November 2009

It’s been a busy summer. Between the stimulus package, Great Lakes Restoration, several changes at the DNR and EPA, we’ve had a lot to keep up with. I wish I could tell you that it’s all resulted in money finally being appropriated and projects identified and started, but I can’t. Still, I’m encouraged – there’s a note of optimism that I haven’t seen before and once the Congress releases some money, I think we’ll see some things started – finally.

The Compact
Bet you thought this was all wrapped up, didn’t you? Well, it’s not. The reason is that although the law was signed last October the DNR in each state still has to write the package of regulations so it can be implemented. For example, if a community gets water from Lake Michigan, just how does it return that water? Waukesha has proposed dumping theirs into Underwood Creek, but that’s likely to cause flooding. They could build a pipeline, but that would be very expensive. They could put it into the Rock River, where it goes now, but the additional volume would probably cause problems downstream. One suggestion is that maybe Waukesha doesn’t really need the water! And there are other problems – communities have to have water conservation plans. Just what is a conservation plan? No car-washing on Sundays? New toilets that use less water? A fee for water? There are many possible options. And these are only a few examples. The DNR has a staff of people writing these regulations, but the job will take several years. In the meantime, if a community applies for water – such as New Berlin – temporary regulations will have to be created. It’s a complex process. We’ll have to see how it works out, and we’ll keep you posted.
International Upper Great Lakes Study (IUGLS)
This is the study being done by the IJC to determine if they need to change the way they manage Lake Superior water levels to prevent extreme high or low water levels on Lake Michigan/Huron. As you know they started with the St. Clair River because a group of people in Canada – the Georgian Bay Association – hired a consultant to tell them why the water level was dropping. The answer they came up with was that dredging in the 50s-60s-70s for the St. Lawrence Seaway permanently lowered the water level by anywhere from 4 to 16 inches, depending on whose report you believe. Then in April of 1984, there was a huge ice jam in the river that gouged a deeper area in the river channel, thus increasing the outflow and lowering the water levels even more. The IJC (International Joint Commission) filed their report recently and said they found no evidence of increased outflow in recent years and recommended that no action be taken in the St. Clair River. Meaning no dam, which the Canadians want. We agreed with the IJC’s position – no dam, we don’t want water levels raised, we’d like to see the lakes left as close to the way Mother Nature made them as possible. The scientific community has published reams of data down to a millimeter to support their claim that we’re losing water and that the study was flawed. Our position is based on the fact that even after all this dredging, ice jams, and study, some of which was indeed flawed, in October of 1986 – two and one-half years after the ice jam – the lakes reached their record high level. Obviously the study missed something – if all that water was running out, how could the lake levels rise? And as you know, they’re rising right now! Therefore, we want nothing done to the lakes that will affect their levels at least until we all understand what’s causing this.
This is the DNR’s re-write of Wisconsin’s shoreland management regulations. The Natural Resources Board has approved it and it’s on its way to the legislature, who will probably approve it to. Then it will be law.
We are still concerned about the Ordinary High Water Mark (OHWM). As you all know this marks the edge of the property that we own, and setbacks from it limit what we can do to improve our properties. The current OHWM is based on inland lakes and rivers and does not consider the Great Lakes, where the difference between the record high water level and the record low is almost six and one-half feet. And, not all counties have the same definition, so my cottage in Sheboygan County which is within the setback and so cannot be expanded would be OK in Ozaukee County. Plus, it’s at an elevation of 582.7 feet above mean sea level, a level the lake has never reached. We want a Lake Michigan-wide OHWM based on science, also for setbacks. We’ll be getting into this in the coming year.
The Lake Michigan Stakeholders Group
This is the group that we and the DNR set up five years ago to develop a plan to restore Lake Michigan in Wisconsin. Progress has been almost non-existent. This isn’t because people don’t care or aren’t interested, it’s because over the last three years staffs and budgets have been cut to the point where agencies can’t even get their normal work done. The DNR, for example, has a normal strength of 2,600 people, but there are 300 vacancies and retirements are on the rise. There’s a hiring freeze, so these positions can’t be filled even if qualified people were available.
Great Lakes Restoration
The $475 million for Great Lakes Restoration in FY 2010, which starts this month, has just been passed by Congress and signed by the President. It will mean about $146 million can be spent in the next year to clean toxic sediment and areas of concern, while $60 million more can go toward removing zebra mussels, keeping out Asian carp and dealing with other invasive species. Another $97 million will go to reduce runoff and contamination from entering streams and rivers from farms and industry, while $105 million will help restore habitat and wildlife, including building the populations of lake trout, brook trout and lake sturgeon. Finally, the budget has $65 million for accountability and monitoring. We’ll keep you posted on the DNR’s Office of the Great Lakes and their recently updated “Wisconsin Strategy,” which outlines specific projects that can now be funded under Great Lakes Restoration. We’ll be working with them on that over the winter.
We have a new Great Lakes Restoration Czar. His name is Cameron Davis and his background is environmental groups, most recently the Alliance for the Great Lakes, one of the better organizations out there. He’s actually part of the EPA, but doesn’t report to the President as some czars do. I have not worked with him, only met him once. It remains to be seen how he’ll manage his job. Hopefully, he’ll start to pull a plan together and involve the legislature, the environmental groups, and of course us. Don’t worry, we’ll be very assertive in getting him to take action.
Odds and Ends
  • The wind farm issue on Lake Michigan is still open but has been delayed due to lack of funds to do the studies needed – where would it be (on second sand bar or twenty miles out?), distribution network, construction costs, cost of the electricity it would produce, etc. I’m sure none of us are too happy about looking out at the lake and seeing windmills, but of course there’s a trade-off with carbon-based energy sources. We’d like your opinion – please send us your thoughts at our e-mail address. We asked for your opinions in our last newsletter and got none – please try harder this time.
  • There’s another phosphorus bill coming – this one to limit the chemical in dish and laundry soaps. Passage will be quick. Our legislature is showing definite signs of green, a good sign in our opinion.
  • The Asian carp barrier in the Chicago ‘sanitary’ canal is still not in full operation. This time the problem is maintenance – problems discovered just before the system was to be turned on. Here’s another opportunity to write our senators. Be polite but firm, brief, say you’re a member of the Wisconsin Great Lakes Coalition, and request an answer. Here are the addresses you’ll need:
Senator Herb Kohl                                                    Senator Russ Feingold
310 West Wisconsin Ave., Suite 950                     517 East Wisconsin Avenue, Room 408
Milwaukee, WI 53203                                               Milwaukee, WI 53202-4504
  • The Coast Guard is finally proposing regulations at the federal level to control dumping of ballast water. Several states have already passed their own regulations due to the Fed’s inaction. Public hearings will be scheduled although as yet I don’t have a schedule. Written comments will be accepted until Nov. 15. We haven’t seen the proposed regulations yet but when we do we’ll pass them along.
  • And as always – money. We urgently need your support. We could have a greater impact than we do now if we had a staff person to handle our clerical work, address lists, and meetings. We’ve also decided to pay your President a salary – $1,000 per month – because the job takes from 60 – 80 hours per month and could easily take more. We’re applying for 501(c)(3) status with the IRS which should help us get funding from individuals and corporations. It’s a difficult process, but except for your donations, it’s our only hope for more income. We will not take public money, so your support becomes even more important. An interesting piece of trivia – we have well over 12,000 addresses on our mailing list but only about 500 people actually pay their dues.
Last – I promise! This year is election year for board members. The annual membership meeting will be at Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon on Dec. 5 – see the notice included in this mailing. Your President has decided he’ll continue to serve for another year, two at the most, so we need to think about a new President in the near future. The person we pick should have about 100 hours a month available to work on our issues, should have experience with doing public presentations, should be comfortable working with politicians, environmental groups, and news media. Non-profit fundraising experience will be a big plus. If you have a candidate in mind or would like to be considered yourself, by all means come to the meeting. Caution, you cannot nominate yourself. The membership elects the board members, and the board members elect the President.
Thanks very much, and stay warm!
Jim Te Selle, President