Tag: Invasive Species

Don’t Forget the Department of Natural Resources

An angler speaks with a DNR creel clerk. Photo courtesy Michigan DNR

By Tom Baird

Many Michiganders overlook a state agency critical to the environment.

When we talk about water issues in Michigan, we usually think of environmental protection, especially related to pollution and public health. We tend to forget that environmentalism was born out of the conservation movement of the early 20th century. Water issues remain central to the mission of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to this day.

Water was an integral aspect of the early conservation efforts of Michigan, often related to fish and game issues, as well as agriculture. The Department of Conservation was created in 1921, and the DNR took its place in 1965. Michigan’s early environmental laws were assigned to the DNR, but under Governor John Engler the Department was split, with environmental functions going to the Department of Environmental Quality (now Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, EGLE), allegedly because the environmental staff at the DNR was too zealous in its enforcement of the law.

The DNR still has an active water program, covering areas of major concern. Under the new administration of Governor Gretchen Whitmer, several of these areas have seen renewed focus. And the DNR has a Senior Water Policy Advisor, Dr. Tammy Newcomb, who oversees many of these efforts.

PFAS pollution is an area generally within the purview of EGLE and the Department of Health and Human Services. The DNR has an important role in assessing contamination of water bodies and the fish and game that use them. Recently “do not eat” advisories have been posted due to PFAS contamination on Clark’s Marsh and the Au Sable River near Oscoda and the Huron River, for example. The DNR is critical in determining how PFAS compounds work through an ecosystem, and its half-life in various species of fish. Michigan appears to be the only place in the world that has tested white-tailed deer for PFAS contamination, resulting in a “do not eat” advisory for venison near Oscoda. Much of this work has been controversial, especially in areas where hunting and fishing are integral to the local economy, but the DNR has pushed hard when public health was at risk.

Water withdrawals remain another controversial area of concern where the DNR is involved. Applicants for high-volume ground water withdrawal authorizations use the Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool (WWAT) to determine whether a withdrawal will have an adverse environmental effect. This is based on a computer model that assesses the effect on nearby streams. Those streams are classified, in part, by their temperature, flow, and the type of fish living in them. Cold-water trout streams, for example, are highly valued, so a relatively small adverse effect (compared to a sluggish warm water stream) might trigger a denial. The DNR is responsible for characterizing each stream’s type, and identifying the fish that live in it. Recent water withdrawals by Nestlé for bottled water and by Encana for fracking in northern Lower Michigan, and for agricultural irrigation in the southwestern part of the state, have caused significant controversies and litigation. The WWAT is under continuing review.

The Water Use Advisory Council is back in operation. Its purposes include the study of groundwater use in Michigan, and review of the scientific basis and implementation of the WWAT. As noted above, the DNR has an integral role to play, and Dr. Newcomb is the DNR’s delegate to the Water Use Advisory Council. Important work on the WWAT will continue in 2020.

Invasive species are a never-ending challenge for the Great Lakes. A major focus is Asian carp. Intensive negotiations are continuing with Illinois and federal authorities to block their migration into Lake Michigan. The goal is to engineer and finance the “Brandon Road Locks Project.” Brandon Road is a system connecting Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River. It could allow carp to invade the Great Lakes. The project involves measures such as an engineered channel and acoustic fish deterrent, air bubbles, electric currents, improved locks with flushing systems, specialized boat ramps, and other measures. Negotiations with Illinois are ongoing, with the DNR keeping up the pressure.

Climate change is a major emerging threat to Michigan’s fish, wildlife, and state forests. Warming temperatures and severe weather events threaten rivers, lakes, and streams, and their fisheries. The DNR Fisheries Division has been studying the issue for several years now. At some point, difficult decisions will need to be made regarding management of these resources in the face of these climate effects. For example, some streams will warm to the point that they will not be viable habitats for trout, causing management objectives to change. This will be controversial due to its effect on anglers and local recreational economies, and the DNR will play a central role in deciding how to manage these resources in the face of these changes.

The Department of Natural Resources remains integral to the study and management of Michigan’s water issues.  Monitoring its work is critical to assure healthy and productive habitats and sustainable water uses.

Tom Baird, who serves on FLOW’s board of directors, is past president of the Anglers of the Au Sable and chair of the group’s legal and governmental relations committees. Reach him at tbairdo@aol.com.

FLOW Staff to Issue Public Statement at Army Corps of Engineers Public Comment Forums on the Great Lakes Mississippi River Interbasin Study

Click here to view and download the full press release PDF

For immediate release
Contact: Allison Voglesong, Communication Designer
231 944-1568 or allison@flowforwater.org

FLOW Staff to Issue Public Statement at Army Corps of Engineers Public Comment Forums on the Great Lakes Mississippi River Interbasin Study

TRAVERSE CITY – The United States Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) public comment forums on the Great Lakes Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS) report makes the fifth of nine stops in Traverse City, MI on Thursday, January 23, 2014. FLOW, a Traverse-City based nonprofit water policy and education center, has prepared written comments and will make public statements during today’s forum that seeks public input on the new GLMRIS report. The study enumerates eight plans for keeping invasive species, namely Asian Carp, out of the Great Lakes. FLOW encourages the ACE to implement plans that undertake complete hydrologic separation of the Great Lakes Basin and the Mississippi River Basin.

“We need strong Great Lakes policies that protect water quality and quantity, and ensure that invasive species never reach our common waters of the Great Lakes,” says FLOW Communication Designer Allison Voglesong. The present systems for keeping invasive Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes are a series of electrical barriers, but these alone are insufficient, and additional measures are needed urgently.

“To address this complex ecological and multi-jurisdictional problem, there must be a complete hydrologic separation between the Great Lakes Basin and the Mississippi River Basin,” says Voglesong. Cost estimates for ACE plans including complete hydrologic separation vary, upwards of $15 billion in some cases. “From an economic standpoint the Great Lakes support a $7 billion fishery and a $62 billion overall economy,” she says, “There is too much at risk, and the cost of inaction will be far greater than the investments considered here today.”

Voglesong outlines three statements and three questions for the ACE to consider:

  • The 25-year implementation timeframe is too long, and we urge research into a realistic but shorter timeframe;
  • The research in the GLMRIS study is thorough, but the public and our decision-makers need better guidance from the agency for prioritizing possible solutions;
  • We are proponents for plans that establish complete hydrologic separation for all five possible pathways.
  • Is it economically and logistically feasible to scale back portions of these plans that are outside of the scope of managing invasives, such as water treatment, sediment remediation, and flood mitigation?
  • And, are there risks with eliminating these components?
  • Could other plans for complete separation, like those released by GLC and the Cities Initiative, be substituted or reconciled with your complete separation plans to find an economically viable middle-ground?

Voglesong urges the long-term implications of the plan. She says, “Doubtless, there are incomparable, difficult tradeoffs involved in solving this problem. The bottom line, however, is that we must protect the delicate ecological balance of the Great Lakes from destructive invasive species because the waters of the Great Lakes Basin are our shared commons, and our legacy for generations to come.”

Welcome to the New FLOW site

Welcome to FLOW – Flow for Love of Water. Beginning today, with the launch and christening of our new website, I will host and write a new species for the “blog” world. In the conversation to come, I hope we will all get to the heart of the beauty, threats, and solutions that just might save the precious Great Lakes and their tributary waters — the entire hydrologic cycle  — these gifts of nature and God, the Great Spirit.  Fortuitously, previous generations have not yet killed these Great Lakes off.  And its up to us and our  children to make sure this doesn’t happen.

The threats facing the Great Lakes and its tributary waters, communities, businesses, governments loom large. The difference of the threats today compared to 40, 30 or even 20 years ago is that they are systemic, large, beyond borders and watershed. All of the permit and regulatory systems, government investments in preservation and restoration, and conservation protection from that first Earth Day in 1970 to date, are being overwhelmed by harms documented by science that undermine this incredible effort and investment. Climate change, with its increased intensity and shifting patterns is attributable to human conduct and behavior, has undeniably contributed to the lowest recorded water levels in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron – a single system. Read our recent op-ed about Climate Change and Water Levels

Climate change is a diversion of water as much as any other, and the impacts to environment and economy are devastating, and will get much worse if we can not chart a new course for food, energy, and human use, transfers, diversions, waste of water. We’re finding out very fast that there is no “surplus” or “abundance” of water, not here or anywhere else. As a wise Michigan Supreme Court Justice once said in the late 1800s, “water is a wandering thing, of necessity a commons.” In other words, water has meaning in the watershed where it flows and supports the community, life, and endeavors that have evolved there.

Last week I had coffee with friend and Editor of Traverse Magazine, Jeff Smith, who out of his keen instinct and concern about the Great Lakes told me about the disappearance of the tiny shrimp diporeia that makes up a key link to the food chain and healthy fish populations in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Fish populations are already plummeting from invasive species, even without the Asian Carp, to the point where whitefish, trout and salmon are scrawny scales and bones.

There are lots of other systemic threats – nutrient run off, sewage overflows, nuclear waste shipments more toxic than the lakes could ever absorb, a disconnect between energy consumption and policy, including the fracking craze which to date is moving faster than the information needed to assure local watersheds and communities are not sacrificed, or that global climate change with even more evaporation may be exacerbated if not handled correctly.

So this brings me back to FLOW, why this webpage, and why this first page invites you to interact with us to explore and understand these many threats, and how to adapt, become resilient through foresight, and find solutions. Since that Saturday in May 2011, when a conference on “Threats and Solutions” for the Great Lakes was winding down on Northwestern Michigan College’s Traverse City campus, a new idea, one that would force us to look at threats to the planet and humanity, like those facing the Great Lakes, emerged: We need a new paradigm or framework that goes beyond, but compliments, protects like an umbrella the time and investment to protect our quality of life and better assure prosperity for all living creatures.

What we have discovered at FLOW is this: The systemic threats to the Great Lakes present a rare, although unprecedented, challenge to all of us. If we can understand these threats as a whole, that is holistically, through science, data, values, and new frameworks, we may find a unifying principle that integrates the science, policy, law and economics into a comprehensive way of thinking and making decisions that will assure solutions, adaptation, and resilience that protect and pass on the integrity of these Great Lakes and their people from one generation to the next, thereby also assuring our quality of life and prosperity and communities.

And what we have identified is this: The Great Lakes are part of a larger water cycle that is inseparable from the air, soil, and surface or groundwater by or through which it flows. The Great Lakes have been declared and protected by a public trust since 1892 when the U.S. Supreme Court declared these inland sees public, held by states in trust for citizens in perpetuity, so they cannot be alienated, abused, or materially impaired from one generation to the next. All eight Great Lakes and Canadian provinces recognize this right of public use for boating, swimming, fishing, recreation, commerce, and survival. So if we understand, learn about, and apply this public trust as a fundamental umbrella principle, no matter what specific choices and decisions are made for this or that special benefit or at this risk or that cost, are made, the framework of water as public, a commons, and public trust principles will give us a way to make decisions that point toward a generational integrity and protection of that which is part of and dear to us all.

Just this afternoon at the office we were half-joking about the new 3-D printer technology, where something can be manufactured or made from a printer, like the coffee cup in my hand. And it occurred to us, some things that just can’t be duplicated – not the diporeia shrimp or the larger commons that we know as the Great Lakes, smack in the heart of North America.

In the years ahead, we hope to be a small part of a new framework, way of seeing and solving the threats and problems we face, one that is based on time-tested principles like those in the bod of law known as “public trust.” We welcome your participation and hope you join us in whatever way you can.

Finally, I want to end this first post with a number of acknowledgements, too many to list  here, but we thank everyone of you who has supported and worked to bring FLOW to this threshold. Thank ou to our fine Board of Directors, some of our chief fans and advisors, Maude Barlow, Wenonah Hauter, Irena Salina and Steve Star – director and producer of the film “FLOW,” Sam Bosso of the film “Blue Gold,” Ted Curran, Denis Pierce, Mike Delp, Dave Dempsey, Carl Ganter, Keith Schneider, Hans Voss, Brian Beauchamp, Amy Kinney, Judy Cunningham and all of you at the Michigan Land Use Institute, Terry Swier and everyone at the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, the lawyers and staff at Olson, Bzdok & Howard, Bob Otwell, Herrington-Fitch Foundation, Park Foundation, Skip Pruss, Rich Vanderveen, Ross Biederman, Judy Bosma, Linda Sommerville (and so many other event volunteers), and my brother Eric Olson, our organizational and media leader who has wrestled this webpage into existence, Executive Director Liz Kirkwood, and Ursula Johnson, our past communications head, and now Allison Voglesong, a media and communications whiz who comes to us from Circle of Blue, and our web designer Pro Web Marketing, and Chelsea Bay Dennis and Aaron Dennis.