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. 

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.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Salmon had been planted in the Great Lakes many times before but unsuccessfully. The fish planted in 1966 came back to the Platte and Manistee Rivers the next year and turned Lake Michigan into a sport fishing paradise that drew anglers by the thousands.

The man who led this effort was in Benzie County today to celebrate it.

“I could have been the biggest bum in the world if I screwed up the Great Lakes,” Howard Tanner told a crowd at the Platte River State Fish Hatchery. “Some people think I did.”

Enbridge Energy has maintained that their twin oil and natural gas liquid pipelines under Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac are safe.

But what if one of them did break open? Where might the oil go?

Today, the University of Michigan’s Water Center released new computer simulations to help answer that question.

David Schwab is a hydrodynamics expert with the Water Center.

“I don’t know any place where the currents are as strong, and change direction as quickly, and as frequently as in the Straits of Mackinac,” Schwab said.

Anyone with even passing knowledge of the Great Lakes knows that there are secrets beneath those waves: ships that have foundered.

Many have been found, and their locations are well known, but there are still mysteries to be unlocked.

One of the biggest dates back to a night in September 1929. The ship Andaste was headed from Grand Haven to Chicago when it vanished in a sudden storm on Lake Michigan.

U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D) has two big projects on his plate in an effort to strengthen protections for the Great Lakes and provide funding for the city of Flint in the wake of the water crisis.

The U.S. Senate recently gave unanimous approval to a funding bill that includes important protections for the Great Lakes. The bill re-authorizes the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which is the federal agency that oversees pipelines.

U.S. Forest Service

The Pine River is one of the fastest flowing rivers in Lower Michigan and one of the most popular. Heavy traffic in the summer has created a problem the U.S. Forest Service wants to fix.

The project would mean the end of a sandy bank, about 160 feet high, that attracts crowds of paddlers. It’s an issue that pits peoples’ enjoyment of the river against the river’s health and even public safety.
 

The bank is just above Low Bridge, about 20 miles east of Manistee. It’s almost almost pure sand from top to bottom.

Should a Wisconsin city with a contaminated groundwater supply be allowed to siphon drinking water from Lake Michigan?

Waukesha's groundwater supply has a radium problem. Being 17 miles from Lake Michigan, Waukesha's proposed solution is to draw water from the lake. 

But according to the Great Lakes Compact, Waukesha cannot just lay down a pipeline and start drinking Lake Michigan water. It has to ask, and all eight Great Lakes governors have to say "yes."

  

An industrial chemical is showing up in trout from the Great Lakes. It’s called perfluoro-1-butane sulfonamide, or FBSA.

Researchers traced this chemical back to several products on the market. Those include detergents and surfactants first used in 2003. Surfactants are materials made to stainproof and waterproof products.

Tall Ships America

Tall Ships America will return to the Great Lakes this summer. The event, Tall Ships Challenge, will bring the fleet to every lake and will include a stop in Bay City.  A race from Bay City to the Straits of Mackinac is also planned. On Lake Michigan, the race will likely be from Chicago to Green Bay.

There will be about 20 ships in the fleet, including two this year from Europe - a Spanish galleon and Viking-style ship from Norway.

NASA Landsat

The city of Waukesha, Wisconsin has high levels of radium in its water supply. The city hopes to solve the problem by taking water out of Lake Michigan.

Waukesha is in a county that straddles the Great Lakes basin and under the Great Lakes Compact, it’s allowed to ask for a water diversion. Waukesha’s proposal is now before the eight Great Lakes states that make up the compact. They’ll decide whether or not to allow the diversion.

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