Environment & Science | Michigan Radio

Environment & Science

an arctic grayling
Jim Mogen / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Arctic Grayling are a fish that used to be native to Michigan's waterways. About a century ago, Michigan's populations were decimated by overfishing, habitat destruction, and nonnative competitive species. 

Now, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians are hoping to reintroduce the fish to the state's waterways.

Ed Eisch is the statewide fish program manager for the DNR. He's also overseeing the Arctic Grayling Initiative.

Photo shows the inside of a culvert. It's square with concrete walls and a very shallow stream of water is running through it.
Kaye LaFond / Michigan Radio

A road construction project beginning this week in Northeast Michigan hopes to improve fish habitats.

Josh Leisen, a senior manager at the nonprofit organization Huron Pines, which is overseeing the project, described the area where Gilchrist Creek passes beneath Greasy Creek Road in Montmorency County.

“These are two undersized culverts that are creating a pinch point, forcing the water to flow underneath the road at unnaturally high velocity, preventing the fish from swimming upstream to spawn,” Leisen said.

The roseate shoebill perched on top of a branch
Mike Perini

Observers have been flocking to Saline since last Wednesday to get a glimpse of a roseate spoonbill, a bird more typically found along the Gulf Coast region and in South America. It is the first recorded sighting of the species in Michigan, according to The Associated Press. The light-pink bird caused such a commotion that local law enforcement was required to direct the overflow of traffic.

A Kent County Health Department employee tests mosquitos for arboviruses, including West Nile Virus.
Kent County Health Department

It's been a mosquito-heavy July for many Michiganders. Experts say the reason for this boom is recent warmer temperatures and heavy rainfall.

Some Chicagoans wary of lead pipe replacement

Jul 22, 2021
J. Carl Ganter / Circle of Blue

It’s just before 6 p.m. on a breezy Wednesday evening in Little Village, a neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side. Department of Water Management staffers lift two tables out of the trunk of a minivan on the 3100 block of Ridgeway Ave. They drape them with blue tablecloths bearing DWM’s logo. 

A small crowd gathers as the staffers, alternating between English and Spanish, explain that Chicago has embarked on a novel public health program. The city is offering to replace toxic lead water pipes leading to their homes — at no cost to the residents. 

Cases of Legionnaires' disease spike in Michigan

Jul 22, 2021
Legionella pneumophila
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

There’s been a significant increase in the number of Legionnaires' disease cases in Michigan.

In the first two weeks of July, the state saw more than 100 cases – over 60% of them happening in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties.

Over the same period last summer, only 16 cases were reported.

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality

The U.S. House has approved a comprehensive bill to regulate and control a class of chemicals known as PFAS.

The bill would require the U.S. EPA to designate two of the most common PFAS as hazardous substances.

It would also require the EPA to set a national drinking water standard for those two chemicals -- and study whether other PFAS should be added later.

Rebecca Meuninck is with the Ecology Center.

She said the bill will go far to help Michiganders and people all over the country protect themselves from the health risks of PFAS. 

When it comes to climate change, male consumers may get a bit more of the blame than their female counterparts. Men spend their money on greenhouse gas-emitting goods and services, such as meat and fuel, at a much higher rate than women, a new Swedish study found.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

An attorney at a Detroit-area law firm is looking at options to reduce the amount of money people have to pay to rebuild dams that were damaged during flooding last year, but some local leaders fear the effort could prevent the dams from ever being restored.

swarm of mosquitoes
Adobe Stock

Slap! Spray! Scratch! The most biting of topics in Michigan right now is mosquitoes. Yes, there's a boom of bloodsuckers going on in the Great Lakes state.

ITC Michigan

A coalition of groups is asking the Michigan Public Service Commission to schedule public hearings on Consumers Energy's proposed 15-year plan, known as an Integrated Resource Plan, or IRP.

The plan lays out how the utility will maintain reliability while reducing emissions from its operations.

Bill Wood is Executive Director of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council. He noted Consumers plans to shut down all its coal plants by 2024, which is good. But it's switching to natural gas to take coal's place.

Ann Arbor at sunset.
Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

Ann Arbor residents could see a proposal another millage on their ballots this November. This 20-year tax would go towards fighting climate change.

Mayor Chris Taylor saw how voters supported the affordable housing millage last year, and floated the idea at the June 6 city council meeting. He says he will introduce a resolution to put the millage on the November ballot at the next meeting.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

The new administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency was in Flint Wednesday, in part to address the agency’s battered image in the community.

Michael Regan toured a community lab where young people test the quality of water samples. The lab was set up after Flint residents grew mistrustful of claims of government agencies, including the EPA, that their lead tainted water was safe to drink.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

All the things that go down the drain and end up at the waste water treatment plant are not removed there. Some of the industrial byproducts that end up in sewers, the agricultural chemicals that runoff farmland, and pharmaceuticals that pass through our bodies, all can end up in our streams and lakes. It’s a soup of chemicals. They’re difficult to keep out of drinking water.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

State wildlife agencies in several states, including Ohio and Indiana, are issuing alerts about a mysterious illness that’s killing an alarming number of songbirds.

Blue jays, robins, grackles, starlings, house sparrows, cardinals and cowbirds are affected by the illness. The birds behave as if they're blind before dying. Many of the agencies report birds have swelling around the eyes and a crusty discharge.

Taylor Wizner / Michigan Radio

President Joe Biden took a tour of a northern Michigan cherry orchard today.

At Kings Orchard in Central Lake, Biden met with several Michigan politicians including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow.

But the real reason for the visit was to get some northern Michigan was "Cherry pie,”  Biden joked.

Tony Brown

Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy plans to test the soil from an abandoned rail bed near the former Velsicol Chemical Co. plant in St. Louis for hazardous chemicals.

The old rail bed lies just outside a federal superfund site on which the Environmental Protection Agency has spent more than $100 million cleaning up after Velsicol.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Researchers say they expect cyanobacteria blooms on Lake Erie to be smaller than average. On a scale of one-to-ten, the severity of the blooms is forecast to be a ‘three.’

The harmful algal blooms can produce a toxin that can harm the liver in people and animals.

a car sits in several feet of water on a freeway
Russ McNamara / WDET

Heavy rain in Southeast Michigan over the weekend left many residents dealing with massive flooding. There was several feet of water in some basements, vehicles stranded on flooded streets, and some people also lost power. Wayne County remains in a state of emergency due to ongoing public health threats.

Such heavy flooding is only expected to occur once every 100 years or so, but the area saw similarly devastating rains in 2014 and 2016. Nick Schroeck, an associate professor of law at Detroit Mercy School of Law, told Stateside that these once-rare storms are becoming the new normal.

In Chicago, flooding overwhelmingly strikes communities of color

Jun 29, 2021
J. Carl Ganter / Circle of Blue

In the early 1970s, Chicago embarked on one of the region’s most ambitious and expensive infrastructure projects to date: the Tunnel and Reservoir Project or “Deep Tunnel,” a massive storage system that will be able to hold more than 20 billion gallons of water when it’s finished in 2029. 

Detroit flooding
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Today on Stateside, we talk with an environmental law expert about the massive flooding in Detroit and surrounding communities. Plus, we meet a Detroit artist who thinks about the fluidity of form, and of thought. And, we check in with two health officials in very different Michigan communities that are tackling the same problem -- low COVID-19 vaccination rates.

More than half of the buildings in the contiguous U.S. are in disaster hotspots, a new study finds. Tens of millions of homes, businesses and other buildings are concentrated in areas with the most risk from hurricanes, floods, wildfires, tornadoes and earthquakes.

The findings underscore how development patterns exacerbate damage from climate change.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Consumers Energy says it will retire all of its coal-burning power plants by the year 2025, years ahead of an earlier schedule.

Environmental groups say it's a surprising and highly positive step, but there's still more the utility can do.  

Margrethe Kearney is an analyst with the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

She said the announcement is great news. Coal burning power plants are more expensive to operate than renewable sources of energy, and they spew a lot of harmful chemicals into the air.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Canada is expanding its rules for ballast water in ships. The Canadian Minister of Transport outlined the new regulations intended to prevent the further spread of invasive species in Canada.

Ballast water helps keep ships level by pumping it in or out of the ship when loading and unloading. Doing that also can suck up invasive species such as quagga and zebra mussels and then spread them to the next port.

map of Line 5
Enbridge Energy

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it will conduct an extensive review of Enbridge Energy's plan to build an oil pipeline tunnel beneath a Great Lakes waterway in Michigan. The Canadian company wants the tunnel to house an underwater section of its Line 5 pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac linking Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. Permits from several agencies, including the Army Corps, are needed. The Corps said Wednesday the project will require an environmental impact statement, which involves a lengthy study of the plans and potential alternatives.

tart cherries hanging on a tree, ready for harvest
barmalini / Adobe Stock

For the second year in a row, northern Michigan’s tart cherry farmers are expecting a small harvest — less than half as much as 2019’s crop.

Allen Steimel is the general manager at Leelanau Fruit Company. He says low rainfall Up North is stunting the cherries’ growth.

“The drought, it’s gonna affect the size of the individual fruit. What we’re seeing right now is the cherries look fairly small.”

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Researchers at the University of Michigan are trying to connect the dots between birds becoming smaller with longer wings and their earlier migration.

Studies have shown birds are migrating here earlier in the spring. Other studies show they have been physically changing over the decades. Both are due to climate change, according to studies.

“On one hand, these birds are dramatically changing in their size and shape, and on the other, they were also changing the timing of their migrations,” said Marketa Zimova, lead researcher in a study to determine if the two were connected.

Courtesy Grand Haven BLP

The Grand Haven Board of Light and Power has approved building a new natural gas powered plant to supplement buying power from the grid.

The west Michigan municipal utility is asking City Council to approve bonds for up to $50 million. The money would also be used to clean up pollution from a now demolished coal-burning power plant and to build an office complex.

The Sarah Elizabeth Ray House
The Sarah E. Ray Project

Today on Stateside, we talk to a researcher who found that the forever chemicals known as PFAS are showing up in rainfall around the Great Lakes. Then, what families should know about kids and COVID-19 as summer vacation begins. And, an effort to save the historical home of Sarah Elizabeth Ray, the Detroit civil rights activist whose U.S. Supreme Court case led to the integration of the Boblo Island ferry. 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Obama administration enacted regulations to protect some sensitive bodies of water, but the Trump administration removed those protections.

Now the Biden administration plans to protect them again.

Changing the Waters of the U.S. protections under the Clean Water Act meant about 25% of the waterways were no longer protected. Some headwater streams and wetlands don’t have water all the time, but when they do, they need to be protected from pollution and silt. Keeping them pristine is important to wildlife such as fish and frogs downstream.