Archive for the ‘St. Clair River’ Category

More hope in stopping Asian carp

February 5, 2010

After months of unremitting bad news, for the second week in a row we saw signs of progress in addressing the Asian carp disaster. This week is marked by a return to rational discussion of Asian carp problems and solutions. Three developments offer hope that the White House carp summit next week may produce real results:

  1. The federal and state agencies now known as the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee (they used to be the Rapid Response Team) this week came out with a seven-page document providing a conceptual outline of possible integrated emergency response measures to stop further movement of the carp. What’s significant is that this document is both comprehensive  (it includes multiple actions, including temporary lock closures) and integrated (it describes how multiple measures can be deployed together and in sequence to stop further movement of the invasive carp). This is not a final plan, but it’s a huge step in the right direction. Of course, we still have to see which of the scenarios they actually choose…
  2. The agencies will release a more detailed plan of action this Monday, February 8, just in advance of the Asian carp White House summit. We have hopes that the plan will follow and expand on the conceptual plan published this week by the agencies.
  3. Some real economists have finally weighed in on the actual costs of closing the Chicago navigational locks. As part Michigan’s supplemental filing with the U.S. Supreme Court this week (yes, Michigan has filed a supplemental motion re-petitioning for emergency lock closure as a result of the eDNA evidence of Asian carp in Calumet Harbor),  it submitted a study by Dr. John Roach and James Taylor on the costs of shutting the O’Brien and Chicago locks to barge traffic. You might recall that the Corps and the shipping industry claimed that the economies of Chicago and the region would be devastated even by a short term closure, that Chicago could not handle the additional truck and rail traffic that would result, that jobs would be lost, and that it would cost the region over $190 million annually. The Roach and Taylor study demolishes the Corps’ claims with real economic analysis. Their conclusions include:

“a. Only approximately seven million tons of cargo per year would be affected and some of this would incur relatively minor inconvenience .

b. That affected volume represents less than one percent of all the freight traffic in the Chicago Region and only thirty percent of the total Port of Chicago traffic.

c. The affected barge traffic is the equivalent of two daily loaded rail unit trains in a region that has approximately 500 daily freight trains.

d.Truck traffic in Chicago would increase less than 1/10 of one percent.

e. Most of the affected cargo would continue to move on the inland waterway system, through the Lockport Locks, but would have to stop a few miles short of its former destination.

i. Transportation and handling costs would increase by less than $70 million annually in a Chicago metropolitan area economy of $521 billion.

j. There would be more cargo-related jobs, not less, associated with closures at the O’Brien and Chicago Locks. There likely would be some loss of barge jobs, but these would be more than replaced by truck, rail, and pipeline jobs needed for transload and transfer movements of the affected cargo. That is why there would be additional transportation costs.

o. In sum, waterway closure at the Chicago and O’Brien Locks would have a localized impact on already declining commercial cargo traffic that comprises only a tiny fraction of economic activity in the metropolitan Chicago area. The conservatively estimated additional transportation and logistical costs of shifting a portion of the existing barge traffic to other modes of transportation along a small portion of its route is far less than that suggested by the Corps and Illinois, and is orders of magnitude less than the estimated economic impact of sport and commercial fishing in the Great Lakes.

p. The claim that “even a temporary closure of the locks will devastate the local economy and Illinois’ role in the regional,national and global economy…” (Ill. Opposition p. 10 and Ill. App.50a) cannot reasonably be supported.”

Understanding the real costs of each of the options, including temporary lock closures, means there can be less posturing and more problem-solving at the summit. That’s essential for the health of the Great Lakes.


Tune in this morning

January 7, 2010

I’ll be on the radio this morning with the Michigan Attorney General. 

Tune in to WDET 101.9fm at 10:30 am to the Craig Fahle Show, or listen to the broadcast live online.

Are the Great Lakes shrinking?

December 17, 2009

The Great Lakes have lost water because of navigational dredging in the St. Clair River — 21 inches for Lakes Michigan and Huron, according to an International Joint Commission (IJC) study released this week. But are they continuing to decline? Is the opening in the river widening, draining increasing amounts of water from the upper Great Lakes? 

Lake St. Clair

Lake St. Clair

Those are the questions the study by the IJC’s “International Upper Great Lakes Study Board” was supposed to lay to rest. But it fell far short. Sure, the study concluded that all the erosion was in the past, that the river was no longer widening, and so lake levels would not be affected in the future. The problem is that the study was deeply flawed, ignoring mounds of data and scientific studies that contradicted its conclusions. 

And this study matters in a very practical way. It will be used by the IJC to determine whether remedial measures should be taken in the St. Clair River – perhaps even structures built – to return the lake levels and flows to a more natural state. 

With climate change predicted to lower the levels of Lakes Michigan and Huron by as much as 3 feet in the next century and pressures to manage those levels increasing, those decisions are critical.

The Great Lakes deserve better than this study. 

National Wildlife Federation’s Melinda Koslow and Dr. Mike Murray, who have been working to improve the study for over a year, provided more detail about the study’s flaws in this news statement released Tuesday; I’ve reprised that below. And for an excellent analysis, check out Dan Egan’s piece in the Milawaukee Journal Sentinel

For immediate release:
December 15, 2009


Despite multiple responses and scientific studies questioning findings, a report released today by the International Upper Great Lakes Study Board, a U.S.-Canada expert panel established by the International Joint Commission, refused to change its controversial conclusions about water losses through the St. Clair River. 

Their final report again concludes that there is no ongoing erosion in the St. Clair River and therefore an examination of possible remedial measures is not necessary. 

This conclusion is a result of a multi-million dollar publicly funded study, and the best opportunity to address the issue of unnatural water losses from Lakes Michigan and Huron. 

“Dredging and erosion in the St. Clair River has had a massive impact on Great Lakes water levels, and there’s substantial evidence that this erosion is continuing,” said Melinda Koslow, NWF’s Great Lakes Climate Safeguarding Manager. “But the study ignores or dismisses that evidence in concluding that erosion has stopped and no action should be taken. That ‘no action’ conclusion puts the Great Lakes at further risk.” 

NWF identified a number of major problems with the Study Board’s report, including: 

  • Lack of acknowledgment of findings on potential erosion and other changes in the sediment bed of the river, and downplaying of significant changes in bathymetry (bottom depth) between 1971 and 2008.
  • Failure to calculate or estimate flow of water losses through the River.
  • Actively neglecting scientific studies that contradicted their conclusions.

“At a minimum, these findings raise the possibility of ongoing erosion of the St. Clair River bed over the past four decades, but it is not clear that the full Study Board has been open to this possibility,” said Michael Murray, Ph.D., Staff Scientist with NWF’s Great Lakes office. 

“The way the Study was conducted makes us think that the results were pre-determined. The Study authors blocked the kind of transparency a public process normally encounters,” Koslow added.