Undercurrents: beneath the obvious

November 26, 2007

Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Study – Final Report

The governments of Canada and the United States released the binational study report on November 26, 2007. The GLSLS Study was conducted to evaluate the infrastructure needs of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway system, specifically the engineering, economic and environmental implications of those needs as they pertain to commercial navigation. The study assesses the long-term maintenance and capital requirements to ensure the continuing viability of the system as a safe, efficient, reliable and sustainable component of North America’s transportation infrastructure. [From Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Study]

The study identifies four main observations, each with key considerations that should be taken into account by the Canadian and U.S. governments, and by industry stakeholders, when deciding the Seaway’s future:

  1. The GLSLS system has the potential to alleviate congestion on the road and rail transportation networks as well as at border crossings in the Great Lakes Basin and St. Lawrence River region.
  2. A stronger focus on shortsea shipping would allow the GLSLS system to be more closely integrated with the road and rail transportation systems, while providing shippers with a cost-effective, timely and reliable means to transport goods.
  3. The existing infrastructure of the GLSLS system must be maintained in good operating condition in order to ensure the continued safety, efficiency, reliability and competitiveness of the system.
  4. The long-term health and success of the GLSLS system will depend in part on its sustainability, including the further reduction of negative ecological impacts caused by commercial navigation.

Key considerations regarding point #4 include:

  • The GLSLS system should be managed in a way that prevents the inadvertent introduction and transmission of non-indigenous invasive species and supports the objectives of programs designed to minimize or eliminate their impact.
  • The existing sustainable navigation strategy for the St. Lawrence River could be extended to the Great Lakes Basin.
  • The movement and suspension of sediments caused by shipping or operations related to navigation should be managed by developing a GLSLS system-wide strategy that addresses the many challenges associated with dredged material and looks for beneficial re-use opportunities.
  • Ship emissions should be minimized through the use of new fuels, new technologies or different navigational practices.
  • Islands and narrow channel habitats should be protected from the impacts of vessel wakes.
  • There is a need to improve our understanding of the social, technical and environmental impacts of long-term declines in water levels as related to navigation, and identify mitigation strategies.
  • Improvements should be made to short- and long-term environmental monitoring of mitigation activities.

H/T to Trans-Talk

November 22, 2007

Status on legislative passage of the Great Lakes Compact – Nov 2007

On December 13, 2005, the Great Lakes Governors and Premiers signed agreements at the Council of Great Lakes Governors’ (CGLG) Leadership Summit that would provide protections for the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Basin. The compact won’t take effect until it is endorsed by the region’s eight states and then ratified by Congress.

Changes since May update:

  • Illinois Governor Blagojevich signed the Illinois legislation on August 17 becoming the second state to sign on to the Compact.
  • New York Senate bill 4324 passed July 16
  • Pennsylvania House bill 1705 introduced

Status by State:

Ohio and Wisconsin opposition to the Compact comes from a provision that calls for water in the Great Lakes basin to be held in “public trust” — see Ohio approval of water pact faces new snag:

  • Private property owners own groundwater beneath their land.
  • States might give up their sovereign right to state-owned water by agreeing to be part of a regional water board of eight states.
  • Criteria for water withdrawals should be made by state legislatures and not governors as in the Compact
  • Permits for withdrawals should be based on anticipated effects on watersheds, not on individual streams and tributaries within them.
  • Lets citizens sue government agencies over alleged violations, such as permitting excessive water withdrawals.

The pact has had little impact in Pennsylvania, where the only part of the state adjacent to the Great Lakes is a 40-mile stretch of Lake Erie frontage in the far northwestern corner.

On the Canadian side:

  • Legislation to strengthen the protection of water in the Great Lakes will be introduced Tuesday, April 3, in the Ontario legislature.
  • Quebec’s National Assembly has already ratified the agreement, but hasn’t yet updated its water use laws.

For information on the Compact: Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact

Source: CGLG State Legislative Activity to Enact the Compact

May 31, 2007

Bill to protect Great Lakes water passes final vote in Ontario legislature

The Chronicle Journal (Thunder Bay, Ontario) carries this update on the legislative process within Ontario to pass the Great Lakes Agreement:

A bill to protect Great Lakes water from being sold or shipped across the continent passed its final hurdle in the Ontario legislature Thursday, as all three parties voted unanimously to pass it into law.

Natural Resources Minister David Ramsay called it “a very important accomplishment,” as Ontario has taken a step toward implementing a deal signed with Quebec and eight U.S. states to institute stronger protections for Great Lakes water.

The international agreement seeks to ban transfers of water outside the Great Lakes basin to protect against other jurisdictions trying to access the resource.

Ontario’s bill also creates a new conservation charge for companies that draw a profit by tapping into the province’s water supply.

Most environmental groups applauded the government for the bill, which they say is stronger than legislation being proposed in the United States.

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May 23, 2007

Illinois Legislature Endorses Great Lakes Compact

Loon Commons reports that the Illinois Legislature has passed the Great Lakes Compact and it’s now on its way to the governor:

The Illinois Legislature has endorsed the Great Lakes Compact with Senate approval happening earlier today. The bill is on its way to the Governor’s desk, who reportedly supports it. Congratulations Illinois. Two down, six to go.

See this prior post for a Status on legislative passage of the Great Lakes Compact across all the states.

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May 14, 2007

International Joint Commission (IJC) to study water levels

From The Sault Star (Ontario):

Are the upper Great Lakes shrinking because of dredging on the St. Clair River?

That’s one contentious theory the International Joint Commission is trying to sort out.

The IJC, established by the Canada and U.S. governments in 1909 as an independent body to resolve and dispute issues that touch on our shared waters, has just embarked on a five-year, $17.5-million study meant to explore decreasing water levels on lakes Superior and Michigan-Huron.

The most urgent priority is to look at the St. Clair.

In the 1920s and ’30s and 1950s and ’60s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged deeper channels to accommodate increased commercial traffic through the St. Clair, which links the upper and lower lakes beginning at Sarnia.

“There’s been a lot of erosion on the St. Clair River. There’s been a study saying . . . it’s draining water three times faster,” said Ted Yukyk, Canadian director of the International Upper Great Lakes Study.

The International Upper Great Lakes Study group will use “the best science we have now” to objectively explore all possibilities, including flaws in earlier studies, Yukyk said.

They’ll look at Superior longer-term.

The world’s largest freshwater body of water has been on an unprecedented nine-year decline and hasn’t been lower since 1926.

Water flow regulations at the compensating gates on the St. Mary’s River will also be updated for the first time in two decades.

Yukyk expects results from the first part of the study, along with recommendations, in two years.

Two years seems like a long time to wait.

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May 3, 2007

Status on legislative passage of the Great Lakes Compact – May 2007

On December 13, 2005, the Great Lakes Governors and Premiers signed agreements at the Council of Great Lakes Governors’ (CGLG) Leadership Summit that would provide protections for the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Basin. The compact won’t take effect until it is endorsed by the region’s eight states and then ratified by Congress.

Changes since April update:

  • Illinois Senate bill 0050 passed April 25
  • Michigan House bill 4343 introduced
  • New York House and Senate bills introduced, House bill passes April 23.

Status by state:

Ohio and Wisconsin opposition to the Compact comes from a provision that calls for water in the Great Lakes basin to be held in “public trust” — see Ohio approval of water pact faces new snag:

  • Private property owners own groundwater beneath their land.
  • States might give up their sovereign right to state-owned water by agreeing to be part of a regional water board of eight states.
  • Criteria for water withdrawals should be made by state legislatures and not governors as in the Compact
  • Permits for withdrawals should be based on anticipated effects on watersheds, not on individual streams and tributaries within them.
  • Lets citizens sue government agencies over alleged violations, such as permitting excessive water withdrawals.

The pact has had little impact in Pennsylvania, where the only part of the state adjacent to the Great Lakes is a 40-mile stretch of Lake Erie frontage in the far northwestern corner.

On the Canadian side:

  • Legislation to strengthen the protection of water in the Great Lakes will be introduced Tuesday, April 3, in the Ontario legislature.
  • Quebec’s National Assembly has already ratified the agreement, but hasn’t yet updated its water use laws.

For information on the Compact: Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact

Source: CGLG State Legislative Activity to Enact the Compact

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April 10, 2007

Great Lakes Agreement Has Its Own Leaks

Preventing long-range diversions out of the Great Lakes basin is critical for the protection of the lakes and their dependent ecosystems and that is what the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Sustainable Water Resources Agreement seeks to do as it winds its way through the legislative process — the pact is between Ontario, Quebec and the eight U.S. Great Lakes’ states.

But even though the proposed legislation bans diversions out of the basin, it still permits large-scale diversions between individual Great Lakes within the basin. Diverting water out of the Upper Great Lakes into the Lower Great Lakes will only compound the effects of lowered water levels of the Upper Great Lakes, such as Lake Huron/Michigan.

Two examples:

  • The Regional Municipality of York, Ontario wants to build a pipeline to divert waste water from growing communities in the Lake Huron watershed to Lake Ontario.
  • Waterloo, Ontario says it needs to divert water from Lake Huron because it is running out of local water supplies.

For Lake Huron/Michigan, the impacts of the in-basin diversion would be just as harmful as if the water was being diverted outside the Great Lakes Basin.

For information on the Compact: Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact

For information on the progress of the legislative process see the April update.

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April 6, 2007

How Michigan intends to control withdrawals

Upper Michigan’s largest daily newspaper, The Mining Journal, provides an update on efforts to devising a method to help determine safe water withdrawal rates:

How much is too much?

The Groundwater Conservation Advisory Council (GWCAC) is developing computer models that would measure stream flow rates and other hydrological characteristics near places where big users want to pump.

‘‘It should be kind of an education tool, so a user can put a water withdrawal where it would have the least impact on natural resources and neighbors,’’ said James Clift of the Michigan Environmental Council, a member of the panel.

Michigan in 2006 became the last Great Lakes state to enact a law governing large water withdrawals. But officials say its groundwater council is setting the pace for determining when a withdrawal would have an ‘‘adverse environmental impact.’’

The computer models being developed … would provide early warning that a site might need closer inspection to determine whether it’s suitabile for large pumping operations.

The models would estimate the effect on stream flow, water volume, groundwater connections and other factors, said David Hamilton, water management chief in the state Department of Environmental Quality.

The system won’t help restore waterways that are already degraded. ‘‘It’s aimed at minimizing change from here forward,’’ Seelbach said.

The council is scheduled to report to the Legislature by July.

Michigan industries, municipalities, farms and other businesses pumped about 730 million gallons of groundwater daily in 2000 (266 billion gallons annually). That amount represented about 2.6% of an estimated 27 billion gallons of water that flows each day into underground aquifers.

Related links: MSU’s Groundwater Mapping Project

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