Freshwater Future Canada Blog

Freshwater Weekly — June 29th, 2018

This week: Coastal Flooding Study + PFAS Report + Ontario Walking Back Climate Commitment + Trump Order May Affect Great Lakes

New Ontario Premier to Scrap Cap-and-Trade and GreenON Energy Rebate Programs

Doug Ford, sworn in today as Ontario’s new premier, has already announced plans to end Ontario’s cap-and-trade and GreenON programs. This means that Ontarians will lose the chance to qualify for thousands of dollars worth of rebates on a number of energy efficiency improvements, from windows to insulation to smart thermostats to solar energy equipment. It also means the Ontario government’s push towards an energy efficient and carbon-neutral future will come to a halt.

Ford’s announcement is notable given the province’s previous commitments to combating climate change, which is considered by many scientists to be a top threat to the stability of freshwater systems across the globe, including our Great Lakes. It will take years to disentangle from Ontario’s climate commitments with neighboring province of Quebec and the state of California, and by some estimates, cost Ontarians up to $4 billion in compensations, legal fees, penalties, and administrative costs. Canadian economists also warn that abandoning energy efficiency programs will raise energy costs, since saving electricity costs Ontario 5 to 10 times less than adding new electricity generation capacity.

Great Lakes Coastal Flooding Study Aims to Pinpoint High-Risk Areas

Every year, there are high profile flooding incidents across the Great Lakes region. Most recently, residents of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Northern Wisconsin, and northeastern Minnesota experienced historic flooding that destroyed homes, wiped out roads, produced massive sinkholes, and lead to the deaths of several. Previous years have seen record floods in Detroit, on the coast of Lake Ontario, in southwestern Ontario province, and more. In response, the United States government has initiated steps to address the problem.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is conducting a  Great Lakes Coastal Flood study that will be used to update flood maps for coastal communities and define areas most at risk of flooding. It’s a part of a national initiative to update flood maps and show areas prone to flood damage. Some flood maps haven’t been updated since the 1970s, which is important because these maps guide development in communities that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, which requires special building ordinances to ensure structures are more likely to withstand flooding. Addressing the increased incidences of flooding across the United States and Canada will take many drastic policy changes, but this is an important first step in bringing our collective approach to the problem into the 21st century.

Ocean Policy Reversal by President Trump May Affect Great Lakes

An executive order, signed June 19th, declares a new national policy to “ensure that Federal regulations and management decisions do not prevent productive and sustainable use of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes waters.” Based on the order’s language, the intent of the policy shift is to maximize economic growth, entrepreneurial opportunities, ocean industrial activity, and fossil fuel energy security. President Trump’s declaration stands in stark contrast to the Obama order he is reversing, which was signed in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and emphasized biological diversity, conservation, and scientific inquiry.

Some officials, like Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) interpreted the Trump order as a precursor to opening the Great Lakes to oil and gas drilling, which was prohibited by Congress in the 2005 Energy Policy Act. Stabenow asked the president to confirm his support for the law. For now, the effects this action will have on the Great Lakes—if there are any at all—are unknown.

Delayed PFAS Report Finally Released: Chemicals More Dangerous to Health Than Previously Thought

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) materials sent to members of both U.S. political parties revealed that the Trump Administration withheld this study out of concern for a “public relations nightmare.” After pressure from both sides of the aisle, a government health agency has released their draft report that recommends exposure levels to PFAS chemicals much lower than current EPA guidelines.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) reckons that the risk level for PFOA is 11 parts per trillion (roughly seven times lower than the EPA health advisory, which is 70 ppt) and for PFOS, 7 ppt. The EPA advisory is not legally enforceable but many utilities and states use it as a benchmark. Only a handful of states have set standards near ATSDR recommendations. The report also discusses 12 other PFAS chemicals, none of which are currently regulated by EPA drinking water standards. It provides risk levels for two: PFNA (11 ppt) and PFHxS (74 ppt). There was insufficient data to calculate risk levels for the other 10 chemicals.

This report may well pave the way for Great Lakes states to lower their health advisory levels and get the proper help to communities impacted by this emerging contaminant.

Ways to Make a Difference

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

Stop Invasive Species: 10 Things You Can Do

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to stay up-to-date on the latest invasive species news and to receive opportunities to take action. Be sure to share this list with your friends and family in need of a nudge, a reminder, or a back-to-basics invasives education.

1. Clean, Drain, and Dry

We know, cleaning your boat or watercraft is a drag. But lace up your Nikes and Just Do It™. Depending on which state or province you live in or are visiting, you might even be legally obligated! Rinse off any vegetation and let completely air dry before launching in a different body of water. This rule applies to your pet pooch as well!

2. Love Your Pet Fish (‘Til Death Do You Part)

Your goldfish or guppy may look cute, small, and innocent, but she doesn’t belong in your backyard North American stream or lake. Goldfish, for example, have been found to grow as long as 16 inches and weigh up to four pounds in the wild. They’re ecological tornadoes that uproot vegetation, disturb sediment, breed excessively, release algae-feeding nutrients, eat everything in sight, AND transmit disease and parasites. Bubbles the goldfish doesn’t look so innocent anymore, does she?

Many marine invasions have been traced back to releases of aquarium pets into the wild. If you can no longer care for your aquatic pets, find a trusted friend, family member, or  to accept the responsibility. Never (and we *mean* never) release pets into the wild.

3. Use Local Firewood

The health of waterways often depends on the health of surrounding terrestrial environments. Changes in forest composition and shoreline flora can have tremendous impacts on water. Firewood can contain parasites and bugs like the emerald ash borer, Asian longhorned beetle, and European gypsy moth that can decimate North American forests.

We all enjoy a good bonfire, but don’t be *that* person—source firewood locally when you travel.

4. Go Fishing (With Native Bait)!

69 out of 180 aquatic invasive species in the Great Lakes region are fish. One primary mode of entry is the improper use and disposal of fishing bait. Use native species if you decide on live bait.

Oh, and never dump unused bait into the water after you’ve packed up your rod and boonie hat.

5. Wash Your Hiking, Camping Gear

Dirt isn’t the only thing you can carry from place to place. The moment you brush past a plant or set your pack in a meadow, you’re inviting seeds to cling to your belongings. Brush and clean your gear to prevent spreading seeds, spores, plants, and insects.

6. Learn to Identify Invasive Plant Species in Your Area

Research invasive species in your neck of the woods, travel to your favorite water body, document any invasive plants, and report them! Many states, local governments, and community organizations have online resources to help. Check out this site by the State of Michigan as an example.

Invasive species should be reported using the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network (MISIN) online reporting tool or the MISIN smartphone app. Alternately, these species can be reported to the Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area for your region or your local conservation district.

7. Crossing the Border? No, You Can’t Take It With You

Leave plants, seeds, and fruits behind.

8. Volunteer As a Monitor 

Basically the same as #6 on this list, but formally through a local community group. Join an existing one, or form your own! This is a great way to reach and involve more folks in your community and democratize the preservation of your local waterways. Community groups can provide training, formal reporting processes, and safe invasive species removal.

9. Plant Native Species In Your Garden and Yard

Before you head to the local nursery, figure out some basic information on your backyard. Soil type? Average precipitation? Sun exposure? Drainage pattern? Slope? Figure out in which “ecoregion” you reside using this USDA Forest Service map. Check your “plant hardiness zone.” Provide this information to nursery staff when you arrive, or utilize it when researching on your own. Your local library, government websites, and non-profit/NGO sources are great places to start.

Native species have the benefit of being adapted to environmental conditions of your area. Say goodbye to the days of excessive watering, fertilization, pesticide application, mowing, and pruning! Native plants and alternative, native-plant yards are as close to maintenance free as you can get. As a bonus, you’ll help preserve local pollinators, beneficial insects, birds, small mammals, and other wildlife. All of these benefits have positive spillover effects on your local waterways.

10. Get Political

We live in a society that cares a lot about what individuals should do, so much so that we often forget to talk about what individuals can do together. Politics isn’t a dirty word; it’s a way of negotiating how things are done in society. Preventing the tremendous disruption human activity often brings to our Great Lakes ecosystems requires personal habits to change AND collective political action. Call your legislators at the local, state, and federal levels; tell them you care about preventing invasive species. Visit office hours of elected officials. Get involved with local prevention groups. Contribute to advocacy organizations working every day to maintain the integrity of our native ecosystems.

Freshwater Weekly — June 8th, 2018

This week: U.S. House Passes Asian Carp Bill + Michigan Sulfide Mine Secures Last Permit + U.S. EPA to Host Great Lakes Public Engagement Sessions 

Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives Win Majority in Ontario Election

The Conservatives garnered 41% of the vote, winning 76 of 124 seats in the province. Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats will form the official opposition with 40 seats, while Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals lost official party status with only 7 seats. In a first, the Green Party also secured their first-ever seat with leader Mike Schreiner winning in Guelph. Final results are still pending. Freshwater Future Canada will work with the new government where we can on freshwater priorities, and we applaud every Ontarian who made their voice heard in yesterday’s election.

U.S. House Passes Water Bill With Measures for Effort Against Asian Carp in the Great Lakes

The Water Resources Development Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a 408 to 2 margin. It contained an amendment authored by Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH 14) that would require the Army Corps of Engineers to produce its final report in February 2019, rather than the delayed date announced by the Corps. The initial study recommended building multiple structural impediments near the Brandon Road Lock and Dam in Illinois to keep several voracious asian carp species from escaping the Mississippi River system into the Great Lakes. The $275 million set of renovations has enthusiastic support from several Great Lakes states, who have offered to share in the cost of construction. Most experts agree that the Brandon Road Lock and Dam is the most likely point of entry for asian carp species, and activists and groups—including Freshwater Future—support swift and immediate action to reduce the risk of transfer.

After EPA Objections, Michigan’s Back 40 Mine Receives Final Permit from DEQ

On Monday, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) announced that it has issued a wetlands permit—the final permit needed—for the Aquila Resources Back Forty mining project in the Upper Peninsula. The DEQ had previously issued mining, air, and surface water discharge permits for the project.

This final permit was awarded despite objection from the DEQ’s own Water Resources staff. According to the agency’s “Findings of Fact,” the Water Resources Division states that Aquila’s permit application and materials did NOT demonstrate that the project could avoid “an unacceptable disruption” to aquatic resources and that the project is inconsistent with the permitting criteria. Furthermore, the DEQ awarded the permit without fully addressing the EPA-authored objection letter sent by federal agencies charged with enforcing the Clean Water Act. According to the DEQ, the wetland permit is awarded “conditionally” and requires the “submission and approval” of additional data and information, including “revised hydrologic modeling, an adaptive management plan, a comprehensive monitoring plan, and requisite wetland and stream mitigation.” Under the Clean Water Act, this information must be provided before a permit may be granted.

Local environmental groups Front 40 and Mining Action Group (MAG) of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC)—both Freshwater Future members and grant recipients—were instrumental in exposing gaps and flaws in the project’s permit applications. Check out their take on the DEQ’s decision here. While Michigan law limited the the impact of their work, their persistence and expertise have lessened the risk of this mine and given the public valuable oversight opportunities as the project moves forward. Freshwater Future is proud to have funded and supported the work of Front 40 and the Mining Action Group.

10 Ways You Can Prevent Invasive Species

Summer weather has descended upon the Great Lakes and with it millions of residents and tourists—boats, kayaks, paddle boards, and swimsuits in tow. With all that movement comes an increased risk for spreading nuisance invasive species like Asian carp, eurasian milfoil, emerald ash borer, and non-native cattails. Check out our newest blog post on the best ways YOU can prevent the spread of invasive species this summer.

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 — June 1, 2018

This week: Ontarians Disapprove of Water Extraction Permits + Flooding Study Moves Forward + Foxconn Diversion Challenged + 10 Ways to Prevent Invasive Species

New Poll Shows Ontario Voters Support Phasing Out Bottled Water Extraction Permits

A recent poll shows that 64% of eligible Ontario voters support phasing out bottled water extraction entirely within 10 years. 52% of those respondents support an even faster timeline of 2 years. The top listed concerns are excessive waste from plastic bottles, the treatment of water as a commodity, the negative environmental impact of water withdrawals, and the reinforcement of the perception that tap water is unsafe.

The current Ontario government instituted a moratorium of new extraction permits, for the stated purpose of better researching the combined effects of extraction, climate change, and population growth on groundwater supplies. It is unknown at this time if the moratorium will be extended.

U.S. Senators Push Lake Ontario, Lake Erie Flooding Study Forward

A key U.S. Senate committee last week approved a “must-pass” water resources bill that authorizes funding for the Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study, which aims to examine infrastructure improvements that might be necessary to prevent flooding all through the Great Lakes basin. Senators from New York, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, committed to working with the Army Corps of Engineers to set aside the funding needed for completion.

The study is in response to the widespread coastal flooding that occured on Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence Seaway, and to a lesser degree, Lake Erie last year. Hundreds of millions of dollars in damage occured in New York, Ontario, and Quebec. Provincial disaster relief and insurance claims are expected to tally up to more than half-a-billion dollars in Quebec alone.

Water levels in these waterways are influenced by a mixture of precipitation, tributary inflows, ice cover, snowmelt, and how much water is allowed to pass through the Moses-Saunders Dam in Massena, New York. Canada and the United States created the independently-run International Joint Commission (IJC) in part to control water flow from the dam. Many, especially in the United States, blame the IJC and a new set of rules called Plan 2014 for last year’s record flooding. But regulating water levels is a delicate balance: counteracting high water levels in one place can lead to flooding in others. Every centimeter of water released from Lake Ontario pushes the St. Lawrence River 10 centimeters higher, which means the interests of Canadians and Americans are pitted against one another.

Proponents of the U.S. study hope it will provide a path forward to protecting against future flooding and high water levels, while allowing for the natural water-level variation necessary for healthy ecosystems.

Diversion of Lake Michigan Water for Foxconn Factory Challenged

The Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA)—representing Milwaukee Riverkeeper, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, River Alliance of Wisconsin, and Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy—have filed a legal action to halt a Lake Michigan water diversion for the proposed Foxconn factory in Racine County, Wisconsin.

According to MEA, the “Wisconsin [Department of Natural Resources] disregarded and unreasonably interpreted a core Compact requirement that all water transferred out of the Great Lakes Basin must be used for public water supply purposes, clearly defined as ‘serving a group of largely residential customers.’” As the diversion application was written, submitted, and approved, the City of Racine identified a total of 0 gallons to be used to supply residential customers. Of the total 7 million gallons/day, 5.8 will go directly to Foxconn’s main facility while the remaining 1.2 will supply surrounding industrial and commercial facilities.

Freshwater Future agrees with the argument set forth by MEA attorneys. We believe the Wisconsin DNR’s decision sets a dangerous precedent that could open up Great Lakes withdrawals to uses beyond the intent of the Great Lakes Compact, and we’ll continue to support challenges to the diversion.

10 Ways You Can Prevent Invasive Species

Summer weather has descended upon the Great Lakes and with it millions of residents and tourists—boats, kayaks, paddle boards, and swimsuits in tow. With all that movement comes an increased risk for spreading nuisance invasive species like Asian carp, eurasian milfoil, emerald ash borer, and non-native cattails. Check out our newest blog post on the best ways YOU can prevent the spread of invasive species this summer.

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 25, 2018

This week: 10 Ways to Prevent Invasive Species + Lake Erie Algae Forecast + Michigan Close to Passing Stricter Lead Standard

10 Ways You Can Prevent Invasive Species

Summer weather has descended upon the Great Lakes and with it millions of residents and tourists—boats, kayaks, paddle boards, and swimsuits in tow. With all that movement comes an increased risk for spreading nuisance invasive species like Asian carp, eurasian milfoil, emerald ash borer, and non-native cattails. Check out our newest blog post on the best ways YOU can prevent the spread of invasive species this summer.

Lake Erie Algae Forecast: Record Bloom Unlikely, But Expect Thick Scum

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), alongside the National Center for Water Quality Research, has released preliminary Lake Erie data that suggests this year’s bloom likely won’t be as bad as last year, but will certainly beat the 2016 bloom. Check out NOAA’s May 7th projection graphs here.

Michigan One Step Closer to Stricter Lead Standard

A pending rule change would lower the “action level” for lead from 15 parts per billion (ppb) to 12 ppb in 2025, which means 90% of system samples must be below that level or broader intervention is required. Alternatively put, up to 10% of samples can be above 12 ppb in 2025 and beyond. A new stipulation will ensure samples are taken from the highest-risk sites and that state-of-the-art lead detection methods are used. The rule would also mandate that water utilities replace at least 5% of their inventoried lead service lines per year, and ban partial replacement of lead service pipes. Michigan has approximately 500,000 lead service lines. Replacement costs approximately $5,000/line, making full replacement pricey.

Freshwater Future remains skeptical that this rule change will be effective in preventing lead exposure, and we’re alarmed at the attached, unfunded mandate. Replacing lead service lines should be a priority as public utilities update their infrastructure, but in municipalities with thousands of lead service lines—often low-income communities of color—the high cost of quick replacement will likely be passed on to residents already suffering egregiously high service rates. We’re working with our community partners across the state to fight for proper funding and ensure all residents have access to clean, safe, and affordable drinking water.

Ways to Make a Difference

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