Freshwater Future Canada Blog

Freshwater Weekly – May 11th, 2018

This week: Farming and nutrient pollution + Ontario’s indigenous water crisis + Flint lead pipe replacement resumes + Ontario budget a win for the Great Lakes

Canada’s Indigenous Water Crisis Still Ongoing

What many Canadians and Americans take for granted every day has been an out-of-reach luxury for hundreds of thousands of Canadian citizens for decades. In 2015, there were 133 boil-water advisories in 93 different First Nation communities—the vast majority of which are in Ontario. Despite promises to end boil-water advisories for First Nations, the Trudeau government is still a long way from achieving that goal. As of the beginning of the month, 76 of those advisories were still in effect. Even in the more densely-populated areas of Southern Ontario, the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte First Nation has been under an advisory for over 10 years. 53% of residents’ water wells there have tested positive for E. coli and fecal bacteria.

The causes are many, and contextualizing the current day crisis requires delving into Canada’s rich colonial history. But an undeniable component––according to Human Rights Watch––is the reality that the stringent and legally binding safe water standards of Canada’s provincial and territorial governments do not extend to First Nations communities. This has lead to systems being designed, constructed, and operated on reserves without the same kind of legal standards and protections that apply to all other Canadians. Of the dozens of drinking water advisories in effect on systems in Ontario First Nations, at least 57 of them are for systems less than 25 years old and 12 are for systems less than 15 years old.

To hear the water crisis from First Nation citizens themselves, we recommend checking out this Human Rights Watch produced video and this collection of stories compiled by VICE News. You can read the full Human Rights Watch report here and a summary of a new progress report by the Suzuki Foundation here.

Ontario’s 2018 Budget Makes Big Investments in Great Lakes

On Tuesday, Ontario passed its 2018 budget, which includes $52 million over three years in new funding to support Great Lakes conservation and restoration. Programs targeted for funding include monitoring and research on a variety issues (with a focus on Lake Erie), reducing pollution from combined sewer overflows, leveraging First Nation and Métis knowledge and implementing the Lake Erie Action Plan to reduce algae outbreaks.

Spring Weather Prompts Flint Lead Pipe Replacement to Resume

Flint’s City Council approved nearly $28 million in contracts to five different companies at a special meeting last Wednesday. The city aims to have approximately 6,000 lead service lines replaced by the end of this year, leaving an additional 6,000 to be completed in 2019. While lead levels have dropped precipitously in recent years, residents are justifiably still wary of the water coming out of their taps. Find links to our past coverage of Flint’s water crisis here.

For more information on which neighborhoods have had lines replaced or are expected to see lines replaced, check here. If you are a Flint resident, Freshwater Future highly recommends you grant the city permission to replace lead service lines from the main water line to your water meter. This is done at no cost to you. You can fill out the FAST Start Online Opt-In Form here.

When Nutrients Become Pollution

When excess nutrients exist in waterways, it can stimulate excessive algae growth, shift the composition of species, disrupt the food web, and create hypoxic conditions. Certain types of algae release their own toxic byproducts, and many can interact with treatment chemicals to create others. In drinking water, excess nitrogen takes the form of nitrates, which are dangerous to infants and expectant mothers at high levels.

Ohio’s impairment designation of Lake Erie and subsequent admission that years of efforts to reduce agricultural runoff have been unsuccessful have prompted renewed attention to the acute problem of nutrient pollution. An estimated 90% of excess nutrients flowing into Lake Erie from Ohio waters are from nonpoint, agricultural sources, and failure to act has lead to beach closures, drinking water advisories, and the infamous 2014 Toledo water crisis. While many farmers have implemented best-practices and experimented with cutting-edge technologies, it hasn’t been enough to realize the Ohio Phosphorous Task Force’s goal of reducing excess phosphorus flowing off farms by 40 percent—the amount needed to reduce or eliminate algal blooms in Lake Erie. Now, Ohio is considering a fundamental shift away from voluntary buy-in from agriculture and towards new mandatory regulations. Read more about the steps some farmers are taking to reduce their own impacts here.

Other Great Lakes states are also coming to terms with nutrient pollution in their own waterways. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s recently proposed groundwater protection rule would regulate the use of nitrogen fertilizer in areas of the state where soils are vulnerable to leaching and where drinking water supplies have high nitrate levels. And the EPA is currently investigating groundwater contamination from nitrates in Wisconsin.

 

Ways to Make a Difference

There are lots of simple ways to help protect our waters. Find more at freshwaterfuture.org/take-action.

Freshwater Weekly – May 4th, 2018

This week: Ontario Freshwater Priorities + the Soo Locks + Wisconsin Refinery Explosion + New Estimates for Great Lakes Oil Spill

Canadian Environmental Orgs List Ontario Freshwater Priorities

Freshwater Future Canada participated alongside an array of prominent environmental groups across Ontario in collectively drafting this list of freshwater threats and priorities for action. Highlights include ending boil-water advisories for all Ontarians including First Nation communities, reversing wetland loss by 2022, and reducing algae-feeding phosphorus pollution by 40% over the next 7 years. Addressing these threats is critical to protecting the Great Lakes, which supply drinking water to almost 80% of Ontarians.

Interview: FWF Executive Director on Lake Erie Algae Problem

DWILS 1320 radio station out of Lansing, Michigan interviewed our Executive Director—Jill Ryan—about Lake Erie’s algae problem. Jill reacted to Ohio’s recent announcement (read our summary in last week’s email) that its voluntary preventative measures haven’t worked, and she gave her thoughts on what needs to be done moving forward. Check it out here.

Scientists Testing for Black Carbon in Lake Superior After Wisconsin Refinery Explosion

Last Thursday, residents of Superior, Wisconsin and Duluth, Minnesota watched as thick, black smoke poured into the air from an explosion at Husky Energy’s Superior Refinery. The smoke plume was so massive that folks miles away could see it.

Fires—both natural and artificial—create a byproduct called black carbon, and researchers at University of Minnesota—Duluth are taking the opportunity to measure the levels of black carbon that were potentially added to Lake Superior from the smoke plume. Black carbon occurs naturally in the Lake, but the scientists are hoping that any measurable increase can offer insight into how black carbon effects microorganisms that live in freshwater. They say further study could illuminate how pollutants like oil cycle through and degrade in the Lake, something that’s not well understood in large lakes like Lake Superior.

Michigan State University Study: $6.3 Billion Price Tag for Potential Mackinac Straits Oil Spill

MSU professor and ecological economist Robert B. Richardson has released a new study estimating the impacts of a potential oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac. The study’s conclusions are notably higher than previous estimates: $697.5 million in natural resource damage and restoration costs, $4.8 billion in economic impact to the tourism economy, $61 million in damage to commercial fishing, $233 million impact to municipal water systems, and $485 million in damage to coastal property values.

The pipeline, built in 1953, runs 645 miles from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Canada, and transports up to 540,000 barrels of light crude oil and natural gas liquids per day. Calls to shut down the pipeline have become increasingly vocal and mainstream since 2013, when Line-5-operator Enbridge was found responsible the Kalamazoo River oil spill—one of the largest inland spills in U.S. history.

 

Ways to Make a Difference

There are lots of simple ways to help protect our waters. Find more at freshwaterfuture.org/take-action.

Freshwater Weekly — April 27th, 2018

This week: Ontario ferrochrome smelter + algae forecast + Foxconn gets 7 million gallons/day + oil spill simulation + Flint crisis anniversary

Ohio EPA: Lake Erie Algae Prevention Unsuccessful

Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario have all pledged to reduce nutrient loads reaching Lake Erie by 40% by 2025. A new Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study shows that the state is not on track to meet this target. Researchers found no clear decrease during the past five years in the nutrient pollution feeding the persistent algal blooms in Lake Erie. The review also finds that the vast majority of the phosphorus and nitrogen flowing from Ohio’s streams and rivers into the lake’s western end comes from agriculture.

In this Detroit Free Press article, Freshwater Future’s Executive Director—Jill Ryan— talks about what the study means for the future of algae prevention. The study’s results demonstrate that states must move beyond voluntary action programs, and that more must be done to ensure farmers have the tools and funding available to implement solutions and best practices.

Northern Ontario Will Host Ferrochrome Smelter

The “Ring of Fire” is the bestowed name of a massive planned chromite mining and smelting development project located in the mineral-rich James Bay Lowlands of Northern Ontario. While the mine itself would lie outside the Great Lakes basin, the proposed ferrochrome smelting facility, or processing plant, may be built in Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, or Thunder Bay—each within the Great Lakes watershed.

Noront Resources, the corporation behind the development, is expected to announce their chosen location after this year’s provincial election.

Wisconsin DNR Approves Diversion for Planned Foxconn LCD Factory  

Late Wednesday, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) publicly announced their approval of a plan to provide Foxconn Technology Group 7 million gallons/day of Lake Michigan water. The coastal city of Racine, Wisconsin will provide the diversion, which will travel approximately 6 miles to the factory site in nearby Mount Pleasant.

The reason the diversion required state approval is the fact that Mount Pleasant is a “straddling community,” meaning the municipality lies partially within the Great Lakes basin and partially without. That made it subject to the Great Lakes Compact, which requires state officials to approve diversions for straddling communities. Communities outside the basin, but within a straddling county, require the approval of all Great Lakes states.

While the diversion will represent only a 0.07% increase in total surface water withdrawals from Lake Michigan, Freshwater Future opposed the diversion primarily because the Great Lakes Compact requires straddling community diversions to be made for “public purposes.” We believe allowing Foxconn, a private corporation, to circumvent this requirement sets a potentially dangerous legal precedent that may undermine the Compact’s ability to conserve Great Lakes water.

Simulation Shows How Devastating Chemical and Oil Spills Could Be in the Straits of Mackinac

A Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) simulation shows that the unique currents in the Straits would cause materials to disperse far more quickly than in other locations in the Great Lakes. Over the course of one week, a chemical contaminant could spread to hundreds of miles of coastline in Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas.

An early April 550 gallon coolant leak from electric cables in the Straits of Mackinac brought renewed attention to the area’s ecological and economic vulnerability. For several years, northern Michigan inhabitants have grown increasingly weary of Enbridge Inc.’s 65-year-old Line 5, which carries petroleum products across Lake Michigan just west of the Mackinac Bridge. This month’s leak brought renewed focus on the beleaguered pipeline when it was revealed that the same anchor strike that caused the coolant leak also dented Line 5 in several locations.

Wednesday Marked Four Year Anniversary of Flint Water Crisis

After four years, over 12,000 lead service lines still need replacing, high lead levels are still a concern, and folks still don’t trust their tap water. Curt Guyette, an investigative reporter for the ACLU of Michigan, wrote this blog on why the water crisis isn’t even close to being over.

You can catch up on the last year of Freshwater Future’s coverage using the links below.

Freshwater Future Condemns Michigan’s Decision to End Free Bottled Water Program for Flint Residents | The Lead and Copper Rule Is Not a Health Based Rule | Flint Residents Shouldn’t Lose Their Homes Over Bills for Poisoned Water | Michigan Governor Appoints State Official Criminally Charged in Flint Crisis to New Public Health Panel | The State of Michigan Says Flint’s Water Is Safe | Michigan Proposes Stricter Standard on Lead, Replacing Lead Pipes Statewide

Ways to Make a Difference

There are lots of simple ways to help protect our waters. Find more at freshwaterfuture.org/take-action.

 

Freshwater Weekly — April 20th, 2018

This week: Lake Erie “Impaired” + Ontario Teams Up With California on Climate + U.S. Legislation Has Binational Consequences

Lake Erie Impairment Designation is Good, but Lawmaker Action Still Needed to Fix the Problem

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently declared the open waters of western Lake Erie “impaired” under the Clean Water Act, marking a stark reversal by the Kasich administration after years of resistance. The impairment listing is just the beginning of a long and slow process, with success hardly guaranteed without action from state lawmakers. Ohio policy expert Adam Rissien explains what this all means in a special guest blog.

Ontario and California Vow to Lead the Way on Climate Change

Premier Kathleen Wynne and California Governor Jerry Brown held a bilateral meeting in Toronto on Monday to discuss next steps in the movement to stop climate change.

Ontario and California — the two largest economies in Canada and the United States, respectively — have joined forces with Québec to lead North America in the fight to halt climate change by creating the second-largest carbon market in the world. In its first five auctions of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission allowances, Ontario raised $2.4 billion by putting a price on pollution. By law, all of these proceeds are reinvested in programs, rebates, and incentives that are helping people afford low-carbon choices. Future funds will go towards lowering transit fares; expanding high-speed rail; renovating schools, universities, colleges, and hospitals; and subsidizing home-energy renovations.

Ontario’s action comes as the province and the broader Great Lakes region have experienced more volatile weather, increased precipitation, and record flooding from climate change. 

U.S. Senate Rejects Bill Stripping Protections Against Invasive Species  

If you participated in our letter campaign earlier this week, you have reason to celebrate! Despite pressure from the shipping industry, a bill weakening invasive species protections failed a procedural vote on Wednesday. An otherwise routine Coast Guard reauthorization bill was stymied by Great Lakes senators who refused to allow the bill to even be considered.

A rider attached to the bill would have kept states from regulating the ballast water ships carry to keep balanced—and that often provides invasive species a free ride to new homes—while limiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to do so. It is estimated that between 55 to 70 percent of invasive species in the Great Lakes have arrived through ballast water, making this bill of particular concern to Canadian Great Lakes residents. Effectively regulating Great Lakes ballast water will likely require binational cooperation to set a stringent universal standard. Until then, we’re glad to see this bill fail.

U.S. House Unveils 2018 Farm Bill, Some Cuts to Conservation Programs

The House Agriculture Committee last Thursday released the text of this year’s Farm Bill—legislation authorizing major agriculture, conservation, and food safety programs. This version of the bill overhauls the conservation title by incorporating the Conservation Stewardship Program into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The former gives long-term incentives for farmers for improving conservation practices, while the latter provides financial and technical assistance to implement conservation practices. The House text also increases from 24 million acres to 29 million acres the amount of land available to participate in the Conservation Reserve Program, whereby the federal government pays farmers to remove sensitive land from agricultural production to improve soil quality. While the expansion is good, this bill lowers the total payments for land rentals under the program. Of particular concern to Freshwater Future is a lack of Clean Water Act safeguards in this bill preventing pesticide application in or near water bodies without oversight.

If you’re up for the challenge, the full 641 pages of text are available here and a section by section summary prepared by the committee can be found here. As the process moves forward, we’ll be analyzing changes and updating you as the bill contents solidify.

The Lead and Copper Rule is Not a Health Based Rule  

Elin Betanzo—a water quality engineer and Lead and Copper Rule expert—took issue with a Detroit News editorial that she says repeats common misunderstandings. In a guest blog, she tells us why any blanket statement that “families can drink their water without fear” in Flint is misleading without mentioning the ongoing risk of lead exposure and the need for lead-removing filters or bottled water.

Ways to Make a Difference

There are lots of simple ways to help protect our waters. Find more at freshwaterfuture.org/take-action.

Freshwater Weekly — April 13th, 2018

This week: Flint + Trade Wars and Water Quality + New Plan for Lake Huron

Flint Residents Lose Access to Bottled Water

Last Friday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced that the State will cease shipments of free bottled water to Flint residents affected by the water crisis, despite widespread distrust of and confusion about water quality and filter use. We believe that for the sake of public health and alleviating public mistrust, bottled water distribution should continue until all lead service lines in the city are replaced.

Our sister organization Freshwater Future released this media statement. They’re asking all of our supporters to send an email to Michigan Governor Snyder to tell him Flint still needs an alternative water source. Canadians are invited to show their solidarity.  

Ontario Improves Drinking Water Protections Against Pipeline Spills

Under the Clean Water Act, Ontario requires source protection plans to address potential threats to drinking water. Last week, the provincial government instituted a change that allows those plans to address the potential threat of liquid hydrocarbon pipelines to drinking water sources.

In the News: How a U.S. Trade War With China Could Affect Great Lakes Water Quality

China’s proposed second round of tariffs would apply to U.S. soybeans, which could  impact more than just the farmers who grow the crop. It turns out soybeans absorb excess nitrates in the soil left behind by fertilizers applied to corn grown on the same land. If left in the soil, these nitrates are often carried into streams, rivers, and lakes where they feed algae growth. Any large scale disruption in soybean production could mean more nutrient pollution in places like Lake Erie if farmers can’t find another market for their crop or replace soybeans with another nitrate-absorbing crop.

According to the Iowa Soybean Association, one out of every three rows of soybeans grown in the United States is exported to China. That accounts to $14 billion each year. That’s a lot of soybeans!

U.S. EPA Releases Plan to Restore and Preserve Lake Huron

The Lakewide Action and Management Plan (LAMP) for Lake Huron 2017-2021 is part of a binational effort to restore and preserve the Lake Huron ecosystem. The LAMP helps set priorities for research and monitoring and outlines actions that government agencies and the public can take to combat environmental and water quality challenges.

The current Lake Huron LAMP determined that the Lake is in “fair” condition and faces threats that include chemical contaminants, invasive species, and nutrient pollution. Following the release of the LAMP, the EPA announced a $980,000 award to the State of Michigan to help restore fish and wildlife habitat in Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay. This funding comes from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), which organizations like Freshwater Future helped secure $300 million for in the recently passed U.S. federal budget.

Check out this neat map that shows where GLRI dollars have gone.

Freshwater Hero: Kathleen Heideman of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Last week we announced our annual Freshwater Hero awards, which we bestow upon unique and pioneering water protectors in the region. This week we’re highlighting Kathleen—a writer, artist, and environmentalist who’s been defending clean water and wild places from the dangers of sulfide mining for years. She serves on the board of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC), and leads projects on the Coalition’s Mining Action Group. We’ve funded Kathleen and her colleagues for their work on Michigan’s Back Forty and Eagle mines. Read more about Kathleen on her website. Stay tuned as we profile more Freshwater Heroes each week.

WAYS TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

There are lots of simple ways to help protect our waters. Find more at freshwaterfuture.org/take-action.