Posts Tagged ‘New York’

News on invasives from the back and front doors

November 3, 2010

This week brings two new reports on invasive species. The first is the October 25 edition of the New Yorker Magazine, where Reporter At Large Ian Frazier travels up the Mississippi, the Illinois, and the DesPlaines  Rivers and then through the Chicago canals – the back door of the Great Lakes – to see firsthand what’s happening with Asian carp. You can read an abstract of his story, but really doesn’t come close to doing justice to his excellent reporting.

From descriptions of the fish to the fisherman, from following the trail of slime the carp leaves to the people who would like to sell them for food, from the Redneck Fishing Tournament to the intricacies of the Chicago canal system, Frazier really captures the people, the waterways, and the fish in impressive fashion. His interview with Notre Dame researcher David Lodge, whose eDNA monitoring sounded the alarm on the carp’s proximity to Lake Michigan almost a year ago, is can’t-miss reading. A quick excerpt here:

“I know you can’t not laugh when you see the silver carp jumping all over the place, but it’s really not funny. It’s a tragic thing, and people are wrong to trivialize it. We should focus on these fish’s potential environmental and economic impact. In the Great Lakes – just as we’re seeing now in South Louisiana – the environment is the economy. Look at how the degrading of Lake Erie in the sixties and seventies contributed to the decline of Detroit and Cleveland and Buffalo. To people who say this is a question of jobs versus the environment, I say it’s not either-or.”

Then there’s a fascinating story addressing the front door of invasive species, the St. Lawrence Seaway. The Northwest Indiana Times reports consternation by the shipping industry that a New York law may force them to stop discharging invasive species-laden ballast water into the Great Lakes.  Steven Fisher, executive director of the American Great Lakes Ports Association, told a business forum in Indiana that ocean-going vessels would stop coming to Burns Harbor because New York prohibits vessels from traveling through New York waters – which they must do to traverse the Seaway — unless they can meet protective discharge standards for their ballast water. This threat comes soon after the Canadian government registered a protest about the same law because of its potential impacts on Canadian ports.

As I posted four months ago, the New York law is designed to do exactly what the shippers and Canada complain of: stop ballast water discharges of invasives ANYWHERE in the Great Lakes. New York understands that what happens in Lake Superior or Lake Michigan or Lake Huron doesn’t stay there; it moves through the system into New York waters. That’s why New York expanded its law to cover any ship travelling through its waters and not just any ship discharging in its ports.

What’s sparked all this concern? The shipping industry finally realizes that the New York law is real, it’s on the books, and the courts have upheld it. So now the shippers are putting on a full court press to reverse the law by other means.

These kind of head-in-the-sand reactions reinforce the image of the shipping industry as the major source of damage to the Great Lakes. If they keep this up, they’ll also be known as job killers, as invasive species are harming the tourism and recreation industries that are the economic anchor to many communities in the region. This view is well articulated by Jennifer Caddick, director of Save the River, in a letter she wrote to New York State Senator Darrel J. Aubertine about his opposition to the New York law.

Here’s the irony: New York hasn’t even begun to enforce this law. The standards are supposed to go into effect in 2012, but New York has not found a way to make sure that ships passing through its waters comply with the law. The Coast Guard has said it won’t enforce the law on New York’s behalf, and the Seaway Authority is not likely to step up because they oppose the law.  And New York does not have the authority to stop ships in the Seaway and board them, so the state can’t determine whether ships have the required treatment technology.

Between the shipping industry’s full court press and New York’s enforcement quandary, we still have a lot of work to do to close the Great Lakes’ front door to invasive species.

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New York shuts the door on ballast water discharges of invasive species into the Great Lakes

June 22, 2010

This is the best news in decades on invasive species in the Great Lakes, and chances are, you haven’t heard it yet. Thanks to a New York rule upheld in court last week, starting in 18 months no ship can enter the Great Lakes unless it has the technology to disinfect its ballast water to stop the discharge of invasive species. And that’s not just in New York; it’s anywhere in the Great Lakes.

What happened last week is pretty technical, and that’s why it’s been quiet: New York’s Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court) refused to overturn the state’s conditions for certification of EPA’s national ballast water discharge permit. That means New York’s rules for implementing the national ballast water discharge permit are final – no more appeals. (Check out Thom Cmar’s blog post for further details).

What does that mean?

Well, New York’s rules say that beginning January 1, 2012, no ocean-going ship can travel through New York waters without having a ballast water treatment technology that meets some of the toughest standards in the world – approaching zero discharge of invasive species.  To repeat: any ocean-going ship that PASSES THROUGH NEW YORK’S WATERS must have a treatment system that meets these protective standards.

And how many ocean-going ships entering the Great Lakes pass through New York’s waters? EVERY SINGLE ONE. Any ocean-going ship entering the Great Lakes must travel through the St. Lawrence River, through a series of locks including the Snell and Eisenhower Locks in New York. Ships can’t get through the river into the Great Lakes without transiting those locks, and the two other entrances to the Great Lakes (the Erie Canal and the Chicago canals) aren’t big enough to handle ocean-going vessels. So ocean-going ships can’t get into the Great Lakes without traveling through New York’s waters.

And because every ocean-going ship entering the Great Lakes has to travel through New York’s waters, every one of those ships will have to install technology that can meet these incredibly protective ballast water discharge standards by January 1, 2012.

That’s huge.

Ballast water discharges from ocean-going ships are the largest source of invasive species in the Great Lakes. They’ve brought us creatures like zebra mussels, quagga mussels, round gobies, and spiny water fleas. And once these invaders establish residence in the lakes, they’re here to stay. They have few natural predators, so they outcompete native species, reproduce like crazy, and damage the Great Lakes ecosystem.

The Coast Guard and EPA have both taken half-measures to address these ballast water discharges, but none have been very effective. Congress has considered new legislation, but it stalled last session and in any event would not be implemented nearly as rapidly as New York’s rule.  States like New York have begun to step up, but common wisdom was that no single state could stop harmful ballast water discharges throughout the Great Lakes because ships could simply avoid that state and instead discharge their ballast water in a state with weaker protections or in Canadian waters.

But New York took advantage of geography. Knowing that every ship entering the Great Lakes has to travel through New York’s waters, New York set requirements for ships that are just passing through, even if they don’t actually discharge in New York. That means the New York standards apply to all ships entering the Great Lakes. The weaker protection efforts by the Coast Guard and EPA and the slower standards proposed in Congress have been left far behind.

Now the New York rules must be implemented and enforced, which is no small challenge. But New York deserves our applause and gratitude. In a mere 18 months – many years faster than the Coast Guard or Congress has even contemplated – no ocean-going ship will be able to discharge invasive species-contaminated ballast water into the Great Lakes. That truly will be something to celebrate.