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Articles of Interest


Good News about the Great Lakes!

by Alfred M. Beeton, Ph.D., Michigan Chapter Executive Committee Member and former Acting Chief Scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 

Concern about our troubled economy has all but obscured news that on September 23, 2008 the U.S. House of Representatives ratified a compact to limit diversion of water from the Laurentian Great Lakes.  The U.S. Senate approved the (Great Lakes) Compact in August.  Ontario and Quebec have approved a closely similar measure.

Diversion of water out of the Great Lakes Basin has loomed as a threat to the natural environment and economies of the region for many years.  The U.S. Congress authorized a study, in the 1980s, of possibly diverting water from the Lakes because of their concern over depletion of the Ogallala aquifer.  Some Lake Michigan water was diverted into the Illinois River via the Chicago barge canal in 1900.

It is impossible to divert these waters without causing large scale disruptions in the environment and economies of the region.  The waters flowing from Lake Superior to Lake Huron, Lake Huron to Lake Erie, Lake Erie via Niagara Falls into Lake Ontario, and Lake Ontario into the St. Lawrence River are necessary and vital to continuation of shipping.  Waters leaving Lake Erie via Niagara Falls generate large amounts of electricity.  Decreases in lake levels would impact water intakes, marinas, shore line property, wetlands, and other coastal environments.

An additional concern is climate change and likely impacts on the Great Lakes.  The consensus is that the Lakes will be affected, but scientists do not agree as to the nature of the impacts.  Climate will change in the Midwest, but what will be the consequences for the Lakes?  A model, by the Canadian Centre for Climate Modeling and Analysis predicts decreased precipitation, increased air temperature and evaporation resulting in water level decrease of as much as 1.28m for Lake Michigan by 2090.  Another model from the United Kingdom Meteorological Office's Hadley Centre shows an increase in water level for Lake Michigan of .35m by 2090 because of lower air temperature and increased precipitation.  Ice cover of the Lakes would be lessened according to the Canadian model.  Ice cover of the Lakes is already much less than even 15 years ago.  There also has been speculation over the consequences of warming of the Lakes which would affect the thermal structure, warm water overlying a large cold water mass.  A pronounced thermal gradient between cold and warm water could reduce mixing and in turn result in less dissolved oxygen in the deep cold waters.  On the other hand a greatly decreased ice cover will permit more evaporation and mixing of the Lakes in the winter.

As of now, our knowledge of the Great Lakes hydrology is incomplete, especially for over-lake evaporation, precipitation and groundwater flow into and out of the Lakes.  Better data and assessments of cumulative impacts of various stressors are essential to determine likely effects of climate change.



Great Lakes Cleanup Benefits Michigan’s Economy

By  Brittany Jestice, Sierra Club Great Lakes Program Intern

When looking to protect and restore our Great Lakes, it is easy to overlook other positive results that occur besides a healthier environment.  A recent panel in Detroit, held by Sierra Club’s Great Lakes Program, focused on how cleaning up the Great Lakes creates economic gains for Michigan.  This panel was inspired by a Brookings Institute report, which states the Great Lakes region could receive an estimated $50 billion in direct economic gains from restoring the Lakes. 

Cleaning up the Great Lakes brings many jobs.  Since the Great Lakes Legacy Act was signed into law in 2002, $270 million has been spent to clean areas of concern (AOCs).  Panel member Roy Schrameck stated, “Every contract of $120,000 equates to one full-time person for one year.”  That means in the last six years, over 2,000 jobs resulted in restoring our Lakes. 

Once the areas are cleaned up, they are then developed.  Paths, parks, marinas, shops, and other attractions are created.  Surrounding property of the remediated AOCs also increases in value.

According to Scott Ireland of the EPA, there are still 75 sites that need to be remediated and 46,000,000 cubic yards of toxins to be removed.  One of the benefits of the Great Lakes Legacy Act to Michigan is that it helps move Michigan towards delisting AOCs, explained Michael Alexander from Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality.  Ellias Cove is an example of a former toxic site that is now thriving.  The cleanup has made it a tourist and family recreational spot.  More demonstrations of this scenario are looking hopeful for the future.



Water Sentinels:  Ordinary citizens taking action to protect our water 

Rita Chapman, Clean Water Program Director

Michigan’s Water Sentinels started monitoring the Pine River in 2001.   We added the Pinnebog River and CAFO monitoring soon after that.  When the spectre of sulfide mining reared up in 2003, our Upper Peninsula Water Sentinels also chose the direct hands-on approach of water monitoring in order to document current water quality, and to keep track of any changes, should the mining company receive permits to dig a mine. 

In 2003 our Central U.P. Group reported that Kennecott was prospecting for nickel and copper in sulfide ores in the Yellow Dog Plains in northern Marquette County.  Group leaders John Rebers and Dave Allen explained that because sulfuric acid forms when the rocks are exposed to air and water, sulfide mining can damage water.  I asked them if they wanted a Water Sentinels volunteer water monitoring project, to get baseline information about the Yellow Dog and the Salmon-Trout Rivers.  They said yes, and we began that spring.  They’ve monitored 14 sites monthly ever since.  Kennecott still must secure several permits and survive lawsuits, but if they ever mine, the Yellow Dog Sentinels are watching. 

In 2005 we learned Aquila Resources was prospecting for zinc and gold in Menominee County.  Because of our success launching the Yellow Dog Sentinels, I offered to help start a project with the Front 40 Environmental Fight, a local group concerned about the potential mine.  Now, three years later, 45 volunteers are running their own twice-yearly monitoring program.  Aquila Resources hasn’t applied for permits, but if they do, they’ll find the Shakey Water Sentinels are well prepared to review the mine plan and associated documents, and submit thoughtful public comments. 

Thank you to all our volunteer water monitors!  For more information contact Conservation Director Anne Woiwode at 517-484-2372. 



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