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Environment & Science

Sturgeon for Tomorrow

If you've ever seen a lake sturgeon, you know that there's something really mystifying and beautiful about this ancient fish. They’ve been around for more than 100 million years, but their numbers have dwindled in the past century and they’re now considered a threatened species. But state officials and sturgeon enthusiasts are committed to helping the species bolster its numbers. 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Biden administration is reversing Trump administration cuts to the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

Payments to farmers to set aside land were reduced by the previous former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. With lower payments, some farmers left the program and plowed under land that was once set aside for conservation.

Diana Polekhina / Unsplash

Despite some snow on the ground this week, spring has officially sprung in Michigan. For some, it’s not the calendar that clued them in, but instead, their itchy eyes and runny noses. Whether you're experiencing allergy symptoms for the first time or you feel like your normal allergies are coming back with a vengeance, you may be wondering just what’s going on this year.

“Right now what we're seeing is that environmental allergens are increasing, especially in the Midwest and the state of Texas, randomly. That seems to be our path. But we've reached record levels that we've never reached before,” said Dr. Kathleen Dass, an allergist, immunologist, and medical director with the Michigan Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology Center in Oak Park. 

map of Line 5
Enbridge Energy

The Michigan Public Service Commission will consider the environmental impact of greenhouse gasses in its decision on the future of Enbridge Energy’s Line 5. That’s part of an order issued Wednesday.

The Public Service Commission decision is one of several administrative and legal challenges faced by Enbridge. The company wants approval for a plan to bury a replacement section of the pipeline inside a tunnel, and continue to use it to convey petroleum products beneath the Great Lakes.

The Detroit skyline as seen from across the Detroit River.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

“Water is life, water is power, water is a right.”

So said Chicago Reverend Marilyn Pagan-Banks, to the sound of lapping waves on Lake Michigan, during a recent webinar promoting a proposed ordinance that would ensure drinking water access for all Chicagoans during the pandemic and beyond.

RaccoonsRecycling.org

The Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) is launching a new initiative to increase recycling in Michigan. It’s called NextCycle Michigan.

EGLE, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, cities, and individual companies have agreed to collaborate on the effort.

PFAS foam on the Huron River.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Michigan put in place drinking water standards for the chemical family of PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in August 2020. Those are among the most stringent in the country.

Nearly eight months later, the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy says it's been seeing a lot of success in getting public water systems in compliance with the new rules. Michigan has roughly 2,700 public water works, and EGLE reports that most of those systems are in compliance.

Michigan's rural water systems confront generations of inadequate investment

Apr 19, 2021
J. Carl Ganter / Circle of Blue

  • Building, maintaining, and operating a water and sewer system is generally the most expensive item on a small town’s budget.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Water and Waste Disposal Program is a lifeline for rural communities, providing Michigan towns with $963.8 million in loans and $307.1 million in grants between January 2008 and November 2020.
  • The affordability of rural water service is a “monstrous elephant in the room” when it comes to long-term rural financial viability.

forest
Adobe Stock

This week the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) is holding the first of two online sessions to listen to people’s thoughts what to do about climate change. Governor Gretchen Whitmer wants Michigan to be carbon neutral by 2050. EGLE — with input from the Council on Climate Solutions — has to come up with a plan.

Joseph O'Brien / USDA Forest Service

The Department of Natural Resources is warning landowners about a tree-killer that pops up this time of year. It’s called oak wilt. If you have oak trees you can help prevent the spread of the fungus.

A big fight in Lansing over fishing rules on the Great Lakes

Apr 15, 2021
Kelly House / Bridge Michigan

Dana Serafin still hauls in 20,000-pound boatloads of whitefish to supply regional restaurants and markets, but in recent years, the Saginaw Bay fisherman has found it more difficult to fill his orders.

Native whitefish, the main livelihood for Serafin and other Great Lakes commercial fishers, have been in decline for years amid changes to the food web, replaced in Serafin’s nets by healthier populations of walleye and lake trout that he’s not allowed to keep.

Adobe Stock

For nearly two decades, they’ve lain in wait underground. They’ve bided their time, digging through the soil beneath our feet and feeding on tree roots with their piercing, needle-like mouth parts. And now, they’re coming.

Brood X.

Mark Edlund / St. Croix Watershed Research Station, Science Museum of MN

Right now, scientists are on a ship taking samples and measurements of the Great Lakes. They’re trying to determine how the lakes will fare this year and watching for trends.

One trend, the warming climate, could mean changes for the base of the food web in the lakes. But, the researchers are not yet sure what those changes might be.

MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY / FLICKR HTTP://BIT.LY/1XMSZCG

Michigan members of Congress are once again pushing legislation to speed the cleanup of sites contaminated with PFAS.

PFAS are a family of industrial chemicals linked to serious human health problems. PFAS can be found in a variety of commercially-produced products, ranging from housewares to firefighting foam.

The Environmental Working Group says there are 2,337 PFAS contamination sites in 49 States. There are 162 sites in Michigan.

Map of 1,4-dioxane plume in Ann Arbor.
Scio Residents for Safe Water

The plume of 1,4 dioxane in Washtenaw County's groundwater is one step closer to getting federal help with its cleanup. The Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy requested today that the Environmental Protection Agency initiate the assessment of the site for the National Priorities List of Superfund sites.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

It appears the United States Air Force is in no hurry to abide by Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s request to use Michigan’s standards for cleaning up PFAS contamination at a former Air Force base.

Courtesy: Michigan Department of Natural Resources

A group opposed to wolf hunting in Michigan has sued the Department of Natural Resources. The lawsuit claims appointments to the Wolf Management Advisory Council are heavily in favor of wolf hunting in Michigan.

“The appointments to the council are clearly stacked in the favor of wolf hunting – and don’t get me wrong, wolf hunters have a voice too – but this is grossly in favor of wolf hunters,” said Karol Miller, President of the wolf advocacy group The 06 Legacy.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Wisconsin regulators are investigating why it took Enbridge Energy more than a year to report the full extent of a petroleum product spill.

Enbridge did report a spill of 1.3 gallons of from a valve in its Line 13 pipeline, 30 miles southeast of Madison in April of 2019.

Fifteen months later, Enbridge reported a different amount.

Courtesy Macomb County Public Works

Apparently, people are using a lot more personal wipes and baby wipes during the pandemic. Then, they’re flushing them down the toilet. Officials in Macomb and Oakland counties say those so-called “flushable” wipes are wreaking havoc on sewer pipes and pump stations.

“A couple of years ago, we had about 70 tons of these things, but just recently we completed a cleanup that was 270 tons. So just a huge increase,” said Candice Miller, the Public Works Commissioner of Macomb County.

Report: Lake Michigan is 'running a fever.' More storms, less fish possible.

Apr 2, 2021
Courtesy: NOAA, Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory

Diminished surface ice is just the beginning: Climate change is warming Lake Michigan and other big lakes all the way down to their chilly depths, according to new federal research.

In a first-of-its kind study, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory have used the only known long-term dataset of deep-lake temperatures to determine that Lake Michigan’s temperature is slowly increasing over the past 30 years.

The former Wurtsmith Air Force base
Mike Fritcher / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Governor Gretchen Whitmer is hoping that a federal law will be able to help speed up Department of Defense cooperation with cleaning up contamination from per- and polyfluoralalkyl sybstances, or PFAS, in Oscoda Township near Wurtsmith Air Force Base.

In 2020, the National Defense Authorization Act included section 332. It allows a governor to request changes or an entirely new cooperative agreement over remediation at sites by PFAS as a result of DOD activities.

Is the Line 5 tunnel a bridge to Michigan's energy future or a bad deal?

Apr 1, 2021
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

As Canadian officials lobbied a Michigan Senate committee in March to keep the Line 5 pipeline open, Sen. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) grew frustrated with a conversation that, up to that point, had focused mainly on the immediate economic and safety implications of a possible shutdown.

In flooded Michigan neighborhoods, who should pay for sea walls?

Mar 30, 2021
Kelly House / Bridge Michigan

The floodwaters have receded from Jefferson Chalmers for now, but evidence of the neighborhood’s recent crisis is hard to miss:

Dried algae on the sidewalks. Appliances bolted to basement walls to keep them dry. Water lines on the sides of buildings. And massive orange “tiger dams” snaking through backyards, waiting for the water to rise again.

The neighborhood — a labyrinth of canals leading to the Detroit River on the city’s far east side — is often called Detroit’s version of Venice. But for the past two summers, as Great Lakes water levels reached record highs, it has looked more like a floodplain.

Public Domain

Fisheries biologist David Jude has been studying a small prey fish called the deepwater sculpin for decades. And for years, there's been one question he couldn't stop thinking about. 

“I’ve always had this passion about trying to figure out where deepwater sculpin spawn because no one has ever documented it,” Jude said. 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Updated March 25, 2021 at 5:29 p.m.

The University of Michigan is pledging to achieve "net zero" carbon status for its $12.5 billion endowment by 2050. The board of regents approved a plan Thursday that calls for shifting investments away from companies that produce fossil fuels and toward those generating renewable energy.

It pledges $140 million in new investments in wind and solar power and projects to limit carbon emissions. It would continue the current practice of not investing in the top 200 oil, gas and coal companies or those that extract tar sands oil.

Downtown Ann Arbor
Katie Raymond / Michigan Radio

A lot has changed in how we relate to the public spaces around us this year. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some main streets have closed to cars and opened to pedestrians, to give passersby more room. Restaurants — those that survived — got creative with outdoor seating. And people stuck at home suddenly found themselves seeking local outdoor spaces — where they're available — for recreation and physically distanced socializing. All these shifts in how we use our spaces got us thinking: What does a “return to normal” look like for cities?

Map of 1,4-dioxane plume in Ann Arbor.
Scio Residents for Safe Water

A circuit court judge has scheduled new hearings for May that will likely result in more aggressive cleanup of a source of pollution in Washtenaw County.

The case involves a plume of contamination from Gelman Sciences that's been spreading in the groundwater for decades.  

Michigan recently dramatically lowered the standard for 1,4 dioxane in groundwater.  That's the chemical in the plume spreading in the Ann Arbor and Scio Township areas. 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Climate change in the Great Lakes region means more intense storms. Already some towns are finding they’re flooding where they never have before. One city in Michigan is finding the solution is nature.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Midland and other cities were hit hard by a flood caused by heavy rains and the failure of a weak dam.

More than 2,500 homes were damaged. There was an estimated $245 million dollars in property damage.

If that flood happened a few years ago, the damage could have been worse. But, there’s been a change. One thousand acres of restored wetlands helped reduce the severity of that flood.

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