Freshwater Future Canada Blog

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.

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.