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

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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

October 26, 2007

States eye lakes water management

From the Post-Tribune:

Great Lakes water levels are near historic lows. And with droughts in the Southeast and Southwest, the pressure to turn to the Great Lakes as a source of fresh water is growing.

The Georgian Bay Association released new figures in August indicating that an extra 2.5 billion gallons of water are being drained from the lakes every day. It takes about 99 years for water in Lake Michigan to replenish itself.

Meanwhile, New Mexico Gov. and Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Richardson hinted earlier this month that he’d be willing to divert Great Lakes water when he said “states like Wisconsin are awash in water.” He later partially withdrew that statement.

“On a longer-term basis, among the issues are, we’ve been losing population in the Midwest to the West and Southwest, which means we’ve been losing seats in virtually every election. The concern is that in the future, we’d not be able to defend our territory in Congress,” said Gary environmental activist Lee Botts.

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 4, 2007

Windmill plans face a jumble of regulations

The Cleveland Plain Dealer details these problems with wind power in Lake Erie:

A national study of wind energy points out what advocates of a Lake Erie wind farm have emphasized – the lack of policies and guidelines at all levels of government adds complexity and time to wind projects.

Ohio generates a mere 7 megawatts of wind power. But an alternative-energy task force, appointed by the Cuyahoga County commissioners, is pursuing a wind project of five to 10 turbines, generating up to 20 megawatts three miles off the shore of downtown Cleveland.

The county task force found it would need nearly a dozen approvals at the state and federal levels, from agencies that have never dealt with offshore windmills.

The possibility of erecting windmills in Lake Erie raises a number of environmental concerns, including the destruction of migrating birds.

The National Research Council study found no evidence that wind turbines have done significant damage to bird populations, but it called for more study.

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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 25, 2007

Waterloo Ontario Looking at Lake Erie Pipeline

The Waterloo Record on more pipeline news:

The proposed pipeline would draw water from an existing Nanticoke treatment plant. The plant would be expanded to supply treated water to seven communities along the Grand River.

Waterloo Region, population 507,000, draws 80 per cent of its drinking water from underground and 20 per cent from the Grand River. Underground sources are considered plentiful and they are being expanded. Water conservation is keeping pace with growth.

Some environmentalists oppose a pipeline at any time, calling on politicians to focus instead on conservation and groundwater protection. However, regional government forecasts call for a Great Lake pipeline by 2035, when the population has grown beyond 729,000.

Lake Erie is touted as a pipeline source in part because there’s already a water-taking permit in place that’s big enough to service Waterloo Region and other communities. The Ontario government approved the permit in the 1970s, based on a 1969 plan to pipe water from Lake Erie to Waterloo Region.

The Ministry of the Environment has said it will reject Lake Huron as a source, to avoid diverting water from one Great Lake to another. Water used [in Waterloo] becomes treated wastewater that flows to Lake Erie, down the Grand River.

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