Category Archives: Environment News

“All Hands On Deck”


The term “All Hands On Deck” is used to indicate (the need for) the immediate involvement or efforts of all the members of a party, or of a large number of people, especially in an emergency. The rapid and determental changes proposed by the current Administration against the ongoing funding to restore the Great Lakes have alarmed the entire region. There is a grass roots effort now underway to generate awareness and action that we can clearly see other people are concerned and share the value of keeping and restoring the Great Lakes for generations to come. 

great-lakes-spaceThe Great Lakes –Superior, Huron, Michigan, St. Clair, Ontario and Erie – make up the largest body of fresh water on Earth, accounting for one-fifth of the freshwater surface on the planet. 40 Million people get their drinking water from the Great Lakes.

But the Great Lakes are being threatened. Some of the threats are: Invasive species like carp and zebra mussels, radioactive waste to be dumped in Lake Huron, sewage overflows in Erie and other head waterways, pipelines that leak, water bottling companies with unlimited access to our water, manufacturing waste run off, funding cut backs of the NOAA that monitors changes in the Great Lakes and Coast Guard cuts that maintain the safety of all who enjoy our Great waters.

In early March, Kimberly Simon of Charlevoix, Michigan was meditating after hearing about proposed budget cuts to the GLRI (Great Lakes Restoration Initiative) and envisioned an “All Hands On Deck” event where people would join hands all around the Great Lakes. Currently there are over 50 events planned in five states and in Canada. More than 1,400 people have joined the All Hands On Deck discussion group on Facebook.

 “The idea resonates with people across a very broad region because they all realize theimage Great Lakes are precious resources that are essential for our environment, our economies and our way of life,” Simon said. “Sites may differ by community but on beaches or boardwalks or any other places, the intention is the same; to bring people together in an expression of unified concern about something we all can agree on. We all want to take care for our Great Lakes.”

Simon said the goal of All Hands On Deck is to unite communities around the Great Lakes in a non-partisan way and demonstrate the need to base policies for regulating and researching water issues on science.

Thumb Sun RiseI personally live on an inland lake in Michigan but vacation every year on one of the Great Lakes. Nothing compares to the beauty and majesty of the Great Lakes and its beaches! I, along with my family and some friends, became involved with Kimberly’s efforts and will be Captains of events in Port Austin and Caseville. This is a nonpartisan event for all ages and we invite all to come to join us on the beach or join us in your boat on the water.

Information is available at www.allhandsondeckgreatlakes.org

I can be contacted at: PortAustinahod@outlook.com

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/1164392330338398/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

Or give me a call: 1-810-441-8378

The event is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. on July 3. Sign in starts at 8 a.m. for those who wish to come early.

Denise Rowden


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Saginaw Bay – Officially Polluted for 30 years.


On summer mornings with coffee in hand I walk down to the beach and gaze out over that the vast expanse of water between Port Austin and Tawas. It’s thought of as an idyllic ecosystem full of tasty Perch and Walleye. It’s playground for swimming, sailing and boating. The sugar sand beaches are where many baby’s experience their first Great Lakes dunking and children play and make sand castles at the water’s edge. 

However, back in the era of Big Hair, Members Only jackets and Yuppies, the EPA and the State of Michigan designated the entire region as a potential environmental disaster. The deterioration and pollution was so bad that the label of “Area of Concern” was slapped on the Saginaw Bay in 1987 and has not been lifted for 30 years. 

Saginaw Bay AOCWhile researching another topic, I stumbled on to the DEQs website outlining the problems identified with the Saginaw River and Bay. There are twelve extremely significant Beneficial Use Impairments (BUIs) identified. To achieve de-listing as an Area of Concern, each of the BUIs must be identified as solved.  In the past 30 years, only three BUIs have been remedied. I had no clue that this serious set of conditions existed. I don’t recall it ever being publicized.

Three Long Decades of Little Progress

The Saginaw River/Bay Area Of Concern was listed due to contaminated sediments, fish consumption advisories, high bacteria, nutrient enrichment (e.g., phosphorus), sedimentation, degraded fisheries, and loss of significant recreational values. Part of the region near the Tittabawassee River was listed as a Superfund site and flows right into the Bay and out to Lake Huron. This listing was in 1988 when the entire Great Lakes watershed was experiencing the same high water levels as we are now in 2017.

Here are the problems identified in the 1980’s, all but 3 continue today.

  1. Restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption – Dioxin contamination from Tittabawassee River sediments are a current and active source of dioxin contamination to the Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay.
  2. Tainting of fish and wildlife flavor – Chemical odors and tastes associated with fish caught in the Tittabawassee River and the Saginaw River/Bay AOC were frequently reported from the 1940s through the 1970s. This issue has been deem solved in 2008.
  3. Port Cresent State Park BonesBird or animal deformities or reproductive problems – Terns, herons, and eagles that were injured due to contaminants and linked to death (Caspian terns), malfunctions in reproduction (Caspian terns, common terns, bald eagles), and physical deformations (black-crowned night herons, Caspian terns, common terns)
  4. Degradation of benthos – Degradation of the benthos of Saginaw Bay as an impaired use because the benthic community structure in the bay is significantly degraded from that which occurs in unpolluted sites elsewhere in the Great Lakes. Specifically, the mayfly, once abundant in Saginaw Bay and an important component of the fish forage base, is currently only rarely found in the bay. Researchers believe that high oxygen demand created by increased decomposition of organic debris in the sediments has decreased dissolved oxygen levels below that needed to support mayflies and other pollution in-tolerant species
  5. Restrictions on dredging activities – Historically, sediments dredged from parts of the navigation channel in the Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay require confined disposal because of elevated levels of pollutants, including PCBs, several metals (e.g., mercury), nutrients, and oil and grease.
  6. Eutrophication (aka High Fertilizer and Poop Levels) or undesirable algaebeach12Nuisance organic “muck” debris, composed mainly of Cladophora (a benthic algae), continues to wash ashore along Saginaw Bay (Saginaw Bay Science Committee Pathogen Work Group, 2007). These conditions are thought to be caused, in part, by the cultural eutrophication of Saginaw Bay. In 2012 Thumbwind posted an article that testing of this “muck” showed it contained bovine and human fecal material. “Poop”! We were swimming with poop.
  7. Restrictions on drinking water consumption or taste and odor problems – The drinking water use impairment was originally identified primarily due to significant taste and odor problems during the 1970s that were linked to excessive blue-green algal (i.e., cyanobacteria) blooms, which had caused some of the drinking water intakes in the bay to exceed federal threshold odor standards. Deemed solved in 2008.
  8. Beach closings – Public advisories are periodically issued following storm events by local health departments warning against body contact with the Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay because of elevated levels of pathogens (E. coli) resulting from combined sewer overflows. Just about every beach in the Upper Thumb has been closed at one time or another due to high E. coli levels.
  9. Saginaw Bay shoreline muckDegradation of aesthetics – Like the Eutrophication (aka High Fertilizer and Poop Levels) or Undesirable Algae use impairment, increased biological productivity in Saginaw Bay resulted in an increase in the organic debris or “muck” washing up on the shoreline of Saginaw Bay. The debris consists of decomposing algae, aquatic plants, and small invertebrate animals. The smell and unsightliness of this beach debris prompted citizen complaints and concern about pollution entering the bay. Because of these complaints, aesthetics was listed as a use impairment for Saginaw Bay
  10. Degradation of phyto- or zooplankton populations – The lack of zooplankton grazing in Saginaw Bay was believed to be due, in part, to a greater abundance of large, unpalatable filamentous blue-green and green algae in Saginaw Bay. Believed to be caused by the cultural eutrophication of Saginaw Bay, which was brought about by excessive nutrient loading. Phosphorus appeared to be the key factor responsible for excessive growth.
  11. Degradation of fish and wildlife populations & 12. Loss of fish and wildlife habitat – Habitat degradation includes the loss of coastal marsh areas, the sedimentation of fish spawning reefs in Saginaw Bay, and numerous impacts from exotic species (e.g. goby, ruffe, and zebra mussels). This habitat loss and degradation has impaired the reproductive success and growth of numerous aquatic and wildlife species. Deemed solved in 2014

We have reached out to the Michigan DEQ with the hopes of getting an update on the progress of Saginaw River/Bay’s AOC. If there is a response, we will update.

Featured Photo provided by Saginaw Future via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Map provided by EPA. All other photos (c) ThumbWind

 

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In 2012 Saginaw Bay Muck Was Poop


This post was originally published in 2012. It’s one of the most viewed and searched for on ThumbWind.  With the recent budget cuts announced for the EPA by the current administration it’s feared that the Great Lakes and Saginaw Bay will once again experience muck and fecal encrusted beaches.

We were trying to think of a tactful headline for this piece but decided cut to the chase. Huron County lake front owners have known for years that the declining water quality in Saginaw Bay is due to two factors. 1) Outdated and failing septic tanks and overflow from Bay City. 2) Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations CAFOs. Now we have actual experts that confirmed local suspicions of what exactly is in the muck that has been appearing on beaches.

At the 2012 Saginaw Bay Watershed Conference held at Saginaw Valley State University, Marc Werhougstraete, a Michigan State University Department of Fisheries and Wildlife research assistant, said muck means sewage and fecal matter are likely present.

The blue green muck is composed of different types of algae, macrophytes and decomposing organic matter that varies from season to season. In research Werhougstraete conducted at the Bay City State Recreation Area, he found both human and bovine feces (poop) in the muck.

Basically if you see the muck on the beach, think “poop”. Don’t go into the water and don’t let your kids play in the wet sand. “To reduce risk of contracting illness”, said Werhougstraete,  “avoid contact with muck, wash hands when in contact with it and do not submerge your head in the water.”

Common muck management, such as raking, also can release the pathogens from the muck. People cleaning beaches should do so in the morning, when the beaches are less busy and the sun can kill bacteria, Werhougstraete said.

The algae and muck have gotten so bad in recent years it now compares with the situation Lake Erie faced in the 1960s. NASA released pictures shot from the space station that showed the full algae bloom in 2011.

Featured image from  NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research


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Algae Bloom in Michigan’s Saginaw Bay Seen from Space


From NASA

This post was originally published in 2012. It’s one of the most viewed and searched for on ThumbWind until our Michigan Wind Farm Map was issued. With the recent budget cuts announced for the EPA by the current administration it’s feared that the Great Lakes and Saginaw Bay will once again experience muck and fecal encrusted beaches.

The once pristine waters of Michigan’s Saginaw Bay now look like Lake Erie in the 1960’s. This observation was made by oceanographers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, after reviewing images made by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Aqua satellite on October 9, 2011.

Researchers were comparing algae blooms in Lake Erie and Saginaw Bay. “This is considered the worst bloom in decades,” says Richard Stumpf of NOAA. The green in Saginaw Bay is probably an algal bloom as well.” According to NASA, over the past decade Microcystis, a type of blue-green algae known to produce the toxin microcystin, has returned to the Great Lakes. No single cause has been pinpointed, but runoff from cities, fertilizers, septic tank overflow, zebra mussels, and livestock near water supplies are likely culprits.

Saginaw River a Significant Source

Despite $45 million in improvements, Bay City and Saginaw wastewater treatment overflow millions of gallons with partially treated waste water into Saginaw River which flows into the Bay. Laura Ogar, the Bay County Director of Environmental Affairs and Community Development notes that reports are made averaging six overflows a year. Published reports estimated that 90 million gallons of overflow occurred in 2011. Bacteria still present in the water without full treatment.


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