Satellites Could Help Great Lakes

  • Scientists say there's no money to support using satellite images to help spot problems in the Great Lakes. (Photo by Lester Graham)

Scientists say satellite images could do more to help spot major problems in the Great Lakes, if
there were more federal money for those kinds of programs. Chuck Quirmbach reports:

Transcript

Scientists say satellite images could do more to help spot major problems in the Great Lakes, if
there were more federal money for those kinds of programs. Chuck Quirmbach reports:


Researchers have occasionally used satellite data from the Great Lakes, including to map ice on
the lakes. But the International Association for Great Lakes Research says federal funds for
satellite programs to monitor water quality and other conditions in the lakes have dropped
substantially since the 1990s.


Research group Executive Director Robert Sweeney says the lack of infrared and photo data
means it’s hard to tell if pollution clean-up programs are working:


“We don’t know if the removal of certain pollutants really make sense in terms of how the water is
responding.”


Sweeney says there are not enough research boats or coastal programs to get the answers. The
Bush Administration has been trying to coordinate Great Lakes environmental efforts through a
collaboration plan, but scientists complain there’s no new money.


For the Environment Report, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.

Related Links

Controversy Over Clean-Up Funds

The most toxic hot spots around the Great Lakes would receive an extrafifty million dollars in clean-up funds, if a Clinton administrationbudget proposal goes through. But some environmental groups don’t wantthe money dribbled out in small doses. They argue the best thing to dowould be to spend all the cash on comprehensive clean-up projects atjust a few sites. The idea is controversial, as the Great Lakes RadioConsortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:

Transcript

The most toxic hot spots around the Great Lakes would receive an extra fifty million dollars in

clean-up funds, if a Clinton Administration budget proposal goes through. But some environmental

groups don’t want the money dribbled out in small doses. They argue the best thing to do would be

to spend all the cash on comprehensive clean-up projects at just a few sites. The idea is

controversial, as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’ s Chuck Quirmbach reports:


The most polluted parts of the Great Lakes are known as Areas
of Concern. There are over 40 of these hot spots in harbors and
bays, or in rivers that dump into the lakes. At many sites, the
pollution has led health agencies to tell people to be careful
about eating certain types of fish.
But that hasn’t stopped some anglers from doing their thing.


“That was the best cast I’ve
seen today.”


Marl and his buddy Paul are standing underneath an elevated
freeway in Milwaukee. They’re casting their fishing lines into
Lake Michigan for brown trout, perch or whatever wants to bite.


Through Milwaukee’s estuary, that’s the harbor and nearby rivers, is a toxic hot spot, Marl says he

pays little attention to fish consumption warnings.


“Whatever I catch I eat, I eat it on whatever basis I feel like eating it. If I want to eat fish

every night for a week, I eat it… doesn’t seem to affect me in any way.”


But nearby in the Milwaukee harbor, researchers point to pollution that seems to make the casual

approach to fish consumption here quite risky.


(sound of horn)


This tugboat is pushing a barge that’s about to take a load of coal from a huge coal pile at the

water’s edge. The pile is uncovered and during heavy rains or snowmelt, there’s runoff from the

coal into the harbor. Great Lakes researcher Jeffrey Foran says that’s hardly the only pollutant in

the area.


“It’s a virtual alphabet soup of pollution and we can name a few. PCBs, PAHs, contaminants from

sewage runoff historically, metals, cadmium chromium.”


Foran heads the Great Lakes Water Institute at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. He says

there’s actually been some improvement in the surface water quality over the last couple decades.

But Foran warns the sediment in the Milwaukee harbor by and large remains toxic muck, and those

toxins make their way into the food chain. Foran says Milwaukee’s problems aren’t unique.


“If you took the problems and simply dropped the name Milwaukee harbor, you could insert those

problems into probably the majority of areas of concern throughout the Great Lakes basin.”


Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on cleanup work at the various sites, but only one

project – at Waukegan, Illinois – is largely done. So environmental groups hope Congress during its

EPA budget deliberations this spring will approve the extra 50 million dollars in cleanup funds

President Clinton proposed. But Great Lakes United executive director Margaret Wooster says the

money should be targeted to just a few hot spots.


“And do the complete cleanup right. From soup to nuts kind of thing. That is the initial making

sure if there’s a polluter, polluter pays their fair share as has happened in many cases, to good

dredging techniques.”


Wooster also says there needs to be good places to dump the dredged material. Then should come

monitoring to make sure the water body doesn’t become fouled again, if there are more
success stories around the Great Lakes, environmentalists believe
lawmakers will then allocate additional money to finish work on
the other sites. But the Great Lakes community isn’t completely
sold on the targeting of funds. William Smith is a citizen
advisor to the Clinton river area of concern north of Detroit.
He wonders how fast news of complete clean-ups would spread.


“And when these one demonstration projects are done,
they’re distant. You hear about them the transfer of information
is long is coming. And sure it’s nice for some harbor to go after
this. But if you’re looking across the board on the Great Lakes
it would be much better used to go after problems in individual
Areas of Concern instead of 2 to 3 separate sites.”


Smith says
funneling just a million or two dollars to some of Michigan’s
smaller hot spots would move clean-up of those sites forward in a
big way. That’s because state officials would probably match the
federal funds. But whether the federal money is targeted to a
couple sites or divided evenly in all the areas, Smith does agree
with the large environmental groups on one thing. He says the
recreation and drinking water needs of Great Lakes citizens
should prompt Congress to approve the president’s plan.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Chuck Quirmbach in Milwaukee.