March 2009

As I write this the temperature is 9ยบ in bright sunshine, another Wisconsin winter. But there may be a bright spot to the cold winter – more ice cover on the lakes means less evaporation, and less evaporation means higher lake levels in the spring. The IJC tells us that the evaporation over all five Great Lakes is 116 BILLION gallons, and that’s in one day! So look up, better days may be ahead for our lake.

On to business!

The Compact

As we’ve told you, the Compact was signed into law last fall, and we supported it. Right now the DNR is writing regulations to implement it, and they’ll probably be doing that for the next few years. New Berlin has already applied for Lake Michigan water, and Waukesha is getting ready to. This means some interim regulations will have to be in effect so their applications can be processed, but all seems to be going well. And, Waukesha is actually implementing a water conservation program and it looks pretty good! They’re also evaluating how to get the waste water back to Lake Michigan, which of course is a requirement of the Compact.

We’ve filed a request with our legislature that Wisconsin actively look for businesses that might be attracted to our state because we now have an abundant supply of clean water. The idea is to help our tax base. Don’t forget, parts of the Compact, such as water conservation, pertain to the entire state, not just the Great Lakes’ Basin.

The Lake Michigan Stakeholders Group

As you know the Compact is a very far-reaching law and so requires the DNR to write lots of regulations to enforce it. The Great Lakes Office of the DNR seems to have inherited that function, meaning they have very few resources to devote to Great Lakes Restoration. That leaves other organizations to do it. That’s why we created a group called the Lake Michigan Stakeholders, a group of boots-on-the-ground people to actually do the restoration work. LMS has over 100 members and a steering committee that meets quarterly to set priorities. Your fearless President heads the group. We have no money or staff and precious little support from funding organizations, but we have no shortage of enthusiasm. The group’s task is to develop a plan to actually implement Restoration in Wisconsin – set measurable objectives, prioritize, develop a list of projects with a list of action items, a timetable, cost and benefit analysis, and resource requirements. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Well, it is – but who best to do it but the people who do this sort of work every day.

We’ll keep you posted.


This is the DNR’s shoreland management program which has been on the fire for several years and never quite seems to get going. At the moment it’s being re-written to accommodate the public comments from the last round of hearings. It should go to the Natural Resources Board this spring. There are two key changes for us: first, the 50% maintenance rule has been dropped; and second, the impervious surface rule is now 15% with up to 30% with ‘mitigation’. For those of you who like me can’t handle all these big words, it means that if your lot is 10,000 square feet you can have up to 1,500 of it covered with impervious surfaces, like a house; you can go up to 3,000 if you plant a rain garden or do one of several other things that ‘mitigate’ the effect of the larger surface. The 50% rule said you couldn’t do maintenance on your property in excess of 50% of its assessed value, meaning the cumulative total of all maintenance you’ve ever done. It was unworkable and now it’s gone.

Great Lakes Restoration

Thanks to all the money being spent on stimulus plans, the federal government will only fund $475 million for Great Lakes Restoration this year, actually fiscal 2010 which starts in October. That money is for the entire basin, not just us. This means that local sources of money will have to be used. That’s not as bad as it sounds, there’s a fair amount of money around but we’ll have to work hard to get it. One example is the $105 million settlement made in a case brought against WE Energies in Oak Creek by the Sierra Club and Clean Wisconsin. The settlement requires that the company use the money to fund environmental projects in Wisconsin over the next twenty years. It’s not approved by the PSC yet so my guess is that it’ll be several months before we can even apply for it. Of course there will be lots of people trying to get a piece of it but I think our Lake Michigan Stakeholders’ Group has a better chance than most. There’s some money in the stimulus plan for water projects, such as fixing old and leaky water and sanitary sewer systems, but it’s specifically for those projects and it’s not approved yet anyway. The EPA, NOAA, and the Fish and Wildlife Foundation will also have money and we’ll try and get some of it. A new challenge for us.

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. The first report was due in February but has been postponed to May 1. It will deal with conditions in the St. Clair River, which some suspect is the ‘drain plug’ allowing too much water to flow out of the upper lakes. Don’t look for any magic solutions – thus far the data indicates that the St. Clair River is not the problem. The rest of the study will take another two years because there is very little data on the lakes themselves. For example, we all know how much rain falls on the shore around the lakes, but no-one knows how much falls on the lakes themselves. Three measuring stations are being installed to get rainfall, evaporation, water temperature, winds, currents, and other data, but it’ll take a while. Stay tuned.

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, cost, 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.

The new phosphorus law has been passed by the State Assembly and the Senate, now it awaits Gov. Doyle’s signature. As you know, high phosphorus levels are thought to be the main cause of cladophora in the lakes. The new law is patterned after the one in Dane County. It will ban retail sales of fertilizers containing phosphorus although Milorganite, which is only 2% P, will be allowed. We support it but it has two loopholes we’d like to see fixed: first, it doesn’t apply to farms, and second, it doesn’t apply to new plantings such as a new lawn. Chances of those changes being made are slim, so we’ll take it as is.

As part of the stimulus package, a group called the Coalition For Wisconsin’s Green Economy has been established. Its purpose is to create a list of green projects that are shovel-ready and would create jobs. The list, called the “Blueprint For Wisconsin’s Green Economy”, contains a large number of projects that we think are important to the health of the lakes. The cost will be over $2 billion and will create 30,000 jobs. We think this is an excellent effort and will support it, although we are not directly involved and almost all the money will go to specific projects in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties.

The Governor’s new budget eliminates several jobs that we think are vital to Great Lakes Restoration, especially the River Basin Educators who are part of the UW Extension. Also, the budget continues to leave the Great Lakes Office of the DNR short-handed. Many of us Wisconsin people have long been unhappy with the DNR, but they are still the only state agency capable of pulling off something like Great Lakes Restoration. It seems to be a low priority issue with them, and we will continue to urge them to take more action and responsibility. We’ll also urge the legislature to restore at least some of the River Basin Educators and do something to beef up the DNR’s Office of the Great Lakes.

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
310 West Wisconsin Ave., Suite 950
Milwaukee, WI 53203

Senator Russ Feingold
517 East Wisconsin Avenue, Room 408
Milwaukee, WI 532002-4504

Wisconsin is enacting a Ballast Water clean-up law. As you may have seen on the news, it’s quite strict. Minnesota and Michigan already have such laws and the other states are working on them. They’re doing this because our people in Washington have done nothing to help keep invasive species out of the lakes. Public hearings are being scheduled around the state, and you can call your state Senator or Representative and let them know you support it. Call the Legislative Hot Line, 1-800-362-9472, give them your address, and they’ll give you the names of your legislators and contact info. Call them, state your message briefly and politely , ask for their support, and of course tell them you’re a member of the Wisconsin Great Lakes Coalition.

Wisconsin has a new no-wake boat speed law. Actually it’s not new, it just changes the distance between the boat and shore. Before, any boat traveling within 200 feet of shore had to be moving at a no-wake speed, now the rule is 100 feet. It won’t affect most of us but if you keep your boat in a marina, or moored on a busy lake or waterway, be advised.

Your board is dealing with a professional grant writer to find us money to fund our operations the way we think they should be run. To do our job the way it will best help all of you requires about $90,000 a year. Ordinarily it wouldn’t be hard to find the money but given the economic situation it may take a while. In the meantime, every one of you that pays dues is helping, and we encourage the rest of you to do the same. We are the only citizens’ group on the Great Lakes that’s promoting the welfare of the lakes both economically and environmentally and we need your help.