Another summer has come and gone. I’m one of those people who hates the gloom and slush of Wisconsin winters, but we could be having earthquakes and floods like many other people around the world. I guess I can put up with the snow and cold for a while.
The Board and I want to thank all of you who turned out last July to hear our new DNR Secretary, Cathy Stepp, speak to us. Another thanks for your generosity in keeping us financially viable, please keep it up. We literally can’t survive without your dues and donations. We are in the process of applying for a grant, which is a process only a government agency could love, and are also getting tax-exempt status so you can legally deduct your dues and donations.
Now let’s briefly discuss our lake and what’s happening to it. We’ll use a more concise method of reporting to you because a number of issues are on hold at the moment due to lack of funds – the government’s, not ours. Instead, I’ll go over the urgent issues, and again ask you get out your pen or PC and write letters to your State and Federal representatives. That’s the only power we have so let’s use it.
The DNR, the agency many Wisconsinites learned to hate in the last few decades, is in trouble. The problem is staff and money, and if I may editorialize a little here, lack of a plan and firm priorities. Their full staffing level is 3,300 people. Today they’re operating with 2,100. Worse, there’s action in the legislature on a bill to ‘gut’ the DNR. I’m not sure what that means, but I’ll bet a nickel that it doesn’t mean they’ll get more staff. We’ve asked them for a list of their projects, priorities, and costs – no response yet. I’m not proposing that they hire another 2,100 people, what we do want from them is a plan showing us how they’re going to operate and what their priority projects are. Great Lakes Restoration, now called Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), must be high on that list or we’ll take whatever action we have to.
The phosphorus problem is getting worse. Yes the Wisconsin Legislature passed a law a few years ago prohibiting it in detergents and lawns, with some exceptions. In this budget the legislation was changed from a seven year implementation plan to nine, meaning the state was giving farms and cities two more years to pollute our lake until they did something about it. Many of us complained and a few of us even went to the NRB (Natural Resources Board) and pled our case. We got two years back, but control of non-point runoff is still years away. Farmers and municipalities are not in a position financially to install the equipment required, and want state help. We’ll help them get it because we see no other way to get this done.
The phosphorus dumping into our lakes and stream is the most serious problem we have right now.
Asian carp are still a major issue but thus far, have not caused a problem. Yes one was caught in Lake Calumet, which is part of Lake Michigan. It was tested by Notre Dame University and found to have been a fish that lived in the area all its life, not a transient that had come up the Waterway. In the original poisoning only one dead carp was found. Since then the third electronic barrier was installed and today all are functional. One was recently shut down for a safety issue – the radiation from the upstream lock was interfering with the operation of railroad switches in the area. It does appear that the locks are working. I went down there last summer to observe, and things seemed OK. Obviously this is very important and needs to be done ASAP. The only real cure for this problem is to separate the two rivers – Illinois and Des Plaines – right now. This is another issue you should call or write your US Senator about, since they seem to be the action agents. With the Wisconsin Legislative District remapping “up in the air” please use this link to find contact info for your Legislators, using your street address: http://legis.wisconsin.gov/w3asp/waml/waml.aspx
The food chain in our lake is dying fast. The problem is caused by the mussels, which eat all the little critters that used to support other small fish. They then store the material and when they go poop, they leave behind a lot of phosphorus. This summer you may have noticed dead alewives washed up on the shore, as in the 60s and 70s. This is happening around the lakes, not just here. In 2010 there was an excellent hatch of alewives – we don’t know why. These fish were hatched last spring. Huge schools of them starved, causing the mess on our beaches. The trout and salmon catch in Lake Huron is virtually gone. Lake Erie’s western half is virtually dead from lack of food. If the Asian carp get in, they’ll eat anything else they find, if there’s anything left. My guess is that unless we get control of this, in five years there will be no salmon.
The UW Extension Great Lakes WATER Center in Milwaukee is working hard on this problem. Please encourage them. http://www.glwi.uwm.edu/research/aquaticecology/monitoring/
Our Great Lakes Caucus meeting was held at the state capital on Oct 25. About 25 Senators, Assembly Persons and staff showed up. I did a PowerPoint on the major issues and then the DNR took over and discussed some of the issues in detail. Sen. Joe Leibham (9th District) gave a positive speech about the value of the lakes and urged the state to take action on issues we rate as high priority. The Sierra Club participated, so did people from our Lake Michigan Stakeholders group. It was an excellent meeting, and the Senator wants to hold one quarterly. In fact, Rep. Mason and Sen. Larson called a Caucus meeting of their own to discuss the erosion problem at the WE Electric plant in Oak Creek. Another has been called by Rep. Schaber on Dec. 7. We spent six years getting the Great Lakes Caucus going so it’s nice to see it taking root and being used for exactly what we intended.
There will be other meetings and conferences, we’ll keep you posted.
The International Upper Great Lakes Study is complete. The IJC (International Joint Commission) will publish their results soon. Bottom line – there will be no physical changes to the lakes or the St. Clair River. We humans don’t understand how the lakes work yet so we felt it was better to leave well enough alone. I, Roger Smithe the President of our sister group, the International Great Lakes Coalition, and Dave Powers of Save Our Shoreline, pushed for no changes and got it. Some people may be unhappy, but global climate change is coming and until we know more about that we’ll leave our lakes alone.
NR115 – the DNR’s Shoreland Management update – was on hold for several months but is alive again. Several counties, including Sheboygan, are working on revising their Shoreland Zoning ordinances to reflect the changes in NR115, which are not final yet but are due before the Natural Resources Board early next year.
And one last thing – are you sitting down? As I mentioned above, we’re actually applying for 501(c)(3) tax exempt status with the IRS. This allows people to deduct their dues and donations and should help our funding a lot. It’ll take a few months, but we’ll get it. Then we’ll have resources to get involved in more issues and work on more projects. In the meantime, please send money!
OK, a second last thing – we’re also writing a grant request for funding. We have a professional helping us and in a few weeks we should be ready to submit it. Keep your fingers crossed – our group will realize its full potential soon if we get that money. Our Bylaws and Articles of Incorporation will have to be changed to comply with the new tax exempt status and the grant request. We’ve moved our annual membership meeting to Jan 28, 2012, so that we can finish all the necessary legal work and mail an official notice to our active members of the proposed changes to our Bylaws and Articles of Incorporation. Look for that in mid-January.
So, please mark your calendar for Sat, Jan 28, 2012, and join us at Maywood in Sheboygan for this important meeting. And please return your membership dues in the enclosed reply envelope. Many of our members have fallen behind and haven’t paid their dues for 2011. Please consider “catching up” with a check for both 2011 and 2012.
Jim Te Selle, President