Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Sierra Club Denounces MDEQ

Gail Philbin, Director of the Sierra Club in Michigan, wrote in the Detroit News on February 22, 2016 (excerpts):

The spectacle of a Michigan city poisoned by a drinking-water crisis caused by cost-cutting surprised few, if any, folks working on environmental issues in this state.

...[W]e’re all too familiar with the Snyder administration’s disregard for public health and the will of the people.

A dangerous culture has taken hold at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). That culture de-emphasizes government transparency, regulatory enforcement and responsiveness to citizen complaints, and instead emphasizes budget reductions and voluntary measures to address significant problems.

In rural Michigan, a disaster that affects us all is brewing. Manure runoff from industrial livestock facilities is polluting lakes, rivers and streams.

This calamity has been unfolding for years, but was aided by Snyder’s appointment of Dan Wyant to head the MDEQ. Wyant ran the Michigan Department of Agriculture for years.

■The MDEQ refused to update its permit for factory require a ban on the application of manure on snow-covered or frozen ground.

■Until only very recently, records of complaints about factory farm pollution to the MDEQ’s hotline and actions taken were not publicly accessible.

■All but about 37 of the 269 CAFO permits issued in Michigan have expired, but the facilities are still in operation.

MDEQ rarely does field investigations and doesn’t take water samples in response to reports of suspected manure-related incidents by Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan...

In agriculture, we can take two immediate steps: ban the application of CAFO waste on frozen or snow-covered ground throughout Michigan; and declare Lake Erie an impaired watershed, which will set mandatory pollution limits for tributaries.

...[Y]ou have the right to clean air and water.

Well said. Kudos to Detroit News for publishing this.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Tear-up Abandoned Parking Lots

Less Costly Shortcut to Urban Stormwater Control 

Commercial property owners like to lay down as much concrete as they can, beyond what might be deemed necessary for parking and sidewalks, because in the long run it saves them the cost of labor, equipment and materials to cut grass and control weeds.  Some like asphalt even more because it’s cheaper than concrete, at least in the short run.

The drawback is that stormwater runs right off of concrete and asphalt (and roofs), straight into city sewers. In cities that have two sewer systems, one for household, commercial and industrial wastewater and a separate system for stormwater runoff, the consequences of storm runoff are less severe. It’s easier, thus less costly, to treat and moderate rainwater runoff.

Many older, larger cities like Detroit, however, have combined sewer systems where wastewater and stormwater flow together, often overwhelming wastewater treatment plants.

To meet the demands of clean water laws, some cities with combined sewers (like Chicago or Atlanta, for example) have been required to build huge tunnels to temporarily hold combined sewer discharges during and after storms, thereby preventing combined sewer overflows (CSOs) from inundating treatment plants or being released untreated into natural water bodies.

Several years ago, there were plans to build such a tunnel in Detroit, but the city’s insolvency prevented implementation. Instead, a number of smaller facilities called retention treatment basins (RTBs) were chosen to control overflows. Whether or not RTBs, some still under construction, will be sufficient to manage overflows and prevent the pollution of lakes and streams remains to be seen.

In the meantime, various types of green infrastructure or low impact development (LID) offer some relief from the polluted runoff problem. These would include rain barrels, ground-level and roof-top rain gardens, permeable pavers, detached downspouts and bioswales. Note the success of one such LID project, a retrofit in the Towar neighborhood near East Lansing, Michigan;

But I digress. The point is that an overabundance of concrete and asphalt, mostly in underused or abandoned parking lots, contribute significantly to urban stormwater runoff and combined sewer overflows.

In metropolitan areas like Detroit, where populations have declined, sprawling parking lots at commercial, industrial, municipal, sports venue and similar sites could be reduced in size, sometimes drastically.

Consider the acres of unused pavement at abandoned sites like Northland Mall or the Pontiac Silverdome. Funds to remove hard surfaces would be available if we got our priorities straight.

Simply returning such areas or large parts thereof to their natural surface, augmented with vegetation of some kind, would be a lot cheaper than installing more concrete and steel RTBs or sophisticated green infrastructure improvements farther downstream.

Satellite view of Northland Mall’s empty parking lots:,-83.2060912,1375m/data=!3m1!1e3

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Michigan Environmental Hypocracy

MDEQ Preaches Stewardship

 Compare the Flint water disaster with the bluster and posturing of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) in its draft Water Strategy published last year (p.4):

“Inspire Stewardship for Clean Water – Most importantly, Michigan residents need greater opportunities to learn about water. Michigan is surrounded by 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water, and with that comes a deep ethical obligation to be good and thoughtful stewards of this global treasure. A shared water ethic will guide Michigan into the future and ensure our children and future generations will have the same or better quality of life than we have today. The durability of this Strategy and ensuring the health of our water resources for generations to come depends on creating a culture of stewardship through lifelong education about water.” (Emphasis added.)

“We call on all people of Michigan to be thoughtful and engaged stewards of our water resources.”

What duplicity!

Read the comments of Laura Rubin, Executive Director of the Huron River Watershed Council in HRWC's February Update under the heading "Flint Water Crisis: an HRWC perspective." Laura has articulated very well what many of us have been thinking, supplemented by poignant historical background.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Army Corps: Dirty Tricks, Dirty Water

Editorial Excoriates Army Corps of Engineers for Dredging Deceit


Apparently, there is no limit to the depths that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will sink in its persistent push to poison Cleveland harbor via the open-lake dumping of toxic Cuyahoga River dredge.

Its latest ploy involves the once unthinkable for a federal agency: It has cut its own budget to ensure it will not have enough money for proper dredging and disposal.

Last year, a federal judge had to step in to force the Corps to spend the full appropriated amount to complete proper dredging and disposal.

In December, Corps officials contacted the professional staffs of the House and Senate appropriation committees and said the agency didn't need the full $9.54 million for Cleveland harbor, according to Dino Disanto, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Dave Joyce…

Thanks to the Corps' sleazy backdoor maneuver, this year's total Cleveland harbor appropriation is far less than what's needed for river dredging and proper disposal.

(Editorial Board, January 24, 2016, updated February 01, 2016)

Makes you wonder how forthcoming the Corps has been about open lake dumping in western Lake Erie off Toledo.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Wild Goldfish in Lower Lakes

Although they don’t get much media attention as an invasive species, goldfish are reproducing by leaps and bounds in a number of North American waters. (Not to be confused with common carp, which can be gold in color as well, goldfish have no barbels on the upper jaw.)

It’s thought that people wishing to be rid of them flush live goldfish down the toilet or dump the fish into nearby ponds, lakes or streams.

Image result for mike martin + goldfish + lake st clair
Martin and goldfish -
 Goldfish were originally developed from domesticated Prussian carp in China over 1,000 years ago, when they were bred for color for display in ornamental ponds and watergardens. Although some sources claim that crucian carp (Carassius carassius) are the wild version of the goldfish (Carassius auratus), recent research has found that the wild form of the goldfish is actually the Prussian carp (Carassius gibelio, or sometimes C. auratus gibelio, with gibelio identified as a subspecies of C. auratus). While they are certainly closely related, and often confused, they are different species…
[Goldfish] are able to tolerate fluctuations in water temperature and water with low levels of dissolved oxygen. They feed mainly on fish eggs, larvae and aquatic plants. In healthy ecosystems, goldfish don't appear to compete well with some native fish. However, they are quite tolerant of poor water quality, and may threaten some native species in degraded ecosystems.

Occasionally, a large goldfish caught by someone fishing will be reported as a curiosity in the press. Such was the case two years ago when Mike Martin caught a 15 inch, three pound goldfish in Lake St. Clair. Similar catches have been reported in the Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay.
But the concern is that large populations of goldfish will have a negative impact on aquatic ecology.

Jeanna Bryner wrote in Live Science on April 9, 2015:
Apparently, a handful of goldfish dumped into a lake in Boulder, Colorado, just three years ago have reproduced and now number in the thousands.
A ranger noticed the 3,000 to 4,000 goldfish a couple of weeks ago in Teller Lake #5 off Arapahoe Road and reported it to [authorities].
"If they escape and move downstream, they'll directly compete with our native species...“
There are about three or four fish species considered threatened or “species of concern” living downstream from the lake...These fish feed on plankton and small insects, the same diet as goldfish…
Closer to home, the harbor at Hamilton, Ontario on the western end of Lake Ontario is being overrun with goldfish. On January 7, 2016, Mark McNeil reported in the Hamilton Spectator:
It used to be that goldfish in the Ontario outdoors had a very low survival rate and little success at reproducing.
But officials at the Royal Botanical Gardens and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada say that's been changing in recent years in the warmer weather we've been experiencing.
They've noticed exponential increases in numbers being counted at the Desjardins Canal Fishway — from 20 or less per year in the late 1990s to 2,500 this past spring. And early this winter, millions of five centimetre, young-of-the-year goldfish have been seen swimming in giant schools at various locations in the harbour, including the section of the canal below the railway bridge.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources says:
Goldfish were first introduced into Ohio around 1885 but have not become as well established as the common carp. They are abundant in the shallow bays and marshes of western Lake Erie and can be found in slow moving tributaries of Lake Erie as well.
No explanation has been found for the rapid increase of goldfish reproduction in western Lake Ontario, compared to the (apparent) more stable population in western Lake Erie. Possibly the water quality at Hamilton, Ont. has degraded to the point that other fish species are declining, allowing the more tolerant goldfish to thrive.
In 1920, a phenomenon more extreme than that in Hamilton occurred in Port Clinton, Ohio. That incident hasn’t been explained either.
In any case, the potential danger of further disruption to the balance (if there is one) in western Lake Erie bears watching.