Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Anticipating 'Impaired' Lake Erie

Just trying to get my head around some generalities about an EPA ‘impaired’ designation for Lake Erie.

Ambassador Bridge between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario

The entire lake is surrounded by Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and the Province of Ontario; thus, U.S.- Canadian treaties come into play, and the International Joint Commission (IJC) has a role. (By contrast, EPA’s plan to clean up Chesapeake Bay involves six states, but there is no international connection.)

If the ‘impaired’ label is applied only to the western basin of Lake Erie, then the states directly involved are Michigan and Ohio, plus Ontario, so treaties and the IJC remain pertinent.

Because a critical feature of an impaired western basin is the Maumee River watershed, Michigan, INDIANA and Ohio have to be taken into consideration for certain aspects of an EPA determination, but perhaps not Ontario (unless an indirect association is compelled by the Pakootas and Detroit Edison cases, U.S. and Canadian, respectively), nor treaties, nor IJC.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if somebody has sorted all of this out already?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Congress to Loosen Ballast Water Regs

Those of us in the vicinity of Lake St. Clair have heard plenty about ballast water and invasive species. A plan in Congress backed by cargo shippers would create gaping holes in the regulation of ballast water in U.S. waterways, opening the door to more invasive species like zebra and quagga mussels. John Flesher wrote for AP today (May 24, 2016):
The proposal was tucked into a $602 billion defense bill that the House passed last week, the latest twist in a longstanding struggle over how to handle water that ships carry in huge tanks during overseas voyages. Ballast provides stability in rough seas but harbors fish, plants and even viruses, which find new homes when vessels discharge the water in distant ports. Some multiply rapidly, out-compete native species for food and spread disease.

The debate focuses on how extensively ship operators should be required to treat ballast water to kill as many organisms as possible before the water is released…

This is one more example of Congress favoring special interests over the public interest.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Deny Monsanto Immunity for PCB Damages


Monsanto Plant
“Waterkeeper Alliance and 55 Waterkeeper member organizations and affiliates across the country are urging President Obama to oppose an attempt by Congress to protect Monsanto from liability for billions of dollars of damages caused by toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).”

“ ‘Monsanto’s PCBs have contaminated more than 80,000 miles of streams and rivers and 2.9 million acres of lakes and reservoirs in the United States alone,’ said Executive Director Marc Yaggi. ‘Rather than be shielded by Congress, they must be held accountable for the damage inflicted on people and natural resources across the country.’ ”

Ask our people in Congress to hold Monsanto accountable - NO IMMUNITY!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Notes from Macomb County, KWA, GLWA

Macomb -- U.S. Representative Candice Miller, who is leaving Congress, has announced that she will run for election as Macomb County (Michigan) public works commissioner.

Karegnondi Water Authority pipe installation
“The upcoming campaign, between Miller and longtime Democratic incumbent Anthony Marrocco, a powerful force in Macomb County politics, shapes up as one of the oddest, most intriguing 2016 races in Michigan,” wrote Chad Selweski this week in Bridge Magazine.

“The public works commissioner oversees sewer systems, drain construction and maintenance, soil erosion and pollution controls, and anti-flooding measures. Whoever holds this office has the power to halt, or approve, residential subdivision planning and layout.”

“Annual overflows at the sewer facilities fluctuate with summertime precipitation, but during Marrocco’s 24-year tenure they have remained mostly at or above 200 million gallons of human waste discharged each year, including a recent summer, in 2011, in which 1.7 billion gallons were dumped into [Lake St. Clair].”

KWA -- Genesee County Drain Commissioner Jeff Wright says the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) has completed about 95% of the 80 mile fresh water pipeline from Lake Huron to Genesee County on schedule and under budget. Completion is expected in a few weeks.

Genesee County has been paying nearly 12% of the Detroit water authority’s total budget, although the county represents less than 2% of the total population served via Detroit.

A related but separate project, a county water treatment plant, is expected to be completed in a year.

Bill Petzold wrote about the KWA project in the Burton View on May 5, 2016:

GLWA -- The Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA), which provides potable water, wastewater and stormwater services in the Detroit metropolitan area, announced recently that Freman Hendrix has been appointed to the GLWA board, the City of Detroit’s second representative, joining Gary Brown. Hendrix had been former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer’s chief of staff and deputy mayor. Hendrix succeeds Ike McKinnon, who retired.

Friday, April 29, 2016

(3) Lake St. Clair Delta acts as Native Mussel Sanctuary

--- third and last in a series ---

In The Voice, October 2, 2014, Jim Bloch wrote a story titled, “Written off as doomed, native mussels survive zebra mussel invasion.” Excerpts:

“The causes of the decline and extinction of fresh water mussels are among the same conditions that led the St. Clair River to be classified as an environmental area of concern in 1985: Habitat destruction, pollution, commercial exploitation and invasive species.

Lake St. Clair and delta

“In the case of the Great Lakes, invasive species in the form of zebra mussels and quagga mussels came close to wiping out native mussels, already in a perilous state when the invaders arrived in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

“ ‘Come the late 1980s and early 1990s, all the native mussel populations crashed in Lake St. Clair, Lake Erie and the Great Lakes in general,’ said [Dr. David T.] Zanatta.”

“Average density of native mussels before the arrival of zebra mussels was two per square meter in Lake St. Clair. By 1990, zebra mussel density was at 1,600 per square meter.”

“By 1994, there were almost no native mussels left in the lake, with zebra now at 3,000+ per square meter.”

“ ‘But there was reason for hope,’ said Zanatta. ‘Remnant populations of native mussels were beginning to be found in coastal wetlands in western Lake Erie in the late 1990s.’ ”

"In addition, zebra mussel populations started showing dramatic declines between 1994 and 2001 in Lake St. Clair, even though their sheer numbers remained staggering."

“ ‘In my master’s work, we found that there was a large native mussel refuge in the St. Clair Delta,’ said Zanatta, referring to samplings he participated in 1999-2001.”

“...’There are 37 species known historically from Lake St. Clair. We’ve recorded 22 species actually in the lake in the last decade despite all sorts of pretty negative impacts.’ ”

“In expanded research funded through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Zanatta found that the St. Clair Delta and western Lake Erie ‘were the most healthy areas of the lakes in terms of native mussel abundances.’ “


From the abstract of Distribution of native mussel (unionidae) assemblages in coastal areas of Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair, and connecting channels, twenty-five years after a dreissenid invasion, a journal article by David T. Zanatta, et al. published in 2015 (excerpts):

“Despite the invasion, unionids have survived in several areas in the presence of dreissenid mussels.”

Thompson Bay, Presque Isle, Pennsylvania

“We...documented species abundance and diversity in coastal areas of lakes St. Clair and Erie. The highest-quality assemblages of native mussels (densities, richness, and diversity) appear to be concentrated in the St. Clair delta, where abundance continues to decline, as well as in in [sic] Thompson Bay of Presque Isle [Pennsylvania] in Lake Erie and in just a few coastal wetlands and drowned river-mouths in the western basin of Lake Erie. The discovery of several new refuge areas suggests that unionids have a broader distribution within the region than previously thought.”


From the abstract of Characteristics of a refuge for native freshwater mussels (Bivalvia: Unionidae) in Lake St. Clair, a journal article by D.J. McGoldrick, et al., last updated January 29, 2016 (excerpts):

“The Lake St. Clair delta ...  provides an important refuge for native freshwater mussels (Unionidae) wherein 22 of the ~35 historical species co-occur with invasive dreissenids.”

“Zebra mussel infestation of unionids in the delta appears to be mitigated by dominant offshore currents, which limit densities of zebra mussel veligers [planktonic larvae] in nearshore compared to offshore waters …”

“Glycogen concentrations in the tissues of a common and widespread species in the delta (Lampsilis siliquoidea) suggest that zebra mussels may be adversely affecting physiological condition of unionids in a portion of the Lake St. Clair delta. Physiological condition and community structure of unionids within the delta may also be influenced by differences in food quantity and quality resulting from the uneven distribution of water flowing from the St. Clair River. The delta likely supports the largest living unionid [?] includes several species that have been listed as Endangered or Threatened in Canada and/or the state of Michigan, making it an important refuge for the conservation of native unionids.”


Round Goby

Why no mention, you might ask, of quagga mussels? Don’t know. Maybe Lake St. Clair and the delta are too warm and shallow for them.

And why haven’t the zebras wiped out the bottom of the food web in Lake St. Clair, as the quaggas have done in lakes Huron and Michigan? Possibly the abundance of nutrients like phosphorus in Lake St. Clair (and western Lake Erie) can produce phytoplankton such as algae faster than the zebras can devour it, leaving plenty for tiny animals that become food for an invasive fish, the round goby, now thriving and the favorite prey of some of the popular game fish in Lake St. Clair.

In any event, this saga is far from over. The balance will work out over decades, altered from time to time by further agents of change.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

(2) Mussel Invasion, Alewife Collapse Doomed Salmon in Lake Huron

Alewife, a herring, average 10 inches in length
-- second in a series --

Researchers have found that Lake Huron cannot provide a salmon sport fishery any longer because the alewife population on which the salmon fed has crashed. It seems likely that the same sequence is repeating itself in Lake Michigan.*

The best course now may be to restore native species like lake herring, lake trout, walleye and whitefish.

Scientists studying the subject are Sara Adlerstein-Gonzalez, Yu-Chun Kao and Edward Rutherford.

Alewives, a herring species, invaded the Great Lakes 60 or 70 years ago through the Welland Canal. They became the main food source for the salmon, steelhead, brown trout and hybrids that have been introduced in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron over the past 50 years.

The new study is the first attempt to use a food-web modeling approach to assess the various factors behind the 2003 collapse of Lake Huron alewives and the implications for future fish populations there. The total weight or ‘biomass’ of alewives in Lake Huron plunged by more than 90 percent between 2002 and 2003, and the exact causes of the collapse are still debated by anglers and biologists.

Some researchers have suggested the alewife collapse was mainly due to too much predation by Chinook salmon and native lake trout. Others say it likely resulted from a drop in food availability tied to the explosive spread of zebra and quagga mussels starting in the late 1980s.

The computer simulations in the new study show that the collapse was caused by a combination of predation and food limitation—and that predation alone would not have caused the crash. The spread of the non-native mussels, coupled with declining levels of the nutrient phosphorus entering the lake from rivers and streams, were essential factors, according to the new study.

Predation peaked in the 1980s, then remained constant until the alewife population crashed in 2003. Filter feeding by staggering numbers of invasive mussels reduced nutrients, including phosphorus, which had already been depleted in farm runoff as a result of improved agricultural practices.


[Chinook] Salmon are declining at an alarming rate [in Lake Michigan] according to biologists and the Department of Natural Resources.

“Because there’s less prey, the capacity to support the current Chinook salmon just isn’t there,” [Jay] Wesley said. “So one way we can address that is to lower the Chinook stocking.  That will help reduce predation pressure on the remaining prey.”

As for invasive mussels, biologists are hoping they’ll reach a peak, allowing algae and plankton back into the water…

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Saturday, April 23, 2016

(1) Alien Mussels Dominate Lake Bottoms, Scramble Ecology

--- first in a series ---

Hello, invasive zebra and quagga mussels. Goodbye: introduced salmon, invasive alewives, native Diporeia, diatoms and on and on.


Invasive quagga mussels have out competed their cousins, zebra mussels, at the bottom of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. Quaggas tolerate colder, deeper water and thrive on mud bottoms. Zebras prefer to attach themselves to less abundant hard surfaces.

Both are efficient filter feeders and prolific breeders. Small quaggas can filter a quart of water daily. Billions of them cover the bottoms Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.

Diatoms are single cell plants, a form of algae, that make up part of the quagga’s diet. Diatoms envelop themselves in a hard shell of silica taken from the water.

The process is useful to mussel researchers as a marker of or proxy for total algal density, i.e. an extrapolation of the quantity of all algae in the water.

Diatom blooms occur in the spring. As the plants absorb silica and sink to the bottom, a reduction or drawdown of silica in the water is measurable. Less silica means more diatoms; more diatoms implies more algae in general.

In 2008, EPA researchers found that silica in the water was 80% lower than 30 years earlier, indicating a similar reduction in algae and coinciding with the proliferation of quaggas, which began in 2004 in Lake Michigan.

“By filtering out the algae, the mussels are robbing other organisms of the food they need to survive. Of particular concern is the plight of Diporeia, a tiny shrimplike creature that was one of the pillars supporting the base of the Great Lakes food web. Nearly every fish species in the Great Lakes relies on Diporeia at some point in its life cycle. But Diporeia populations have crashed in lakes Michigan and Huron, and the change is already impacting Great Lakes commercial fisheries and the sport-fishing enterprise.”

It’s worth noting, however, that in Lake Huron, where the salmon/alewife-heavy ecology crashed first, native species like lake trout have rebounded and invasive gobies have entered the picture.

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