A new, national effort to protect aquatic species and habitats could bring needed cooperation between state and federal agencies. Individual states aren’t able to deal with the problems themselves, but say the newly-formed coalition of partners might help. The GLRC’s Kaomi Goetz reports:
A new, national effort to protect aquatic species and habitats could bring
needed cooperation between state and federal agencies. Individual states
aren’t able to deal with the problems themselves, but say the newly-
formed coalition of partners might help. The GLRC’s Kaomi Goetz
The goal of the National Fish Habitat Action Plan is to clean up the
nation’s rivers, lakes and coastal areas. It also seeks to protect the more
than 800 different kinds of native fish from extinction. The plan is based
on an earlier successful model focused on the nation’s waterfowl.
Federal agencies, industry, tribal and non-profits groups have signed on.
So have several state Department of Natural Resources. Gary Whelan is
with the Michigan DNR, one of the agencies that’s signed on.
“When you’re trying to deal with things like water quantity in a system, and you
have a 100 dam owners you’re trying to communicate with, a couple
(state) agencies can’t possibly do that, nor do we have the financial
resources so you really need a broad-based coalition of people.”
Whelan says the initiative will mean a lot more money for states to
address water quality problems and fish habitat.
Organizers are creating a national board to coordinate all the efforts.
The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a case that will determine how much power the federal government has over isolated wetlands - wetlands that aren't adjacent to lakes or streams. (Photo by Lester Graham)
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments that could decide which wetlands the federal government can regulate. The case before the court involves a couple of construction projects in the state of Michigan, but it’s being followed closely throughout the country. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Michael Leland has more:
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments that could
decide which wetlands the federal government can regulate. The case
before the court involves a couple of construction projects in the state of
Michigan, but it’s being followed closely throughout the country. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Michael Leland has more:
The federal Clean Water Act is supposed to stop people from polluting
streams, wetlands and other waterways that are connected to the
country’s major lakes, rivers and coastal areas, but what if the wetland in
question is located 20-miles from the nearest major waterway? Is it
covered by the Clean Water Act? That’s the question the court will
In the 1980’s John Rapanos started moving sand from one part of
property he owned in Michigan to another, to fill in some wetlands. He
wanted to sell the land to a shopping mall developer. Trouble is, he
didn’t get permits from the Army Corps of Engineers to fill in the
wetlands. The government says he should have.
“The property has a drainage ditch that runs through it…”
Robin Rivett is a lawyer for the Pacific Legal Foundation. It’s a
property-rights group that is representing Rapanos.
“And because of the movement of the sand on the property, which is
characterized as wetlands, the government came in and has prosecuted
him for actually discharging fill material into the navigable waters.”
Rapanos was charged with violating the Clean Water Act. Washington is
demanding 13-million dollars in fines and fees, and wants him to set
aside about 80-acres as wetlands.
In another case, that’s been combined with the Rapanos matter,
developers in Southeast Michigan were denied permits to fill in wetlands
so they could build a condominium complex. That site is about two
miles from Lake St. Clair, which lies between lakes Huron and Erie.
In both cases, the federal government says the sites fall under the Clean
Water Act because they’re located near navigable waters. Actually, that
term – navigable waters – has evolved over the years and come to mean
“interstate or intrastate waters,” along with their wetlands and tributaries.
The plaintiffs, their attorneys and supporters say the land should be
governed by state environmental regulations, rather than the federal
Clean Water Act, but on the side of the government in this case is 35
state governments, along with many environmental and conservation
Jim Murphy is a lawyer for the National Wildlife Federation. His group
has filed briefs on behalf of more than a dozen organizations that support
the federal position.
“What is at stake here is the ability of the act to protect the vast number
of tributaries that flow into navigable waters and the wetlands that
surround and feed into those tributaries. If those tributaries and wetlands
aren’t protected under the federal Clean Water Act, it becomes difficult if not
impossible under the Clean Water Act to achieve its goal to protect water
Murphy says if the Supreme Court rules that Congress did not intend to
protect wetlands like the ones in this case, then about half the wetlands in
the country could lose their federal protection. Murphy and others on his
side worry that wetlands could begin disappearing more quickly than
they already do today.
Scott Yaich directs conservation programs for Ducks Unlimited – a
wetlands protection group.
“The landowners who have those wetlands would no longer be subject to
getting the Corps of Engineers to review, so essentially they could do
anything they wanted.”
The lawyers for the landowners don’t see it that way. The Pacific Legal
Foundation’s Robin Rivett says individual states would have something
“I believe there are 47 states that have their own clean water programs.
If it is clear that the federal government doesn’t have jurisdiction over
local waters, the states will step in to protect those waters.”
Maybe they will; maybe they won’t, say environmental groups. They
fear a patchwork of water protection laws. They say it could mean
polluted water from a state with weaker laws could flow into a state with
stronger water protection laws.
Jim Murphy of the National Wildlife Federation.
“The Clean Water Act provides a floor. It provides comprehensive
protection, a floor beyond which states must maintain that level of
Those who support the property owners in this case say it’s about more
than clean water – it’s also about land use. They say if the court rules
that waterways and wetlands are interconnected and all deserving of
protection under the Clean Water Act, then what could be left out?
Duane Desiderio is with the National Association of Home Builders,
which has filed briefs supporting the property owners.
“All water flows somewhere. Every drop of water in the United States,
when it goes down the Continental Divide, is going to drain into the
Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, or the Gulf of Mexico. Pretty much.”
Both sides are hoping the Supreme Court provides a clear definition of
which wetlands and tributaries Congress intended to protect when it
passed the Clean Water Act. A decision is expected this summer.
Russ Allen breeds and grows thousands of shrimp in a
barn in his backyard. The entire process is contained. There's no water
coming in or going out, and there's no waste leaving his farm. (Photo by
Russ Allen sells all the fresh shrimp he produces three days
a week at his market in Okemos, Mich. (Photo by Corbin Sullivan)
Russ Allen breeds shrimp in big tanks of water that mimic
an environment off the shore of the ocean, where the water quality and
temperature are stable. (Photo by Corbin Sullivan)
Recently, shrimp surpassed tuna as the most-consumed seafood in the United States. Most of the shrimp Americans eat is produced in Southeast Asia, India, Mexico and Brazil. Russ Allen wants to change that. He’s opened one of the world’s few indoor shrimp farms in the Midwest. Allen says his operation meets an obvious market demand, is good for the environment, and presents a new economic opportunity for the country. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
Recently, shrimp surpassed tuna as the most-consumed seafood in the
United States. Most of the shrimp Americans eat is produced in
Southeast Asia, India, Mexico and Brazil. Russ Allen wants to change
that. He’s opened one of the world’s few indoor shrimp farms in the
Midwest. Allen says his operation meets an obvious market demand, is
good for the environment, and presents a new economic opportunity for
the country. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
In a big blue barn in Russ Allen’s backyard, there are thousands of
shrimp… beady-eyed, bacteria-munching, bottom-feeders.
Here, the life cycle of the shrimp starts in the breeding center, where
two big tanks of water mimic a place 150 feet deep off the shore of the
ocean where the water quality and temperature are stable. Allen says
it’s the perfect environment for shrimp to mate.
“Like in just about all animals the male chases the female, and they do a
little courtship dance, and then the male will deposit a spermatophore on
the female and when she spawns, the eggs pass through the
spermatophore, are fertilized and then go out into the water.”
A few months later, the shrimp end up in the production room where all
they do is eat, and sometimes, if they get excited or spooked, they jump
right out of their tanks.
“They don’t like light…”
“Oh (laughing)! Do you ever have them hit you as you’re standing
“Oh yeah, that’s why we have the nets up so they don’t jump.”
Russ Allen has been farming shrimp for three decades. He started in
Ecuador, and then went to Belize, where he started the country’s first
Allen and his wife moved back to Michigan in 1990, when he started
designing his indoor shrimp farm. It finally opened for business about a
year ago, and now, he’s selling all the shrimp he produces.
(Sound of shrimp market)
Allen says his indoor shrimp farm is one of the first of its kind in the
world. There’s no waste leaving his farm, so pollution’s not an issue,
and because there’s no water coming in or going out, there’s no danger
of introducing diseases into his system.
Allen says an indoor farm also moves shrimp farming away from fragile
coastal ecosystems. That’s where most of the industry has developed
around the world.
“In a place like the United States with all the development on the
coastline and land costs, you can’t really do it anywhere near the ocean
anyway. So, if you’re going to have a viable shrimp farming system in
the United States, you need to move it away from – you know – these coastal areas.”
But indoor farms haven’t always been a viable option, either.
In the 1980s, a handful of them opened in the U.S., including a big one in
Chicago. They all failed because the technology didn’t work quite right,
and because the cost of production made them unable to compete with
Bill More is a shrimp farming consultant and vice president of the
Aquaculture Certification Council. He says now, indoor shrimp farmers
have a better chance of making a go of it.
“Coming from third-world countries, there’s been a lot of issues with
illegal antibiotics being found in shrimp. There’s been environmental
and social issues that environmentalists have come down hard upon. It’s
sort of prompted the opportunity for a good indoor system where
you could manage those and you didn’t challenge the environment.”
But More says creating and maintaining a clean, organic indoor shrimp
farm is still very expensive, and it seems an even bigger problem now
that the price of shrimp is the lowest it’s been in a decade.
Shrimp farmer Russ Allen says he’s invested several million dollars in
his business. He’s the only guy in the game right now, which he
admits is good for business, but he doesn’t want it that way. He says
he’d like to see the industry grow in Michigan, and throughout the
“In order to do that the government has got to be a partner in this, and
that has been the challenge… that when you don’t have an industry, you
don’t have lobbyists and nobody listens to you and you can’t get an
industry until they do listen to you. So, that’s been our real challenge
Allen says he wants the government to offer tax breaks and other
financial assistance to the aquaculture industry like it does to other
sectors of the economy, but he says he can’t even get some local elected
officials to come and see his shrimp farm. He says with so many
companies moving jobs and factories overseas, he thinks government
leaders should be looking for ways to help new and perhaps
unconventional industries like his, grow.