The Environment Report | Michigan Radio
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The Environment Report

The Environment Report, hosted by Lester Graham, explores the relationship between the natural world and the everyday lives of people in Michigan.

Mussel-Phosphorus puzzle: Invasive mussels are reshaping the chemistry of the Great Lakes

Feb 26, 2021
D. Jude / University of Michigan via NOAA/GLERL Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Since the late 1980s, four of the five Great Lakes have played host to an increasing number of invasive mussels. First came zebra mussels, followed shortly thereafter by quagga mussels, both members of the Dreissenid family whose native range includes the waters around Ukraine.

Today, the filter-feeders comprise more than 90% of the total animal biomass of the Great Lakes (barring Lake Superior, whose depth and water chemistry make it a less suitable habitat for the two species of mussel).

30 years later: Mussel invasion legacy reaches far beyond Great Lakes

Feb 26, 2021
Bob Nichols / USDA

The way J. Ellen Marsden remembers it, when she first suggested calling a new Great Lakes invasive species the quagga mussel, her colleague laughed, so the name stuck.

At the same time, it was no laughing matter. The arrival of a second non-native mussel, related to the already established zebra mussel, was a major complication in what was becoming one of the most significant invasive species events in American history.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio


Invasive mussels now control key Great Lakes nutrients, threatening fish

Feb 16, 2021

The stunning beauty of Lake Michigan’s crystal clear water draws comparisons to the French Riviera. 

But to Dustin Van Orman, it’s a hideous sight.

Van Orman, whose family owns Mackinaw City’s Big Stone Bay Fishery, knows that the clearer the water gets, the scarcer whitefish and chubs become. 

PFAS is in fish and wildlife. Researchers prowl Michigan for clues.

Feb 16, 2021
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

J.D. Hock’s heart sank in 2018, when the state of Michigan warned it was unsafe to eat deer harvested within a five-mile radius of Clark’s Marsh in Oscoda Township.

For decades, his family had hunted on property just outside the “do not eat” zone. He had just mailed “an insane amount” of venison jerky to his son-in-law, an armed service member in Afghanistan.

Water could make Michigan a climate refuge. Are we prepared?

Feb 16, 2021
© J. Carl Ganter / Circle of Blue

Intrigued by warming winters, researchers from the University of Michigan set out in 1989 to formally measure changes in the geographical distribution of plants and animals in the dense pine and hardwood forests of northern Michigan. 

Their laboratory, the university’s 10,000-acre Biological Station east of Petoskey, had advanced forestry and natural sciences since the field station’s founding in 1909. Few projects, though, attracted the same level of attention as the migration research. 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

It’s freezing outside and Larry Scheer is in neoprene chest waders kicking up sediment in Boyden Creek near Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The downtown office for the Sault Sainte Marie Tribe of the Chippewa Indians Fisheries Management Program is a simple, small two-story brick building.

How we know Michigan will lose lake ice if we don’t change our ways

Feb 3, 2021
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

If humans continue to release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at current rates, we should be prepared to say goodbye to ice-covered winters on the Great Lakes.

That’s the conclusion of a new study from researchers at Toronto’s York University, who used historical data from lakes throughout the Northern Hemisphere to track the steady loss of Earth’s ice and predict how ice loss will progress if we act now to curb the effects of climate change — and if we don’t.

Michigan is on thin ice. Get used to it, climate experts say

Feb 3, 2021
J. Carl Ganter / Circle of Blue

Hope is waning for those who hoped to stick an ice shanty on Little Traverse Bay this winter. 

The same goes for nearby Torch and Elk lakes, two large inland waters adjacent to the bay. At the height of Michigan winter, all three are so devoid of ice, fishing guide Jim Chamberlin said, “you could launch a boat out there.” 

Michigan cities must begin replacing lead pipes. But who has the cash?

Jan 15, 2021
Courtesy of the City of Jackson

It’s the first month of a 20-year effort to replace every lead service line connecting a Michigan home to a public water supply. Already, Jeff Lampi is predicting his city won’t meet the deadline.

“I requested an additional 10 years, so that we don’t hit the ratepayers as hard as what they’re telling us to,” said Lampi. 

Years After Flint Water Crisis, Lead Lingers in School Buildings

Jan 13, 2021
Photo: 2016 Photo © J. Carl Ganter / Circle of Blue

 

In its 2021 budget, Congress included millions for lead testing in schools, where children are still exposed to the toxic metal.

Michigan has an infrastructure problem with raw sewage getting into streams and rivers.  

In the State of Michigan’s next fiscal year, there's about $500 million available for fixing up sewer pipes and updating wastewater plants. So far, municipalities have applied for $200 million. That’s below what is typical for this time of year. There’s no doubt about the need for sewer infrastructure repairs or replacement.

Michigan Allocates $20 Million to relieve customer water debts

Oct 19, 2020
© J. Carl Ganter / Circle of Blue

Michigan residents who are behind on their water bills will soon be getting some relief.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will distribute more than $20 million to 116 water utilities, through an intermediary, to cover water bill debt that their customers accrued since March 1 when the pandemic emergency began.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Canadian pipeline company Enbridge Energy has been eager to show news media its new Enbridge Straits Maritime Operations Center in Mackinaw City. Its purpose is to try to prevent another anchor strike or other damage to Line 5, the dual pipelines carrying oil and natural gas liquids.

One Michigan county tells the story of a nation plagued by water pollution

Sep 24, 2020
J. Carl Ganter / Circle of Blue

Farms housing thousands of animals are one of several sources contaminating the Pine River and dividing a mid-Michigan community.

Murray Borrello, wearing khakis and a loose-fitting brown button-up, walked down a backroad during the summer of 2019 listening to the sounds of the woods. Water from the Pine River flowed slowly beneath him as he looked out over a bridge.

“Oh, I hear a frog,” the Alma College geology and environmental studies professor said. “That’s a good sign.” 

© J. Carl Ganter/Circle of Blue

At the shoreline, between lake and land, Melissa Wiatrolik reflects on those who were here before Michigan became Michigan. She had been raised in a community that honored the dead, that understood that their ancestors were always present. As a child, she had watched her own family clean the gravestones of those before her. She had attended ghost suppers to both celebrate and feed the deceased. She had grown up with remembrance, and now, at the shores of Lake Michigan, Wiatrolik worked to keep her ancestors at peace.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The flood that was caused by heavy rains and the failure of two dams near Midland caused property damage far downstream. But the long term damage might be in the contamination of wildlife.

Michelle Hurd Riddick (used with permission)

The two dams that broke near Midland caused a massive flood that swept away bridges, roads, and damaged a lot of property. Because Midland is home to Dow’s original chemical complex, a lot of people were concerned about hazardous waste or waste in ponds at Dow.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Michigan residents are sending more trash to the state’s landfills than they have since before the Great Recession.

Last year Michigan homes and businesses sent more than 43 million cubic yards of trash to the landfills.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicates it will take years to regulate PFAS in drinking water, if it does at all. 

The USEPA has proposed to regulate two forms of the thousands of chemicals in the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances family. PFOA and PFOS were the most commonly used.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Tom and Michelle Joliat's lovely home in Metamora, Michigan is situated high on a hill with a stunning view of the woods below.  

Normally, it's peaceful and idyllic here. Metamora Township is a rural area about 25 miles southeast of Flint.  

But in the distance, you can sometimes hear the faint drone of the U.S. EPA drilling yet another monitoring well. The wells are monitoring the movement of a plume of groundwater contaminated with 1,4 dioxane and other toxic chemicals.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Wildlife are being poisoned and much of the time people using the poisons are not even aware of the danger. One Michigan resident is on a crusade to make people understand what’s at risk when they use rat poison.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

We know that burning fossil fuels releases a lot of greenhouse gases. But there are other human-caused sources that contribute to climate change. As Lester Graham with the Environment Report found, one of them is how farmers plant crops.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

You can hear a flock of geese calling, but there’s not a single goose. It’s a bunch of humans, warming up for the goose call contest at the 72nd annual Pointe Mouillee Waterfowl Festival held last weekend.

An emaciated deer stands near a fence.
Terry Kreeger / Wyoming Game and Fish Department/CWD Alliance

To help combat chronic wasting disease, Michigan is banning deer baiting and feeding across big parts of the state. It’s highly unpopular with some hunters and lawmakers.

But, banning bait will only slow CWD from spreading to new areas, and more aggressive approaches that might actually stop it could be just as unpopular.

white woman smiling in front of foliage
Courtesy of Logan Vear

 


The constant barrage of news about climate change, drinking water contamination, and pollution in the Great Lakes region can feel overwhelming. If you care, it’s hard to know what to do or where to start.

That's where Stateside's new series comes in. We're featuring ordinary people who identified a problem – no matter how big or small – and chose to act. 

People stand in the water, holding both ends of a large net.
Kaye LaFond / Michigan Radio

A new nonprofit is training citizen scientists to collect data on fish in the Great Lakes. They think it could be a game-changer for research in the region, and even help prevent the establishment of invasive species.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Researchers are finding some of the chemicals used in pavement and driveway sealants are making their way into the environment. That could be putting the health of people and aquatic life at risk.

These chemicals are called Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, PAHs. They’re commonly found in low levels just about anywhere something is burned. But, the levels of PAHs are much, much higher in certain pavement sealing products, coal tar based sealants.

red tractor sitting on a green field with trees in background
Matthew T Rader / Unsplash

 

 

Climate change is affecting the world in a lot of ways. The planet is warming, more rain is falling. There are colder winters, and warmer summers. And all of this is having a profound effect on agriculture.

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