Archive for the ‘Great Lakes Compact’ Category

Great Lakes: The Year In Review

December 15, 2011

Between Letterman and Colbert, it’s pretty daunting to put together any sort of year-end Top 10 list, especially for something as esoteric as Great Lakes policy. But an awful lot has happened this year and I thought I’d take a shot.

So without any (intentional) irony or comedy, here’s my list of the top 10 developments (good and bad) in Great Lakes policy for 2011 – plus a bonus entry at the end! And to add to the excitement, I’ve tried to put these in order of significance and concluded with a final grade for 2011. Debate on the entries, the order and the grade is welcome. (Drum roll, please):

    1. Great Lakes restoration funding: Congress came through at $300 million for FY 11 in funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. That’s significantly less than the baseline set by the Obama Administration in 2009, but still quite robust, especially considering the budget axes being wielded on both sides of the aisle.Great Lakes restoration funding continues to be the exception to the partisan warfare

      that has plagued this Congress, and we sure hope that continues. GLRI funding has resulted in over 900 restoration projects over the past two years with more projects in the pipeline.

    2. Algal blooms break out in Great Lakes: 2011 was the “year of the algal bloom” in the Great Lakes. Lake Erie suffered the worst toxic algal bloom in recorded history last summer. The algae extended miles along the shoreline and miles out into the water, in places over 6 inches thick. It shut down beaches and fishing and caused respiratory problems for charter boat captains trying to cross the blooms into clearer waters.Algae (some toxic) also broke out in blooms in other lakes, including Huron’s Saginaw Bay and the eastern shore of Lake Michigan up to Sleeping Bear Dunes.

      As described in NWF’s report, Feast and Famine in the Great Lakes, these blooms are caused by excessive nutrients entering the watershed and exacerbated by invasive species like zebra and quagga mussels.

      So far, policy solutions have lagged far behind the problem. Although Ohio has a special task force devoted to the crisis, the state does not have the tools or the funds to stop the nutrient additions to the lake. And the best federal tool – a new Farm Bill – is months, if not years, from completion.

    3. Asian Carp Delays: This year we saw continued delays by the Army Corps of Engineers and the courts in taking action toward a permanent barrier to stop Asian carp from entering Lake Michigan. The Corps insists it can’t even finish its feasibility study until 2015.A federal appeals court, while recognizing the importance of stopping the carp from reaching the Great Lakes, refused to order the Corps to speed the study,  and thus far Congressional efforts to do the same have been stymied.Under the Corps’ schedule for completing the study, the carp are likely to colonize the lake and the Corps study will be an exercise in futility. Sampling shows that carp DNA continue to be found near the lake, indicating that at least isolated fish have swum past the electric cable designed to keep them at bay.

      Meanwhile, the Great Lakes Commission and the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Cities Initiative are finalizing their own study on how to separate Lake Michigan from the Mississippi River and expect to release it in January – a full three years before the Corps. THAT’S how you do it!

    4. States step up on the Great Lakes Water Resources Compact: New York hit a home run and Ohio barely escaped striking out on the Great Lakes compact this year. New York passed a strong law last summerthat requires anyone withdrawing more than 100,000 gallons of water per day to get approval and apply water conservation measures.Meanwhile, Ohio’s legislature passed a terrible bill that would have allowed almost unlimited withdrawals with no oversight (the thresholds set before regulation kicked in were so high that the legislature expected no water user ever to be regulated). Although initially inclined to sign the bill, pressure from within Ohio and from other Great Lakes states convinced Governor Kasich to issue a much needed veto.

      For a more comprehensive report on how all the states are doing, check out NWF’s report, The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.

    5. EPA issues new draft permit for ballast discharges into Great Lakes: In November, the EPA issued the draft of a new Vessel General Permit that for the first time would require ships to install treatment technology to clean their ballast water.  That’s the good news.The bad news is that the required technology won’t consistently stop new invasions. The ships would have to meet the International Maritime Organization (“IMO”) standard, which allows ships to continue to discharge invasive organisms at low concentrations into the Great Lakes.But that’s not good enough.Unlike other pollution, invasive species organisms are pollution that reproduce – they multiply. So low concentrations initially can easily become high concentrations over time – which is exactly what happened with zebra mussels.

      Fortunately, the draft EPA rule allows states to enact tougher rules and laws, which is exactly what New York and Michigan have done. Those states’ laws – particularly New York’s, which applies to every vessel entering the Great Lakes – provide far better protections than the EPA’s proposed rule.

      Now the challenge is keeping Congress from invalidating the state laws and establishing the too-weak IMO standard as a legal ceiling – even if it’s clear that the standard doesn’t work. The House has already passed a harmful bill; it’s now up to the Senate to stop it.

    6. Michigan Governor vetoes bill that would have damaged Great Lakes protections: In November, Governor Rick Snyder vetoed his first bill ever: legislation that would have prevented Michigan agencies from issuing any rules or permits that are more restrictive than federal minimums.Without the veto, Michigan would have been unable to reissue its precedent-setting permit to restrict ballast water discharges of invasive species, or to improve its water quality standard for phosphorus, the primary cause of the lakes’ massive and growing algae blooms. The veto was a rare occasion of public disagreement between the Governor and the legislature, making it an even stronger indicator of the Governor’s commitment to the Great Lakes.
    7. Ohio Supreme Court Restores Public’s Rights to Lake Erie: The Ohio Supreme Court gave the people of Ohio a surprising legal victory on the public’s right to access and use the shoreline of Lake Erie.  Two lower court rulings had shrunk the public’s ownership of and access to the Lake Erie coast, essentially giving away this precious resource to private landowners.The Ohio Supreme Court reversed the lower court decisions, returning ownership to the public. The Court’s opinion is not without ambiguities, and the case now goes back to the lower courts for final disposition, where the parties will continue to litigate the case.
    8. EPA is issuing mercury reduction rules for power plants: EPA on December 16 is scheduled to finalize its rules for reducing mercury emissions for power plants, the leading source of mercury in the Great Lakes and inland lakes and streams. All of the Great Lakes states have statewide fish consumptions advisories warning people to restrict or avoid entirely their consumption of certain fish because of mercury contamination. The U.S. House has passed bills to attempt to roll back the EPA protections,  but those bills are unlikely to go anywhere in the Senate.Michigan Out-Of-Doors former TV host Bob Garner led a Tele-Town Hall on the mercury rule this month attended by 14,000 hunters and anglers. As Bob said, “We can’t fillet our way out” of mercury in fish.
    9. Michigan court opens the door to sulfide mining: In November, a Michigan Circuit Court allowed a highly damaging mine to go forward in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula despite overwhelming evidence that the mine would cause acid mine drainage in blue-water trout streams, had a high risk of collapsing and draining those streams, would destroy a place of tribal worship, and violated Michigan’s new mining law in dozens of significant ways.The court decision, which is being appealed, upheld a deeply flawed Michigan DEQ decision and set a potentially devastating precedent for protections of the U.P.’s water, land, recreation and tourism. Various companies are now exploring over a dozen of other potential mining sites in the region and the state has permitted a mining processing center in the U.P., drawing additional mining to the region.
    10. Sewer system funding: This is always one of the under-the-radar stories about the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes states received $549 million to modernize and repair their sewers in FY 11– a top priority for stopping the billions of gallons of raw sewage spilled into the lakes. The Great Lakes states’ funding comes through a national program, the State Revolving Loan Fund of the Clean Water Act, as part of a formula (about one-third of the national total). This funding was cut in FY 11 by 27% and may decline even more in FY 12, even though the need is far greater.

      In the immortal words of This is Spinal Tap, “And this one goes to eleven…”

    11. Seventeen Attorneys General call for action to close the invasive species superhighway: Led by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, seventeen of the nation’s Attorneys General sent a letter to Congress calling for passage of a law to speed the Army Corps of Engineers study on closing the Chicago canal system to invasive species and then to implement the study rapidly.This letter is significant because it indicates a growing concern across the country – not just in the Great Lakes — about the passage of invasive species through the canals in both directions. Most of the attention so far has been on the potential for Asian carp to swim through the canals to Lake Michigan; but there’s at least as much danger for invasive species in Lake Michigan to travel through the canals to invade the Mississippi River and the rest of the nation. That’s already happened with zebra mussels, which began in the Great Lakes and now plague 31 states from Massachusetts to California.  With his growing national coalition of Attorneys General, the pressure on Congress and the Corps to act has increased.

For those of you keeping score, that’s seven positive developments, three negative ones, and one that’s more or less neutral (the EPA’s ballast water permit).

Although this tally is good for the Great Lakes, I’d give 2011 an overall grade of no more than a C+. Some of the good stuff was really stopping policies from getting worse (e.g., the vetoes); and the bad stuff is really bad (massive algal blooms, Asian carp).

Let’s celebrate the 2011 victories for the lakes, and then get ready for 2012. I have a feeling we’re in for quite a year.


What happens in Ohio stays in Ohio…

June 30, 2011

What happens in Ohio stays in Ohio… ….because no other Great Lakes state is foolish enough to do what the Ohio legislature just did.

This week the Ohio Legislature passed a bill that makes a mockery of the Great Lakes Water Resources Compact— the 2008 law passed by Congress and every state (including Ohio) to protect the Great Lakes from diversions and unwise water use. The Compact prohibits diversions of Great Lakes water out of the region and requires the Great Lakes states to enact laws that protect the lakes and their tributaries from excessive water withdrawals and to implement water conservation measures. Of the eight Great Lakes states, only Ohio, and New York have yet to enact the laws needed to implement the Compact, and New York just passed its bill over a week ago.

But Ohio….. Ohio seems intent on abusing Lake Erie and the watersheds that support it in a misguided (and doomed) effort to attract water-wasting businesses.

The Ohio legislation essentially opens the door to massive withdrawals from Lake Erie, rivers in the Lake Erie basin, and underlying groundwater without standards, permitting, or agency review.

Specifically, the legislation exempts all withdrawals from Lake Erie under 5 million gallons per day, and all withdrawals from streams and groundwater under 2 million gallons per day (except for “high quality” streams, where the exemption is up to 300,000 gallons per day) . Those exemptions reportedly prompted the spokesman for the business-backed Coalition for Sustainable Water Management to say that no business has ever faced regulation in Ohio for consuming more than 2 million gallons a day – so no business in Ohio will ever need a permit to use water unless they withdraw from high-quality streams.

No other state has declared open season on Great Lakes water like Ohio is poised to do. Michigan, Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania all regulate withdrawals over 100,000 gallons per day. Minnesota’s threshold is 10,000 gallons per day.

But the Ohio lawmakers seem to believe that this law will give them a competitive advantage, that businesses will rush to Ohio to escape the water regulations of other states.

Which businesses? Not the businesses who need clean and plentiful water over the long term. Those businesses will be concerned about the lack of foresight and planning from Ohio’s political leaders on water use.

And they’ll be particularly concerned about Ohio’s rush to drill thousands of natural gas wells without adequate safeguards, because those wells will further dry up Ohio’s water supplies.

Not the businesses in the knowledge economy who are mobile and decide where to locate based on quality of life. Those businesses will move to another Great Lakes state, where the Great Lakes are protected, where the state has a commitment to protecting inland lakes and streams from depletion and pollution.

So which businesses are Ohio lawmakers trying to attract? The water-wasters: the companies who are looking for short-term profits over long-term sustainability; the businesses who will use up Ohio’s precious resources and leave.

That’s quite a business strategy to inflict on the citizens and responsible businesses of Ohio. Will it work? Let’s see what the Brookings Institution has to say:

“The Midwestern states that surround the Great Lakes are in a time of economic transition – from an agricultural and industrial era that relied on the Great Lakes and its waterways for transportation and industrial production, to a global knowledge economi in which the lakes are both an increasing valuable resource, and a valuable amenity. Outside the region, the United States and other nations around the world are increasingly looking for ways to move beyond economic growth patterns that diminish natural resources to those that support long-term sustainable development. The Great Lakes and their abundant fresh water offer a doorway to this new economy.”

Ohio is shutting that door. The irony here is that Ohio has actually put itself in a worse competitive position for attracting and retaining business. That’s why former Ohio Governor Bob Taft and former Ohio Governor and Senator George Voinovich, both Republicans, have called on their Republican colleagues in the state legislature to redo the bill.

And so have the leading newspapers in the state, including the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Dayton Daily News, the Morning Journal and the Akron Beacon Journal.

So now this bill that’s bad for the Great Lakes, bad for Ohio’s rivers and streams, and bad for Ohio business goes to Governor Kasich to his signature or veto.

Governor, this is a no-brainer. Send this bill back to the legislature with instructions that it comes up with a win-win, not a lose-lose.

Back to the drawing board for Waukesha

June 11, 2010

By guest blogger, Marc Smith, NWF Great Lakes Policy Manager

The highly watched Lake Michigan diversion crusade from the city of Waukesha hit a pretty big snag this week as the WI DNR returned the application back to the city because it was deemed “incomplete.”

The WI DNR in a letter to Waukesha Mayor Jeff Scrima on June 8th, outlined the following issues that deemed the application incomplete:

  1. Failure to show no other reasonable water supply alternative. The application strictly says that Great Lakes water is the only option. However, the city is currently continuing to examine other alternatives to a Great Lakes diversion.  The Great Lakes Compact is clear that any application for a diversion demonstrates that there is no reasonable water supply alternative;
  2. Failure to analyze impacts of proposed return flow options. This is big.  How can the WI DNR accurately review these options without both the point of withdrawal and the corresponding return flow location?
  3. Failure to include a cost analysis. How much will this cost?  Seems a fair question, don’t you think?  Not only that, but the Great Lakes Compact is clear that you must include this information;
  4. Failure to pay the minimal $5,000 application fee. This is kind of embarrassing.  How could you forget to pay this small amount when the city of Waukesha is reported to have spent between $1-$2 million in consulting fees alone on this application?

Kudos to the WI DNR for how they have handled this application.  Even though we may have concerns that this application was being processed without rules in place to implement the Great Lakes Compact, they should be commended for taking this application very seriously by going forward on an Environmental Impact Statement and now…ruling it incomplete.

So, now the status of this application is really uncertain.  As the new Mayor continues to explore other alternatives to a future water supply for Waukesha, who will do the above requests from the WI DNR when the water utility says that Lake Michigan is the only option?  Seems there is a very tense political problem in Waukesha to say the least.

Waukesha Crusade for Lake Michigan Water Raises Red Flags

March 6, 2010

Guest blog by Marc Smith, Policy Manager, National Wildlife Federation

For those that follow water diversions and the Great Lakes, all you have to do is mention “Waukesha” and it generates such a mixed bag of reactions.

Waukesha, Wisconsin, is a city in and the county seat of Waukesha County, located just west of Milwaukee, and the Great Lakes Basin. It was once known for its extremely clean and good-tasting spring water and was called a “spa town.” This earned the city the nicknames, “Spring City,” and “Saratoga of the West.”

However, the natural springs have since fallen victim to mismanagement, spoiled by pollution and as a result a number have gone dry. Continual withdrawals from the deep aquifers over the years have exposed the water supply to radium, a naturally occurring toxin. Now, Waukesha is pursuing a diversion of Lake Michigan water that, according to the city’s Water Utility, is the best solution to replace its failing deep wells with lake water and comply with a 2018 stipulation it reached with the Department of Natural Resources to supply radium-free water. Lack of compliance with this date will result in stiff fines.

The latest draft application from the City of Waukesha, raises more questions than answers. Granted, lets applaud the Waukesha Water Utility and current Mayor Larry Nelson, for proactively reaching out to all stakeholders, and especially the conservation community, in Southeast Wisconsin and across the Great Lakes Basin. In my mind they have gone out of their way to communicate and work with all the relevant players in their crusade. But given that this application will represent the first out-of-basin request for a diversion since passage of the Great Lakes Compact and this is a precedent setting event that everyone is watching very closely.

At its most basic, the Compact provides protections against diversions outside of the Great Lakes basin and unwise water use within the basin. There are limited exceptions for diversions. Out-of-Basin communities such as Waukesha must have water –diversion applications approved by all eight governors (via the Compact Council). In addition, Wisconsin must consider the input of the two Canadian provinces that border the Great Lakes before making a final decision.

But when you compare the current draft application from Waukesha with the exceptions in the Compact, it raises more questions.

Such as:

  1. Unavoidable Need: The Compact is clear that the need for the proposed diversion cannot be reasonably avoided through efficient use and conservation of existing water supplies. Waukesha’s draft is puzzling because of the complete abandonment of the city’s current water supplies. The application repeatedly states that increased groundwater withdrawals are not sustainable, but what about present withdrawals, or reduced withdrawals? Nowhere is there any indication of combining or blending Lake Michigan water with reduced withdrawals from current supplies, which could have the effect of allowing the deep aquifer to gradually recover and for the resulting blend to reduce or eliminate projected treatment requirements;
  2. Reasonable Use: The Compact is clear that diversions are limited to quantities reasonable for the purposes for which the diversion is proposed. However, in Waukesha’s draft, the basis for the city’s proposed diversion quantity -18.5 million gallons per day (mgpd), is based on a projected 2035 maximum day demand. This seems very excessive given that the cities current average is 7 mgpd. The use of water for growth certainly raises the stakes for how the WI Department of Natural Resources and Regional Body treat this application. Moreover, let’s look at the city’s population estimate. According to Waukesha, the population is projected to increase by 30% while average annual demand increases by 58% and peak day demand for water increases by 87%. Red flag. Is Waukesha converting its lawns to cranberry bogs? Seems to me that the real question is about using Great Lakes water for development more than to sustain an existing population;
  3. Return-Flow: The Compact calls for all used water to be returned back to the Great Lakes Basin, less an allowance for consumptive use, at a place as close to the place at which the water is withdrawn. This is probably the most unknown answer in the current draft. The City has proposed to return its treated water via Underwood Creek that eventually flows into Lake Michigan. The cumulative impacts of this discharge are unknown and raise many concerns and potential problems;
  4. No significant adverse impact: Under the Compact, diversions will result in no significant adverse individual or cumulative impacts. Again, the current draft portrays an unclear picture on the impacts to the exhausted and over-stressed Southeast Wisconsin aquifers and throughout the Great Lakes Basin. The good news is that the WI Department of Natural Resources is committed to developing an Environmental Impact Statement on this application;
  5. Environmentally sound and economically feasible water conservation: Looking at the draft application, it is not clear that the benefits of the city’s ongoing water conservation programs have been factored into its projected future demands, and thus its request for Lake Michigan water. This is an important principle for this precedent setting application as the diversion request must reflect the successful and sustained implementation of reasonable conservation measures;
  6. Compliance with all applicable laws: As I list above, there are many red flags here. All the more reason for the Wisconsin DNR to resolve these and other areas of uncertainty through administrative rulemaking before addressing this application for a diversion of Great Lakes water.

I think the biggest theme that seems to be missing in this application is any sense that the spirit of the Compact is to minimize out of basin uses of Great Lakes water. Waukesha’s current crusade seems to be based on economic growth. And even in that attempt, “Spring City” doesn’t make a very strong case.