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Great Lakes News Collaborative

The Great Lakes region is frequently touted as one of the most climate-resilient places in the U.S., in no small part because of its enviable water resources. But climate change also threatens water quality, availability, and aging water infrastructure by exposing existing vulnerabilities and creating new ones. In this series, members of the Great Lakes News Collaborative explore what it may take to prepare the Great Lakes region for the future climatologists say we can expect.

Funded by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the collaborative’s four nonprofit newsrooms — Bridge Michigan, Circle of Blue, Great Lakes Now at DPTV and Michigan Radio — aims to elevate discussion, amplify the voice of Michigan residents and produce action that protects the region’s waters for future generations. While Mott provides financial support, our public service journalism is produced independently.

This independent journalism is supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

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.

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.

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.

© Photo by Whitney Gravelle

Michigan's Indigenous communities hold long-standing legal right to protect lands and waters.

On any given day, Jacques LeBlanc Jr. spends as many as 14 hours on the water catching whitefish. Out on his boat by the time the sun breaks the horizon over the Great Lakes, he moves between Michigan, Huron, and Superior for the best spots. In this part of northern Michigan, at the eastern end of the Upper Peninsula, fishing is a staple of LeBlanc’s Bay Mills Indian Community, one of the Sault Ste. Marie bands of Chippewa.

Deep below the cold, dark surface of Lake Superior, sensors strung like pearls along a vertical steel cable sway with the currents. Recording the lake’s dropping temperatures as winter sets in, their gentle rhythm belies their worrying readings: the lake is getting warmer.

Too few farmers are curbing pollution in Lake Erie. Should they be forced?

Mar 9, 2021
Dale Young / Bridge Michigan

As climate change complicates Lake Erie's algae problem, scientists say farmer must do far more to reduce phosphorus runoff. But will enough farmers change their ways without a government mandate?

Rights vs. Regulations: Property rights big barrier to septic system codes

Mar 2, 2021
Soil Science via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

In Michigan, with public health departments fully occupied with COVID-19, septic systems have been pushed back as a priority.

But even before COVID-19, it wasn’t much of a priority in the Legislature, because the last time an attempt was made to get Michigan statewide regulations for septic systems was in 2018.

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.

“PFAS in the House” was produced by Great Lakes Now/Detroit Public TV, in partnership with Type Investigations.

After spending several months reporting on the PFAS crisis, an alarming realization hit — taco night might be poisoning me.

I learned that the type of nonstick pans that I used to fry the fish usually contain the toxic chemicals, also called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. Research alerted me to their use in some types of parchment paper used to roll tortillas, while the aluminum foil in which I wrapped leftovers raised a red flag with its “nonstick” label. For dessert, I purchased cookies that a local bakery packed in the type of paper bags sometimes treated with PFAS, and the chemicals may have been in my tap water and fish.

Road Salt: Researchers look at vegetables and juices for alternatives to salt

Feb 18, 2021
Kathy Johnson / Great Lakes Now, Detroit Public TV

Salt-speckled sidewalks, driveways and highways are synonymous with winter in the Great Lakes region. But while road salt is highly effective at deicing surfaces, the safety that salt provides for humans places a heavy burden on freshwater ecosystems.

“We have an unhealthy addiction to road salt,” said Claire Oswald, a hydrologist and associate professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario.

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. 

Flint residents unimpressed by Snyder charges linked to lead exposure

Jan 14, 2021

As volunteers loaded her trunk with cases of bottled water Thursday at the RL Jones Community Outreach Center, a weekly ritual that involves waiting for hours in a line of cars that snakes far down the highway, Paula Stephenson simmered with anger.

Days after Flint residents learned that former Gov. Rick Snyder and other officials would face criminal charges for their role in the water crisis that poisoned Flint residents, news emerged that Snyder would face two misdemeanors for, in Stephenson’s words, “destroying us.” 

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 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.”