WBEZ | great lakes echo http://www.wbez.org/tags/great-lakes-echo Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en New potentially toxic algae turns up on Great Lakes beach http://www.wbez.org/news/new-potentially-toxic-algae-turns-great-lakes-beach-104540 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/LyngbaHand.jpg" style="float: right; height: 225px; width: 300px;" title="An algae that is potentially toxic has shown up on a Michigan beach at Lake St. Clair.(Vijay Kannappan)" />A new species is apparently making its way onto Great Lakes beaches, and it is potentially toxic.</div><p>Native to the southeastern United States, it is a blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, called Lyngbya wollei.&nbsp; It was first found in the Great Lakes region in the St. Lawrence Seaway in 2005. Then it was spotted in Lake Erie in 2006.</p><p>Now it has been identified at Lake St. Clair Metropark north of Detroit, according to Wayne State University ecologist Donna Kashian.</p><p>Her research paper on the finding is under review for publication in an upcoming issue of the <a href="http://www.iaglr.org/jglr/journal.php" target="_blank">Journal of Great Lakes Research</a>.</p><p>Kashia first spotted the cyanobacteria in 2009 while documenting vegetation prior to an effort to remove an invasive shoreline weed from the park.</p><p>&ldquo;Once we got there, it became obvious there was this other stuff all over the beach,&rdquo; she said. She immediately recognized it as a type of Lyngbya. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s very distinctive. It washes up in balls, like pebbles. If you took coarse hair and rubbed it like Play-Doh between your hands into a ball and dyed it green, that&rsquo;s exactly what it looks like.&rdquo;</p><p>In 2010, she and several other researchers separately determined it was Lyngbya wollei, the same organism that has plagued waters in the southeastern United States for decades. It forms thick, nuisance blooms and releases toxins that can cause skin, oral and gastrointestinal inflammation.</p><p>Kashian suspects that the cyanobacteria entered the Great Lakes system by hitchhiking on the hulls of boats.</p><p>She has seen Lyngbya wollei at the park every year since her initialdiscovery. She noted an especially large amount in 2012, possibly due to the hot summer.</p><p>But it may have been around for some time.</p><p>For a decade or so, park staff have seen what is presumed to be the same cyanobacteria on the beach, although they never identified it, said Paul Muelle, chief of natural resources for the Huron Clinton Metroparks, which includes the Lake St. Clair park.</p><p>&ldquo;We get some (every year), but since we clean the beach on a daily basis during the use season, it really hasn&rsquo;t been a huge problem there,&rdquo; he said. Because other weeds make up the bulk of the daily beach grooming, pinpointing the cost for removal of the cyanobacteria is difficult. Nonetheless, using information from Muelle, Kashian estimated that the park&rsquo;s tab for removal of Lyngbya was about $10,000 in 2010.</p><p>&ldquo;Where we are noticing it more is in the natural areas where we don&rsquo;t do active management,&rdquo; Muelle said. He described mats of Lyngbya wollei that extend &ldquo;40-50 feet wide,&rdquo; in the area of the park near Point Rosa Marsh.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/LyngbaBeach-copy-copy.jpg" style="height: 225px; width: 300px; float: left;" title="An algae that is potentially toxic has shown up on a Michigan beach at Lake St. Clair. (Vijay Kannappan)" />&ldquo;And it&rsquo;s deep,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We had grass growing on the top of it. It looks like solid ground and I tried to walk out there, but you could go up to your waist in gook. It was pretty excessive.&rdquo;</div><p>One concern is that Lyngbya will spread to other areas, particularly to shallow-water areas such as parts of Saginaw Bay and to inland lakes, Kashian said. The other concern is that it will produce toxins.</p><p>&ldquo;It absolutely could become toxic here, but we don&rsquo;t know enough about it,&rdquo; Kashian said. She noted that even with the blooms of Microcystis, a different type of cyanobacteria that has been heavily studied, scientists still don&rsquo;t know why only some blooms are toxic.</p><p>&ldquo;They don&rsquo;t know what triggers it to start producing toxins, and we know even less about Lyngbya than Microcystis,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>While Lyngbya wollei typically carries a toxin in the southern United States, the Lake Erie sample was not toxic. Kashian&rsquo;s funding didn&rsquo;t cover toxicity research. Instead, she investigated if the cyanobacteria at the park harbor E. coli bacteria, a bacteria that often prompts beach closings.</p><p>&ldquo;We found very high levels of bacteria in these mats,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s a problem because it&rsquo;s all over the beach, and if you have a lot of bacteria and kids play on it, they can potentially get sick. In addition, if you have large deposits on the shore and there&rsquo;s wave action, bacteria could actually be transported back into the lake and that could contribute to beach closures.&rdquo;</p><p>The mats also disrupt water flow into and out of Point Rosa Marsh, Muelle said. Marsh-restoration is under way and the removal of the Lyngbya mats is part of that effort. At the swimming beach, &ldquo;the question is how do we manage this,&rdquo; Muelle said. &ldquo;If there are problems, obviously we&rsquo;re concerned about public contact.&rdquo;</p><p>Kashian added, &ldquo;It&rsquo;s definitely an invasive, nuisance species worth watching, because it hasn&rsquo;t been documented in the Great Lakes before the first sightings in the St. Lawrence.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="http://greatlakesecho.org/" target="_blank">Great Lakes Echo</a> is a project of the <a href="http://ej.msu.edu/index2.php" target="_blank">Knight Center for Environmental Journalism</a> at Michigan State University. </em></p></p> Sun, 23 Dec 2012 15:42:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/new-potentially-toxic-algae-turns-great-lakes-beach-104540 Nuclear power: The ultimate near shore threat to the Great Lakes? http://www.wbez.org/news/nuclear-power-ultimate-near-shore-threat-great-lakes-104539 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/palisades_small.jpg" style="height: 442px; width: 620px;" title="Palisades Nuclear Power Plant on Lake Michigan. (U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission)" /></div><p>&ldquo;I hope you rethink your really scary plan to bury radioactive waste located only half a mile from Lake Huron&hellip;&rdquo;</p><p>That&rsquo;s a <a href="http://www.thestar.com/business/article/1217530--u-s-residents-protest-bruce-nuclear-waste-proposal" target="_blank">concerned citizen</a> responding to a Canadian nuclear power company&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.michiganradio.org/post/plan-store-lower-level-nuclear-waste-near-lake-huron" target="_blank">proposal</a> to store radioactive waste underground near Lake Huron for 100,000 years.</p><p>The best-known near shore threats to the Great Lakes are raw sewage and algae blooms. Both receive considerable attention from government agencies and accounts about them are regularly reported in the popular media.</p><p>The threat posed by the nuclear power plants that dot the region could easily trump both. It may be the ultimate near shore threat.</p><p>There are <a href="http://illinoispirg.org/news/ilp/nuclear-power-plants-pose-risks-drinking-water-illinois" target="_blank">33 nuclear reactors</a> in the Great Lakes region, many of them near the water&rsquo;s edge such as Palisades in Michigan.</p><p>After a seeming dormant period of public concern about nuclear power risks, awareness increased this past year. The Fukushima Japan meltdown is likely the reason.&nbsp; That incident played out in the news over weeks and impacted not only nearby residents and workers but food and water supplies. Remnant amounts of radioactivity eventually hit this nation&rsquo;s west coast.</p><p>Closer to home, there has been increasing activity in Canada. In addition to the 100,000-year underground waste storage proposal, Bruce Power has sought permits to transport contaminated equipment on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River to Sweden for decontamination.</p><p>That&rsquo;s an issue for activist John Jackson.</p><p>He&rsquo;s concerned about transporting nuclear waste on lakes and rivers because &ldquo;most accidents happen near harbors&rdquo; which means near population centers.&nbsp; Jackson is executive director of Great Lakes United, a bi-national group that focuses on Great Lakes issues.</p><p>His group, and others want the U.S. and Canada to assess &rdquo;the risks, threats and unknowns&ldquo; of nuclear power plants.</p><p>They have asked the International Joint Commission to request the U.S. and Canada to reinstate a task force for the assessment.&nbsp;&nbsp; The commission, which advises the countries on trans-border water issues,&nbsp; has declined.</p><p>&ldquo;Traditionally, such references (requests) either come with funding to conduct the examination or direction as to how such a study would be funded,&rdquo; said John Nevin a spokesperson for the commission.</p><p>&ldquo;Short of such action by the governments, the commission continues to monitor this important issue and remains acutely aware of the concerns raised by the public on both sides of border.&rdquo;</p><p>Jackson disagrees and says the commission &ldquo;sets up task forces all the time.&rdquo;</p><h2><strong>Illinois Senator concerned</strong></h2><p>The Zion Nuclear Station is equally 50 miles north of Chicago and south of Milwaukee on the shores of Lake Michigan.</p><p>&ldquo;The Zion facility holds roughly 1,100 tons of nuclear waste just yards away from Lake Michigan,&rdquo; says Nicole Barrett, a spokesperson for Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s critical the nation protects its water resources from nuclear contamination,&rdquo; Barrett said. &ldquo;We must find a safe, permanent storage facility for the country&rsquo;s nuclear waste.&rdquo;</p><p>Kirk has a keen interest in near shore Great Lakes issues including the dumping of billions of gallons of sewage into the lakes.</p><p>He is in a position to spotlight near shore threats as he co-chairs the senate <a href="http://www.nemw.org/index.php/great-lakes-task-forces2" target="_blank">Great Lakes Task Force</a> with Michigan Sen. Carl Levin. The task force prioritizes and emphasizes Great Lakes issues in Congress.</p><h2><strong>A precautionary tool</strong></h2><p>A new addition to the recent update to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the U.S. and Canada requires caution:&nbsp; &ldquo;Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.&rdquo;</p><p>This precautionary approach seems tailor-made for nuclear issues like underground storage of waste. Who can say with certainty that it&rsquo;s safe to store waste for 1,000 years let alone 100,000?</p><p>The test as always with the agreement is will the U.S. and Canada comply with the document of their own creation?</p><p>Understanding the advantages, risks and threats of nuclear energy is daunting. That may be why we don&rsquo;t hear much about it until there is a problem. Then all hell breaks loose as with the Fukushima disaster.</p><p>Those of a certain age may remember Pennsylvania&rsquo;s <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Mile_Island_accident" target="_blank">Three Mile Island</a> near disaster. A huge concern then was that we didn&rsquo;t know what we didn&rsquo;t know. And it&rsquo;s inherent in us to fear the unknown, with justification, when it comes to nuclear power because of the potential for a loss of drinking water, evacuations and long-term threat of disease.</p><p>The Great Lakes region has a long history of neglecting or ignoring its environmental problems.</p><p>Palisades Nuclear Power Plant on Lake Michigan. Image: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission</p><p>The many legacy toxic hotspots that dot our shores were ignored for decades and it will be decades more before they&rsquo;re cleaned up. That assumes we have the will to keep funding the effort.</p><p>Every year we continue to dump billions of gallons of sewage into our rivers and lakes because we won&rsquo;t invest in infrastructure. That shows no signs of changing and those problems aren&rsquo;t insurmountable, if we want to tackle them.</p><p>However they pale compared to the consequences of neglecting the nuclear waste storage and transport issues.&nbsp; The least the U.S. and Canada can do is assess those threats and unknowns.</p><p>Senators Kirk and Levin could easily use the gravitas of their offices to spotlight this issue and they should if their concern for the Great Lakes is more than perfunctory.</p><p>To neglect the nuclear threats that are literally on our shores&hellip;&hellip; that&rsquo;s &ldquo;really scary.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a class="underlined" href="http://greatlakesecho.org/" target="_blank">Great Lakes Echo</a> is a project of the <a href="http://ej.msu.edu/index2.php" target="_blank">Knight Center for Environmental Journalism</a> at Michigan State University. </em></p></p> Fri, 21 Dec 2012 15:25:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/nuclear-power-ultimate-near-shore-threat-great-lakes-104539 Keeping an eye on the Great Lakes 'canary' http://www.wbez.org/news/keeping-eye-great-lakes-canary-104381 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F70094818&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6823_Amy-Jo-Klei2-scr.jpg" style="height: 215px; width: 300px; float: right;" title="Amy Jo Klei is the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s Lake Erie manager. She’s overseeing a new three-year program to monitor the health of Lake Erie. (Great Lakes Echo)" />Back in the 1970&prime;s, Lake Erie &ndash; often referred to as the Great Lakes&rsquo; &ldquo;canary in the coal mine&rdquo; &ndash; was closely monitored by government agencies. As lake health improved, that scrutiny was gradually withdrawn and funds diverted elsewhere. But with the advent of new problems, from dead zones and algae blooms to invasive species like Asian carp, there are again many eyes on the lake. And the samplers are coming up with some surprising discoveries.</div></div><p>Amy Jo Klei grew up on Lake Erie and has been bringing her daughters here for years. But these days, she&rsquo;s worried about the changes she&rsquo;s seeing in the lake.</p><p>&rdquo; When my daughters were little, the water was clear, and I said, oh, isn&rsquo;t this great,&rdquo; Klei said. &ldquo;And the last few summers I&rsquo;ve been up here, my heart is aching and I&rsquo;m like, I&rsquo;ve gotta fix this,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Klei is the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency&rsquo;s Lake Erie manager. It&rsquo;s her job to oversee a new three-year monitoring program to update conditions in the lake, funded by the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. She&rsquo;s out on the Black River, a Lake Erie tributary to take part in the latest sampling.</p><div class="image-insert-image ">&ldquo;And the purpose of this was to collect the water quality data to assess the current conditions of the lake, to help us be able to detect trends and changes as they happen&rdquo; Klei said.</div><p>One of those changes has been massive harmful algae blooms, last seen in Lake Erie in the 1970&prime;s. Those blooms have hurt water quality and cost lake users &ndash; from water treatment plants to charter boat captains &ndash; tens of thousands of dollars a year. Klei says the algae issue, along with other emerging challenges to Lake Erie&rsquo;s health, have re-focused bi-national cooperation on lake monitoring in a way that&rsquo;s never been seen before. She cites a recent water quality agreement signed this fall between the US and Canada.</p><p>&ldquo;One of those, under the near shore annex of the new agreement, is the requirement to develop a comprehensive monitoring framework for Lake Erie,&rdquo; Klei said. &ldquo;And I&rsquo;m sure our work here and our monitoring will certainly be a key piece of that, along with our other state and Ontario partners. &rdquo;</p><p>Ohio EPA biologist Scott Winkler is checking on wildlife quality on the bottom of the Black River, a Lake Erie tributary.</p><p>Among those partners are the US EPA, the US Fish &amp; Wildlife Service, state Departments of Natural Resources from Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, Ohio Sea Grant, and research institutions like Heidelberg University of Ohio, Ohio State University&rsquo;s Stone Lab, and the Universityof Toledo. Canada is also a new partner. At the fall Great Lakes Week conference in Cleveland, Michael Goffin, regional director for Environment Canada in Ontario, said his government is now committed to new algae testing on Lake Erie.</p><p>&rdquo;It&rsquo;s in place this year and the funding continues for the next four years,&rdquo; Goffin said. &rdquo; That&rsquo;ll allow us to achieve the commitment within the amended Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement to have new targets in place within three years of entry into force of that agreement, &rdquo; he said.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6824_Scott-Winkler-3-scr.jpg" style="float: left; height: 391px; width: 300px;" title="Ohio EPA biologist Scott Winkler is checking on wildlife quality on the bottom of the Black River, a Lake Erie tributary. (Great Lakes Echo)" />But three or four years may not be long enough to chart the course of changes in Lake Erie, some of which are also occurring in other Great Lakes&rsquo; bays and near shore areas. Ohio EPA biologist Scott Winkler says one of the things he&rsquo;s discovered from recent monitoring with new federally-funded equipment is that harmful algae blooms, previously thought to be primarily surface phenomena, may be far more complex, especially for the millions of people who get their drinking water from the lake.</div></div><p>&quot;Quite often, at water intakes, where they&rsquo;re drawing water from the lakes, the level where they&rsquo;re drawing water intakes, even when we don&rsquo;t see anything at the surface, we do see the toxin produced by this algae, microcystin, is in the water sample,&rdquo; Winkler said. &ldquo;Yet when you look at the water, it looks clear, it looks nice, everything looks fine. Through this sampling, we&rsquo;re seeing that one of the potential reasons for this increase is that all of the algae is down there, at the level where this intake is drawing it in,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Scott Winkler is an Ohio EPA biologist who&rsquo;s been monitoring the Black River, a Lake Erie tributary, for the last 3 years.</p><p>Winkler and Klei say that new state and federal water quality monitoring on Lake Erie will likely continue beyond current federal funding, set to expire next year. In the meantime, Klei says all eyes are on Lake Erie. She&rsquo;s even got charter captains testing for signs of algae.</p><p>&ldquo;These guys live on the lake, they&rsquo;ve been on it their whole lives,&rdquo; Klei said. &ldquo;They know when change is happening, they know when something unusual is going on. It&rsquo;s just been really helpful. &rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="http://greatlakesecho.org/" target="_blank">Great Lakes Echo</a> is a project of the <a href="http://ej.msu.edu/index2.php" target="_blank">Knight Center for Environmental Journalism</a> at Michigan State University. </em></p></p> Sat, 15 Dec 2012 09:43:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/keeping-eye-great-lakes-canary-104381