Our Neighbors in East Chicago Face Water Crisis — You Can Help

0700-EastChicagoEast Chicago, IN is facing a water crisis due to lead contamination. Residents have been organizing relentlessly to address this and other environmental injustices in their community. Let’s support our neighbors by helping ensure that until this crisis is fully addressed, they have access to clean, drinkable water.

Throughout the month of July, we’ll be collecting bottled water and replacement filter cartridges (PUR Max Ion rf- 3375) at our Chicago office (70 E Lake St., Suite 1500) for residents of East Chicago. Email Katrina Phillips to arrange a donation drop-off or make a monetary donation online at www.teamsierra.org/illinois/waterdrive.

We know that long-term, we MUST have robust investment in our public water systems, strong public health protections, and a well-funded Environmental Protection Agency–all serving the concerns of the communities. We realize bottled water (and even home water filters) are NOT a long-term solution for any of our communities. In the meantime, we want to support the vital organizing work and urgent needs of East Chicago residents by being one of a number of parties helping to provide this resource.

Thank you for your help and to the Community Strategy Group for keeping us updated on the situation and needs of the community.

0700-EastChicago2

References:

(1) chicagotribune.com/news/watchdog/lead/ct-east-chicago-lead-water-20170302-story.html

(2) fox59.com/2017/02/06/epa-officials-up-to-90-of-homes-in-east-chicago-in-have-lead-water-lines

(3) chicagoreader.com/Bleader/archives/2017/04/04/some-east-chicago-residents-fleeing-lead-contamination-are-being-moved-to-chicagos-toxic-doughnut

Service and Serenity in the Colorado Rockies

Last month, I spent a week in the Colorado wilderness with three high school students from Chicago and a small group of Sierra Club members from California, Oregon and France (yes, France!). The students participate in the Sierra Club’s Inspiring Connections Outdoors (ICO) program, which strives to empower youth from communities with limited access to connect and reconnect to the outdoors – for the benefit of both.

CO Trip - Hike

The outdoors and the creatures who live there certainly benefitted from the hard work and dedication of these young people as we took down old barbed wire fence that harms wildlife, built new wildlife-friendly fencing and removed invasive weeds. And when we finally reached the peak of a 12-mile hike with a view of Elk Falls (on our “rest day”), the students felt the benefit of connecting with the natural world at 10,000 feet. Their willingness to challenge themselves and live outside their comfort zone was inspiring, which is where the benefit comes in for me. I’m filled with hope and motivation when I see the future in these young people, who could lead the next generation of environmental advocates and justice warriors.

CO Trip - tractor.jpg

We spent the week camping near and working on the historic AG Ranch in Shawnee, Colorado, where the Rocky Mountain Specialty Pack String – 11 mules, 2 saddle horses, and lead packer, Glenn Ryan – have their home. One of only two full regional specialty pack strings, they provide low-impact heavy hauling into wilderness and limited-access areas, train others in packing, and educate the public. Their important presence serves to preserve wilderness values in our public lands by providing heavy hauling without the need for mechanization. We had the opportunity to support the protection and maintenance of public lands by helping to improve the facilities that are home to this exceptional operation of the U.S. Forest Service.

The service work we did was difficult and tiring, but the interactions we had with Glenn and his interns, who showed us how to do the work and explained why it’s important, made us feel satisfied and accomplished at the end of each long day. The time we got to spend with the horses and mules on the ranch was an added bonus.

CO Trip - with mule.jpg

19400257_10209502221013430_2924712648971612082_o.jpg

While we typically take Chicago ICO participants on day trips and overnight car camping trips in the Chicago region, the opportunity to take a few young people on a National Service Trip once a year provides a unique experience and a chance to deepen connections. I see huge value in all of us feeling connected to the environment in our communities, but there’s really nothing like spending some time in the mountains, sleeping in a tent and gazing at the stars. To get away from the city and be surrounded by wilderness was a gentle push from Mother Nature for us to calm our minds, open our eyes and breathe.

19242934_10209487069994664_5313118191930360969_o.jpg

I hope the students felt the calm and serenity that I found so refreshing, and enjoyed the break in normal life and routine. The other participants and leaders on the trip expressed that having the young people there brought a new energy (quite literally—the students were often the first ones up at the crack of dawn!) that added something special to the experience.

As we returned to Chicago, I felt refreshed and inspired to continue our work growing the ICO program, connecting people with the outdoors and empowering young people to be leaders in their communities and in the environmental and social justice movements. We need them, and the hopelessness that sometimes washes over us as we face the world’s current challenges seems to fade away as we see their energy and passion to do good and fight for the future.

19264387_10209486917790859_683587938075719528_o

Chicago ICO at Red Rocks 2

To learn more about the Chicago ICO program, visit our webpage here

To find out more about Sierra Club service outings, visit our outings site.  

Saving the Great Lakes has never been a partisan issue

For our honeymoon, my husband and I biked from Vancouver, BC to Crater Lake National Park in Oregon – 1,200 miles in 5 weeks through some of the most beautiful parts of this country. On that trip, it was common to see other folks on bikes loaded up with their tent, gear and sleeping bags also touring the area. 

We were excited when one morning on our way to Sleeping Bear Dunes we saw a bicyclist with a packed bike stopped on the side of the road – our first fellow bike tourer sighting this trip. We slowed down to say hello and ask where he was headed. “North,” he replied, and we all laughed. “Us too,” we said and invited TJ to ride along with us. He joined us all day for our ride and meal breaks, and we chatted almost the entire ride.

TJ had started biking from his home in Rochester, Indiana two days before. He rode a beastly 280 miles in his first two days – a feat which just thinking about makes my whole body ache. His family was planning to meet him in Northport, Michigan where they would vacation together. Back in Rochester, TJ is a firefighter and has two young sons. We heard lots of great stories about his boys and adventures as a firefighter along the ride.

 

FullSizeRender 10.jpg

A quick selfie with TJ before he left us to continue biking for the day

We were eager to be headed for the Sleeping Bear Dunes – a jewel in Lake Michigan’s crown. Sandy beaches, forested islands, 450-foot dunes, and manifold species of animals and plants are protected here by the National Park Service and are enjoyed by millions of visitors during all four seasons.  

But during the summer of 2006, an unwelcome guest showed up on Sleeping Bear’s shores. Thousands of birds were dropping dead on the region’s pristine beaches after losing the ability to hold their heads up and fly. Scientists determined the culprit was a disease called type E avian botulism, which first came to Lake Michigan in the 1960s but hadn’t made a resurgence since 1983.

Avian botulism is caused by toxins produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. These toxins often concentrate in aquatic invertebrates like invasive zebra or quagga mussels, which are commonly ingested by bottom-feeding fish that then get gobbled up by birds like gulls and loons, for which the toxin is paralytic and lethal.

In 2010 the National Park Service and a coalition of conservation research partners received funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to study these avian botulism outbreaks. Researchers measured changes to coastal habitats that are affected by the increase in botulism, and mapped and documented past lake changes in order to understand and predict botulism outbreaks in the future. 

Future steps in the project include a continuation of monitoring and managing outbreaks, and increasing nonprofit and volunteer involvement in data collection and beach cleanups. Funding from the GLRI is necessary for the fight to decrease avian botulism and keep the integrity of the Great Lakes ecosystem intact.

Up on the dunes, the GLRI is helping stop a terrestrial invasive species from further hurting Sleeping Bear’s ecosystem. Known scientifically as Gypsophilia paniculata, baby’s breath is a pretty white flower native to Eastern Europe and commonly found in gardens across the United States. But careless planting in the Great Lakes region has turned baby’s breath into an aggressive invasive species.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has funded a project to manage the invasive plant along 100 acres of the Lakeshore and to study its effects on the ecosystem. The project aims to measure and catalog the location and spread of baby’s breath, remove the plants physically and with herbicide, and observe changes that occur from season to season.

Eliminating the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative would be devastating to these efforts at Sleeping Bear Dunes, and many others like it dedicated to keeping our Lakes healthy and clean.

IMG_1013.JPG

 

 

Throughout our day, I told TJ about the work that I do and our campaign to #SaveTheGreatLakes. He told me that growing up in Rochester, he takes his two boys up to Benton Harbor or the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore every summer. When I asked, he told me he “leaned right” politically, but didn’t quite seem to see how that was relevant to us talking about keeping our Great Lakes healthy.

Protecting the Great Lakes, our drinking water, and the economy they drive has long been a bipartisan issue. We can’t let hyper-partisanship in politics get in the way of protecting the Great Lakes. The GLRI protects our drinking water, creates jobs, protects public health, keeps beaches open and upholds a way of life for millions of people. Donald Trump’s Great Lakes cuts should be dead on arrival for all members of Congress from our region. And we must stand up together to #SaveTheGreatLakes.

Right before TJ left us to continue on his way, he told us, “I’ve been out East to the ocean once or twice. But I don’t know what it is, I just prefer the Great Lakes.”

I can’t put my finger on it either. But these Lakes are pretty special.

Contribute to our campaign to #SaveTheGreatLakes here.

And be sure to sign our #SaveTheGreatLakes petition here

 

IMG_0960.JPG

VICTORY! Illinois has a budget, and it includes Solar For All Funds

The unprecedented lack of a state budget caused serious harm across Illinois, and especially in disadvantaged communities.  We’re thrilled that the State of Illinois has a budget at long last, and we can begin to repair that harm and provide real opportunities for people who need it most in the clean energy economy through the Illinois Solar For All program.

It almost didn’t happen that way. Last week, Governor Rauner proposed a budget that could have eliminated all of the funding for Illinois Solar For All, and Sierra Club sprang into action. More than 1,800 Sierra Club members and supporters reached out to their legislators in Springfield before and during the 4th of July holiday, and it had an impact. Legislators rejected Rauner’s proposal, and approved a new proposal that did not sweep any funds away from Illinois Solar For All.

Sierra Club joined this effort in support of environmental justice partners in the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, especially the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization and Faith in Place, who envisioned the Illinois Solar For All program and are now working to create the new statewide training programs that will begin later this year.  Sierra Club volunteers lobbied their state legislators all spring to prepare for this showdown, including in-district visits to lawmakers’ offices and many calls; and, nearly 50 making the trip to Springfield for a lobby day in April to protect the funds.

The new Illinois Solar For All program is a key component of the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA). The program will train and employ residents of low income communities, citizens returning from the criminal justice system, and foster care graduates in the clean energy industry that is soon to take off in Illinois thanks to the FEJA.  

With everything Trump is doing to make America dependent on fossil fuels again, it is essential that Illinois chart a course for 100% clean energy future that includes everyone.  The Illinois Solar For All program is part of a great start, and thanks to your action and the great work of our partners in the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, we are on course for a brighter future.

 

A perfect ride to visit GLRI success stories in Muskegon, MI

Muskegon, a town in Michigan at the southernmost tip of the Huron-Manistee National Forest, is home to celebrated museums, pristine recreational beaches, a top-notch performing arts camp, an amusement park — and two Great Lakes Restoration Initiative success stories.

 
Our ride into Muskegon was relatively flat and absolutely perfect weather – mid-70s and sunny. We stopped for an afternoon snack and stretch break on the shores of Lake Muskegon. A recreational and ecological staple of the area, the lake forms a harbor along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan and drains out of the Muskegon River.

 

Decades of industrial discharge into its waters and wetland destruction along its shores brought Lake Muskegon to a critical point, and in 1985 it was listed by the Environmental Protection Agency as a Great Lakes “Area of Concern.”

 
An “AOC” is a geographic location in the Great Lakes watershed where environmental degradation has occurred as the result of human activities. In the past two decades many projects have been implemented to delist Lake Muskegon as an AOC, and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has played a critical part in making Muskegon’s waterways healthier places for wildlife to live and visitors to enjoy.

 
Half a mile upstream from the lake, a GLRI project is aiming to do just that by restoring ecologically rich wetlands along the banks of the Lower Muskegon River. For years these areas were unnaturally separated from the river by dikes and pumps so the resulting land fragments could be used for celery farming. These harmful alterations broke up aquatic and terrestrial habitats, contributed to the degradation of the Lake, and hurt fishing possibilities along the river.

IMG_0627

I happen to walk past this GLRI sign while eating a heaping cone of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream

 
Engineers and conservationists are hard at work, clearing away human-made fill and reconnecting the Muskegon river with its floodplain and Muskegon Lake. The removal of these man-made structures, which are filled with concrete, soil, tree stumps, and sediment, is one of the last steps in the process to delist Muskegon Lake as an AOC.

 
This isn’t the first time the GLRI has helped clean up Lake Muskegon. In 2012 the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and Muskegon city and county partners completed a $12 million effort to remove 43,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the bottom of the Lake. Decades of industry discharge through a storm sewer pumped mercury and petroleum products into the Lake, contaminating fish (which affected how much people were allowed to catch and eat) and causing a host of other environmental problems.

 
The removal project created jobs for barge and dredge operators, truck drivers, biologists, chemists, and toxicologists. It helped bolster the fishing industry on Muskegon Lake and decreased serious public health concerns relating to contaminated fish and water. Investing in the GLRI, in our waterways, and in the Great Lakes as a whole, works.

 
Without the GLRI, 53 acres of Muskegon wetland will remain disconnected and thousands of fish and wildlife will be isolated from vital habitat networks. Moreover, failure to fund and complete the current cleanup project would continue to hurt the vibrant Muskegon recreation industry, which contributes $1.3 million to the local economy every year.

 
The GLRI has a proven track record of success in Muskegon, and in shoreside communities all around the Great Lakes. Unfortunately, President Trump has proposed to completely eliminate this program. This is an issue that transcends politics and partisanship — folks from all sides of the aisle enjoy and deserve clean water and beautiful natural spaces. We call on our Great Lakes members of Congress from both parties to join us in standing up for the GLRI this budget season.

 
We care about our health, our economy, our environment. We care about our Great Lakes. And we aren’t backing down.

 
You can show your support by contributing to our campaign to #SaveTheGreatLakes at http://www.teamsierra.org/illinois/kady, and signing the pledge at http://www.addup.org/campaigns/save-the-great-lakes-from-the-trump-administration

 

IMG_0629

 

Why I’m Riding My Bike Around Lake Michigan

By: Kady McFadden, Deputy Chapter Director

Growing up in Illinois, summers always meant family trips outdoors in Wisconsin and Michigan. I spent many 4th of July weekends camping at Peninsula State Park in Door County, Wisconsin. Every summer even through college, I went on a father-daughter canoe trip in Wisconsin with a number of my friends and their dads. Lake Michigan is what makes Chicago summers so incredible – I trained for my first marathon along morning sunrises on the lakeshore path. Carved by glaciers 14,000 years ago, the Great Lakes ecosystem is our Yellowstone of the midwest. It is the most important natural asset of our region, and it’s where I learned how to swim, paddle, pitch a tent, and make a campfire.

The Great Lakes are not only the gem of our region, but the area is home to a $5 trillion regional economy and 20% of the world’s freshwater. Protecting the Great Lakes has long been a bipartisan priority. Since 2010, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) has contributed $300M annually to support economic development driven by environmental restoration. The GLRI is a proven critical and successful effort to support cleanup projects, habitat restoration, invasive species control, and nutrient runoff reduction in the Great Lakes and surrounding states.

IMG_8541

Me and my dad camping in WI, circa 1995

President Trump has decided to abandon this track record of success in protecting our region. Despite the fact that over 40 million people get their drinking water from these lakes, his proposed 2018 budget eliminates the GLRI. Additionally, the President is calling for a 31% overall reduction in funding for the Environmental Protection Agency.

The effects of eliminating this program are twofold: jobs will be lost and the Lakes will suffer. The environmental effects of cutting the GLRI would be diverse and wide-reaching, allowing toxic algae blooms in sources of drinking water, leaving our waterways vulnerable to invasive species like Asian carp, and creating irreversible habitat fragmentation on beaches and parks. On the economic front, cutting the GLRI would eliminate the possibility of $50 billion long-term economic benefits the program is slated to bring the Great Lakes region as a whole, and put folks out of work in the short-term.

Starting today, I’ll be riding my bike around Lake Michigan and visiting some sites of successful GLRI projects along the way. I’ll be completely human powered, with all supplies and gear strapped to my bicycle. I hope you’ll follow along, and join Sierra Club’s efforts to fight to protect the Great Lakes.

Like many of you, I was deeply shaken by the results of the 2016 election. As a young woman with a deep belief in democracy and our individual and collective ability to make a difference in the world, I was rocked by the direction our country might be headed. Before November 8th, I planned to spend the next four years fighting for continued progress making our planet and communities even more safe and vibrant. Rather, I find that I spend many days fighting battles that I thought we already won: that everyone deserves clean water, that women deserve respect and should make choices for themselves, and that no American is illegal.

In these times, we must encircle and protect the things we value most. We have no choice but to fight to defend against threats to our undocumented brothers and sisters, to working families ability to earn a living wage, to and to our most basic right to safe drinking water and a healthy planet.

Protecting our environment and communities is not a partisan value. That’s why I am hopeful that our Great Lakes Republican members of Congress will stand up for the GLRI and against budget cuts to EPA. I hopeful that they can follow the lead of my hometown state Representative Steve Andersson (R), who on Friday worked so hard to reach across the aisle to help pass a budget for our state. Wearing a purple tie for bipartisanship, he said “we are going to save our state, and we’re going to save our state together.”

We are going to save our Great Lakes. And we’re going to save our Great Lakes together. I hope you’ll join us.

Contribute to our campaign to #SaveTheGreatLakes: teamsierra.org/illinois/kady

Sign the petition here: Save The Great Lakes

 

IMG_0926

Illinois House Passes Resolution Urging Governor Rauner to sign Illinois onto U.S. Climate Alliance

Springfield, June 26 – This morning the Illinois House passed HR490, urging Governor Rauner to have Illinois join 12 states, Puerto Rico, and over 300 cities in supporting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and signing onto the U.S. Climate Alliance. The resolution also urges the state to develop a plan of how Illinois can achieve 100% clean, renewable energy by 2045, a goal that dozens of cities and the state of California are working towards. The Resolution passed 54-29.

 

In response, Jack Darin, Director of Sierra Club Illinois Chapter, released the following statement:

“Governor Rauner, it is time for Illinois to join the US Climate Alliance, and chart our own course to a clean energy future. President Trump is stepping back from the global move to clean energy, but Illinois does not have to follow him.  It’s time to commit to fighting the climate change that threatens Illinois, and plan for the bold long term goal of a 100% clean energy future.

“Illinois is already on track to meet the Paris Agreement emissions reduction targets, as the clean energy boom on the way under the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) is projected to reduce carbon emissions at least equal to those agreed to in the Paris accord. A transition to 100% clean energy will not happen overnight, but the transition has already begun, and setting that as a long term goal for Illinois will guide job training, economic development, grid infrastructure, and other components of a clean energy future.”