Great Lakes

The Great Lakes are the largest freshwater system on the Earth's surface, home to a fragile fishery, and delicate shoreline beaches and dunes. They are also central to northern Michigan tourism, economies and our way of life. 

A lot of people are focused on trying to fix Lake Erie’s toxic bloom problem. The green cyanobacteria blooms are fueled by phosphorus that gets into the lake from farms and sewage treatment plants.

A new report says we need to focus a lot more on cleaning up the streams in Michigan and other states that feed the lake.

Stuart Ludsin is an author of the report and an associate professor at Ohio State University. He says too much sediment, phosphorus and nitrogen can also hurt the fish in streams.

Reviving Michigan's coastal marshes

Sep 22, 2016

 

Most visitors to northern Michigan are looking for sugar sand beaches on the Great Lakes. But if you’re a spawning fish or a migratory bird, you might be looking for a coastal marsh.

The Great Lakes used to be lined with coastal marshes that were full of native plants and wildlife. But in lower Michigan, many of these places been drained, plowed, polluted and, more recently, overrun by exotic plants from other parts of the world.

 

Some conservation groups are working to restore and protect the marshes we have left.

Scientists launched a kind of underwater robotic tool in Lake Erie this week to test the water for toxins.

Timothy Davis is a researcher with NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

“We affectionately call it a lab in a can,” he says.

He says this tool takes water samples to test the levels of a toxin in the green blooms of cyanobacteria that've been showing up in the lake each year.

Fertile grass carp found in Canadian waters of Lake Erie

Sep 14, 2016

The Canadian government has confirmed that, for the first time, a fertile grass carp has been caught in the Canadian waters of western Lake Erie.

Grass carp are considered less of a threat than bighead and silver carp (but grass carp can eat a lot of aquatic plants) and for a long time, people thought the grass carp in the lakes were sterile. But lately, fertile grass carp have been turning up.

A commercial fisherman caught the fish off Point Pelee.

 

Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 goes right under Lake Michigan. It splits into two pipelines at the Straits, and it was recently announced that the supports that hold the pipeline in place are not in compliance with a 1953 easement agreement with the state.

Lake Erie's toxic blooms have earned the lake a new label

Sep 1, 2016

State officials in Ohio want to list parts of the Lake Erie shoreline and drinking water intakes in the lake as impaired. They want to do this because of the toxic blooms of cyanobacteria that have been growing on the lake every year. The blooms are fueled by excess nutrients, mostly phosphorus, that get into the lake from farms and sewage treatment plants.

An impaired listing under the Clean Water Act sets pollution limits and outlines what has to happen to clean up that pollution.

A team of scientists from the U.S. and Canada are setting sail on Saturday. They’re heading out on a research trip to sample plastic pollution in all five of the Great Lakes.

It's part of a project called EXXpedition Great Lakes: seven research boats led by female scientists who are studying microplastic pollution. Microplastic pollution is made up of plastic particles that are five millimeters in diameter, or smaller.

It has scales so tough Native Americans once used them as arrowheads.

It can grow longer than a horse, and it loves to munch on Asian carp.

It's the alligator gar!

This ancient fish is found in the south, but they're being restocked in rivers and lakes as far north as Illinois in hopes they might control Asian carp and, in turn, protect the Great Lakes. 

Toxic blooms of cyanobacteria have been forming on Lake Erie for several years now.

A kind of cyanobacteria called Microcystis produces a toxin that can hurt pets and make the water unsafe to drink. Back in 2014, Toledo had to shut down its drinking water supply because of the toxin.

The states around the lake – and Ontario - are working to cut back on phosphorus. It’s a nutrient that runs off from farms and wastewater treatment plants and makes those toxic blooms grow like crazy.

The Great Lakes Commission just launched a new pilot program with Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Ontario. It’ll be a trading program for phosphorus, and they’re calling it the Erie P Market.

The U.S. and Canada have added polybrominated diphenyl ethers to their list of "Chemicals of Mutual Concern."

PBDEs are a class of flame retardants in furniture, electronics, car seats and the padding under our carpets. But the toxic chemicals don’t stay put. They leach out and build up in people and in wildlife.

Dave Dempsey is a policy advisor with the International Joint Commission. The IJC advises both countries on Great Lakes issues.

A recent study published in Environmental Monitoring and Assessments finds turtles are getting doses of heavy metals such as lead and copper.

Matt Cooper is one of the co-authors of this study. He’s a research scientist at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin.

Keeping Pacific salmon in Lake Michigan

Jun 14, 2016

50 years ago, officials put Pacific salmon into the Great Lakes to eat an invasive fish called the alewife, and a huge sport fishery was born.

These days, you can still catch both coho and chinook salmon. But people are worried there's not enough food in Lake Michigan for chinook salmon.

Researchers say they’ve found grass carp eggs in the Sandusky River for the first time. The river flows into Lake Erie near Cedar Point.

Grass carp are a type of invasive Asian carp. This is the first time scientists have had direct confirmation that the fish are reproducing in the river.

Holly Embke found the eggs. She’s a master’s student at the University of Toledo.

Ohio DNR

Colonies of Caspian terns are becoming harder to find in Lakes Michigan and Huron.

James Ludwig is an ornithologist who has studied migratory birds in the region since the 1960s and just finished a trip across the Canadian waters of Lake Huron. He says he found about 100 Caspian tern nests where he found more than 1,900 in 1995.

Ludwig says the situation for Caspian terns is similar in the Michigan waters of the upper Great Lakes.

Lake Michigan residents and business owners are expressing concern over rising water levels. Just three years ago, however, the concern was about record low water levels in the Great Lakes.

Al Steinman, president of the Annis Water Resources Institute at Grand Valley State University, told Stateside that there’s no need to worry about such a significant fluctuation in lake levels.

“People need to be patient,” Steinman said. “These water levels go up and down. It’s part of the natural cycle.”

A federal judge in Washington, D.C. has halted programs to reduce the number of cormorants in the Great Lakes region. The federal government and tribes in Michigan kill the birds to protect yellow perch, walleye and other fish. But the judge said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service overstepped its bounds when it authorized killing cormorants in more than 20 states.

Peter Payette visited the Les Cheneaux Islands in Michigan this week to talk to people who live there.

Water levels in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron were at record lows three years ago. At the same time, water levels for the other Great Lakes were well below average.

This year is a bit different. Lake Michigan could be at a near-record high. The lake has risen four feet since that all-time low in January 2013.

Kathleen Torrenson is the president of Torreson Marine in Muskegon. She joined us today on Stateside to discuss how the changing water levels have affected her business and others located along the shoreline.

Torreson said these new high water levels are good for the boating business in the Great Lakes.

“It allows our customers and the people using the water a lot more flexibility in where they’re going and what they’re using,” she said.

But it’s not all good news.

“On the other side of the coin, high water tends to be really, really tough on fixed objects, like sea walls and fixed docks and things like that, things that were built when water levels were at other depths,” Torrenson said. “And as the water comes up and up, they become more prone to damage and erosion, kind of like what they’ve been seeing along the beaches.”

Torrenson said another effect of the sea level rise is that there’s “a lot less beach” compared to a couple years ago. Another flip side, however, is businesses like hers have had to do far less dredging to keep the lake deep enough for boats coming in near the shore.

There’s a coalition of federal and state agencies working to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

It’s called the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee. It just came out with its carp plan for this year.

David Cassleman

An environmental group has more money to clean up a polluted Traverse City waterway.

The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay has picked up a state grant worth nearly $600,000 to pay for ongoing work on Kids Creek, a tributary of the Boardman River that meanders along U.S. 31 in Traverse City. The group has been restoring stretches of Kids Creek for longer than a decade.

There are some new questions bubbling up concerning a decades-old oil spill in the Upper Peninsula.

Around 1980, Canadian oil transport company Enbridge discovered its Line 5 oil pipeline had sprung a leak and spilled an estimated five barrels of oil in the Hiawatha National Forest.

Yes, that’s the same Line 5 whose twin pipelines run under the Straits of Mackinac.

The harbormaster in Leland says the federal government needs to spend emergency funds to dredge the channel there. The channel is about six feet deep, the minimum needed for large yachts and the Mishe-Mokwa, the largest ferryboat that takes visitors to the Manitou Islands.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ district office in Detroit has recommended that emergency funds be used to dredge the channel between Lake Michigan and Leland, but that decision will be made at the national level.

U.S. Geological Survey

An environmental group is testing a new weapon in the war on invasive, aquatic species in northern Michigan.

It’s a pesticide called Zequanox that kills zebra and quagga mussels, and is approved for use in open water by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council of Emmet County will test it on zebra mussels in inland lakes in the area next year.

Aaron Selbig

When you think of hydraulic fracturing, Michigan may  not be the first state that comes to mind. But according to The FracTracker Alliance in Cleveland, Ohio – a group that studies the global oil and gas industry – Michigan is playing an increasing role in fracking.

That’s because the fracking process requires a special kind of sand that’s found near the Great Lakes.

The mayor of Waukesha, Wisconsin, is on a tour of state capitals in the Great Lakes region. Mayor Shawn Reilly’s first stop was Monday in Lansing to press state officials to support his city’s request for permission to make a large diversion of water from Lake Michigan.

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