Saturday, July 14, 2018

Utilize Green Infrastructure in Great Lakes Areas of Concern

Part of the reason why remediation of a legacy of industrial pollution identified as Areas of Concern (AOCs) in the St. Clair River-Detroit River corridor is taking decades to achieve is the over-reliance on concrete and steel projects where green infrastructure would be more effective.

For example, as a means of stormwater control, public and private interests in New York City (including one auto company, Toyota) determined to plant a million trees in 10 years. They achieved that goal in eight years.

In the metro Detroit area (home of three auto companies), large-scale tree planting has been forsaken out of preference for huge concrete and steel projects like the so-called retention-treatment basins (RTBs). Nevertheless, downstream pollution, including sedimentation and turbidity, continues to be problematic.
Kuhn RTB - Oakland County, Michigan

One such, the massive Kuhn RTB (formerly known as Twelve Towns) in Oakland County, recently expanded, continues to divert partially screened and treated, sediment-laden surges down the Red Run Drain to the Clinton River and on to Lake St. Clair when overwhelmed by heavy rainstorms, instead of pumping the effluent to the Detroit Wastewater Treatment Plant as usual.

Better water quality in Great Lakes AOCs can be hastened by greater reliance on green infrastructure.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge

The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge is a binational sanctuary created in 2001 to preserve ecosystems in the river and on the western edge of Lake Erie. The achievement is the result of the combined efforts of Canada and the U.S., the only such international reserve on the continent.

“The [original] refuge [consisted] of nearly 6,000 acres of unique habitat, including islands, coastal wetlands, marshes, shoals, and waterfront lands within an authorized boundary extending along 48 miles of shoreline.” The 400 acre Humbug Marsh was added in 2004.
Canada greatly expanded the boundaries of the sanctuary in 2012 by creating the adjoining Western Lake Erie Watersheds Priority Natural Area, another first of its kind.
U.S. area, left; Canadian, right
The Detroit River and Lake Erie watersheds “...lie fully within the Carolinian Zone, which supports the greatest diversity of plant and animal species of any region in Canada.”
Rare and endangered fish species in the Detroit River include the Northern Madtom (a small catfish) and the Mooneye. “There are only three known populations of Northern Madtom in Michigan, and they are rare or critically imperiled throughout their range.” Mooneye of the family Hiodontidae resemble shad. “Although historically found in Lakes Michigan and Huron, recent accounts suggest that Mooneye only persist in the St. Clair-Detroit River System.”

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Pelican Numbers Increasing in Southeastern Michigan

Brian Sullivan - Cornell

In recent years, increasing numbers of pelicans have been sighted in southeast Michigan at the edge of Lake Erie. Initially they were thought to be migrating to and from summer breeding grounds far to the west. Lately, however, as many as 60 of the birds have been seen throughout the summer at Michigan’s Pointe Mouillee State Game Area.

The American White Pelican is a large bird with a nine foot wingspan. In recent decades, their population has been increasing. They feed by simultaneously swimming and skimming the water with their large lower beak pouches, often in coordination with one another, to catch fish.

Most of these pelicans winter along the U.S and Mexican Gulf coast or on the southern California coast and along the Baja Peninsula. In the spring, most migrate to nesting areas near or on Canadian inland waters in the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, some in the Dakotas in the U.S.

Pointe Mouillee State Game Area is just south of the convergence of the Detroit River and Huron River at the western end of Lake Erie

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Moroun Family Seeks EPA Superfund Status for Abandoned McLouth Steel Site on Detroit River

McClouth Steel, Trenton, 1950s-Reddit

McLouth Steel expanded its Detroit operations to a 188 acre site in Trenton, Michigan, south of Detroit on the Detroit River, in 1948. McLouth became one of the nation’s largest steel producers.

In 1996, the plant was sold. The Trenton facility remained idle after several failed attempts to restart it. The site has been and continues to be one of the most polluted on the Detroit River.

Wayne County foreclosed on the property in April 2017 for unpaid taxes. Past due city and county taxes exceeding $4 million are expected to be the Morouns’ purchase price.

A Michigan Department Environmental Quality (MDEQ) report said “contaminated soils at the site consist of slag fill material containing metals, arsenic, lead, cadmium, chromium, copper, iron, selenium and zinc, as well as documented spills with contaminated soils containing PCBs.”

A spokesman for the Morouns’ real estate development company, Crown Enterprises, is quoted in Crain’s as saying, "This is going to be a Superfund site that's not going to sit and languish." (Easy for him to say. The property has been sitting, languishing and polluting for the better part of 70 years.)

It’s reported that Crown Enterprises and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have a tentative agreement to add the old McLouth property to the National Priorities (Superfund) List. The Wayne County Land Bank has extended the time for negotiations three times.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Managing Invasive Phragmites in Coastal Wetlands of Lake St. Clair

Natural coastal wetlands have a profound, positive influence on the water quality in the Great Lakes region. Coastal wetlands are often sacrificed for commercial, recreational and residential development. Along with shoreline development, pollution, turbid storm runoff and the introduction of invasive species greatly diminish our freshwater heritage.

A stand of phragmites, a perennial wetland grass
Wetlands slow storm runoff, filter pollutants, suppress waves that would erode the shoreline, and serve as food, shelter and incubator sources for many native fish, mammal, bird and insect species.

Of the numerous invasive species decimating our waters and wetlands in recent decades, phragmites (frag-MY-teze), a tall, virulent reed, is one of the most insidious.

Phragmites can spread by root or seed, expanding in concentrations so dense that it crowds out all other plants, while simultaneously reducing the nutrition, shelter and nursery functions of diverse, native wetland plants.

In a remarkable display of stewardship, a sportsmen’s organization, Ducks Unlimited, aided by federal, state and local partners, organized and implemented a project to control phragmites, including 1200 acres of wetlands in the Anchor Bay portion of Lake St. Clair.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Water Quality Enforcement in the Scott Pruitt Era

The appointment of Scott Pruitt as Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was an abomination. His hostility toward environmental protection has been clear, as has his intent to dismantle protections long ago enacted into law.

Negotiation with Pruitt and his subordinates is a waste of time. As concerns water quality, U.S. subsidies to agriculture that push expansion of cultivation into marginal lands, requiring heavy fertilization, has resulted in massive amounts of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus to run off into lakes and streams, generating algal blooms, oxygen depletion and dead zones. This is particularly evident in the Maumee River watershed and the western basin of Lake Erie.

In order to compel Pruitt’s EPA to restrict nutrient runoff, we need to study the elements and procedures, get organized and head to court.

The fastest, most concise way for the serious student to become acquainted with the struggle for water quality in the U.S., including related politics, government and law, is to read the appellate decision in the Chesapeake Bay case, American Farm Bureau, et al. vs. EPA, et al. (which the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review).

The agriculture/environment conflict appears again in a pending federal case concerning impairment by ag pollution in the western basin of Lake Erie.  

Accommodating nutrient runoff - Shutterstock

Algal bloom in western Lake Erie - NASA

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Lake Sturgeon Population Recovering Near Detroit

The lake sturgeon population in the Great Lakes has been declining for more than a century. It is thought that today’s numbers may be as little as one percent of what they used to be. They are considered threatened or endangered in most states in their range. A mature adult can grow to seven feet and 200 to 300 pounds. They can live for many decades.

Image result for north american lake sturgeon
UW Stevens Point - Nature Conservancy

A year and a half ago, a barge crew dropped “... 25,000 tons of limestone blocks on the bottom of the Detroit River in the latest phase of a decade-plus effort to lure lake sturgeon to rock spawning reefs and help restore severely depleted populations of the once-common Great Lakes giants.”

The project “... added 4 acres of high-quality spawning habitat just upstream of Belle Isle, bringing the total to 16.6 acres at six locations in the Detroit and St. Clair rivers.”

 Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography

The reefs are “… built from blocks of broken limestone 4 to 8 inches in diameter.”

They work. Sturgeon eggs have been collected on the reefs. Researchers have found young sturgeon in the fast current of the north channel of the St. Clair River, downstream from a reef, before the channel reaches Lake St. Clair.