot campaign is now looking to get a voter initiated law, not a constitutional amendment.

State environmental regulators will put the finishing touches on new rules regarding “fracking” now that public hearings have wrapped up. They expect to have the new rules adopted by the end of the year. But the state’s rules may not be the final word on the controversial drilling process

“Fracking” is a drilling method that pushes water and chemicals into wells to force out oil and gas deposits.

David J. Schwab of the University of Michigan Water Center

An oil spill at the Straits of Mackinac could affect an 'immense' area of the upper Great Lakes – according to a new study. A University of Michigan researcher has simulated how oil would spread if a major spill happened there. Enbridge runs a pipeline under the Straits, which has drawn criticism from people concerned with the 60-year old pipe's safety.

Michigan Sea Grant

Lake Michigan was recently recognized as one of the best places in America to fish for bass. The booming fishery is one sign of what might be a major shift of the lake’s food web. One biologist recently referred to the change as a "revolution."

Even though there are winners, like people fishing for bass, the change is being driven by an invasive species. And it could mean trouble for the most popular sport fish in Lake Michigan.

Chris Noffsinger has an unusual specialty as a fishing guide. He shows you where to catch bass.

Michigan League of Conservation Voters

Two northern Michigan lawmakers are being praised by the Michigan League of Conservation Voters in a new “environmental scorecard.” The report rates lawmakers on the group’s key environmental causes.

Rep. Frank Foster (R-Pellston) is singled out as an environmental “advocate” for a bill designed to protect water as companies drill for oil and gas using a method known as “fracking.”

Kids Creek Is Still Polluted -- But Improving

Jul 7, 2014
David Cassleman

Local groups have spent more than a decade trying to clean up Kids Creek in Traverse City. Although the stream looks clean, scientists say it’s still polluted. Runoff from storms is polluting the stream as it winds north along US-31, eventually flowing into the Boardman River.

Dozens of other rivers and lakes in northern Michigan have similar problems. And people are finding it difficult to restore damaged waterways to acceptable standards.

This week, the Environment Report is taking a look at Michigan’s silent poison — arsenic.

Federal standards allow public drinking water supplies to have arsenic levels of up to 10 parts per billion (ppb), but these standards do not apply to private well owners (that's left up to the well owner to determine).

And in counties throughout Michigan, some wells have much higher levels of arsenic than this "maximum contaminant level" set by the EPA.

Higher levels of arsenic in drinking water have been linked to skin cancer, lung cancer, and bladder cancer, among others.

But are lower levels of arsenic a threat to human health?

Northern Ontario Aquaculture Associaton

Michigan took a big step forward in the business of fish farming this week. The state issued a permit allowing the Grayling Fish Hatchery to expand more than ten fold. It will be the largest fish hatchery in the state by far when it ramps up production. The hatchery raises trout for restaurants and grocery stores.

The expansion comes as interest in fish farming is growing nationwide. There is even talk of developing the aquaculture industry offshore in the open waters of the Great Lakes, something that has only been done in Canadian waters.

There’s no way to tell if arsenic is in your water without testing it. Arsenic has no taste and no smell.

Certain parts of Michigan have higher than average levels of arsenic in groundwater. That’s especially true in the Thumb region and a few other counties in southeast Michigan. And that can be a problem if you’re on a private well.

Parts of southeast Michigan – especially in the Thumb – have higher than average levels of arsenic in the groundwater.

Arsenic can cause cancer. It’s been linked to bladder, lung and kidney cancer, and other serious health effects.

If you’re on city water, there’s a federal regulation that limits the amount of arsenic in it, but if you’re on a private well, it’s up to you to find out whether there’s too much arsenic in your water.

 

It’s been called “the mother of all poisons.” You can't taste arsenic and you can’t smell it, which is why it’s been the poison of choice for centuries.

“During the Middle Ages it was called the succession powder,” says Jerome Nriagu, professor emeritus of public health at the University of Michigan.

“That’s the way people got rid of the kings and queens if they wanted to become the king or queen themselves,” he said.

Arsenic, in very high doses, can kill you.

But arsenic is a naturally occurring element and doctors and scientists like Nriagu are working hard to understand how arsenic affects us today.

A family experiences mysterious health problems

Renee Thompson and her family were sick for three years without having any idea why.

“My children and my husband all became very ill after we moved into the house we had in Ortonville,” she said.

At the time, Thompson had recently given birth to her third child, Danica.

“My son was six, and he started to have severe chest pains, while my older daughter had headaches,” Thompson said. “My husband had GI bleeding, and I had become very fatigued with headaches and skin problems.”

Listen to Thompson explain what her family experienced:

David Cassleman

Representatives from Enbridge Inc. faced questions from the public at a meeting in Petoskey on Tuesday night. Enbridge operates an oil pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac, which has drawn fire from opponents concerned with the company's safety record.

The corporation was responsible for a major spill in the Kalamazoo River in 2010. That bit of recent history has some people concerned.

Line 5

I was surprised to find out recently that you can’t recycle household batteries in Ann Arbor anymore. I used to collect them in a little steel can, but Recycle Ann Arbor stopped taking them.

From Recycle Ann Arbor’s website:

Alkaline household batteries do not contain hazardous materials and may be disposed of in the trash.

(UPDATE: An official in the Department of Natural Resources says the agreement with Enbridge granting an underwater easement to run the pipeline is not confidential. Walter Linn says it is available to the public and he knows of no confidentiality clauses in it.)

A group of U.S. and Canadian citizens that advises the Great Lakes Fishery Commission says an aging pipeline under the Mackinac Bridge should be replaced. They say there’s too much danger of a “catastrophic” oil spill in an “especially sensitive area” with fast-moving currents and frequent ice cover.

Enbridge Energy says this four-mile stretch of “Line 5” meets all modern regulations and that it has seamless metal walls an inch thick. But it is 60 years old, and this is not the first citizen group to call for its replacement.

As recently as a couple of months ago, construction of a wind farm in Lake Erie, off the Ohio shoreline near Cleveland, looked promising. But now some are sounding the death knell for any wind development in the Great Lakes. 

The Department of Energy estimates the country has an offshore wind capacity of four million megawatts. That’s four times the generating capacity of all U.S. electric power plants.

Michigan was among a handful of states working with federal agencies a few years ago to speed up the development of wind farms off the shores of the Great Lakes. 

Wind energy developer Lorry Wagner says leaders started looking toward the energy sector to create more jobs. He says that’s when they realized the region’s potential for offshore wind energy.

“The real resource is in the lake. And the reason for that is you get about three times the energy due to the higher wind speeds and less turbulence than you do on land," he says.

Jane Hampden

This story was produced during a workshop of the Interlochen College of Creative Arts. 

There’s not a trail around the perimeter of the Leelanau Peninsula. That means there are some hidden parts of the lakeshore rarely seen from land. It also means hiking those 98 miles is a big project. But some local artists are walking it, bit by bit, over the course of a year. As they do, they’re stopping to sketch and photograph the changing scene.

  Early Morning

Some Gun Enthusiasts Favor Moving Hoosier Valley Range

Jun 17, 2014
Michigan DNR

Some gun enthusiasts are supporting the state’s plan to move the long-time gun range in Hoosier Valley. The shooting area could soon be replaced by one of three proposed sites in Grand Traverse County.

People have been shooting at Hoosier Valley since the 1960s. But residents living nearby began to complain about noise and safety concerns in the last few years.

Energy use on the globe is expected to go up by more than 50% in the next 25 years. Michigan law is mandating a heavier reliance on renewable sources by next year. But some say that’s not enough, and they are taking matters into their own hands.

Experimenting with sustainability

Take Rolf and Mari von Walthausen for example. They were a typical Traverse City couple. They worked 40-hour-a-week jobs and lived in an average-sized home. But one day they did an experiment.

“We moved all of our belongings into one room of the house and said, let’s see how it is to live in a space that is 12 by 16 [feet],” Rolf von Walthausen said.

Then they tried another experiment.

“There was a time that one summer at our house, we actually set up the tent in the yard and we lived in this tent for four months,” Rolf von Walthausen said.

Living off the grid

Then came the big test. The von Walthausens sold their house, quit their day jobs and built a tiny cabin in the woods with no running water or electricity. They got new part-time jobs teaching yoga and tuning pianos, they were living in the woods, getting their water from a stream nearby, gathering wood to heat their wood- burning stove, and using their compostable toilet outside.

The government wants pregnant women to eat more fish. Yesterday the FDA and EPA issued new draft advice that urges pregnant and breastfeeding women to eat at least eight to twelve ounces of fish a week.

The update comes 10 years after the last recommendation, which didn't specify a minimum.

The FDA is worried that fears over mercury levels in seafood have kept many pregnant women from getting enough of the nutritional value needed for their babies.

DNR Plans to Replace 'Hoosier Valley' Gun Range

Jun 11, 2014
Laura Herberg

The state Department of Natural Resources plans to replace a long-time shooting range south of Traverse City. The informal gun range is in Hoosier Valley.

It’s prompted complaints from residents in Blair Township concerned with noise and safety.

Bill Sterrett is a District Supervisor with the DNR. He says a subdivision of more than 100 homes is located near the range.

“It’s not that it’s been a dismal failure there. It’s just the location itself is just not conducive to … to having shooting occur in such close proximity to other populated areas.”

43,000 Raptors Migrate Through The Straits

Jun 10, 2014
Steve Baker / Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch

A group that counts hawks and eagles as they migrate through the Straits of Mackinac tracked more than 43,000 birds this spring, including more than 800 eagles.

“Imagine yourself flying up with them,” says Kathy Bricker of the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch. “Sometimes there were many hundreds that you could see at a time just moving overhead in vast spirals upward.”

Illinois became the first state in the union to ban microbeads, the tiny bits of plastic found in consumer products like skin exfoliants and soap.

As NPR's Cheryl Corley reports, environmentalists say that when microbeads wash down the drain, they're usually missed by filtration systems, which means they become food to fish and other wildlife.

Cheryl filed this report for our Newscast unit:

What do the people who run Michigan's towns and cities think about the prospect of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" in or near their communities?

A new report from the University of Michigan's Center for Local, State and Urban Policy looks into that question.

In Michigan, only a handful of communities report some type of high-volume fracking operation. It's the controversial process used to extract natural gas by drilling into shale deposits.

The center’s program director, Tom Ivacko, joined us to talk about the results.

*Listen to the interview above.

Pages