Author Archives: katrina4cleanwater

Reflections on Healing Our Waters Coalition’s Great Lakes Conference in Detroit

Earlier in May, I attended the Healing our Waters (HOW) Coalition’s annual Great Lakes Conference. It was the coalition’s 14th (and my 4th) iteration of this conference, and this year showed a palpable shift in how things are done, who is invited to the podium and what content is highlighted. The conference booklet describes a shift in their priorities:

“Increasingly, the Healing Our Water–Great Lakes Coalition has been working to ensure that ecological restoration of the Great Lakes means that all of the region’s people can have access to affordable, clean, safe drinking water; to eat fish that are safe and not toxic; to live healthy lives that are not undermined by toxic pollutants and legacy contaminants. We know that healthy lakes and healthy lives go hand-in-hand.”

To put action behind this commitment, the coalition formed its Equity Advisory and Action Committee in 2017. The efforts of the committee and the support behind it were visible as Great Lakes advocates gathered for two days of connection, inspiration and collaboration.

A meaningful demonstration of the coalition’s commitment to equity was shown when HOW leaders decided to postpone the conference from its original dates in October due to an active strike by the workers at the hotel where the conference was to be held. In an act of solidarity with the protesting workers, HOW announced it would not be asking conference attendees to cross the picket line and would be postponing the conference to the spring. A representative from the hotel workers union came to the podium during the conference to speak about the impact of this decision and express their appreciation for this support of their efforts for better treatment and higher wages for hotel workers. While I can in no way take credit for deciding to postpone the conference, I felt proud to be part of a coalition that chose to put aside the cost and inconvenience of changing the dates in order to put action behind their stated values.

The conference took place in Detroit, Michigan and I welcomed the opportunity to return to my home state and the city that has experienced so much struggle, injustice, heartbreak, rebirth, and renewal, and has shown the world its strength and resilience. 

Detroit Statue.jpgI had the privilege of participating in a biking tour that showcased parts of the city that I hadn’t seen since my high school senior trip to Detroit, and other parts that I had never seen before – parts that have experienced dramatic changes over time and are now reawakening with vibrancy thanks to the tireless efforts and inspired vision of local leaders and organized residents. Groups like the Eastern Market Corporation are creating a future where Detroit thrives as a regional food hub with urban farms, food processing centers and markets all within one neighborhood. Community members are working together to create a city that is a desirable place to live and work with affordable housing and active transit, thriving local businesses and economic growth that benefits residents and attracts visitors.

Many of the city’s features serve to highlight the beauty of the natural and human environment, such as the riverwalk that provides access to the city’s waterfront and the murals that express the creativity of local artists and power of the community.

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When I wasn’t pedaling through city blocks or along the two-mile greenway converted from rail to trail, I was connecting with other Great Lakes advocates from around the region like a young man from Cleveland who’s building robots to solve environmental problems and a woman from Flint who’s working to protect Michigan residents against harmful PFAs in their water. I was soaking in the wisdom of speakers like Mustafa Santiago Ali, Monica Lewis Patrick and Carla Walker who spoke on issues of water affordability, organizing for water liberation and environmental justice, and told stories about what happens when community members take action into their own hands when the government fails them. I was basking in the beauty of Tawana “Honeycomb” Petty’s poetry and songs by Detroit’s own Aretha Franklin. This infusion of art and creativity brought a new energy to the experience that I now firmly believe should be welcomed into every stuffy conference room or sterile hotel ballroom.

The conference’s breakout sessions — while always hard to choose between — provided a deeper dive on some of the issues, systems and projects affecting the Great Lakes region. I expanded my toolbox of actionable strategies for proactive, inclusive community engagement with the Delta Institute, learned how non-profit organizations can thrive by mimicking nature’s structures, and was inspired by stories of Detroit residents creating their own solar-powered light when the streetlights were removed from their neighborhood.

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Gloria Rivera of Great Lakes Bioneers Detroit speaks about biomimicry for social innovation.

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If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the HOW’s annual Great Lakes Conference, it’s that the reception is not to be missed. This year was no different, with a trip to the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant where original Model T’s from the 1900s are preserved to showcase Detroit’s automotive heritage and spirit of innovation. While we browsed the antique vehicles, we were entertained by live music from members of the Gathering Orchestra, a program of the Carr Center, and snacked on delicious hor d’oeuvres from local caterers. I tried to soak in this experience and push away the “What the heck did I do to deserve this A-list treatment?” thought lurking in the back of my mind. I remembered the words on biomimicry from Gloria Rivera and thought, “does nature deny the beauty of its flowers or refuse the abundance of its harvests because it’s ‘not deserving’?”…and then grabbed another tiny cup of chocolate mousse and enjoyed the music.

The last session I attended on the second day of the conference featured Kimathi Boothe, Environmental and Climate Justice Co-Chair for the Northern Oakland County Branch of the NAACP. He spoke about various water injustices experienced by residents of Oakland County and the ongoing efforts to mobilize, equip and build capacity, resiliency and resistance in frontline communities to create water warriors and achieve water liberation.

As environmentalists, clean water advocates and justice warriors we are up against big challenges, but there is overwhelming power revealed when passionate people come together around a common vision. I left Detroit feeling reaffirmed that a future of clean water, healthy families and empowered communities is already being realized through our efforts. I’m so grateful to be part of this movement, working alongside great hearts and minds for the future of our Great Lakes.

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You can help rebuild community and empower Flint residents by supporting the Flint Community Water Lab

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Partnering for Clean Water for All

Last week, we celebrated World Water Day by engaging with partners to address the global theme of leaving no one behind when it comes to accessing clean water. The UN holds the goal of access to clean water and sanitation for all by 2030. But today, billions around the globe still don’t have access to safe, clean water. Marginalized groups – including women, children, refugees, indigenous peoples, disabled people and many others – are often overlooked, and sometimes face discrimination, as they try to access and manage the safe water they need. In order to address the reasons why so many people are being left behind, we must work together with a variety of stakeholders and stand in solidarity for the issues that intersect with clean water and the environment. The importance of local and state level action to invest in the future of our water can’t be understated.

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Illinois Sierra Club Director Jack Darin joins partners and Senator Villivalam at press conference introducing legislation for clean water jobs.

Ensuring clean water for all will require smart investments in upgrading and repairing the infrastructure that treats, manages, captures, delivers and protects our water. Recognizing the need for a skilled clean water workforce, State Senator Ram Villivalam introduced SB 2146, which would create a workforce pipeline program that would provide grants and other financial assistance to prepare people for careers in water infrastructure. The program would be used to train more people to tackle critical infrastructure projects for urban and rural communities in Illinois, such as replacing lead pipes and upgrading wastewater treatment facilities. Through equitable job training and hiring, we can empower Illinois’ most impacted communities to address the state’s infrastructure needs with good-paying jobs and long-term investments for future cost savings. Last week the bill passed out of Senate committee and gained two new co-sponsors. Tell your state legislators to join them by co-sponsoring the bill and supporting capital investments in clean water infrastructure.

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Senator Villivalam and Illinois Sierra Club Deputy Director Kady McFadden testify in support of the bill.

To be strong stewards of our water, we must feel connected to it. For decades, Chicago has largely neglected its three rivers and prioritized their use as canals to transport the city’s waste downstream. In recent years, more attention has been given to the rivers as potential assets and attractions, pathways through the city and economic drivers bringing investments and development to once ignored riverside locations. This is evidenced by the recent investments in riverside parks, habitat and open space in places like Horner Park on Chicago’s North Side, which has undergone a $5.6 million restoration project that began in April 2014. Improvements include a more natural riverbank, invasive plant species removal, native tree and shrub plantings to combat erosion, a wood chip trail along the water to complement the nature trail at the top of the new bank, a new canoe and kayak landing, and the addition of two acres of riverbank, all through funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

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Youth leaders and students walk along the recently restored riverbank at Horner Park.

On Saturday, volunteers on our Chicago Water Team gathered near the river at Horner Park with our Chicago Inspiring Connections Outdoors program, student groups from two local high schools and Native youth leaders from the Chi Youth Nations Council. Chicago Water Team volunteers engaged the students in hands-on water sampling in the North Branch Chicago River, testing parameters including temperature, pH and levels of dissolved oxygen, phosphate and conductivity in the water. The team regularly monitors the water quality of the Chicago River in various locations throughout the city and will soon be expanding their sampling efforts to the Calumet River. The Chi Youth Nations Council shared the resolution they worked to get passed by Chicago’s City Council which recognizes Chicago as Native land, explained the history of Chicago’s relationship to its waterways and talked about water as an autonomous being deserving its own rights and protection.

The students reflected on the experience as being eye opening, allowing them to put their understanding of Chicago as Native land into more meaningful context, and deepening their learning on testing water quality beyond what could be achieved in the classroom or by reading a textbook. Some of the students who are interested in pursuing a career in environmental studies shared that the experience gave them an opportunity to exercise that interest in that field, and others said that the experience inspired them to think about the importance of clean, accessible water for all. One student shared that she didn’t realize the river was right there, near where she lives, until she saw it up close in Horner Park.

While new connections between people and water are stark along Chicago’s rivers, more suburban and rural areas are also showing promise as community members take it upon themselves to be watchdogs and stewards of their local waterways. On Saturday morning, another group of Sierra Club volunteers came together in North Aurora around their shared commitment to restoring the Fox River. The Valley of the Fox Water Sentinels have been working for decades to protect the watershed and engage other community members in stewardship of the Fox and its tributaries. Saturday’s meeting was used to train volunteers on the Sierra Club’s “Runoff Rangers” program, where local residents monitor ongoing construction projects to make sure they’re following best practices for preventing runoff pollution.

The day before, the 7th annual Fox River Summit brought together a diverse group of stakeholders in Burlington, WI to discuss ongoing efforts to protect and restore the Fox River watershed, which extends through both Wisconsin and Illinois.  There farmers, environmental advocates and wastewater treatment facility operators agreed on the importance of green infrastructure practices and nature-based solutions for reducing nutrient pollution in the Fox watershed, from both agricultural and urban lands. Deputy Director Todd Ambs of the Wisconsin DNR reported on the investments that Wisconsin is making in its clean water infrastructure, mirroring the call Sierra Club and our partners are making for similar clean water investments in the Illinois capital plan currently being discussed by the Illinois General Assembly.

Throughout the state, we’re working with partners to build a strong movement for clean water for all — and we invite you to join us! Join a local Sierra Club water team, find an upcoming clean-up or outing near you, and join us in Springfield on April 10 for Water Lobby Day to advocate for critical legislation to ensure clean water for all. 

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Join us this month to clean up our waterways!

From the shores of Lake Michigan to the banks of the mighty Mississippi and all ponds, lakes, and streams in between, Illinois depends on its waterways for agriculture, recreation, drinking water and much more. Unfortunately, our waterways are too often filled with garbage, toxic chemicals, and unwanted waste. Laws protecting our waterways are weak and the political will to fund and enforce cleanup and protection of these waterways is limited. That’s why we need all hands on deck to clean up our local waterways and spread the word about the importance of keeping them clean! By participating in a waterway cleanup this month, you can work with people in your community, state, and world to do your part to protect our waterways and become engaged global citizens in the process.

We are excited to join with our partners at Illinois Global Scholar, Prairie Rivers Network and American Rivers to announce the second annual Illinois Waterway Cleanup Week (recently designated by the Illinois General Assembly) this September 9th-16th. This event calls upon you, community members, and especially students and teachers, to collaborate on a service project of both local and global importance. Last year, Illinois Global Scholar worked with its partners including Sierra Club to coordinate an effort with 35 schools and organizations, which collected over 5,000 pounds of trash!

Illinois Waterway Cleanup Week involves picking up trash along our lake shores, in our rivers, in our streams, and even in roadside ditches and on trails – really any place where litter enters a watershed. Visit www.global-illinois.org/illinois-waterway-cleanup/ to find out more about Illinois Waterway Cleanup Week including nearby events, an app you can download to track the trash you collect, and information on available resources.

September brings lots of Sierra Club waterway cleanup activities across the state, during and beyond Illinois Waterway Cleanup Week. Find one near you and join in the fun!

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Blackhawk Group – Rock River Sweep                       

Join us for the 9th edition of Rock River Sweep to help maintain the cleanliness of our section of the river.

When: Saturday, September 8, 2018 starting at 9 a.m.

Where:  Meet at the shelterhouse in back of First National Bank and Trust, E. Main Street in Rockton, IL

Note: We’ll give out assignments, trash bags and gloves. Dress for the weather; long sleeves, long pants and old shoes are recommended. Participants can bring back their trash around noon, when we’ll do the door prizes, refreshments and pizza.  We should finish up around 1 p.m.

RSVP: We will again offer the long-sleeve shirts with Rock River Sweep logo.  Please RSVP to Loren at fllotowood@gmail.com or 815-289-1152 and specify the number and sizes of shirts you need. Invite family and friends!

 

Valley of the Fox Group – Algonquin’s It’s Our River Day Cleanup

Join the Sierra Club and partners for Algonquin It’s Our River Day, co-hosted by Environmental Defenders of McHenry County and the Village of Algonquin.

When: Saturday, Sept. 15 at 1-4 pm

Where: Cornish Park, 101 S Harrison St., Algonquin, 60102 (Downtown Algonquin)

“It’s Our River Day,” a statewide celebration, kicks off at 1PM with a welcome from a representative from the Village of Algonquin. The Sierra Club will provide bags and gloves for the shoreline clean-up at the main location at Cornish Park. Volunteers from the Illinois Paddling Council, Water Trailkeepers and Prairie State Canoeists will participate in an in-river clean-up between Cornish Park and Fox River Shores in Carpentersville. The Fox River Jeep Club will be located at Buffalo Park for trash/recycling pick-up downstream.

Cleanup participants will need to sign a waiver at the sign-in table. Young people attending without their parent or guardian should download and have the waiver signed by their guardian and bring it to the event.

All are welcome to help clean up the beautiful Fox River. The event is free and open to the public. Groups are welcome. Parking is available at municipal parking lot at South Harrison St and Washington St and street-side.

 

Chicago Group – Montrose Beach Cleanup & Nature Tours

For 20 years, Sierra Club Chicago Group has partnered with the Alliance for the Great Lakes to adopt Montrose Beach as part of the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup. This year we’re expanding our beach-cleaning coverage by teaming up with members of the Environmental Club from nearby Harry S. Truman College.

When: Saturday, Sept. 15

7 a.m.–9 a.m. – Nature tour and beginning birder walk at Montrose Beach

9 a.m.–12 p.m. – Beach cleanup and more nature tours

Where: 200 W. Montrose Harbor Drive (see additional directions below)

To note: Come for all or part of the work period. Dress for the weather, wear a hat and sunscreen, bring a filled water bottle and work gloves if you have them. No dogs allowed. All ages welcome.

Volunteer crew leaders needed! If you would like to assist with any of the event duties (setup, registration, breakdown, etc.), please contact Jeff Shelden. Coffee and donuts provided!

RSVP: Please register here (for all individuals & groups). For more info, contact Christine Williamson.

Additional Directions: We will meet at Montrose Beach House at 7:00 a.m. Look for the Sierra Club banners and/or tents near the southeast end of the large white building. Parking is free and bike racks are provided. Montrose Beach House is a 10 to 15 minute walk from the bus stops at Montrose and Marine Drive.

 

Piasa Palisades Group – The Great Mississippi River Cleanup

The Great Mississippi River Cleanup includes a free boat ride, t-shirt and lunch. Pre-registration is required by September 13th. Volunteers 17 & younger must have adult supervisor with them.

When: Saturday, Sept. 22 at 9am – 12pm

Where: 4 clean-up boats leaving out of Grafton, IL (exact location TBD – likely at the Grafton Harbor)

RSVP: Volunteers must sign up here: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/20f0b44aaab2aa0ff2-2018

 

Eagle View Group – Illinois Waterway Cleanup

We are partnering with Keep Moline Beautiful, XStream Cleanup, Augustana Student Sierra Coalition & Rock Island High School Environmental Action Club for a cleanup of the Rock River.

When: Sun, Sep 23 at 1:00 – 3:00 PM

Where: 4540 3rd St, Moline, IL 61265

We will meet at the head of the Moline Kiwanis bike path behind UnityPoint (Trinity) Medical Center at 7th St & 52nd Ave. Park in the small lot by the path or in the lot across the street.

RSVP: Sign up here. Each person needs to register individually to sign the waiver.

Questions? Contact Kristen Bergren at ishibook@gmail.com

 

 

 

Empowering Young Leaders through Sierra Club’s Summer Program

The Sierra Club’s Summer Program (Sprog) is an intensive one-week leadership training program that teaches tools for environmental and social justice activism to young people across the country. Sprog is run by and for young people, teaching the knowledge and skills and sharing tools needed to become a leader and make a substantial difference in the future of one’s community and planet. It serves to connect a supportive regional network of youth activists who fight similar battles and share similar passions. Participants have described it as one of the most inspiring and fulfilling weeks of their life. This is a reflection by one of this year’s Midwest Sprog participants, who first interacted with Sierra Club through the Chicago Inspiring Connections Outdoors program. Find out more about Sprog here.

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I am Luis Ramirez, currently a sophomore studying Environmental Studies and Anthropology in Albion College. This summer, I participated in, personally, one of the most promising student organizations of the Sierra Club. The Sierra Student Coalition is an organization whose mission is to inspire and train young leaders of tomorrow and those of today to take the initiative of advocating and campaigning in their own communities or organizations in which they could be a key factor of change or take a leadership position. Throughout the week, the summer program (Sprog) taught me of the importance of building an inclusive and anti-oppressive organization or campaign.

One of my favorite moments in Sprog happened during discussion; being able to challenge ideas was probably one of the best learning opportunities since most of the participants do not come from the same community. As for me, coming from Chicago, I could relate to others either because they were from Chicago or because they were raised in the same cultural/racial community as me. I applied to both the West Sprog and the Midwest Sprog. After talking to other participants, I figured that every Sprog offered different perspectives, both in environmental and leadership practices or approaches to our different communities pertaining to modern day issues in our environment or communities. As members of our colleges, high schools, or communities, we would create a safe environment of acceptance and respect. But like every community, some ideas were not as popular and the exclusion between various participants was obvious. In the scenarios of disagreement, the trainers were mostly more than prepared to reach out and facilitate the discussions.

The week consisted of 101 training in organization, leadership building, and campaigning; the trainings then became more advanced throughout the week. I had the privilege of being sponsored by the Illinois Chapter of Sierra Club, and my peers were sponsored by their state chapters or city youth environmental organizations. Thanks to the trainers around the nation, the Sierra Student Coalition put a stand in Washington D.C. to advocate for both the future of the program and the trainers. In Midwest Sprog, two training and discussion based topics were more common throughout the week: Environmental Issues and Oppression in our nation. Because participants were from various social economic status, cultures, religions, race, and gender many took the initiative to lead discussions and training alongside with trainers; this was probably one of my favorite and most educative scenarios of the program.

I would have not heard of this opportunity if it had not being for Inspiring Connections Outdoors- Chicago (ICO) staff who reached out to me about the opportunity. Alongside other students from Chicago, sponsorship and support was one of the key factors of attending the program. I am thankful that many more young adults have the resources necessary to attend programs and be guided throughout their environmental or advocacy lifestyle thanks to organizations like ICO who provide learning and service opportunities in their communities. Because of my time in Sprog, I am ready to be involved in future training opportunities with the Sierra Student Coalition or future staff positions within the Sierra Club or other environmental organizations.

Celebrate World Water Day with us!

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Today is World Water Day.

World Water Day is a global day of awareness on the importance of water. Here in Illinois, we’re fortunate to have the world’s largest source of surface freshwater in the world right in our backyard. But pollution, invasive species and clean water policy rollbacks by the Trump Administration are threatening the health and longevity of this vital water source.

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We’re also seeing groundwater sources being depleted, intense rain events that can’t be handled by our failing water infrastructure and degraded waterways that desperately need restoration and protection from additional pollution.

We’ve seen where expensive manmade solutions to these problems fall short. That’s why we’re all about this year’s theme for World Water Day, ‘Nature for Water’ – exploring nature-based solutions to the water challenges we face in the 21st century.

Our volunteer Chicago Water Team is celebrating this global day of awareness by accompanying a group of 7th and 8th grade science students on a tour of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s (MWRD) Terrence J. O’Brien Wastewater Treatment Plant, which uses nature-based solutions to treat Chicago’s wastewater such as UV disinfection and a revolving algal biofilm (RAB) system to remove nutrients.

We’re also participating in a ‘State of Our Water’ Symposium, organized by the Illinois Environmental Council at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The event will give the audience an overview of the most critical issues facing water in Illinois, including the progress being made implementing the state’s Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy. Our Clean Water Program Director, Cindy Skrukrud, will speak about the importance of getting involved in local watershed efforts and how citizens can help clean up urban waterways by employing nature-based solutions on their own properties. We have volunteers across the state working together to protect and restore their local waterways. If you’d like to get involved in our efforts, check out our website and then get in touch!  

In Alton, our Piasa Palisades Group is celebrating by hosting a 5-mile litter clean-up along the Great River Road. Volunteers will kick off their clean-up at three different starting points with morning and afternoon shifts, and are bound to make a big impact on the state of the Mississippi River shoreline in their community! 

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While we love celebrating clean water on this special day and are proud to stand with others across the globe bringing awareness to the importance of water, we also want to continue the conversation — and more importantly, the ACTION — for clean water every day. We’ll continue to advocate for common sense policies and investment in infrastructure to protect our water at the local, state and federal level. We’ll stand up against dangerous attempts by the Trump Administration to rollback protections, cut budgets and eliminate programs that are needed to keep our water clean and ecosystems healthy. We hope you’ll stand with us and join us in this fight.

 

 

Sierra Club responds to Trump’s second attempt to cut Great Lakes funding

Yesterday, the Trump Administration released its 2019 budget proposal, which includes an approximate 90% cut to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), a fund that EPA distributes to groups doing work on the ground to protect and restore the Great Lakes and its ecosystems.

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Senator Tammy Duckworth showing her support for the Great Lakes and EPA funding in September 2017

We saw a similar attempt last year, when Trump’s 2018 budget proposal included a complete elimination of the GLRI, and we fought back with the force of millions of Americans who know the value of a healthy Great Lakes. We showed that protecting the Great Lakes is a bipartisan issue, because we all need clean water to drink and economic drivers to thrive in our Midwest communities. We were happy to see Congress pass a 2018 budget that included full funding of the GLRI.

Our elected officials stood with us in rejecting Trump’s previous proposal to slash Great Lakes funding, and we expect they will do so again in response to this repeated senseless attempt. It is time to invest in our Great Lakes and our communities, and we will not stand for the Trump Administration trying to turn their backs on us by cutting jobs and threatening the progress we have made in restoring the health and prosperity of our region.

The proposal also calls for slashing EPA’s 2019 budget by 34% from 2017 to $5.4 billion — an even deeper cut than Trump sought last year. The EPA’s efforts to clean up toxic pollution, restore degraded ecosystems and respond to environmental threats cannot be done without sufficient funding and staff. At a time when crumbling infrastructure threatens the delivery of safe, clean water and climate change is bringing storm events at unprecedented levels, it is completely irresponsible to abandon successful efforts to protect our resources and make our communities more resilient.

We’ve seen what happens when the agencies charged with protecting our environment aren’t given the funding and resources needed to do their job effectively. Last year we saw an oil spill in the Chicago River, multiple chromium spills into Lake Michigan by U.S. Steel (a facility with numerous permit violations) and an overall drop in penalties sought against polluters in Illinois under Rauner’s EPA. Our Great Lakes and other waterways, as well as the air and land across our region, need protection against dangerous pollution that threatens our health and the future of our resources.

We again call on members of Congress and all of us who depend on the Great Lakes to stand up and do what our region has always done to show that protecting this precious resource and supporting a strong EPA should be a top priority for the entire nation, starting with the federal budget.

Sign the Great Lakes Protection Pledge to tell your legislators to stand up for the Great Lakes.

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All Hands on Deck event in Chicago, July 2017

Debunking Myths and Taking Action to Stop Asian Carp

 

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Invasive Asian carp are an urgent threat to the health of the Great Lakes, and the people and economies that depend on the lakes and their resources. The Sierra Club and its partners have long advocated for a comprehensive solution to the risk of these fish invading the Great Lakes, along with the other aquatic invasive species that threaten both the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River Basin.

While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been tasked by Congress with finding a solution to invasives moving into both basins, their current efforts are heavily focused on Asian carp and their upstream movement. The Chicago Area Waterways system provides an artificial connection between the two basins, created over 100 years ago when the Chicago River was reversed to send wastewater downstream to the Illinois and then Mississippi River.  We must address the consequences of this artificial connection to protect our vital freshwater resources.

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Map showing location of locks, Asian carp populations and the current electric barriers within the Illinois river system. 

Earlier this year, the Army Corps completed a draft report detailing their Tentatively Selected Plan to install controls at the Brandon Road Lock in Joliet, Illinois in an effort to prevent Asian carp from moving upstream towards Lake Michigan. The new deadline for submitting comments on this report is December 8, and a fourth public meeting to present the report and gather input will be held on December 5 in New Orleans.

Let’s take a look at what’s included in the Tentatively Selected Plan.

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None of these proposed control methods will stop traffic from moving through the lock. Electric barriers are used elsewhere in the river system, and the other technologies can be deployed without preventing current operations. While this combination of control methods cannot provide 100% confidence that Asian carp will not move through the lock, they will reduce the risk of transfer and add an additional stopgap between the current population and Lake Michigan.

In a recent news article, the president of Illinois Marine Towing Inc. claimed: “The new plan for structural barriers would slow shipping from 11,000 barge passages per year at Brandon down to 7,000.” According to the Army Corps, there is no factual basis for this claim in their analysis, and these figures don’t align with actual lockages at Brandon Road. Obviously, the impacts to transportation would be highest during construction of the project, when the shippers are expected to temporarily use another method of transportation during construction (estimated conservatively at 40 days) and then return to their normal operations after construction is complete. But outside this period, the reduction in lockages is not predicted at this mythical scale.

Another “alternative fact” we’ve seen recently came from the State of Illinois’ Lieutenant Governor, Evelyn Sanguinetti who was interviewed for an article in Ottawa’s The Times: “Last summer a live Asian carp was found in the Calumet River, less than 10 miles from Lake Michigan. But Sanguinetti said an autopsy and other testing shows it did not arrive via the Illinois River.” According to Dr. Greg Whitledge at Southern Illinois University’s Department of Zoology, who performed the autopsy on the fish caught over the summer, it is incorrect to conclude that the fish definitely did not arrive at its collection location via the Illinois River.  The chemistry of the fish’s earstones (otoliths) are consistent with prior residency in the Illinois and Des Plaines Rivers.  Whether it arrived in the Calumet River on its own or was moved there (i.e., transported around the barriers and released) cannot be determined.

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A live Silver carp was found in June 2017 beyond the current electric barriers in the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS), just nine miles from Lake Michigan. 

So, it is possible that this Asian carp did arrive via the Illinois River. And it is possible that other Asian carp will move through the Illinois River system towards Lake Michigan without additional protections to stop their movement. While we greatly appreciate the work that staff of state agencies like the Illinois Department of Natural Resources are doing to remove large amounts of Asian carp from the river system, it seems unlikely that they’ll be able to fish these voracious invasive species to extinction.  

It’s far past time to get serious about a permanent solution to the problem of Asian carp and all aquatic invasive species threatening our waterways. The State of Illinois should be working proactively with other states and agencies to identify and implement such a solution, rather than dragging their heels and placing declining waterway use by barges over the future of our most important natural resource. Both can be protected if we work together effectively.  

In the face of these myths and inaccuracies, we must bring science back into the conversation and work together cooperatively to ensure that an effective, holistic solution is implemented to protect the Great Lakes, a national treasure, economic driver and drinking water source for over 40 million people.

Please submit your comments before Dec. 8th to tell the Army Corps to move forward expeditiously with their plan to install controls against invasive Asian carp. For help submitting a comment, use our Action Alert.