Category Archives: Clean Water

Posts relating to clean water work.

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

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

 

Asian Carp Advance On Lake Michigan; Trump Halts Project to Stop Them, Threatens To Cut Off All Great Lakes Funds

Yesterday an invasive adult silver carp was caught within nine miles of Lake Michigan in the Calumet River. The 8-pound fish was captured in a gill net by a commercial fisherman working for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee (ACRCC) as part of their seasonal intensive monitoring program looking for this invasive species within Chicago’s waterways. This critical work is funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which President Trump has proposed to eliminate all funding for beginning October 1. More information about current carp control efforts is available here.

The Trump Administration has also halted efforts to upgrade the Brandon Road Lock and Dam, downstream of the electric barriers, to prevent the movement of Asian carp upstream. The Army Corps of Engineers was set to release the study for public review in late February when the White House blocked its release.

Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter Clean Water Program Director Cindy Skrukrud released this statement:

“The capture of a silver carp past the electric barrier and just 9 miles from Lake Michigan is a potent reminder of how the Trump Administration is failing to address the huge problem that aquatic invasive species pose to the Great Lakes. While alien invaders are headed towards Lake Michigan, Trump and his team are halting projects to keep them out and dismantling Great Lakes protection programs. It is urgent that Governor Rauner and our entire Congressional delegation call on President Trump to release the Brandon Road Lock and Dam study that his administration is holding hostage, and demand that he commit to fully fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. If Trump is allowed by Congress to cut off all Great Lakes funding October 1, Illinois DNR will not be able to continue the critical work underway right now to catch and control these dangerous invaders.”

###

Want to take action? Here’s how you can help:

Sign the Great Lakes Protection Pledge and tell your Member of Congress to do the same

Tell your Members of Congress to support legislation to stop Asian carp

silvercarp06232017
Silver carp captured in the Illinois Waterway on June 22, 2017 below T.J. O’Brien Lock and Dam.
Image courtesy of Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
carp-map-PRN-2017

The Brandon Road Lock and Dam upgrade would increase protection for Lake Michigan

 

Bill Introduced Today to End White House Delays in Combatting Asian Carp Invasion

Today a bipartisan group of legislators introduced the Stop Asian Carp Now bill, which would require the Administration to release a study the Army Corps of Engineers has done on Asian Carp control methods at Brandon Road Lock and Dam. In response, Sierra Club and our partners released the following statement.

 

Alliance for the Great Lakes  ·  National Wildlife Federation  ·  Natural Resources Defense Council  ·  Ohio Environmental Council  ·  Prairie Rivers Network  ·  Save The River  ·  Sierra Club   ·  Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council

 

Media Statement
Bill Seeks to End White House Delays in Combatting Asian Carp Invasion
Groups Applaud Efforts by Members of Congress to Make Latest Research Available to the Public

Chicago, IL (June 21, 2017) – A bipartisan bill introduced today in Congress would push the Trump Administration to stop delaying a key effort to stop the Asian carp invasion of the Great Lakes. Conservation groups from around the Great Lakes region expressed support for the bill. The groups stressed that the current Asian carp control measures, from electric barriers to harvesting, are not enough to keep the harmful fish out of the Great Lakes.

Two years ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was tasked with studying additional protection measures at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, IL. The facility is a logical choke point location to install control measures to stop the fish from moving closer to the lake. The study was paid for at taxpayer expense and is ready for public review. The draft report was supposed to be released for public review and input on February 28, 2017. But, instead of releasing it to the public, the White House blocked the report’s release, leaving it hidden away on a Washington, D.C. shelf gathering dust. And with it, efforts to install critical prevention measures to halt Asian carp have all but come to a halt, putting the Great Lakes at risk.

Today a bipartisan group of legislators introduced the Stop Asian Carp Now bill, which would require the Administration to release the Brandon Road Study. The Stop Asian Carp Now bill was introduced by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Representatives Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) and Bill Huizenga (R-MI).  We applaud Members of Congress for pushing to make this report public and fighting to protect the Great Lakes from the serious threat posed by Asian carp. Conservation groups support the bill noting that, “the Administration has had more than three months to review the report. It is past time to give Great Lakes residents a chance to do the same.”

The seven cosponsors in the Senate so far are Senators Durbin (D-IL), Peters (D-MI), Baldwin (D-WI), Brown (D-OH), Franken (D-MN), Klobuchar (D-MN), and Duckworth (D-IL).

The 31 cosponsors in the House so far are Reps. Huizenga (MI-02), Joyce (OH-14), Slaughter (NY-25), Nolan (MN-08), Trott (MI-11), Bergman (MI-01), Moolenaar (MI-04), Walberg (MI-07), Kildee (MI-05), Upton (MI-06), Schneider (IL-10), Mike Bishop (MI-08), Dingell (MI-12), Lawrence (MI-14), Walz (MN-01), Quigley (IL-05), Tim Ryan (OH-13), Conyers (MI-13), Moore (WI-04), Gallagher (WI-08), Chris Collins (NY-27), Schakowsky (IL-09), Mitchell (MI-10), Duffy (WI-07), Pocan (WI-02), Levin (MI-09), Fudge (OH-11), Stefanik (NY-21), Latta (OH-05), Amash (MI-03) and Brian Higgins (NY-26).

###

Note to Media: Two additional resources that may be helpful in relation to this statement include:

Media Contacts:

Alliance for the Great Lakes: Jennifer Caddick, (312) 445-9760, jcaddick@greatlakes.org
National Wildlife Federation: Marc Smith, (734) 887-7116, msmith@nwf.org
Natural Resources Defense Council: Ivan Moreno, 312-651-7932, imoreno@nrdc.org
Ohio Environmental Council: David Miller, (419) 944-1986, DMiller@theoec.org
Prairie Rivers Network: Robert Hirschfeld, (217) 344-2371 x205, rhirschfeld@prairierivers.org
Save The River: Lee Willbanks, (315) 686-2010,  lee@savetheriver.org
Sierra Club: Cindy Skrukrud, (312) 251-1680 x110, cindy.skrukrud@sierraclub.org
Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council: Jennifer McKay, (231) 347-1181, jenniferm@watershedcouncil.org

Environmental Groups Sue Illinois DNR over Wasteful Withdrawals of Lake Michigan Water

Last week, environmental protection groups filed a lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) to overturn a decision permitting additional billions of gallons of Lake Michigan water to be used to improve conditions in the Chicago River system during periods of poor water quality.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) applied in 2014 to withdraw additional Lake Michigan water. The Alliance for the Great Lakes, Illinois Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and Openlands opposed the application, arguing that water conservation practices could be used to more efficiently manage the resource and keep more water in the lake while still protecting water quality in the Chicago River system. IDNR’s Director Wayne Rosenthal issued a decision in March allowing an additional 420 billion gallons of water to be diverted from Lake Michigan through the year 2030. The groups are now challenging that decision in an effort to reduce the amount of Lake Michigan water diverted.

In response, Illinois Sierra Club’s Clean Water Program Director Dr. Cindy Skrukrud released the following statement:

“IDNR issued their decision to allow a drastic increase to the amount of water diverted from Lake Michigan after failing to properly consider whether there are alternatives to maintain sanitary conditions in the Chicago River without using this wasteful amount of water. Everybody wants the Chicago River to be as clean as possible, but IDNR refused to even think about whether that could be done using common-sense solutions like green infrastructure. We are bringing suit in Cook County Circuit Court to assure that Great Lakes water is not wasted.

“Under the Great Lakes Compact, all Great Lakes states are required to evaluate ways to conserve their use of lake water. We recommended that the IDNR require studies on how improved treatment at wastewater plants could reduce pollution in Chicago waterways and reduce the need for Lake Michigan water to flush pollutants out of the system. We also called for studies on how green infrastructure practices could be deployed to reduce pollution from stormwater and combined sewer overflows. In fact, MWRD is already working to reduce pollution to Chicago waterways by improving treatment of its wastewater and implementing green infrastructure practices. Their current measures and expansion of these efforts should be factored into the determination of the need for Lake Michigan water withdrawals over the next decade. IDNR ignored these developments and our recommendations and has not required any study of methods to reduce use of the water. Their decision to allow use of Great Lakes water without even considering conservation practices flies in the face of the Compact and sets a bad precedent for future uses of Lake Michigan water.

“As the Trump Administration moves to cut the flow of vital funding to the Great Lakes, Governor Rauner’s IDNR is also loosening controls on diversions of water from Lake Michigan. Now, more than ever, we need states to do their part to stand up and protect our Great Lakes resource, not waste it.

“We hope the Court will reverse IDNR’s decision and require proper consideration of conservation practices to reduce the use of Lake Michigan water and protect this precious resource.”

Read the Complaint, Alliance for the Great Lakes et al. v. IDNR et al., 2017-CH-05445 (4.14.17)

Read more about the Great Lakes Compact here.

World Water Day 2017: Why Wastewater?

WWD-GENERIQ-CMJN_EN_2017_squareToday is World Water Day. Every March 22nd the United Nations uses this day to draw attention to the importance of freshwater and the need to sustainably manage our limited freshwater resources.

This year’s theme is Why Wastewater? Globally, over 80% of the wastewater generated by society flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused. The UN has set a goal to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030. The desired targets are universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water as well adequate and equitable sanitation for all. In addition, reusing wastewater as a resource can provide a sustainable source of water, energy, nutrients and other recoverable materials.

In countries like the United States, most of our wastewater is treated but we still have problems with the way we manage our water. Combined sewer overflows are commonplace, making our waterways unsafe for recreators when storms overwhelm sewer systems and raw sewage flows into our waterways. High levels of nutrients from wastewater discharges and agricultural runoff cause problems with algae over-growth in our waterways. Algae can create taste and odor problems for communities that pull their drinking water from rivers and lakes. An over-abundance of algae and aquatic plants in bodies of water can also consume the oxygen in the water that fish and other aquatic organisms need to survive. The largest example of this problem in the USA is the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that is the size of the state of Connecticut.

4_Card_WWD2017But the news is not all bad. Here in Illinois wastewater agencies are taking steps to improve the quality of the wastewater they discharge and to recover both the water and the resources it holds for reuse. For example, over 300,000 people drink water taken from the Fox River. By 2021, wastewater dischargers will reduce the summertime load of phosphorus going in the river by 75%. Less phosphorus means less algae in the water, reducing costs for treatment by drinking water suppliers.

The wastewater from McHenry County’s Valley Hi Nursing Home is used to irrigate farmland nearby, effectively returning the water to the ground from which it was drawn while the crops reap the benefits of the nutrients in the wastewater. McHenry County is 100% dependent on groundwater as its source of drinking water so aquifer recharge is vital to sustaining the county’s water supplies.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago is pulling nutrients out of its wastewater and turning it into a saleable fertilizer. The world’s largest nutrient recovery facility opened last June.

These examples of treating wastewater as a resource can be widely implemented. Of course, adapting our current water and wastewater systems to be more sustainable requires investment. Today the Value of Water Campaign released its Economic Benefits of Investing in Water Infrastructure report. The report concludes that investing in water infrastructure will build a prosperous America while creating high quality jobs. That’s what our Flowing Economy: How Clean Water Infrastructure Investments Support Good Jobs in Chicago and in Illinois report also laid out last year.

3_Card_WWD2017Providing safe water for people worldwide depends on all of us to not waste the precious limited freshwater resources we have. Investing in those resources makes sense both to develop a sustainable water future and to create good jobs now. That is why we are so dismayed at President Trump’s budget proposal to eliminate the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the fund targeted to protect and restore the source of 20% of the world’s freshwater. You can help by letting your national representatives know you are counting on them to save the Great Lakes.

You can also help by joining our Clean Water Team to help hold our elected officials accountable for protecting clean water and conserving water resources. Sign up here! Together we can create a world where we waste water no more!

Statement on Trump Proposal to Entirely Eliminate the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

Chicago, IL — Today, the Trump Administration released its 2018 budget proposals for discretionary spending. Among those proposals, Donald Trump has proposed a complete elimination of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
In response, Sierra Club Illinois Chapter Director Jack Darin released the following statement:
“President Trump’s proposal to completely eliminate all funding for Great Lakes protection and cleanup programs is a shocking abandonment of crucial, successful efforts to protect our drinking water and the most important natural asset for our entire region.
Budgets are much more than numbers, they are statements of values and priorities.  By hitting the delete button on all federal efforts to protect the Great Lakes, President Trump is telling our entire region that our health is not his priority.  By cutting Great Lakes protection, President Trump is cutting good jobs in water infrastructure projects, he is cutting the cleanup of toxic pollution in our drinking water, and he is cutting off hope for communities that rely on these resources.
Protecting our Great Lakes has long been a bipartisan priority for our region’s leaders.  Trump’s Great Lakes cuts should be dead on arrival for all members of Congress from our region.  We are ready to work with all of the people and communities of our region to resist and reverse Trump’s cuts, and continue the critical work to clean up and restore the Great Lakes that are so important to all of us.”
###
Read more about what the impacts the loss of the GLRI would mean here. View our March 13, 2017 press conference here.