Mute swans are federally protected, but the non-native bird could be harming the comeback of their larger, native cousins – the Trumpeter swan. Wildlife officials are supporting a bill that would allow mute swans to be killed. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Christina Shockley reports:
Mute swans are federally protected, but the non-native
bird could be harming the comeback of their larger, native
cousins – the Trumpeter swan. Wildlife officials are
supporting a bill that would allow mute swans to be killed.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Christina Shockley
Mute swans are large, elegant white birds with bright
orange beaks. People brought them here from Europe and
Asia to adorn public parks and private ponds. Now living
in the wild, they’re competing with native birds, like the
Tami Ryan is a wildlife biologist in Wisconsin, where the
trumpeter is endangered. She says the mute swan could be
impeding work done to bring back the trumpeter
“They could have a detrimental effect on trumpeter swan
pairs that are trying to set up breeding territories, or
trumpeter swan families in trying to have feeding
territories. If there’s mute swans in the area, there’s
definitely going to be some competition.”
A bill before Congress would allow mute swans to be
killed, or their eggs destroyed.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Christina
Homeowners across the Midwest are discovering the benefits of rain
gardens. Slightly sunken areas of native plants hold heavy rains and cleanse runoff as it sinks slowly into the ground. Photo courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Charlene Johnson is building rain gardens at the waste water treatment plant in Superior, Wisconsin. The plots are designed to show homeowners how they can help prevent pollution from washing into Lake Superior. Photo by Stephanie Hemphill.
Jan Murphy built a rain garden when she built a bookstore and coffee shop in Superior. Murphy would like the garden to include some open water, but for now the cattails have taken over. Photo by Stephanie Hemphill.
A good Midwestern summer storm can dump a lot of water in one place. Sometimes there’s so much rainwater, it overwhelms the underground sewage pipes. The rainwater mixes with untreated sewage and washes into lakes and rivers. Cities around the country are each spending millions of dollars to solve the problem. In one city, officials are encouraging people to build “rain gardens.” The perennial gardens are designed to hold rainwater and let it seep gradually into the ground. In another installment of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s “Your Choice; Your Planet” series… Stephanie Hemphill reports:
A good midwestern summer storm can dump a lot of water in one
place. Sometimes there’s so much rainwater, it floods into the
underground pipes that carry sewer waste. It mixes with untreated
sewage and washes into lakes and rivers. Cities around the country
are each spending millions of dollars to solve the problem. In one
city, officials are encouraging people to build “rain gardens.” The
perennial gardens are designed to hold rainwater and let it seep
gradually into the ground. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Stephanie Hemphill reports:
The sewage treatment plant sits right on the waterfront of Lake
Superior in Superior, Wisconsin. You can see treatment tanks and
pump houses at the edge of the lake, and lately you can also see
gardens. They’re demonstration plots, showing how homeowners
can help solve a serious problem. Each garden is like a shallow
bowl; about six inches lower than the surrounding ground. The
buildings next to the gardens have down spouts that carry water from
the roofs right into the gardens.
Charlene Johnson is creating these rain gardens. She digs away the
surface soil, adds compost, and then plants native grasses and
“We’ve got the Golden alexander starting to bloom, this one has
purple coneflower, Green-headed coneflower, Cardinal flower, the
They’re pretty and they’re all plants that can live with a lot of water, or
just a little. Johnson says they do a much better job of holding onto
rainwater than a regular lawn, because they have deep roots.
“You know, the average lawn is about 1-2 inches. Therefore you’d
only have one or two inches of roots. Roots equal storage capacity.
Also as the roots penetrate through the ground, they die back, and
those holes can also be used for storm water retention.”
That helps keep some of the rainwater from rushing into the sewer
system. Johnson would like it if every yard in Superior had a rain
garden. The ideal size depends on the size of the house and the
type of soil in the yard, but they’re usually about the size of a small
A lot of us are building water gardens these days – small pools or
ponds – but a rain garden is different. It’s not designed to hold water
or goldfish. It’s designed to absorb big rains and let them sink slowly
into the ground.
“Plants and soil naturally cleanse pollutants from water. By the time it
recharges into the groundwater aquifers, the water is essentially
Charlene Johnson says rain gardens cost about the same to build as
any other perennial garden – between $3 and 5 a square foot. Most
of that is to buy plants, so it’s a one-time purchase. Even if it’s not
that expensive, you might be thinking it’s still a lot of money just to
help the city save on treating sewage, but Johnson says it can pay off
in the long run, because keeping rainwater out of the sewage
treatment system, means the city won’t have to treat as much
volume. That saves money and keeps your monthly sewer bill lower.
Your rain garden will also help the environment by keeping the rush
of water from overwhelming the sewer system and sending it into the
river or lake near your home.
On the other side of town, Jan Murphy says she loves her rain
garden. She built it seven years ago when she built her bookstore
and coffee shop in Superior.
(sound of blackbird)
“We’ve had ducks. That’s a baby redwing blackbird I believe, it’s
been very delightful. We’ve had lots of little critters in here from time
to time. ”
Runoff from the bookstore parking lot flows into the garden, where the cattails and other
native plants clean it up before it seeps into the city storm water system. Now, if you and
your neighbors build rain gardens, it still might not completely solve your city’s problems
with storm water runoff, but the experts say it can help.
Kurt Soderberg directs the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District in
Duluth. He says rainwater picks up all kinds of pollution as it flows
across parking lots, streets, and yards, and eventually into rivers and
“Rainwater is a big impact on water quality. Whether it’s sediment
washing into the lake, whether it’s fecal coliform going into the creeks
and the lakes, there are a whole lot of reasons why you want to stop
storm water from rushing into the natural bodies of water. ”
Soderberg says rain gardens can filter and clean the water before it
reaches lakes and rivers. A lot of cities are spending millions of
dollars each, trying to keep storm water from overwhelming the sewer
system. Soderberg says rain gardens could be part of the solution.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Stephanie Hemphill.
Farms that had been left to deteriorate are now being restored. (Photo courtesy of National Park Service)
The National Park Service not only protects scenic natural areas, it also preserves historic places. Occasionally those two missions compete. Right now the Park Service is trying to find a balance between managing a beautiful stretch of Great Lakes shoreline and restoring the remnants of a once thriving farm community that illustrates a rarely seen view of early agricultural life in this country. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sally Eisele reports:
The National Park Service not only protects scenic natural areas, it also preserves historic places.
Occasionally those two missions compete. Right now the Park Service is trying to find a balance between
managing a beautiful stretch of Great Lakes shoreline and restoring the remnants of a once thriving farm
community that illustrates a rarely seen view of early agricultural life in this country. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Sally Eisele reports:
Millions of tourists visit the white sand beaches of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National lakeshore in northern
Michigan. Most of them pass right by Port Oneida. There are no tourist signs for the old farming
community along the scenic lakeshore highway. Really the first thing you notice is the graveyard.
(sound of cemetery gate)
The headstones display the faded names of the German and Bohemian immigrants who settled Port Oneida
in the 19th century. From the cemetery the remains of their farmsteads can be found along the narrow park
roads that weave their way toward Lake Michigan.
“Let’s see the lake over here.” (sound fades under)
On a bluff overlooking the lake, local historian Kathryn Eckert is strolling the grounds of one of the old
family farms. She’s with a group called Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear. It’s working with the Park
Service to save these farms.
“What is important is not just the houses and the buildings but the landscape as well. You see the
spirea, the raspberries… the open fields. Over here to the east the privy…”
The remnants of the farm are everywhere. The old rose bushes have grown wild. The daylilies now peak
from behind tall field grasses. But, the original footprint of the farmstead is clearly there.
“When I was growing up there, everybody had these little farms.”
Martin Basch is the great grandson of one of the first settlers. The original family farm, not far from the
cemetery, is now in ruins.
“When the park service took over the Martin Basch farm there was a barn there, a grainery a
blacksmith shop…and these buildings just collapsed.”
For many years that was what the park service wanted. When the national lakeshore was created in the
1970’s, park managers intended to let Port Oneida return to its original forested state. Park historian Kim
Mann says it took years for preservationists to convince them the rickety old buildings were as valuable as
“Trying to preserve the beauty the scenery, also the threatened and endangered species–things like
that were really easy. It was really difficult to come in and say this corncrib is significant? This
privy? That has still been a learning curve to help people understand that you don’t just save just
the one representational privy. You want to save the collection because it tells the whole story.”
Now, the 20 farmsteads of Port Oneida are on the National Register of Historic Places. Little by little, the
Park Service is working to restore them.
(sound of hammer, chisel, and saw)
It’s a job that often involves volunteers. On this day, a group of park employees is working with
community members to save an old log cabin down the road from Port Oneida–They’re sawing a huge
beam to help shore up the building.
“This is a sill log or one of the bottom logs made of white oak. Primarily because it stands up to
weather and water better. We don’t want the bottom of the building to rot out again. At least any
Many of the old buildings in the park have been temporarily stabilized. But the long term plan is much less
clear. The Park Service hopes to find private sector partners who can restore the buildings and find ways to
(sound of field)
One of the first such partners is the Shielding Tree Nature Center, which renovated an old farmstead and
turned the hayfields into a nature preserve. Director Mary Rupert is hoping to sign a 60-year lease
agreement but worries as other partners come in, the character of the area may change.
“Our priority is the land. The buildings are second to that. If every farmstead had a partner it
would be too much.”
At this point though, the balancing act is to find enough partners with the money to renovate the buildings
and preserve the integrity of the land. Without the private sector, park managers say the farmsteads of Port
Oneida are at risk and with each harsh northern winter another piece of history is lost.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Sally Eisele.
A report by an environmental group says smokestacks on ships are becoming a larger source of air pollution in ports across the country. But as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mike Simonson reports, the shipping industry says they’re in the process of cleaning things up:
A report by an environmental group says the floating smokestacks on ships are becoming a larger
source of air pollution in ports across the country. But as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Mike Simonson reports, the shipping industry says they’re in the process of cleaning things up.
Environmental Defense says smog plagues big city ports…citing New York, Chicago, Detroit,
Cleveland and Toledo as having unhealthy levels. Jana Milford is a Senior Scientist with
Environmental Defense. She says diesel-operated ships don’t have as stringent regulation as
trucks; so while land-craft pollution is being reduced ship pollution remains the same. Milford says
in 25 years, ship smog will make up 28-percent of air pollution, four times higher than in 1996.
Glenn Neckvasil is with the Lake Carriers Association. He says ships are “green transportation”
compared to trucks and trains.
“On the U.S. side there are 65 U.S. flagged vessels working on the Lakes. They move about 125
million tons of cargo. I mean I don’t know how many thousands of locomotives and how many tens
of thousands of trucks are here in the region moving cargo.”
Neckvasil says ships are phasing in a new, low-sulfur fuel that will be required by 2010.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mike Simonson.
Federal officials are issuing a recall of toy jewelry sold in vending machines around the country. They fear the cheap jewelry could be putting children’s health in danger. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush has details:
Federal officials are issuing a recall of toy jewelry sold in vending machines around the country.
They fear the cheap jewelry could be putting children’s health in danger. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Mark Brush reports:
The toy jewelry being recalled includes things such as metal rings, necklaces, bracelets, and
pendants. The U-S Consumer Product Safety Commission says about half of the jewelry found in
these gumball and vending machines contains high amounts lead. Children can become exposed
to the lead by putting the bracelets and pendants in their mouths, or by accidentally swallowing
Scott Wolfson is with the U-S Consumer Product Safety Commission. He says the companies who
imported the toy jewelry failed in their testing of the products:
“Federal standards say there should be no accessible lead in children’s products, and that was not
done in this case. The quality assurance was not done, so it made it’s way out there into the
Wolfson says the jewelry being recalled has been sold over the last two years. He urges parents
to look for the jewelry in their homes, and, if any is found, to throw it out. Studies have found that
even small amounts of lead exposure can lead to permanent developmental problems in children.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mark Brush.
You can see photos of the jewelry and find out more information recall by visiting the website www.toyjewelryrecall.com, or by calling the Toy Jewelry Recall Hotline at (800) 441-4234.
Experts in infectious diseases believe it might only be a matter of time before a new mosquito-borne virus arrives in the U.S. This one could be more devastating than West Nile. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tracy Samilton reports:
Experts in infectious diseases believe it may only be a matter of time
before a new mosquito-borne virus arrives in the U.S. This one could
be more devastating than West Nile. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Tracy Samilton reports:
Rift Valley fever used to be confined to sub-Saharan Africa, but in
2000, there were outbreaks in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Sonja Gerrard is
an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan. She says there’s no
reason Rift Valley fever couldn’t show up here. The disease is
transmitted by mosquitoes, just like West Nile; but unlike West Nile,
many different species of mosquitoes can carry it.
“Most people that get the disease will recover but it does in certain
instances cause encephalitis, which in cases of hemorrhagic fever can
lead to death”
Gerrard says the most devastating effect of Rift Valley fever is on
livestock. Up to 30% of a flock of sheep or cattle can be killed
during outbreaks. Because it’s considered likely the disease will
reach the U.S. sooner or later, she says research on developing a
vaccine should begin now. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m
A group that generally considers itself to be conservative disagrees with many of the Bush administration’s policies on the environment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports on a survey of hunters and anglers:
A group that generally considers itself to be conservative disagrees with many of the Bush
Administration’s policies on the environment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham
reports on a survey of hunters and anglers:
The National Wildlife Federation commissioned a nationwide survey of people who hold hunting or
fishing licenses. It revealed that hunters and anglers generally liked some of the Bush
conservation programs, but disagreed with the Bush approach to controlling mercury pollution,
drilling for gas on public lands, and changing how wetlands are protected. Brian Preston is with the
National Wildlife Federation. He says the survey shows hunters and anglers want to protect the
environment; not just their hunting and fishing rights.
“They’re not the ‘Bubba’ that just cares about filling a bag limit. They do care about their natural
resources, and based on those values, they’re not happy with some of the current policies put forth
by the White House.
More than two-thirds of the hunters and anglers voted for Bush in the last election, but an even
greater number disagree with some of the Bush policies on the environment.
Researcher climbing up to the eagles’ nest. A pair of eaglets are nesting there. (Photo by Bob Kelleher)
An eight week old bald eagle. Samples of feathers and blood are taken to check the bird's health. (Photo by Bob Kelleher)
The young eagles are banded for future monitoring. (Photo by Bob Kelleher)
The American Bald Eagle is expected to come off the endangered species list soon. Once a victim of hunting and pollution, the eagles are rebounding, but scientists say monitoring must continue, for the sake of the eagles and the sake of the environment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Bob Kelleher reports:
The American Bald Eagle is expected to come off the endangered species
list soon. Once a victim of hunting and pollution, the eagles are
rebounding, but scientists say monitoring must continue, for the sake
of the eagles and the sake of the environment. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Bob Kelleher reports:
If you’re looking at all, it’s hard to miss the bald eagles here. The
majestic birds glide overhead, or silently perch on a waterfront tree.
Their nests – made of branches – fill the treetops – sometimes ten feet
across, close to the lakes of Northern Minnesota’s Voyageurs National
Twenty years ago you might have been hard pressed to spot America’s
national symbol. Park Biologist Lee Grim says, it was obvious that
eagles were struggling.
“We saw how some of these birds were ill, and sick, and they had avian
pox and things. Something was keeping them from being healthy.”
An eagle found here in 1989 had the highest blood concentration ever
found of contaminants like the chemical PCB.
“So, we wanted to know why is that up here in Northern Minnesota, in
the middle of a beautiful, you know, almost wilderness area.”
It’s still a mystery how industrial chemicals like PCB’s get here, but
we do know what’s hurt the bald eagles in the past. The insecticide
DDT made bird eggs fragile – more likely to break under an eagles
weight than hatch. And Grim says DDT was all over the place. It was
sprayed on the region’s forests to kill insects like the spruce
“DDT is pretty much everywhere, it has been, you know. And it’s a
pretty long lived chemical.”
At the top of the food chain, chemicals like DDT accumulate in the
eagle’s bodies. Sick eagles can indicate a poisoned environment. To
test the environment, you test the eagles.
(snd of climbing)
A naturalist is scaling 90-feet up one of the park’s White Pine trees
to the huge nest at the top. The parent eagles circle overhead –
noisily upset. There’s a pair of hatchlings – fuzzy, beaky, and
surprisingly big 8-week old bald eagles. They have bright yellow feet,
with shiny black, and what will become very dangerous talons. Soon,
one’s squirming in an orange bag, and lowered into the hands of
graduate students Faith Wiley and Katie Parmentier.
(snd of students talking about baby eagle)
In minutes, the young female is back up; short a few feathers for
mercury testing; and a little blood for other chemical tests. There’s
a pair of metal bands riveted around her ankles.
Bill Bowerman is an environmental toxicologist from Clemson University.
His testing proves that chemicals like DDT and PCB’s are slowly going
away, but chemicals were only part of the problems for bald eagles.
Man was another problem. It took decades to get people to stop
shooting eagles; or to catch them accidentally in beaver traps, but
it’s better now.
“It’s evident, when I go out to landowners that have eagle nests on
their property, that they know how to manage their eagles; how to keep
people away; and how to protect that eagle during that critical nesting
It’s believed there were once half a million bald eagles in North
America. As people spread, by the 1950’s, bald eagles nearly vanished.
In the lower 48 states, the last few hung on in places like the Great
In Voyageurs Park, bald eagle numbers have jumped from seven nesting
pairs in 1973, to 28 pairs today. There are more than 7-thousand
breeding pairs nation wide, but there are always new threats. One of
the nation’s first victim’s to West Nile disease was the bald eagle in
New York area zoos. Bowerman says several pair are missing now in
Michigan, and there are always new chemicals. Traces of poly
brominated flame retardants are doubling in the Great Lakes basin every
3 to 5 years. Bowerman says the chemical industry needs strict
“As long as we maintain our vigilance about the environmental toxicants
that are being created each year, we should be having the eagles
Bowerman supports de-listing, but doesn’t want the birds in the
predicament they were twenty years ago. An official announcement of
the bald eagle’s de-listing is expected later this year.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Bob Kelleher.
Reporter David Hammond's yard. He has the vague notion that not bagging grass clippings is more environmentally friendly. (Photo by David Hammond)
Most of Hammond's neighbors prefer to bag clippings, leaving a perfectly manicured turf. (Photo by David Hammond)
At one point or another, most of us have had to do yard work. If it was one of your chores as a kid, you probably developed a strong aversion to it, but as some of us get older, get married, and move to the suburbs, something interesting happens. Taking care of the yard becomes important, but is there an environmental impact? As part of an ongoing series, called “Your Choice; Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Hammond takes a closer look at his own back yard:
At one point or another, most of us have had to do yard work. If it was one of your chores as a kid,
you probably developed a strong aversion to it. But as we get older, get married, and move to the
suburbs, something interesting happens. Taking care of the yard becomes important. But is there
an environmental impact? As part of an ongoing series, called “Your Choice; Your Planet,” the
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Hammond examines his own backyard.
To bag or not to bag? That is the question. Well, at least that’s my question… on most Saturdays
say about 10am.
(lawnmower sound up far away distance)
That’s when the men of my neighborhood head outside for their weekly call to arms. It’s yard day.
And once the first mower starts, like fruit flies to a banana, everyone heads outside to do their
mowing, edging, and weeding. It’s a procession that lasts all weekend.
(lawnmower sound up close distance, up and under)
This is a new neighborhood… only a couple of years old. Everybody has put in new landscaping,
and everybody spends a lot of time taking care of their lawns. Brian Van Netta is one of my
“It’s the showpiece of the house. It’s the first thing that people see when they drive by and it sets the tone for the rest of the house.”
Around here, that means bagging your lawn clippings. You know the routine. Mow a couple of
strips across the yard. Stop the mower. Take the grass bag and dump it into the compost bag.
Put the grass bag back on the mower. Mow a couple more strips then dump again. Then repeat
I think it’s lunacy… a waste of the weekend. Something keeping me from solving really important
issues like: Does my beer taste great or is it less filling? I’ve also have a vague notion that not
bagging is better environmentally, but I can’t back it up with facts. So I decide to investigate.
(lawnmower sound out)
First stop – Wade Martingdale. He’s a neighbor who’s worked in the landscape business. Around
here, his word carries weight. Unfortunately for me, he recommends bagging.
“If you have a real full turf grass, you know, real thick and full, that when you cut your grass, the
grass clippings are so thick that actually strangles out your grass, its doesn’t let the water get to the
roots, the air, and then what water does get to the roots, it won’t dry so it can promote disease.”
He also says bagging makes a yard look better… usually as he’s looking at my yard.
“You can’t really tell from a distance, but you can tell up close. Just like your grass has a lot of
clumps in it…” (pause… laughter)
I was getting worried. If bagging was really the best environmental and the best neighborly thing to
do, I might actually have to start. No sense getting kicked out of poker night on account of some
grass clippings, but as I looked down my street at all the 30-gallon bags waiting to be picked up, I wondered where all that waste was going.
(sound of trucks picking up waste – up and under)
Canton Waste Recycling handles all of the recycling pickups in my town. Each week, they pick up
yard waste from nearly 20,000 homes, and then haul it to a regional processing center. There it’s
turned into compost and sold to landscapers and fertilizer companies. The only caveat is that the
yard waste collected from the neighborhoods can’t have any debris in it. If there are stumps or
rocks or concrete in the compost bags, then an entire truckload can be wasted. When that
happens, it gets sent to the landfill.
(begin fading truck sound)
So assuming that folks in my neighborhood are not sneaking any dead cats into their yard waste…
bagging seems like a decent bet environmentally. Sure, there is energy used to pick up and
process the yard waste, but the program employs a dozen local people. I had to give it thumbs up.
(truck sound out)
But now, my worry had turned to panic. I could see the rest of my summer out in front of me. No
more pool. No more picnics. No more Sea Breezes at high tea. No, what I saw was a sweat-stained, fat guy lugging 30-gallon compost bags to the curb. That was going to be my summer.
Hell, it was going to be the rest of my summers.
My last hope was The Huron River Watershed Council. They’re a local environmental group and
have developed a lawn care tip sheet. As I read through it, I started to feel the ol’ fun quotient
starting to rise. That’s because the tip sheet recommended not bagging your clippings. That is, if
you mulched them well when you cut them. Laura Rubin is the Executive Director.
“By leaving them there, they are sort of leaching those nutrients right back into the soil. So when
you mulch them, and you leave them, they just naturally put those nutrients back into the ground
and that’s what the soil needs.”
Rubin says that those added nutrients would allow me to save money because I wouldn’t have to
buy as much fertilizer. I also wouldn’t have to buy the composting bags. Rubin added that she’s
not against community compost programs. Just that leaving the clippings was a simpler
“Community-wide composting programs are great and if you have a good one, you can’t go wrong.
It’s just changing the waste stream to a different area, but I don’t want to stress that there’s sort of
a ‘good way’ and a ‘bad way.’ If you send it to a composting program, you are still recycling and composting
that up rather than bagging it, and sending it to the landfill is the worst.”
So in the great bagging debate, it seems that both sides can claim the environmental high ground.
As long as I mulch my lawn clippings well, I can continue not bagging in good conscience. And for
the hardy souls who do bag? You’re good too. In fact, next Saturday, as I watch you schlepping
all those bags to the curb, I’ll tip a glass to you.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m David Hammond.
Fast-growing cities beyond the Great Lakes basin want to withdraw water from the lakes. The Council of the Great Lakes Governors is considering allowing more to do so. (Photo: Sleeping Bear Dunes, Lake Michigan, by Lester Graham)
More cities and businesses outside the Great Lakes basin want to take water from the Lakes. Great Lakes governors and provincial leaders are working on proposed new rules to control water diversions. Their proposal is expected to be released this month. Some say there’s a chance that more communities just outside the basin will get some water from the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach has the story:
More cities and businesses outside the Great Lakes basin want to take water from the Lakes. Great Lakes governors and provincial leaders are working on proposed new rules to control water diversions. Their proposal is expected to be released this month. Some say there’s a chance that more communities just outside the basin will get some lake water. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach has the story.
Only a few communities outside the Great Lakes Basin currently get water from the Lakes, but some inland cities are growing and running short on groundwater supplies. One such city is Waukesha, Wisconsin. Waukesha is 25 miles away from Lake Michigan. The city is on the far side of the sub-continental divide that separates the Great Lakes basin from the basin where surface waters drain to the Mississippi river.
(pump house noise for a few seconds, then fade under)
At the sunset pumping station in Waukesha, blue-painted pumps push groundwater from a large storage tank towards the homes of some of the city’s 65-thousand residents. Waukesha’s population has grown about 30 percent over the last two decades, so water utility general manager Dan Duchniak says the city is pumping more water than it used to…especially during dry periods when people water their lawns.
“When we did not have all the rain we had, we had our peak days around 10-11 million gallons a day – now around 12-13 million gallons a day. It goes up couple hundred thousand gallons per year.”
(gradually fade pump noise out)
No one in Waukesha is doing without tap water, but the groundwater table has dropped 300 feet over the last 50 years. And there’s another problem. Waukesha’s water supply is tainted by radium, a naturally occurring contaminant that could cause cancer. One of Waukesha’s long-term ideas for improving its water is to abandon the city wells and pump in up to twenty million gallons a day from Lake Michigan. In a complicated argument, hydrologists say Waukesha’s groundwater aquifer and the lake are connected anyway, so Dan Duchniak says a pipeline to the lake would not be a new withdrawal of water, and would actually help restore the original natural system.
“All we’re saying to make it real simple right now we have a vertical straw that is pulling water from the aquifer that has its tributary to the Great Lakes, we just want to take that water and make it horizontal for the better of the environment all around us.”
Duchniak has the ear of Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle. Governor Doyle is the new Chair of the Council of Great Lakes Governors. Among other things the council decides on water withdrawals from the Great Lakes. The governors of the eight Great Lakes states and leaders of Quebec and Ontario are expected to soon release a proposal called annex 2001. If passed, it will update rules on diverting great lakes water. Governor Doyle says he opposes sending water out of the Midwest, but he says short-distance diversions might be okay, if there’s a drop for drop return of clean water. Doyle acknowledges he needs unanimous agreement.
“There’s no reason for a governor of another state to approve even a small diversion unless they have some real confidence that the Great Lakes will be protected. That’s the way we protect it. Every single governor needs to approve.”
Governor Doyle says any change in diversion policy is years away. Still, environmental groups are closely watching for the annex 2001 proposal. Reg Gilbert is with Great Lakes United. He says before any more diversions are allowed, the plan should include more guidelines for water conservation. he says the lakes are too important to put them at risk by withdrawing too much water.
“Both our quality of life and a significant part of our economics come from a good functioning Great Lakes and if the rules for protecting it require it being difficult to divert water even those communities that want to divert that water might want to think twice and see it’s in the best interest of the whole region to have pretty strong rules… even if it makes it a little bit harder for some communities to get the water they need.”
Gilbert says he’s also looking for a plan that will pass muster with international trade courts that have questioned the legality of great lakes officials controlling the local waters. Gilbert’s hoping a lot of people will weigh in with their ideas during an upcoming comment period.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chuck Quirmbach