Palisades Leak & Restricting the DNR

  • The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant near South Haven, MI. (Photo courtesy of Entergy Corporation)

You can listen to the Environment Report segment above, or read an expanded version below

Documents released this week show a Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspector based at Palisades discovered a new leak during a routine inspection on September 20th.  

Palisades is under more scrutiny this year after a series of problems earned it one of the worst safety ratings in the country. This is at least the third water leak (depending on exactly how you tally them) at the nuclear plant this year. You can find more details about the first leak from a large water tank above the control room here, and the second water leak from the actual reactor here.

Palisades sits right next to Lake Michigan near South Haven. It uses water from the lake to help cool equipment.

This new leak is from a valve on a pipe that funnels that Lake Michigan water back into the lake. The water is leaking from that valve into a secondary building at the plant. Right now the leak is about a cup and half an hour. The water is not radioactive.

“(The pipe) can still do what it was designed to do,” NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng said. “Eventually this valve, it needs to be fixed, but it is not an immediate safety concern.”

But this is just the latest water leak; Palisades shut down twice this year to fix two other separate water leaks. So how many leaks is too many?

“We are asking ourselves that question but in a different way, which is; why is this happening? Is there a common thread that we need to look at?” Mitlyng said.

A Palisades spokesman says they’ve determined where the leak is coming from. He says the company may repair the “through-wall, pinhole leak,” replace the valve, or change the system of pipes to bypass the valve altogether. It’s unclear when that fix will happen.

Mitlyng says this is a good example of how regular NRC inspections do identify issues of concern.

View our timeline of problems at Palisades over the past two years.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has the authority to set aside land to make sure biodiversity is preserved.  Basically, that means the DNR can designate an area to protect the variety of plants and animals that live in that place.

But new legislation seeks to greatly limit that authority.

Senate bill 1276 would prohibit the DNR from setting aside an area of land specifically for the purpose of maintaining biological diversity.  The DNR could not make or enforce a rule to do that.

Senator Tom Casperson is one of the bill’s sponsors. He says the DNR has too much power to set aside land for the purpose of conservation.

“They need to have authority but when it comes to the direction where we’re going as a state with our public lands, I think there needs to be some checks and balances.”

Casperson says he gets angry calls from his constituents when they learn, for example, that motorized vehicles are not allowed in certain areas.  He says his bill would put more power in the Legislature’s hands.

“I think they should have to have some oversight within the Legislature, somewhere at least, a check and balance to say okay we agree that’s a good move and let the public weigh in on it through their Legislature.  It seems like they’re reluctant to do that and I understand some of the reason why. It’s not easy to get stuff through the Legislature, but I would also submit that there’s a reason for that.”

Casperson’s bill is pretty wide-ranging.  S.B. 1276 would amend several parts of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act in these ways (you can see this bill summary for more details):

  • Prohibit the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Natural Resources Commission from promulgating or enforcing a rule or an order that designates or classifies an area of land specifically for the purpose of achieving or maintaining biological diversity.
  •  Delete the conservation of biological diversity from the DNR’s duties regarding forest management, and require the Department to balance its management activities with economic values.
  • Eliminate a requirement that the DNR manage forests in a manner that promotes restoration.
  • Provide that a State department or agency would not have to designate or classify an area of land specifically for the purpose of achieving or maintaining biological diversity.
  • Eliminate the restoration of natural biological diversity from the definition of “conservation.”
  • Eliminate a reference to “unusual flora and fauna” in the definition of “natural area.”
  • Delete a legislative finding that most losses of biological diversity are the result of human activity.

In testimony, Professor Emeritus Burt Barnes at the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment calls the bill “lacking in common sense, ecological literacy, and vision; it is divisive, counterproductive, mean-spirited; couldn’t be worse.” Here’s an excerpt from his letter:

“All individuals and organizations that focus on natural resources necessarily must consider the organisms occupying the lands for which they are responsible. Therefore, it is impossible to legislate biodiversity or its restoration out of the mission of any organization trying to address and solve human-caused problems of the world.”

Environmental groups are reacting as well.

“You should be paying attention to what the Legislature is doing right now.”

Brad Garmon is the director of conservation and emerging issues at the Michigan Environmental Council.

“They’re redefining conservation in a different way than it has been understood for 100 years of Michigan’s conservation legacy, that’s made us a leader in this issue.  That stuff is in jeopardy right now.”

Garmon says the DNR does a good job of managing for all kinds of uses – including timber harvest and off road vehicles… and at the same time protecting the state’s rich animal and plant life.  And he points out the DNR does ask for public input.

“This bill is one of the worst we’ve seen in a while, in terms of just throwing out the respect for the department and the trained experts in ecology and forestry and others, and pretty much saying we don’t trust them to do a good job anymore and we the politicians are going to tell you how to manage our forests.”

He says this bill is the latest in a string of legislation that’s aiming to change the way land is used and managed in Michigan.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Enbridge Takes Homeowners to Court

  • Tom and Connie Watson say their foundation was cracked during maintenance work Enbridge crews did in 2010 and 2011 on the existing Line 6B pipeline. The couple says they were not satisfied with offers Enbridge made for additional easement on their property. (Photo by Logan Chadde/Michigan Radio)

You can listen to the story above or read an expanded version below.

Enbridge Energy is replacing one of its pipelines that runs through lower Michigan.  They’re replacing Line 6B. It’s the same pipeline that broke in Marshall two years ago.  The new pipeline will allow Enbridge to double the amount of oil they can transport to refineries in Detroit, Toledo and Sarnia, Ontario.

To build the pipeline, the company says it needs additional easement next to the current 60 foot easement that runs through many people’s backyards. 

Enbridge says many people who own land along the pipeline route have signed contracts with the company.  But Enbridge is taking people who refuse to sign contracts to court.

In a courthouse in Howell yesterday, a judge heard arguments against more than a dozen landowners. (Some of the cases were settled yesterday afternoon, involving the Munsell farming family. The settlement requires Enbridge to stay within the existing 60 foot easement on the Munsell’s property, but does allow Enbridge to temporarily use additional land as workspace for the new pipeline.)

Connie Watson and her husband Tom are among the defendants. 

“Enbridge has taken us to condemnation. Eminent domain is another word for it.  And because we wouldn’t sign their contract as it was, they brought us to court to take the land.”

The Watsons say they’re frustrated with Enbridge because of experiences they’ve had with the company in the past.

For four months, Enbridge repaired sections of the current pipeline running through the Watson’s backyard.  Tom Watson says Enbridge workers brought in lights and worked in their yard with heavy equipment day and night.

“Sounds like a bomb going off about every hour or so, you know, like a bomb went off.”

Connie: “So much noise.”

The Watsons say the work caused cracks in their foundation… and other damage they say they have not been compensated for.  The couple says they were not satisfied with the offers Enbridge made for their land for the new pipeline. 

Connie Watson says she feels like she’s at the mercy of a company that has acted more like a bully than a responsible corporate neighbor.

“Makes you feel sold out, doesn’t it, Tommy? ‘Yeah.’  It makes you feel sold out.”

The lawyers for Enbridge declined to comment.

The Gannett News Service reports Enbridge has taken more than 70 homeowners in Michigan to court to force them to give up some of their property.

Carol Brimhall lives in Stockbridge on 38 acres. 

“Well, we tried to negotiate with Enbridge. We met six times with various attorneys.”

But she says they were not satisfied with any offers.  A judge in Ingham County recently ordered that Enbridge could expand its easement on her property.  Enbridge now has 25 additional feet of permanent easement and 60 feet beyond that to use as temporary workspace. 

The judge also ordered the Brimhalls to accept around $11,000 dollars in compensation from Enbridge. 

“The condemnation was devastating. We couldn’t have been in that courtroom five minutes. So I thought the judge would maybe order mediation, or say let’s give this another two weeks and you guys see if you can work it out… anything. But she signed the order and we were done.”

Brimhall says Enbridge crews cut down more than 100 large trees on her property last week.  She says the work started the same day her mom was in the hospital, dying.

“Oh, it’s awful. They came through, the day my mom was… Monday… they cut my trees. I had called and emailed the agent and said, please give me a little bit of time here, so my mom can pass away and I can be with her and not worry about what’s going on. And they were out there first thing, Monday morning.”

We asked Enbridge Energy to comment for this story.  The company did not make anyone available for an interview.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Cleaning Up a Big, Underground Mess in Michigan

  • Logan's Gas and Deli on State Route 89 near Battle Creek, Michigan lost 8,000 gallons of gas underground. The gas station has since gone out of business. (Photo by Mark Brush)

There are around 4,800 gas stations in Michigan, but at one time, there were a lot more. It seemed like just about every corner had a gas station on it.

Many of those gas stations are closed now, but taxpayers are often on the hook for what’s been left behind.

A map of the open LUST sites in Michigan


One morning the owner of Logan’s Gas & Deli came in to check his inventory, and things were a little off.

Steve Beukema is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

“In the course of a weekend they lost about 8,000 gallons of gasoline. They came to work on a Monday and their 10,000 gallon tank was empty,” said Beukema.

Beukema is the project manager for the clean-up at this site near Battle Creek. He says when they pulled the tank, they found a dime-sized hole on the bottom.

Gas spread through the sandy soil underground, across the street, and under a house and a nearby pizza restaurant. Both get their water from underground wells.

Beukema says the owner tried to clean up the mess, but the insurance company wasn’t paying the bills fast enough.

The clean-up contractor walked away after they weren’t getting paid, and the gas station went belly up.

So that’s when you and I step in. We pay an extra fee at the gas pump that helps pay for this kind of clean-up.

Beukema showed me their clean-up system.

It uses a series of high pressure valves that force air underground. The air pushes the gas vapor upward.

“And the other part of the system is a soil vapor extraction, that’s essentially like a big vacuum cleaner. It’ll suck up all the gasoline vapors from the soil.”

Altogether this clean-up will cost more than a million dollars. Luckily, the underground drinking water wells were not affected here.

This site is an extreme case. Beukema says most leaks at gas stations don’t happen so quickly. They typically leak slowly – over long periods of time.

These kinds of slow underground leaks have affected drinking water supplies and surface water, and there have been a lot of leaks in Michigan.

Today, there are more than 9,000 documented leaks that still need to be cleaned up. Most of these tanks are not actively leaking, but the pollution remains.

In the U.S., only Florida has more open clean-up cases.

Around half of the 9,000 sites in Michigan are known as “orphan” sites. The original polluters can’t be found, or they can’t or won’t pay for them.

So it falls back to the state, but the state has been lagging behind with clean-ups.

Mark Griffin is with the Michigan Petroleum Association. 

“You could not find a more inefficient, stupid way to run a clean-up program,” said Griffin.

He blames a lot of bureaucratic red tape and a lack of funding for slowing down the clean-ups.

In Michigan, there’s a 7/8 cent fee on each gallon of gas that goes into the “Refined Petroleum Fund.”

That fund was originally set up to help clean-up leaks when gas stations replaced their underground tanks, but with the recent tight budget years, that fund has been raided for other purposes.

“I believe $10-15 million a year during the Granholm administration was siphoned off to the Department of Treasury to pay quality of life bonds,” said Griffin.

And the fund is still being diverted under the Snyder Administration.

The 7/8 of a cent that we pay on each gallon of gas generates around $50 million a year for the Refined Petroleum Fund.

But in recent years, only $20 million of that has been put toward cleaning up these leaks. (The Snyder Administration did request that $30 million go toward clean-up in the next fiscal year, but James Clift of the Michigan Environmental Council says it remains to be seen how that money will be spent.)

This summer, the legislature passed a series of bills aimed removing a lot of the red tape in the clean-up program.

It will also set up an advisory board to take a look at how the money in the Refined Petroleum Fund is spent.

The state estimates it would cost around $1.8 billion to clean up the more than 9,000 contaminated sites around the state, so even if all the gas fee money went towards clean up. It would take decades to tackle the backlog.

Fish Battle Drought & Plant Zones Shifting

  • The USDA came out with a new interactive Plant Hardiness Zone Map (when you click on Michigan, you can see the more detailed map above). But new research suggests our warming climate has made even this new map out of date. (Image courtesy of USDA)

With this year’s drought, fish in northern Michigan are fighting low water levels and hot temperatures as they head upstream to spawn.  As Linda Stephan reports – the drought is causing major problems for one river, in particular:

The state Department of Natural Resources is about to take very rare action and ban fishing near the mouth of the Betsie River, near Frankfort.

Fisheries biologist Mark Tonello says if people stay away from the area, there is enough room for the fish to swim up river.

“Even when they’re not intending to, a lot of times they’re spooking the fish and the fish wind up beaching themselves and dying.”

Officials are trying to avoid a mass salmon die-off on Betsie Bay. For now, the request that people stay away from exposed bottomlands near the mouth of the river is voluntary.

It’s one of a handful of rivers where salmon are not stocked and must reproduce naturally to survive.

For The Environment Report, I’m Linda Stephan.

(music bump)

This is the Environment Report.

If you’re thinking of planting trees or shrubs in your yard… the U.S. Department of Agriculture has guidelines for what to plant depending on where you live. It’s called the Plant Hardiness Zone Map.  It’s based on average minimum winter temperatures.  So you can use it to decide if the kind of tree you want to plant will make it through the winter without freezing to death.

This past January, the USDA updated this map for the first time since 1990. 

But one researcher argues it’s already out of date.

Nir Krakauer is an assistant professor of civil engineering at the City College of New York. He says the USDA used the annual minimum temperatures between 1976 and 2005 to make their map.  He updated that map with more recent data.

“In general, a lot of Michigan might be a half zone less cold than the USDA map would show.”

In other words – he says – our winters have been warming faster than other seasons… and that’s shifting those plant zones north.  That means plants that used to only survive in warm southern climates are doing well farther north.

Krakauer says you might be able to experiment with growing plants that do better in warmer places.

Experts say one of the things that’s striking is how much warmer our winters have gotten on average.

Jeff Andresen is the state’s climatologist and an associate professor of geography at Michigan State University.

“If we look at our changing temperatures, Michigan is warmer now than it has been in the past, but it turns out much of the warming that has occurred, especially in the last few decades, has occurred during the winter season and the spring season as well, and overnight: minimum temperatures have increased in some cases 5 to 10 degrees F in the winter in just the last 30 years. Those are very, very significant changes.”

He says the USDA plant zone map is still a reliable guide for what to plant in your yard.

Unless you really love taking risks.

“It’s like dating in high school, people want what they can’t have, they want to go for that next one up.”

Bert Cregg is an associate professor of horticulture and forestry at MSU. (You can read his blog post to find out why he was excited when that new USDA hardiness zone map finally came out).  He says a lot of people want to try to plant things that really won’t survive in Michigan.

“I go to these gardening shows and whatnot and see Tshirts: Been There Killed That or You Don’t Really Know a Plant Until You’ve Killed it At Least Three Times.  People are always wanting to push their hardiness zones.”

Cregg says the trouble is… even in a warming climate, we can still get very cold winter events.

“Yeah, on average, the winters are getting warmer, but that extreme event is still potential and of course that’s what’s going to take your plants out.”

Cregg says you might’ve heard fall is the best time to plant trees.  But he actually recommends waiting until spring… because if it gets cold early this fall, it could be hard for those young trees to get established.

I’m Rebecca Williams.

Investing in Asian Carp (Part 5)

  • Mayor Tom Thompson and Lu Xu Wu, CEO of Wuhan Hui Chang Real Estate (speaking through an interpreter). Wuhan Hui Chang is a part investor in American Heartland Fish Products LLC., based in Grafton, IL. (Photo by Adam Allington)

As the nation’s civic leaders search for a permanent solution to keep invasive Asian carp from spreading, other parts of the country are betting on the carp’s future.  Across the Mississippi Valley, fishermen and exporters are teaming up to develop the market for carp, and carp products.  In the final episode of our series on Asian carp, Adam Allington reports how some people hope that selling carp might be the best method for checking their expansion:

When the French explorer Père Marquette traveled down the Illinois River in 1673, his journal tells of encounters with “monstrous fish” so large they nearly overturned his canoe.   

In all likelihood the fish Marquette was talking about were channel catfish, but nearly 340 years later fisherman Josh Havens says it’s bighead carp… and silver carp which now harass boaters on the Illinois (silver carp are the jumpers).

“Oh everybody hates ‘em, except for people that shoot ‘em and stuff like that.  I hate ‘em when I’m trying to tube with my kids, but then when we’re trying to shoot ‘em I like them.  So it’s a love-hate thing.”

Bow-fishing for jumping carp is fun, but the sheer volume of carp is crowding out native fish, so much in fact that in parts of the river 8 out of every 10 fish is an Asian carp.

A fact which some Illinois officials believe could be an asset.

“We should be thinking about these invasive species as opportunities for us to focus on economic development.”

Marc Miller is the Director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.  Speaking to residents in the tiny river town of Grafton Illinois, Miller says he’s bullish on carp in part because of companies like Grafton’s American Heartland Fish Products.

“I mean who else can take lemons and turn them into lemonade, like providing an opportunity for 39 jobs here in this community, that’s what we’re doing with the Asian carp.”

Earlier this summer, a group of Chinese investors announced a partnership with American Heartland Fish to ship 35 million pounds of carp to China over the next three years.

The Illinois Department of Commerce kicked in 2 million dollars to help build the processing plant…a down payment which Grafton Mayor Tom Thompson says is money well spent.

“It’s going to produce jobs, it’s going to revive our local fishing industry and it’s a very important catalyst in trying to solve the environmental problem of carp in the river.”

Carp are considered too boney for American tastes.  But they’re wildly popular in China, where pollution has made many fish unsafe to eat.  The fish caught here are sold as “upper Mississippi wild-caught” carp, with “so much energy they can jump.”

Still others say the Chinese market is a longshot to solve America’s invasive carp problem.

“These guys, I hear all kinds of things about investors, they’re going to have all these multi-million dollar deals with China…and they don’t materialize I’m telling you.”

Steve McNitt is the Sales Manager for Schafer Fish in Northwest Illinois.  He says they’ve shipped millions of pounds of carp to China, but the margins are just too slim.

“I bet we’ve had 30 or 40 Chinese customers come through here and they’re going to buy every fish we can produce and everything…and they would if you give them to ‘em, but they’re not going to allow you to make any money.”

Fishermen are paid about 15 cents a pound for Asian carp, and many ecologists warn that building an industry based on an invasive species might only further establish the carp in American rivers.

But Ben Allen of American Heartland fish says he expects to not only control the population of carp, but ultimately beat it back.

“We want to move these fish out of the river.  And we’re going to attract people that have large boats and want to go out and work hard and bring in a lot of weight.”

In addition to selling the carp as food, Allen says new rendering patents will also allow his company to tap into the booming markets for fishmeal, used in animal feed and Omega-3 fish oil.

For the Environment Report, I’m Adam Allington.

What if Asian Carp Make a Home Here? (Part 4)

  • Silver carp (top) and bighead carp (bottom) are easy to confuse. (Photo courtesy of Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee)

Some places in the Great Lakes might be better for Asian carp than others…

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Let’s take a second and play a game.

When I say “Asian carp” what’s the very first thing you think of?

Maybe… it’s this:

“They’re jumpin’ pretty good, look at that!  Ohhh that one may have hurt… Ohhh!”

Those are silver carp.  They’re the jumpers.  And if there are a lot of them packed in shoulder to shoulder in a river channel… it can be dangerous.

Duane Chapman is a leading carp expert. He’s with the U.S. Geological Survey in Missouri. 

“They’ve hurt a lot of people – I’ve been hurt by them – I’ve seen a couple of broken jaws, people have been knocked off boats.”

Asian carp were imported to the U.S. in the 1970’s and used in research ponds and fish farms.  At some point, they escaped, and they’ve been making their way up the Mississippi River system ever since.

The question that’s on a lot of people’s minds now, is what will happen if Asian carp get established in the Great Lakes. 

John Dettmers is a senior fishery biologist with the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.  He’s also one of the authors of a new peer-reviewed risk assessment.

“The risk of Asian carp establishing themselves and having measureable consequences to Great Lakes fish and aquatic communities is pretty high especially in Lakes Michigan, Huron and Erie.  A little bit less of a risk in Lake Ontario and a bit less risk than that in Lake Superior.”

Scientists are the most concerned about bighead and silver carp.  Both species eat plankton.  Those are tiny plants and animals at the base of the food chain that a lot of other things like to eat.

Duane Chapman with the USGS also worked on the risk assessment.  He says between 1995 and 2000, three bighead carp were caught in Lake Erie.

“Those fish were extremely robust. They were very fat.”

Biologists think those three carp were put in the lake intentionally… and Chapman says there’s no evidence yet that there’s a reproducing population in Lake Erie.

But he says Lake Erie would be very well suited for carp, and especially the western part of the lake because there’s a lot of plankton there.

“That would be better habitat than just about any place in the Great Lakes for Asian carp growth.  It also tends to be habitat for important fishes like walleye and yellow perch. That’s a little bit scary.”

He says there could also be some negative impacts on salmon at certain stages of their lives.

Other fish experts have questioned how well carp would do in the Great Lakes.

Gerald Smith is a professor emeritus in the Museum of Zoology at the University of Michigan.  He was not involved in the new risk assessment.  He says he agrees with the report overall… but:

“I think they left out the importance of predators.  All carp start out as eggs, juveniles or larvae. They have to grow up through a food chain that includes more large predators than Asian carp face anywhere else in the world.”

He says it’s uncertain how well little carp would do against those predators.

Duane Chapman says baby Asian carp might be able to escape a lot of those predators. He says there are many shallow wetlands in the Great Lakes region where baby carp could hide.

All of the scientists made a point of saying that we should keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.  And Duane Chapman says… even if a few carp do turn up down the line… it’s not time to give up.

“I want to make it real clear that there’s a sense you get a couple of fish, a male and a female, and it’s game over. That’s absolutely not the case.”

He says typically in a big system like the Great Lakes, it takes a large number of fish to establish a reproducing population. So he says it makes sense to try to keep the numbers of carp in the Lakes low.

Special thanks to Long Haul Productions for their jumping carp audio.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Our series wraps up tomorrow with a look at people who are trying to make some money by selling carp. 

Other Pathways for Asian Carp (Part 3)

  • The 8 foot tall fence at Eagle Marsh is intended to keep adult Asian carp from swimming toward Lake Erie during floods. (Photo by Mercedes Mejia/Michigan Radio)

Today, we continue our week-long series on Asian carp and the Great Lakes.

Most of the efforts to keep bighead and silver carp out of the Great Lakes are focused on the shipping canals in the Chicago area.  But there are other ways the carp could get into the Great Lakes.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is looking at more than a dozen other possible watery routes carp could take.

A couple weeks ago, I went to see the site that many scientists consider the 2nd highest risk pathway for carp.  It’s a sleepy little place called Eagle Marsh.  It’s more than 700 acres and it’s bone dry right now, with not a carp in sight.

So it’s a little strange when you first see the 8 foot tall chain-link fence. It stretches from one side of Eagle Marsh to the other.

“This fence is designed to stop Asian carp but as you can see when you pan around and look at the rest of this fence the fence is built on dry ground.”

Doug Keller is with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

“This is an area that floods when the Wabash and Maumee systems, they can flood together, and this is the area they flood together and this is the potential pathway that Asian carp can move from the Wabash River up toward the Maumee River.”

Keller says there are bighead carp about 20 river miles away from this marsh in the Wabash River.  The concern is – if carp get into the Maumee River, they could swim right to Lake Erie.  

“There have been many people that have assessed the risk of Asian carp getting into the Great Lakes system, and certainly should they get into Lake Erie almost any expert would agree that’s probably the place in the Great Lakes they would do the best.”

This fence is a temporary barrier. It was built to block adult carp from getting through… but not baby carp. 

“Any fish that’s probably six inches or less, of any kind of fish, is going to be able to slide right through this fence, but the juvenile Asian carp live in backwater areas.  So they’re going to hatch and go off into those backwater areas in the middle and lower Wabash River and they’re going to be 100 miles, easy, from here.”

Keller says even if Asian carp laid eggs in the upper Wabash River… those eggs would get sent on a 60 mile drift downstream, far from this spot in Eagle Marsh.

So far, the fence has lived up to at least one big test. 

Betsy Yankowiak is the Director of Preserves and Programs at the Little River Wetlands Project. Her group is one of the owners of Eagle Marsh, and they have a contract to inspect and maintain the carp fence.  She says a year ago in May there was so much rain, she had to take a canoe out to the fence.

“When we got out there, these common carp were swimming on both sides of the fence and I got out of the canoe, and I have my big knee-high boots on but still, common carp mouths… and they were floating around by my feet and I was like oh, man.”

Common carp have been in the U.S. since the late 1800’s… so they’re not the kind of carp they’re trying to stop here.

But Yankowiak says she’s keeping an eye on the carp fence… just in case any bighead or silver carp make a run for it in the future.

“If Asian carp cross, it’s on me. So I want to make sure we’re doing the best job we possibly can.”

But even if the carp fence works… or the carp never get close to Eagle Marsh… biologists say there are other ways carp could get into the Great Lakes.

People still move live Asian carp around the region even though it’s illegal. It’s possible those fish could get into the Lakes.

And… experts say baby Asian carp look a lot like bait fish called gizzard shad… so fishermen could release them accidentally.

Our series continues tomorrow with a look at what might happen if carp get comfortable in the Great Lakes. 

Industries Worry About Basin Separation (Part 2)

  • A sightseeing boat on Lake Michigan near Chicago. Barge and tour boat operators, among other businesses and industries, are concerned about proposals to permanently separate the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River system. (Photo by Rebecca Williams/Michigan Radio)

The issue of keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes has implications for a variety of industries.  Midwest officials are weighing a range of options, including severing the connection between the Mississippi River and Great Lakes basins.  In the second part of our series on Asian carp, Adam Allington examines the potential economic implications for keeping the carp out of the lakes now, and in the future:

It’s a scorching hot day in East St. Louis, Illinois.  Down by the Mississippi River a tugboat is pushing a flotilla of six light green barges. This 70-mile stretch of river is one of the busiest inland ports in America—a place where grain, aggregate and steel are loaded and shipped up and down the river.

“We operate about 200 barges in all parts of the inland waterways, anything that’s connected to the Mississippi.”

Mark Fletcher runs Ceres Barge Lines.  At any point roughly a quarter of his business is tied up moving freight in and around the Chicago area.  As far as he’s concerned, any carp mitigation strategy that closes or slows shipping on the Chicago canals would be a disaster for his business.

“It would affect us terrifically and it affects the whole industry terrifically because you’ve got so much tonnage that does move up the Illinois River trying to get into the steel mills of Burns Harbor, Indiana, Indiana Harbor, south of Chicago.”

In addition to impacts on manufacturing and shipping, Fletcher says one barge can hold the equivalent of 60 semi-trucks or 40 rail cars.

Mark Biel is the Director of the Chemical Industry Council of Illinois.  He says closing the Chicago canals would add roughly a half million more trucks to roads and freeways, posing a real threat to the environment.

“Particularly when it comes to some of the petroleum products and chemical products, the safest way to move those products is to move them by barge.  In many cases you don’t want to put them on rail cars or put them on trucks and then move them through neighborhoods.  The preferable way to move this product safely is to move it through the barge.”

But severing the physical connection of the Great Lakes to the Illinois and Mississippi rivers isn’t necessarily an “either-or” scenario for industry.

Tim Eder is the Director of the Great Lakes Commission.  The best solution, he says, would make it impossible for Asian carp to move upriver but would also provide a workaround for cargo.

“It would be a physical structure in the water, it would be a land bridge made out of concrete and earth.  It would include a terminal, where barge traffic would meet on either side of the barrier.  There could be superfast unloading elevators and cranes that moved goods from one side of the barrier to the other.”

The Army Corps of Engineers is set to deliver a progress report to Congress in mid-October, including a ballpark cost for basin separation.

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow says anything less than basin separation is a non-starter, but she’s also confident that a workable solution in within reach.

“We have, in fact, a $7 billion fishing industry and a $16 billion boating industry in the Great Lakes.  But we know that there are other important commercial interests and we need to make sure we find a solution that works for both.”

Still, no matter what the Army Corps recommends, some say the issue of carp getting into the lakes may ultimately have nothing to do with infrastructure.

Michael Borgstrom is the President of Wendella Sightseeing, which has had boats on the Chicago River for over 75 years.

“I just don’t know where the urgency is.  I mean, they’re all over the country so… there’s other ways for them to get into the lakes as well.”

Borgstrom thinks the true threat of carp getting into the lakes won’t hinge on barriers, but rather the very real possibility of humans simply taking live carp and dropping it in the lake.

For the Environment Report, I’m Adam Allington.

Tomorrow, we’ll hear about ways carp could get into the Great Lakes besides the Chicago shipping canals. 

Asian Carp & the Great Lakes: Separating the Basins (Part 1)

  • The way things were, circa 1900 (before the construction of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal). (Image courtesy of the Great Lakes Commission)

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Earlier this spring… the Obama administration ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed up a five-year study of options to block invasive Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes.  Many biologists say the best solution would be complete separation of the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River watershed.  But as Adam Allington reports in the first story of our five-part series, basin separation comes with its own multi-billion dollar price tag… and it would require re-plumbing the entire City of Chicago:

This story begins with a nice round number, and that number is 1900… the year the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal was complete. 

Back then, the canal’s opening was touted as one of the biggest civil engineering feats of the industrial age—significant, for completely reversing the flow of the Chicago River away from Lake Michigan and taking all the sewage from the city of Chicago with it.

Over 100 years later, that canal is still doing the same job.

“On any given day, depending on the time of year, approximately 60-80 percent of the volume of the Chicago River is treated municipal wastewater.”

Dave Wethington is a Project Manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  He’s charged with completing the Corps recommendations to Congress for keeping Asian carp out of the lakes now, and in the future.

“The Corps believes we have the issue of Asian carp dealt with appropriately at this point in time.  It’s a very complex challenge that we’re looking at because of the multiple uses of that system.” 

In addition to storm and wastewater, Wethington says the canals are also important shipping routes moving freight in and out of Chicago and the Great Lakes. 

He says an electric barrier located 30 miles downstream is keeping the carp out of the Chicago canals, and breeding populations haven’t been detected within 100 miles.

Still, samples taken this summer on Lake Calumet, a mere 6 miles from Lake Michigan, did test positive for Asian carp DNA.

“It’s a warning sign that Asian carp are present in the system.”

Tim Eder is the Director of the Great Lakes Commission, based in Ann Arbor.  He says the tests are proof the electric barrier isn’t working.

“Whether they’re a live fish present on the wrong side of the barrier now, or whether they will be at some point in the future, I think it’s a warning sign that we’ve got to take this very seriously and move with the utmost haste.”

Eder says best solution for keeping carp out of the lakes is complete hydrologic separation of the Mississippi and Great Lakes basins. 

But doing that won’t come cheap, with some estimates running as high as $4 billion.   John Goss is the so-called “Asian Carp Czar” appointed by the White House to coordinate the federal response to the carp threat.

“In the current budget situation, with the federal government, the State of Illinois and the other states don’t have a lot of funding to contribute.  So certainly, if hydrologic separation is the only solution, then that requires finding the funding.”

BRAMMEIER: “Talking in billions for major infrastructure projects that impact the lives of tens of millions of people is not out of the ordinary.” 

Joel Brammeier is the President of the Alliance for the Great Lakes.  He says protecting the multi-billion dollar Great Lakes fishing and tourism industry is too important to risk on half-measures, which themselves cost hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

“Whether the carp are 100, 50, 20 miles from Lake Michigan, the right solution is the same, and that’s separating these two systems.  So we don’t have to worry about this anymore and so we don’t have to keep dumping millions of dollars into temporary fixes that aren’t going to solve the problem.” 

The Army Corps is not set to deliver its list of options to Congress until the end of next year. Yet to be determined is how a permanent barrier would impact shipping and water treatment, and who would pay for it.

For the Environment Report, I’m Adam Allington.

Tomorrow, we’ll hear what concerns industry groups have about separating the basins.

Palisades Open House & Bill McKibben on Climate Change

  • The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant near South Haven, MI. (Photo courtesy of Entergy Corporation)

The Palisades nuclear power plant is hosting an open house tonight in South Haven. Lindsey Smith reports it’s a rare opportunity for people to ask detailed questions about the plant:

Because of security reasons, it’s impractical to host the open house at the plant. Instead it’ll take place at the same conference center where the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has held a number of public hearings this year about the plant’s poor safety rating. In fact, the NRC will host a public meeting next week at the same place to discuss those safety concerns in detail.

Palisades spokesman Mark Savage says the open house tonight will be informal… kind of like a science fair.

“We’ll have tabletop discussions about the variety of things that historically get brought up at these public meetings and so general public is invited round the area here to come and see our wares.”

This is first time Palisades has hosted an open house since Entergy Corporation bought the plant from Consumers Energy back in 2007.

The Palisades open house will be held from 6 – 8pm tonight at the Beach Haven Event Center: 10420 M-140 Highway, South Haven

(music bump)

This is the Environment Report.

More than 28,000 high temperature records have been broken or tied so far this year in the U.S. 

And… the National Snow and Ice Data Center recently reported the amount of sea ice in the Arctic has fallen to the lowest level in the satellite record.  The scientists say the decline in summer sea ice over the last ten years is a strong signal of long-term climate warming.

Bill McKibben has been writing about climate change for the past two decades, and he’s the founder of It’s a grassroots organization that has chapters around the world to urge governments to do something about climate change.  

Bill, thanks for joining me.  You wrote an article recently in Rolling Stone magazine, and in it, you say we are losing the fight to slow manmade warming of the climate.  Why did you say that?

Bill McKibben: “Well, we can tell we’re losing just by looking around us. The Arctic is melting away with enormous speed. We’re seeing exactly the kind of weather phenomenon that scientists told us we could expect. This summer across the U.S. is a pretty good sort of trailer of coming attractions for the global warming movie. This is what it feels like in its earliest stages and it doesn’t feel good.”

RW: So, the vast majority of publishing climate scientists agree that climate change is real, it’s happening now, and it’s mostly human-caused. But there’s a disconnect between the scientific community and our political leaders. Most politicians are not talking about climate change.

McKibben: “Mitt Romney talked about it; he made a big joke about it at the Republican convention. It was his big laugh line of his speech, that he was not going to be trying to heal the planet – instead he was going to be working on behalf of people’s families. But since most families I know live on this planet, that’s kind of an empty boast.”

RW: But you know, a few years ago, we were hearing more serious discussion about climate change in Congress. What’s changed?

McKibben:  “Well, I think what’s changed is a very well organized and heavily funded effort by the fossil fuel industry to keep this issue at bay. So they’ve now managed to persuade a huge, basically one of our parties to say there’s no such thing as climate change. And that’s a big problem. It’s an overcome-able problem if we build a movement large enough and vocal enough to really insist on change.”

RW: Bill, thank you so much.

McKibben: “Well, thanks for talking with me, Rebecca. You have a good day.”

RW: Bill McKibben is an author and the founder of That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Bill McKibben will be speaking at Rackham Auditorium at the University of Michigan on Friday, September 14th at 4:30 pm. The talk will be followed by a book signing.  His talk is titled: “350, the most important number in the English language.”