Friday, March 16, 2012
Mark Schleifstein of the New Orleans Times-Picayune covered the filing of two law suits against the EPA by the Mississippi River Coalition. The Coalition, of which ELPC is a member, wants the EPA to set numeric standards for nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the Mississippi River and its tributaries, and wants to the agency to revisit wastewater treatment standards. Nitrogen and phosphorus are pollutants that contribute to the dead zone that emerges in the Gulf of Mexico each spring. Read the story.
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
“Separating the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River Basin is a key step to protect both the ecological and economic value of the Great Lakes,” Environmental Law and Policy Center director Howard Learner said in a news release. “More than 30 million people live in the Great Lakes Basin and rely on its abundance of freshwater, which is under increasing threat from Asian carp and other invasive species.”
Read more of the story.
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Today, the Great Lakes Commission and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative released its Chicago Area Waterways Study (CAWS), which offers recommended action steps to protect the Great Lakes from Asian carp and other invasive species. ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner released this statement about the study and its recommendations.
“Separating the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River Basin is a key step to protect both the ecological and economic value of the Great Lakes. More than 30 million people live in the Great Lakes Basin and rely on its abundance of freshwater, which is under increasing threat from Asian carp and other invasive species. The release of this important study and action framework today advances important Great Lakes values.
“The Study shows that strong and effective action is needed sooner than later to protect Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes. We have to get this right from the start. There are no do-over ‘Mulligans’ if invasive species get into our Great Lakes.”
Mr. Learner served as a member of the Advisory Committee for the Chicago Area Waterways Study project.
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Strategies for restoring the natural divide between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes – and, in the process, modernizing the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) – are identified in a report released today by the Great Lakes Commission and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.
“Physically separating the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds is the best long-term solution for preventing the movement of Asian carp and other aquatic invasive species, and our report demonstrates that it can be done,” said Tim Eder, executive director of the Great Lakes Commission.
The threat of Asian carp looms large for communities in the Great Lakes region. The lakes provide over 35 million residents with drinking water, contain 20 percent of the Earth’s fresh surface water, and support a thriving tourism industry and world-class fishery, which generates an estimated $7 billion in economic activity annually.
Voracious feeders that can grow up to 90 pounds, Asian carp have overrun other ecosystems and could cause irreversible damage to the Great Lakes if allowed entry. Once established, invasive species are nearly impossible to eliminate.
“This is a unique opportunity for both protection of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River and for a Chicago waterway system for the 21st century and beyond,” said David Ullrich, executive director of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative. “No single use of the CAWS, including transportation, flood control and wastewater treatment, can be considered individually. The system requires an integrated approach and that is what we have taken.”
The three separation alternatives include a down-river single barrier between the confluence of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and the Cal-Sag Channel and the Lockport Lock; a mid-system alternative of four barriers on CAWS branches between Lockport and Lake Michigan; and a near-lake alternative of up to five barriers closest to the lakeshore. All three include measures to improve the CAWS’s role in flood management, wastewater treatment and maritime transportation, as well as stopping the interbasin movement of aquatic invasive species.
The three separation alternatives in the report were developed by the engineering firm HDR, Inc., which considered some 20 possible barrier locations in its analysis. No recommended alternative is identified. However, one alternative, the mid-system solution, is the least costly and offers other advantages.
The analysis concludes that preventing just a single invasive species from entering the Great Lakes can save as much as $5 billion over 30 years. The Corps of Engineers has identified 10 species that are poised to invade the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River.
According to the report’s economic analysis, the cost of the barriers themselves is as low as $109 million. The addition of all improvements to address water quality, flood prevention and transportation brings the cost to between $3.2 billion and $9.5 billion, depending on the location and the degree to which the wastewater treatment plants on the system are improved to meet future Clean Water Act requirements.
The analysis also finds that households in the Great Lakes basin would have to be willing to pay, on average, about $1 a month from now through 2059 to cover the cost of the mid-system alternative, based on a projected cost of $4.27 billion. The Great Lakes Commission and the Cities Initiative point out that the construction costs to build the current CAWS in today’s dollars would be $11 billion.
Asian carp have been migrating up the Mississippi River system since the early 1990s and were detected in 2009 to have breached electronic barriers operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the CAWS. In 2010 a live Asian carp was captured in Lake Calumet just six miles from Lake Michigan.
“The current efforts by the state of Illinois, the Corps of Engineers and others to monitor and slow the carp migration are critical and are buying us time to implement a long-term solution,” said Eder.
“While we recognize and support the work being done by others to find solutions to the Asian carp threat, we need to appreciate fully the urgency of this matter,” Ullrich emphasized.
The Great Lakes Commission, representing the eight Great Lakes states plus the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Québec, and the Cities Initiative, a coalition of U.S. and Canadian mayors, embarked on the accelerated study in 2010 believing separation to be the best strategy for preventing the movement of Asian carp and other aquatic invasive species between the two watersheds via the CAWS. The $2 million project was funded by a collaboration of six regional funders: the Joyce Foundation, C.S. Mott Foundation, Great Lakes Fishery Trust, Wege Foundation, Great Lakes Protection Fund and Frey Foundation.
To provide guidance and input for the project, a bipartisan Executive Committee was established and a diverse Advisory Committee was convened among stakeholders from the Great Lakes region, with an emphasis on interest groups in the Chicago area. In addition, a Resource Group made up of governmental and quasi-governmental entities with a direct interest in the project also participated.
The report and all supporting materials are available at www.glc.org/caws.
Download this news release.
Friday, June 6, 2008
Threats to the Mississippi River
The Mississippi River provides drinking water for more than 18 million people. It is an important cultural, recreational, economic, and wildlife resource.
Several factors impede the health of the Mississippi River. Inadequate government oversight, lack of coordination among non-profit organizations, and lack of federal protection from agricultural runoff makes restoring the river very difficult. Agricultural runoff is the primary source of excess sediments and nutrients in the Mississippi River. Fertilizers accumulating in the Gulf of Mexico allow plants to grow to excess, starving the waters of oxygen and killing fish and wildlife. Each summer, this creates a “Dead Zone” roughly the size of Massachusetts in the Gulf.
ELPC’s Work to Protect the Mississippi River
In 2005, ELPC joined the Mississippi River Water Quality Collaborative, a diverse group of more than 20 regional and national non-profit organizations devoted to improving the health of our nation’s largest river. The Collaborative provides a special opportunity for member organizations to build off each other’s strengths. Working as a unified group with shared goals will fill knowledge gaps and extend the resources of the various groups beyond traditional boundaries.
ELPC’s work within the Collaborative includes:
- Advancing Anti-Degradation Standards – The federal Clean Water Act’s anti-degradation requirements are designed to keep clean waters clean and improve public participation in decisions involving water quality. Historically, most states have not implemented this part of the federal statute very well or have ignored it completely, but ELPC has established itself as a national leader and thinker on this set of key policies through our work championing strong anti-degradation standards throughout the region for many years.
- Promoting Better Water Quality Standards – ELPC is working to improve, upgrade and add new use designations and water quality criteria that better control nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, as well as other water pollutants.
- Implementing and Enforcing Existing Standards – ELPC reviews water pollution permits issued by state and federal agencies to evaluate whether permits reflect current law. When permits are found to be deficient, ELPC works with local allies, environmental organizations, community groups, and the polluters themselves to reach reasonable solutions that protect the environment and abide by federal clean water laws.