Tag Archives: lake michigan

Fund for Lake Michigan pledges $250K for removal of Estabrook Dam

The Fund for Lake Michigan has pledged $250,000 toward the removal of the Estabrook Dam on the Milwaukee River.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to regain miles of free-flowing river,” Vicki Elkin, executive director of the fund, said in a news release. “The dam removal aligns perfectly with our mission to improve water quality in both Lake Michigan and its tributaries. We’re thrilled to be involved.”

The fund said removing the dam would restore crucial habitat for native fish species including sturgeon, walleye, salmon and trout. It also would restore the river’s natural flow and clear sediment and unsightly debris which accumulates upstream of the dam. 

The crumbling dam on Milwaukee’s northeast side is facing some $4.1 million in repairs along with $200,000 in annual maintenance, according to the news release. Removing the dam altogether would save taxpayers nearly $2.5 million while providing environmental benefits for generations to come.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele applauded the Fund for Lake Michigan for stepping forward as the first private group to pledge money for the project.

 “Taking out the dam means we can invest millions more into our county parks which are destinations both for visitors and our own residents,” Abele said.

Earlier this fall, Abele announced a plan to transfer ownership of the dam from Milwaukee County to the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, which has the engineering and management expertise to carry out a large-scale project, such as the dam’s removal.

“We can’t thank the fund and its trustees enough for this bold gesture of support,” said Kevin Shafer, executive director of the MMSD. “This is an exciting project for the ecosystem and for the entire region. It’s going to save money, improve fishing opportunities and reduce the risk of future flooding.”

“The Fund for Lake Michigan has stepped up in a big way to protect the Milwaukee River watershed,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett stated. “Removing the dam will improve water quality and reduce flooding.  On behalf of the city of Milwaukee, I thank the fund for this generous and environmentally sound investment.”

On the Web

The Take It Down campaign.

Botulism suspected in deaths of birds along Lake Michigan

Officials say botulism is suspected in the deaths of hundreds of birds recently along Lake Michigan.

Dan Ray, botulism monitoring project lead for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, counted a large number of dead birds last week.

The Traverse City Record-Eagle reports he joined a team of volunteers over the weekend in burying 250 birds at Michigan’s Good Harbor Bay Beach.

Ray says the birds “almost certainly” died of type E botulism. He expects to see more dead birds on Lake Michigan’s shoreline through November.

Typically, type E botulism occurs in fish-eating birds in the open waters of the Great Lakes.

The nonprofit conservation group Common Coast says the bird deaths extended at least 10 miles up the Leelanau Peninsula and past Leland, Michigan.

On the Web


Want to buy a Lake Michigan lighthouse?

The U.S. General Services Administration recently announced the public offering of four lighthouses in Michigan.

The sale is part of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act program’s effort to find new owners for the historic structures.

Here’s what the GSA says about the properties:

The iconic White Shoal Light, a major engineering feat at the time of construction in 1901, is located offshore 20 miles west of the Mackinac Bridge on Lake Michigan.

The red and white tower has a terracotta, steel, and brick interior and is featured on a state of Michigan license plate.

Gray’s Reef Light, built in 1936, is located 4 miles west of Waugoshance Island on Lake Michigan.

The historic 82-foot light has a square tower with steel plate construction on a concrete crib. The light is an active aid to navigation operated by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The offshore North Manitou Shoal Light, constructed in 1935, is located southeast of North Manitou Island, in Leland Township.

The light includes a 2-story steel building that housed the living quarters and a 63-foot tall steel tower constructed on top for the automated light.

The historic light remains an active aid to navigation operated by the USCG.

Minneapolis Shoal Light marks the entrance to Little Bay De Noc in Delta County.

The 82-foot high octagonal lighthouse sits on a 32-foot square metal structure that housed the living quarters for the keeper.

The light was constructed in 1934 and was the last manned lighthouse to mark an isolated reef. It remains an active aid to navigation operated by the USCG.

As part of the NHLPA program, GSA is offering these lighthouses through an online auction at realestatesales.gov.

Proceeds from the public sales go back into the USCG’s aid to navigation fund, a fund that pays for the equipment, maintenance, and resources (fog horns, lights, battery cells, solar panels, etc.) to continue preservation and maintenance of lighthouses that are still active.

Interested bidders will need to complete an online registration form and submit a registration deposit.

These lighthouses occupy Great Lakes Public Trust bottomlands owned by the state of Michigan. The state will require any purchaser to enter into a private use agreement for lease of bottomlands prior to any use or occupancy of a lighthouse.

The lights also will serve as an active aid to navigation, which will remain the personal property of the USCG.

GSA’s Great Lakes Regional administrator Ann P. Kalayil said GSA has a responsibility to dispose of excess government real estate assets, including historic lighthouses.

“Lighthouses like these in Michigan have deep roots and sentimental value as local historic landmarks,” she said in a news release. “Through public sales, GSA is able to save taxpayer dollars on operation and maintenance of these lights while helping to find new owners who can preserve these treasures.”

Since 2000, GSA has administered the NHLPA with its partners. To date, 119 lighthouses have been sold or transferred out of federal ownership, with 74 transferred at no cost to preservationists and 45 sold by auction to the public.

On the web

Lighthouses hit auction block.


Officials: Pipelines linking Lake Michigan and Huron too weak

Michigan officials say Enbridge Energy Partners had violated a legal requirement by having too much unsupported space along its twin oil and liquified natural gas pipelines running beneath the environmentally sensitive waterway that links Lakes Michigan and Huron.

Enbridge found similar problems two years ago with the pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac and said it had taken steps to ensure they would not happen again, but recent findings “have refuted that prediction,” Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and other officials said in a letter to the Canadian company.

The pipes are a small section of Enbridge’s 645-mile-long Line 5, through which 23 million gallons of crude oil and liquid natural gas move daily between Superior, Wisconsin, and Sarnia, Ontario.

Environmental groups have pushed to shut down the underwater pipes, saying a rupture could do catastrophic damage to the Great Lakes.

The company insists the pipes have never leaked and are closely monitored.

“The violation notice issued today by state leaders should serve as a wake-up call,” said Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. “Due to the risk the Line 5 pipeline poses to our Great Lakes, we must stop oil from flowing along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac as quickly as is feasible.”

Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said the pipes were stable and the need for more supports did not signal a safety threat.

“Our inspection process did what it’s designed to do,” he said.

Some sections of the underwater pipes rest directly on the lake bottom, while others are supported by steel anchors held in place by screws drilled into the lakebed. An easement granted by the state when the lines were laid in 1953 requires that no section of the pipelines longer than 75 feet be without support from either the ground or an anchor.

But during a June inspection with a remote underwater vehicle, Enbridge discovered four locations where unsupported sections exceeded the limit by a foot or two, Duffy said.

“Enbridge is legally responsible not only for promptly correcting this violation of the easement, but taking effective measures for preventing any more recurrences of this problem,” said the letter signed by Schuette; Department of Environmental Quality Director C. Heidi Grether; and Keith Creagh, director of the Department of Natural Resources.

The spacing problems were caused by sediment erosion that created open areas beneath the pipes, Duffy said. Enbridge has applied for a DEQ permit to install anchors in the four spots that were detected and 15 others that could exceed the 75-foot limit as future erosion occurs, he said.

“The Great Lakes is a dynamic environment and we anticipated that at times there can be changes to the lake bottom,” Duffy said.

But the state officials said the company had found other spacing issues during its last underwater inspection in 2014. At that time, Enbridge installed 40 more anchors and said it had developed a “predictive maintenance model” that would ensure the 75-foot limit would not be exceeded again.

The officials instructed Enbridge to explain why its model had failed and come up with a better plan within two weeks. One possible improvement would be more frequent inspections and support installations, they said.

Enbridge agreed to stepped-up inspections of the Straits of Mackinac pipelines last month under a $176 million settlement with the federal government from a 2010 rupture of another pipeline that polluted the Kalamazoo River in southwestern Michigan, the costliest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

Great Lakes states OK diversion of Lake Michigan water

A panel of governors on a Great Lakes regional council on June 21 has approved a request from Waukesha to divert water from Lake Michigan.

A Great Lakes compact prohibits most diversions of water outside the watershed boundaries, but allows for communities such as Waukesha, which straddles a border, to request an exemption.

Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly, in a press statement, thanked the Great Lakes governors and their representatives. “Today’s vote is an enormous accomplishment for the people of Waukesha, after more than a decade of work,” he said. “The regional commitment to implementing the requirements of the Great Lakes Compact is also a victory for protecting this tremendous resource.

“The same states and provinces that authored the compact and who adopted laws to implement it, have determined that the Waukesha application meets the compact’s standards for borrowing Great Lakes water. We greatly appreciate the good faith they showed in focusing on the facts and science of our application.”

The city’s request was challenged by a number of environmental groups that said Waukesha has other alternatives and options to address problems with its drinking water.

“There are a lot of emotions and politics surrounding this issue but voting yes — in cooperation with our Great Lakes neighbors — is the best way to conserve one of our greatest natural resources,” Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said, according to the AP. “Mandating strict conditions for withdrawing and returning the water sets a strong precedent for protecting the Great Lakes.”

Waukesha had received an endorsement of its request last month from a panel for eight Great Lakes states — Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — and also the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

The endorsement came with conditions, including the requirement that Waukesha reduce the volume of water it would withdraw from 10.1 million gallons a day to 8.2 million gallons and a day. The city also must reduce the area to get the Lake Michigan water.

The Wisconsin Compact Implementation Coalition, consisting of environmental organizations in the state, issued a statement on June 21 expressing appreciation for the serious review given the application.

“We especially appreciate how the regional body and compact council heeded the concern, echoed by tens of thousands of Great Lakes residents, that Waukesha’s inclusion of neighboring communities in its original application did not meet the requirements of the Great Lakes Compact. We have no doubt that the extent of public engagement across the Great Lakes states, together with the advocacy efforts of our regional environmental partners, contributed to improvements in the diversion proposal ultimately approved by the compact council.”

The coalition, however, expressed continued concern that the council “did not fully resolve other flaws in Waukesha’s proposal to ensure that this precedent-setting application meets all of the rigorous requirements laid out in the Great Lakes Compact. We continue to believe the compact council should have denied Waukesha’s proposal to divert Great Lakes water until the remaining areas of non-compliance were remedied.”

The coalition — Clean Wisconsin, Midwest Environmental Advocates, Milwaukee Riverkeeper, Waukesha County Environmental Action League, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and also attorney Peter McAvoy’s firm — continued, “While we acknowledge that Waukesha must address the radium in its drinking water, we maintain Waukesha can safely meet its community’s drinking water needs now and well into the future without a diversion from the Great Lakes. In fact, in light of the conditions approved today that rightly reduce the area served and the amount of water originally requested by Waukesha, the evidence that Waukesha has a reasonable water supply alternative is even stronger. Regrettably, the Compact Council also has chosen to leave unaddressed a number of other concerns voiced by our coalition and citizens across the Great Lakes basin, including lack of a sufficient monitoring plan for return flow through the Root River, no reduction in the maximum amount of water Waukesha can draw from the Great Lakes from 16.7 million gallons per day, and failure to require a new needs analysis with the reduced diversion area.”

Editor’s note: This story will be updated.

On the Web

Details on the application.

Rising waters threaten Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan communities

Severe erosion along some of Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan communities is threatening homes and causing bluffs to collapse.

The problem is especially bad in Mount Pleasant, where Racine County officials have issued an emergency declaration, but Caledonia and Port Washington also have reported problems with bluff erosion.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the combination of rain, wave action and at least a 4-foot jump in lake levels since early 2013 is eating away shoreline. Experts say rising water levels are expected to claim more shoreline up and down the coast.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the Lake Michigan system is projected to rise another 2 inches by the end of June.

Watershed campaign: Milwaukeeans unite behind water initiative

For some Milwaukeeans, summer begins with a dance in the Summerfest water fountain during PrideFest.

For others, it begins with a starry night paddle on the Milwaukee River or the first beach day.

Water puts the sparkle in Milwaukee’s summers and helps define the city’s identity.

“I live to be on the water,” says Bobby Lagerstrom, an avid kayaker and competitive swimmer. “That’s what brought me here. Milwaukee is a great water town.”

In mid-May, Milwaukee Water Commons, a project of the Milwaukee Environmental Consortium, brought several hundred people together at the Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery for the Confluence Gathering. The event was the culmination of a two-year process involving 1,300 people and more than 30 groups interested in shaping a vision to make Milwaukee a model water city.

“It was a very robust conversation,” said Milwaukee Water Commons executive director Ann Brummitt. “We talked to people about water — what matters, what are the issues, what are the concerns. And then we really asked people about a vision going forward.”

Milwaukee Water Commons’ slogan is “Together, we’re shaping Milwaukee’s water future.” The nonprofit abides by these principles: Water is an essential element for all life on Earth. Water belongs to no one and cannot be owned. People have a responsibility to protect and preserve clean fresh water. Decisions about the care and use of water must involve everyone. And the Great Lakes are a gift, having “nurtured our ancestors and shaped us as a people and as a community. They continue to sustain us.”

The group operates a water school that collaborates with other organizations on specific programs and cultivating neighborhood leadership. MWC also conducts town hall-style meetings and workshops and works with local artists.

The Confluence Gathering provided the opportunity to launch six water initiatives under the “Water City Agenda.” The vision is for Milwaukee to:

• Be a national leader in “blue-green” jobs. Work is underway to promote the blue-green economy in the city, but the scale needs to grow, according to Brummitt, who previously directed the Milwaukee River Greenway Coalition and worked as a school teacher.

• Make safe, clean and affordable tap water available to every Milwaukeean. A chief concern in Milwaukee, as it is nationally, is aging pipes. “While our tap water that comes out of Milwaukee Water Works is very good, by the time it gets to your kitchen faucet there’s a chance of lead,” Brummitt said.

• Advance green infrastructure practices across the city. “There’s a lot of really good energy going into this goal already,” according to Brummitt, who said elements in new developments might include rain gardens and green roofs, bioswales and curb cuts.

• Make Milwaukee’s three rivers and Lake Michigan swimmable and fishable.

• Offer every Milwaukeean meaningful water experiences. Brummitt made this observation: For all the sailing, kayaking, swimming, fishing and strolling that takes place in Milwaukee, there are children in the city who’ve never been to one of the rivers.

• Celebrate local waters in arts and culture.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” said Brummitt. “As strong as our water culture is, we’re still losing ground. We can’t keep pace with the environmental degradation. So that’s where we felt there was room to bring in more people and more perspective. Everybody has something to say about the future of water in Milwaukee.”

In the coming months, think tanks will be established to tackle each initiative and, Aug. 7, an annual H20 happening — We Are Water — will be held at Bradford Beach on the Lake Michigan shore.

Institutional partners in carrying out the Water City Agenda include the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage District.

“The science is there, the tools are available and our water policy researchers are ready to help turn these transformative ideas into reality,” Jenny Kehl, director of the Center for Water Policy at UW-M, said in a news statement.

Nonprofit partners in the campaign include leading environmental groups, as well as community and neighborhood organizations such as Alice’s Garden, a nonprofit in the Johnsons Park neighborhood.

“The work Milwaukee Water Commons has taken on is some of the most important work this city will do,” said Venice Williams, director of Alice’s Garden. “It is about preserving the dignity of the ancestral waters of Lake Michigan. It is also about helping every human being who quenches their thirst, bathes their body, rinses their clothes, mops their floors, enjoys their cup of tea to understand one cannot exist without water.”

A sister project, with a regional focus, is the Great Lakes Commons, and organizers in other Great Lakes cities, specifically Toronto and Cleveland, are at work employing the “commons” concept.

“When we started this work, we started to look and see if there was a model for this kind of thing,” said Brummitt. “But there just isn’t a well established framework for a water city. This is our foray into creating that. It will be developed. That’s coming. We’re shaping the agenda in Milwaukee.”

Become a commoner

For more information or to get involved with Milwaukee Water Commons, visit milwaukeewatercommons.org.

Save the date

On Aug. 7, Milwaukee Water Commons will present We Are Water 2016, a communitywide celebration at the north end of Bradford Beach. The event will feature song and dance, artwork and spoken word, and the creation of a large, illuminated image of the Great Lakes in the sand.

In related news …

Carpenter raises concerns for pipeline spills

Wisconsin Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, asked U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson to join with U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan to make sure the Department of Transportation classifies underwater pipelines in and around the Great Lakes as “offshore” facilities.

Why? Carpenter said under federal law cleanup for “onshore” facilities is capped at $634 million but “offshore” facilities must have resources to cover all costs.

If there were a spill in the water from the pipeline that’s transporting 23 million gallons of crude oil and liquid gas daily, the cleanup could be $1 billion. The pipeline crosses the Straits of Mackinac, connecting Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

“Our incentives should be to protect the waters and avoid economic catastrophe of spills,” Carpenter said.


Great Lakes group moves Waukesha water request forward

Representatives of Great Lakes states and provinces have given preliminary approval to a precedent-setting request by Waukesha to draw water from Lake Michigan.

The regional group agreed the water diversion application by Waukesha complies with a Great Lakes protection compact if certain conditions are met, including an average limit of 8.2 million gallons a day — 20 percent less than the original request.

The group includes eight states and two Canadian provinces. Minnesota abstained from voting during a conference call earlier this spring.

Governors of the eight states, or their representatives, will meet in Chicago later this month to consider the conditional approval and vote on Waukesha’s request, which has drawn substantial opposition from environmental groups.




Public record: majority opposes Waukesha quest to divert water

More than 99 percent of those who registered comments in a regional review explicitly opposed or expressed concern over Waukesha’s request to divert Great Lakes water.

More than 11,200 public comments were submitted to the Regional Body and Compact Council on the issue and many opposed the proposal, according to a review of the comments completed by a coalition of environmental groups — the Compact Implementation Coalition consists of River Alliance of Wisconsin, National Wildlife Federation, Milwaukee Riverkeeper, Midwest Environmental Advocates and Clean Wisconsin.

The coalition said of the 315 tribes, First Nations, governments, elected leaders, organizations and associations that submitted or signed on to comments regarding Waukesha’s application, 256 explicitly opposed, expressed concern or had unanswered questions about the city of Waukesha’s application.

Also, in six of the eight Great Lakes states and both Canadian provinces, not a single tribe, First Nation, government, elected leader, organization or association submitted or signed on to a comment explicitly supporting Waukesha’s application.

“Anyone paying attention to the polarized nature of today’s political climate knows this level of agreement across political divides and international boundaries is nothing short of astounding,” said Jodi Habush Sinykin of Midwest Environmental Advocates. “The extent of public concern and outcry shown, speaks to how important this first-of-its-kind regional decision will be seen by citizens throughout the Great Lakes region.”

Waukesha, located about 17 miles west of Lake Michigan, wants to divert water from Lake Michigan. To do so, the Milwaukee suburb needs an exception from the Great Lakes compact and agreement that restrict diversions outside the Great Lakes Basin. The city lies outside the Great Lakes basin but is in a county that straddles the basin.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources completed its review of the city’s application earlier this year and sent the issue on to the Great Lakes states and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec for consideration.

A regional public comment period on the application review closed in mid-March.

Next the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin Regional Body and Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin Compact Council — composed of the eight Great Lakes governors and two Canadian premiers — will meet to reach a decision on the application.

The meeting is expected in April. The eight Great Lakes governors are allowed to vote. The council could approve, deny or approve with conditions the application. Only one “no” vote is required to deny the application.

“The public has definitely spoken on this topic, and we feel strongly those voices need to be heard,” said Jennifer Bolger Breceda of Milwaukee Riverkeeper. “We hope this outpouring signals to the Regional Body and Compact Council that they need to take these many, many concerns into consideration while reviewing this flawed proposal and deny Waukesha’s diversion request.”

On the Web

For more information about the application, visit www.protectourgreatlakes.org and http://www.waukeshadiversion.org.

Public hearing set for Feb. 18 on Waukesha water diversion app

A regional public hearing will be held Feb. 18 as part of the city of Waukesha’s application to divert water from the Great Lakes.

The hearing provides an opportunity for Wisconsinites to share their opinions on the proposal with regional representatives from the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin Regional Body and Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin Compact Council. The regional body is composed of the eight Great Lakes governors and two Canadian premiers.

The hearing on the application also serves as the time and place for governors and premiers to ask questions and have them answered in a public forum, according to a news release from a coalition of environmental groups opposing Waukesha’s request.

The statement said, “This hearing is the first and only time citizens will have an opportunity to be heard directly by the decision-making body before the eight Great Lakes governors decide whether to support or veto the application.”

An informational meeting will be at 2 p.m. Feb. 18, followed by the hearing at 3 p.m. at Carroll University, Shattuck Music Center, 218 N. E. Ave., Room 122, Waukesha.

People who do not attend the hearing can file a comment with the secretariat of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Water Resources Regional Body and Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Council until March 14 at www.waukeshadiversion.org/comments.

When the public comment period closes, the regional body will meet — probably in late April — to decide whether to support the application. Only the eight Great Lakes governors are allowed to veto, but a significant level of deference will be given to any objection from the Canadian premiers. Silence is considered assent, but only one veto is required to deny the application.

The body may also approve the application with conditions attached.