Freshwater Weekly – August 17th, 2018

This week: Sewage Leaks in Toronto + Disappearing Great Lakes Beaches + Foxconn Invests in Renewable Energy + Freshwater Future’s Flint Water Testing Program

Estimated One Trillion Litres of Sewage Have Leaked into Canadian Lakes and Rivers Over Last Several Years

Recent flash-flooding in Toronto caused an unknown amount of raw sewage to overflow into the city’s harbourfront. According to national water advocacy group Swim Drink Fish, bacteria levels in affected areas “were off the charts.” Sewer and stormwater overflow can include everything from used condoms and plastic tampon applicators to mounds of shredded toilet paper and plenty of unidentifiable solids.

This is an all-to-common occurrence in the Great Lakes region, and across Canada. Toronto, like most other Canadian cities, doesn’t collect real-time data about sewage leaks. Thus, it’s unknown how often and to what extent this type of event occurs. The Canadian government requires annual reporting on the issue, but most municipalities submit estimates based on computer models. Data provided by Environment Canada shows that in 2017, approximately 215 billion litres of raw sewage leaked into local waterways without treatment—an increase of 10 percent over five years. About 2/3  of the 2017 amount was released intentionally during high-intensity precipitation events. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimates that it will cost cities $18 billion to implement the federal government’s new regulations on wastewater treatment that are aimed at severely curbing the overflow events.

Cornell Researchers Discover 2 New Non-Native Species in Great Lakes

The Great Lakes now have a total of 180 documented foreign species now that scientists have observed two new exotic species, both about the size of a flea. They both have been found in low abundance, and scientists have no evidence so far of serious negative side-effects on native zooplankton species. For that reason, they are not yet being referred to as “invasive,” a term which is typically reserved for species with negative impact. These are the third and fourth non-native zooplankton species discovered in the Great Lakes in the past three years.

Plankton serve as the base of the food chain and are a staple in several small fish species’ diets. Over the last few decades, native zooplankton populations in the Great Lakes have plummeted thanks to the highly-efficient filtering of invasive zebra and quagga mussels. It’s unclear what, if any, effect these two new species will have on Great Lakes ecosystems. Scientists’ next job is figuring out how they arrived, but an early suspicion is the ballast water ships carry from foreign ports.

Foxconn Addresses Critics in Wisconsin, Plans Investments In Tech to Reduce Water Consumption and Increase Renewable Energy

Back in May, we reported on an approved legal challenge to Foxconn’s expected water consumption at its proposed Wisconsin factory. Following this announcement, Foxconn released information about a planned $30 million investment for a water recycling system that will reduce their daily consumption from ~7 million gallons to around 2.5 million gallons.

The company is now following up with details of a possible rooftop solar array that may cover a significant portion of the plant’s expected 200 megawatt electric demand—somewhere between 100 and 150 megawatts. The power expected to be drawn initially from Foxconn plus its nearby suppliers is over six times greater than the next-largest Wisconsin manufacturing plant, and is similar to the total power used in downtown Madison. Negotiations with the local utility are in their early stages, and no plans are finalized.

While an insignificant drop in the (freshwater) ocean, we opposed Foxconn’s 7 million gallon/day withdrawal based on the negative precedent it set with regard to the Great Lakes Compact’s (check out our comprehensive overview of the Compact here) rules on water withdrawals. We still hold that view! Regardless, Foxconn’s early announcements around water and energy efficiency are welcome news.

Have High Great Lakes Water Levels Made Your Favorite Beach Disappear?

Many of us here at Freshwater Future have noticed our favorite beaches have looked a little, well, on the lean side these past few years. To help us understand why, Michigan Radio interviewed Philip Chu—a research scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory—about the ins and outs of water levels. Check out their 10 minute interview to find out what factors impact our water levels, how erosion plays a part in our changing beaches, and whether or not this is “normal.”

Freshwater Future’s Flint Water Testing Program — In the News

“These young people will be the future water warriors.” Read more on The Renewal Project.

“We’re gonna be a model city for people all around this country for people to learn from us. Cause we didn’t go through a crisis for nothing.” Read more on NBC News.

“A pilot program is giving Flint teenagers the opportunity to learn new skills, while helping city residents still too scared to trust their drinking water is safe.” Read more on Michigan Radio.

As Algae Season Descends on Lake Erie, Freshwater Future Amps Up Campaign to Challenge Political Leaders to Fix Nutrient Pollution

We know what’s wrong. We know how to fix it. The only thing lacking is the political will to do something about Lake Erie algae.

Take Action Today: Send a message to Premier Ford of Ontario, Governor Snyder of Michigan, Governor Kasich of Ohio, and Governor Wolf of Pennsylvania. Tell them we need leadership on saving Lake Erie.