There’s more concern about lower water levels in the Great Lakes, both due to increased drainage, and possibly global climate change. Chuck Quirmbach reports:
There’s more concern about lower water levels in the Great Lakes, both due to increased drainage, and possibly global climate change. Chuck Quirmbach reports:
More data from a privately-funded study show long ago dredging on the Saint Clair River near Detroit may be one of the reasons for low water levels in Lakes Huron and Michigan.
Another study by the US-Canada International Joint Commission is looking at what to do about the higher flows out of the lakes. But hydrologist Roger Gauthier, of the Great Lakes Commission, adds a long warming trend to the list of factors affecting levels in Lakes Huron, Michigan and Superior:
“We’ve had below average snowfall. We’ve had very little ice cover in terms of thickness or duration. Much warmer lake temperatures.”
Less ice cover leads to more wintertime evaporation. Experts say trying to fix the drainage problem and control global warming should be goals.
Some bottling companies, such as Besco, sell water, but keep it in the Great Lakes basin. Some others bottle it and ship it out of the region in great quantities. (Photo by Lester Graham)
Experts say one of the Ten Threats to the Great Lakes is water withdrawal. Water is taken from the Great Lakes for agriculture, industry, and public drinking supplies. Lester Graham reports there are many ways that water is used and shipped out of the Great Lakes basin, but few are more controversial than bottled water:
Experts say one of the Ten Threats to the Great Lakes is water
withdrawal. Water is taken from the Great Lakes for agriculture,
industry, and public drinking supplies. Lester Graham reports there are
many ways that water is used and shipped out of the Great Lakes basin,
but few are more controversial than bottled water:
(Sound of bottling plant)
I’m watching big clear-blue water bottles, the kind you see on water coolers, are
bouncing along on a conveyer to be washed and then filled with water.
Chuck Swartzle is the President of Besco Water Treatment…
“Uh, we treat it – it’s well water – we treat it, purify it with reverse
osmosis, sanitize it, filter it and bottle it.”
Besco also bottles water in smaller containers, the kind you might buy at
the convenience store.
All of Besco’s customers are within the Great Lakes basin, so the water
will eventually make its way back to the lakes, but some bottlers
distribute water far outside the basin.
One of Pepsico’s Aquafina bottled water plants gets its water from the
Detroit River, which connects the upper Great Lakes to the lower lakes.
Aquafina’s bottled water is distributed inside and outside the basin. That
means Great Lakes water is being trucked away. It’s a net loss of water to the
That’s not anything new. Water from the Great Lakes basin in the form
of beer from Milwaukee or milk from Minnesota or any of the other
products you can think of that are mostly water are shipped far and wide
and have been for a long time, but some environmentalists say trucking bottled water
away is different. They argue it’s a lot like a recent attempt to take tanker ships
of Lake Superior water to Asia. It’s not like a value-added product that’s made
from water, it’s just water.
Bill Lobenherz is a lobbyist for the Michigan Soft Drink Association.
He says bottled water is a value-added product, just like the many others.
“Indeed, there’s a lot more water in lumber, for example, Christmas
trees, and sometimes a lot less value added to it too. You don’t have to
do that much to cut it and ship it. Cherries, baby food and other non-
consumable products like paint. What about the water we have to put in
the automobile radiators? I really don’t know that there is a distinction
there. It seems to be more of a misplaced perception than it is any kind
of environmental reality.”
“I guess I’m having a hard time getting my head around the difference
shipping water out in a truck-load of bottles and shipping it out by
tanker. What’s the real difference there?”
“I think the difference is that there’s the fear that if it’s by tanker in those
quantities, that it could be abused. If it’s in bottles, it’s really quite
controllable, because there’s so much more value added to put it in small
Not everyone is buying that argument.
Dave Dempsey is the Great Lakes advisor for the environmental group Clean Water Action.
He says the most recent debates about water withdrawals started when that shipping company
planned to take about 156-million gallons a year to Asia. Dempsey says a single new bottled
water plant trucks away even more than that.
“The Nestle’ project, a single project in Michigan that has been sited and
is operating takes 168-million gallons per year. So, the volumes can be
greater in bottles than in tankers.”
But that’s still not that much water compared to other uses.
According to figures in a report by the Great Lakes Commission, the
cities and industries around the Great Lakes withdraw more than 43
billion gallons a day. Much of it is used and returned to the lakes, but
nearly two billion gallons a day is lost. It’s not returned to the lakes
because it evaporates or it’s incorporated into products. Two billion
gallons a day makes the Nestle’ bottled water plant’s 168-million gallons
a year seem minor.
But Dave Dempsey argues there’s a more sinister concern. He believes
if water is treated like any other commodity, large corporations that can
profit from it will begin to horde it, and control it.
“You will hear bottled water companies say that they’re just another user
like a farmer or a manufacturer or even a city water supply, but they’re
not because they’re asserting private ownership of a public resource and
if we essentially allow that by not putting controls on the water-for-sale
industry now, I’m afraid the Great Lakes may become the world’s largest
privately owned reservoir.”
A recent agreement between the states and provinces around the Great
Lakes allows bottled water to be shipped out in bottles as large as five-
gallons, but some environmentalists say that’s a slippery slope. They say
corporations will soon be asking why just five gallons? Why not 55-
gallon barrels? And then, tankers.
The bottling industry says the environmentalists are making a big deal
out of nothing, and would do better spending their time teaching
everyone to conserve water better instead of complaining about someone
in another state quenching their thirst with a bottle of water from the
Water use in the Great Lakes basin hasn’t changed much
in recent years, according to a new report. The Great Lakes Regional Water Use Database tracks how water is used throughout the basin. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
Water use in the Great Lakes basin hasn’t changed much in recent years, according to a
new report. The Great Lakes Regional Water Use Database tracks how water is used
throughout the basin. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
The database includes water use information from the eight Great Lakes states and two
Canadian provinces. It shows that total water withdrawals for the year 2002 were
about 43 billion gallons a day. That number does not include water used for
hydroelectric power. Most of that water is returned to the basin.
Thomas Crane is interim executive director of the Great Lakes Commission, which
compiled the database. He says over the past few years, Great Lakes water use has
remained fairly steady.
“The fact that water use is not increasing significantly over time, at least in terms of what
we’re seeing with the database, I think speaks to the fact that we’re probably seeing more water
The database outlines water use by state and by industry, including municipal water
systems, agricultural irrigation, manufacturing and mining.
President Bush recently nominated Steve Johnson to be the EPA's Administrator. (Photo courtesy of the EPA)
Midwest officials say they hope the new administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will continue to push for better coordination of Great Lakes clean up. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
Midwest officials say they hope the new administrator of
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will continue to push for better coordination of Great
Lakes clean up.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
President Bush has nominated longtime EPA scientist Steve
Johnson to take over the Environmental Protection Agency. Todd Ambs
is a natural resources official in Wisconsin, who’s active with
the Great Lakes Commission and Council of Great Lakes Governors.
Ambs says despite the change in EPA leadership he expects an
interagency task force to keep working on prioritizing Great Lakes
protection and clean up. Ambs says committees are drafting a list
that will eventually be sent to Congress.
“Identifying what are the top two or three most important things that
we really need to have happen right now and be able and go as a
some of the topics that could move to the top of the list are cleaning
up toxic hot spots around the Lakes, controlling invasive species and
dealing with chemicals that build up in fish and wildlife. A draft plan is
due to be released this summer.
The Army Corps of Engineers' new barrier will be similar in design to the demonstration project in place now. (Diagram courtesy of USACE)
The war against terrorism nearly led to a biological invasion of the Great Lakes. The Army Corps of Engineers was struggling to find money for a barrier to stop Asian carp from getting into the Great Lakes. It wasn’t until a strong letter from 24 members of Congress was sent to the Corps that the money was found. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
The war against terrorism nearly led to a biological invasion of the Great Lakes. The Army
Corps of Engineers was struggling to find money for a barrier to stop Asian carp from getting into
the Great Lakes. It wasn’t until a strong letter from 24 members of Congress was sent to the
Corps that the money was found. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Asian carp have already invaded the Mississippi River system and they’re making their way
toward the channel that connects the Mississippi basin to the Great Lakes basin. The big fish is a
poster child for alien invasive species. It leaps out of the water, sometimes even hitting and
hurting boaters. It competes with native fish. And it’s feared that it would wreak havoc on the
Great Lakes fishery and the ecology of the lakes if it ever gets through to them.
South of Chicago, a barrier that electrifies the water is in place in the connecting channel between
the Mississippi system and the Great Lakes. It shocks the fish and seems to stop them from going
any farther. But that barrier is just a temporary demonstration project. So Great Lakes officials
were pleased when the Army Corps of Engineers announced it would build a permanent barrier.
Michael Donahue is President and CEO of the Great Lakes Commission. The organization
lobbies for the eight Great Lakes states.
“Most invasive species we find out about after the fact, once they’re in the system, they’re
established and the damage is being done. In this instance we know who the enemy is, where
they’re at, what pathway they plan to take to get into the lakes and what we need to do to stop
So environmentalists, anglers, conservationists and scientists all believe stopping the Asian carp
from getting into the Great Lakes is a pretty good idea.
Stuart Ludsin is a research scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s
Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab. Ludsin says we don’t know exactly how the Asian
carp will affect the Great Lakes… but we don’t want to find out either…
“We certainly do not want to let other exotic species into the system for fear of the economic and
ecological consequences that can come from an invasion.”
Sport fishing enthusiasts don’t need to know exactly what the Asian carp will do to the Great
Lakes. Jason Dinsmore is a resource policy specialist with the Michigan United Conservation
Clubs. Dinsmore says it’s pretty clear the Asian carp won’t be good for anglers.
“Our big concern is: these fish eat what our fish eat, I guess is the best way to look at it. These
large predatory fish are planktovores which means that they eat very small organisms that our fish
like, you know, juvenile perch will depend on. And if they’re out-competing the juveniles of our
sport fish, our sport fish will look to take a hit in overall numbers which means there’s going to
be less for our anglers to catch.”
So, there’s no problem, right? The Army Corps plans to build it. Everyone seems to think it’s a
good idea. But then the Corps couldn’t find the money for it. Chuck Shea is the project manager
for both the demonstration fish barrier and the new permanent fish barrier that’s being planned.
“Earlier in the month of February we didn’t have the full funding allocated to the project. The
project was not dead in any way. We were still working internally to try to find the money.”
The four-point-four million dollars to build the electric barrier to keep the Asian carp out of the
Great Lakes was to come from a 25-million dollar fund that the Corps uses for projects not
specifically authorized by Congress. It’s discretionary money. But this year money is tight and
with money being used for projects in Iraq and Afghanistan, it wasn’t clear the Great Lakes fish
barrier could get the money from the fund.
“The war on terror and homeland security issues are creating new demands on the budget, in
particular for the Army. The Army is heavily involved in supporting the war on terror and
homeland security and that does affect the budget overall, yes.”
That’s when 24 Members of Congress from the Great Lakes region stepped in. They signed off
on a letter calling for the immediate funding of the fish barrier project and started making calls to
the Army and anyone else who had influence on funding the project.
It looks as though the political lobbying might have worked. The Corps issued a news release
which indicates the corps expects to start construction of the second barrier this summer,
completing it this fall. In the meantime, the temporary barrier will keep running, hopefully
deterring the Asian carp from making it to the Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes Commission’s Michael Donahue says everyone hopes the barrier is completed
in time to stop the Asian carp because it’ll will cost a lot if it’s not.
“And instead of spending a few million dollars to prevent the invasion, we could be spending a
few hundred million dollars to deal with it once the Asian carp is established.”
The next challenge is finding money to rebuild the first electrical barrier and make the temporary
barrier permanent as well, backing up the new barrier in case it fails or needs to be shut down for
maintenance. No one wants to think about what might happen if the temporary barrier would
fail now before the permanent barrier is built. The Asian carp has been spotted as close as 20
miles from the barrier and only 50 miles from Lake Michigan.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
Retail superstores, like this Cabela's in Dundee, Michigan, have become tourist destination sites. Environmentalists worry that these types of developments are adding to poor land use patterns. (Photo by Sarah
Throughout the region, tourism is an important part of the economy. Families travel far and wide to visit historical sites, cultural institutions, and favorite recreation spots. But a relatively new part of the landscape is drawing people in for a single purpose: to shop. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett reports on how the trend is affecting land use patterns:
Throughout the region, tourism is an important part of the economy. Families travel
far and wide to visit historical sites, cultural institutions, and favorite recreation
spots. But a relatively new part of the landscape is drawing people in for a single purpose: to
shop. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett reports on how the trend is affecting
land use patterns:
Brad Brinker is in Michigan for the day to take in the sights. He flew his plane from Pennsylvania
to Dundee, in the southeast corner of Michigan. Now he’s standing next to a waterfall that spills
into a pond filled with trout and aquatic plants.
“We were always impressed by the size of the mountain and the animals they have. That’s why
The mountain is fake. The water? Pumped in. The animals? Stuffed.
This is Cabela’s – a 225-thousand-square-foot retail temple to the outdoors. It’s the home of 65-
thousand gallons of aquariums, dozens of game animals like caribou and mountain lions. There’s
a gun library, and acres of fishing equipment and hunting gear.
“Cabela’s considers itself a tourist attraction as well as retail. And in all of our major sites, we’ve
become one if not the major tourist attraction in the state.”
Steve Collins is the operations manager for Cabela’s. He says the strategy for drawing tourists and
shoppers hinges on careful placement of the store.
“What we try to do is make them destination stores, so people have to go out of their way a little
bit to get there. But once they get there they’re very easy to find. We’re not in the middle of a
mall. We’re not in the middle of town where you have to try and find us. Once you get down that
thoroughfare, we’re usually right at the exit. You can’t miss us.”
Michigan’s Cabela’s store IS easy to spot. You can see two 20-foot-tall bronze grizzlies from the
highway, locked in battle above a vast expanse of parking lot. The five-acre store was built to
look like a massive log cabin. It sits on a sweep of what used to be farmland. A U.S. highway
feeds thousands of cars a day onto its property.
It’s a familiar strategy for big-box retailers such as Home Depot and Wal-Mart. Land is generally
cheaper and easier to acquire in rural areas. And some of these superstores and outlet malls have
become destinations not just for shoppers, but for tourists. George Zimmerman directs Michigan’s
“I think in the last ten years, on the national level, the Mall of America is an example of that.
Certainly the outlet mall boom is a big part of it. That certainly was a key point as far as retailing
as a destination, when those started popping up around the country.”
But superstores and outlet malls give environmentalists headaches. They say stores that set up
shop in undeveloped areas contribute to sprawl patterns that require expensive infrastructure.
They can also sap resources from nearby cities and towns. Although the business association near
Cabela’s Michigan store says the retailer has actually helped bring shoppers into the downtown
area, five miles away.
Victoria Pebbles works on sustainable development issues for the Great Lakes Commission.
Pebbles says there need to be disincentives for stores to locate in rural areas.
“If there are disincentives, for example, through farmland protection programs and protection of
natural features and cultural resources that are in our rural areas, then you can help to tip the
scales a little bit.”
Pebbles says right now, there are few restrictions on developing farmland into shopping malls.
Some states – such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania – have set aside money to help
local governments better coordinate land use planning. And Michigan recently set up a task force
that will make land use policy recommendations to its Legislature.
(bring up Cabela’s parking lot sound)
In the meantime, it looks as though retailers will continue to look for cheap land with easy access
to highways. Cabela’s plans to open its fifth store in the Great Lakes region this fall. Its
Pennsylvania store will be easy to spot, perched on a hundred acres right off I-78 and Route 61.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Sarah Hulett.
Congress has approved a plan to clean up some of the most polluted spots in the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Congress has approved a plan to clean up some of the
most polluted spots in the Great Lakes. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
The Great Lakes Legacy Act authorizes 270-million dollars over the next
five years to clean up pollution hot spots known as Areas of Concern.
Matt Doss is with the Great Lakes Commission, which lobbies
Congress on behalf of the eight Great Lakes states. He says Congress still
has to approve appropriations for the Act.
“It’s an important victory, but we need to get the money to
implement the bill. And, secondly, I think people need to
recognize that this is a very important down payment on
getting this work done.”
The actual cost of the clean up of the areas will be much higher.
Doss says if this money shows measurable results, it will be easier to ask Congress for more in the future. Although 270-million sounds like a lot, other areas have pulled in a lot more. For instance, the Florida Everglades
recently pulled in nearly eight billion dollars for clean up projects there.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
Steel has once again become a big issue in U.S. trade policy. Many steel companies around the Midwest are worried about ‘steel dumping’ and are urging President Bush to support new tariffs and quotas on imported steel. But some steel users say the Bush Administration should back off. How the President handles the issue could affect both jobs and the environment in the region. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
Steel has once again become a big issue in United States trade policy. Many steel companies around the Midwest are worried about steel dumping and are urging President Bush to support new tariffs and quotas on imported steel. But some steel users say the Bush administration should back off. How the president handles the issue could affect both jobs and the environment in the Great Lakes region. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports.
The amount of commonly used types of foreign steel coming into the United States has risen about a third over the last five years, and a federal trade panel ruled recently that much of that imported steel is being sold here at a price lower than what it cost to make it and ship it here. That’s a practice called dumping. The trade panel found that such dumping poses a serious threat to domestic steel makers. So the panel says President Bush should slap tariffs on many product lines of foreign-made steel to raise the prices of the imports. But that’s not such a hot idea to some other industries, which use plenty of foreign steel.
(furnace/factory ambient sound)
Here at the Engel Tool and Forge Company in Milwaukee…this second-generation family business now uses about 600 tons a year of steel imported from countries like Brazil and Sweden. In the warm and grimy forging area, workers use a robot to move five foot long steel bars that have been heated to 2100 degrees Fahrenheit. Owner chuck Engel watches the orange and white-hot bars enter a machine
“That’s a preforming press …a hydraulic press that preforms the metal. It’s removed from there and moved into a finished form that we gain our finished desired shape.” (WHAM noise)
The bars are scrunched into wheel axles that’ll be shipped to heavy equipment makers in the mining or construction industries. Engel says his company is doing all right during the recession. So he’s says he strongly opposed to the president possibly tinkering with that success by slapping higher tariffs on imported steel.
“I am sure there is a certain amount of unfairness on both sides of the fence but I believe that competition should be what sorts this problem out rather than the government.”
Engel contends domestic steel makers got quote- fat and sassy — over the last twenty years…and he says mergers, downsizing and other changes now taking place among domestic manufacturers will help them compete in the world steel market. Engel says if steel tariffs do go up…he’d have to pass along the price hikes. But other players are urging President Bush to approve higher steel tariffs. The United Steelworkers of America hopes the president even goes beyond what the trade panel recommends. Some environmentalists are also quietly supporting the domestic steel industry. That’s even though green groups have a track record of battling steel manufacturers. Cameron Davis of the Chicago-based lake Michigan federation acknowledges big steel has a dirty history in the area.
“Well traditionally, the steel industry especially in northwest Indiana has been responsible for a fair amount of pollution in the Great Lakes…and that’s air-based pollution, water based pollution, land based pollution across the board.”
But lately environmentalists have been trying to forge alliances with unions like the steelworkers. And Davis notes that environmental lawsuits and other changes have gotten domestic steel makers to start cleaning up their act in recent years. He says if nothing is done to slow the rise in steel imports that could make the United States environment worse. Davis cites the aquatic nuisance species that tag along in the ballast water of foreign ships…including presumably, the ships that bring in foreign steel.
“Without some help in protecting the GL steel industry, we’ll see more and more foreign steel coming into the country. And with that foreign steel probably more aquatic nuisance species that will do more damage not only to the Great Lakes but to rest of country.”
United States flagged Great Lakes shipping companies that haul iron ore from Minnesota and northern Michigan are also siding with the domestic steel makers. George Ryan is president of the Lake Carriers Association. He says if the domestic steel industry keeps getting hurt by foreign imports…there might be some local improvements like less air pollution emitted over Gary or Cleveland, but Ryan says, what about the rest of the globe.
“For anyone who has seen photographs from outer space, we have one world that moves the air around to all parts of the world we can’t really say we condone dirty air in Brazil and in China and okay to do it there cause we’re protecting our air in the United States.”
Ryan is a member of the Great Lakes Commission…which is urging the president and congress to boost steel exports and reduce unfair competition from abroad. Commissioners do the bidding of eight Great Lakes governors…most of whom are republicans like George W. Bush. If the president does not do more to protect United States steel makers and jobs that could be an issue in the gubernatorial and congressional elections next November. Mr. Bush has to announce his plans on steel tariffs and quotas by mid-February. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium this is Chuck Quirmbach in Milwaukee.
Great Lakes regulators are worried people will start building closer to
the lakes because the water levels are lower. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Lester Graham reports…. they want local governments to
restrict building homes where the owners might regret it later: