I’m writing this from the front porch of our cottage. There’s a pleasant breeze from the south but the lake is calm, not even breakers at first. I took a little walk on the beach and found that most of the zebra mussel shells that were there last week have been washed away, to be replaced by quagga mussels. No dead alewives lately, but in July we had a ton of them about 4 inches long, small for that time of the year. Not much cladophora today, probably because it’s fall but I really don’t know why. I saw two flocks of cormorants today, about 50 birds in each. I’d never seen a cormorant here until just a few years ago. As I write there’s dozens of seagulls standing in a line along the edge of the water, as though they’re waiting to be fed. Their population is ‘way up. If I walk along the beach towards them they lift off into the air, skim the waves in a half-circle that takes them behind me, and then line up all over again. The sand where they’ve been sitting is covered with droppings, which are full of e.coli. Dr. McLellan, our speaker at last year’s membership meeting, says it takes 660 Canada geese to equal the e.coli output of one gull. And I thought the geese were bad! Frightening.
Obviously something is changing in “our” lake. Unfortunately not enough is known yet by the scientific community, but fortunately the lakes are getting a lot of attention. Lots of information is out there, but there’s no central data base or library so a researcher in one university might be working on the same thing another one in another school is, but neither of them knows. Progress is slow. The bill introduced in Congress, $20 billion for Great Lakes Restoration (H.R.5100 in the House, S.2545 in the Senate), will probably not even be sent to committee before next year because of the elections. And, the Bush administration is backing off on their directive to restore the lakes, probably too much money going to Iraq. We’re not concerned about that for the moment since our plan isn’t ready and even if it were we couldn’t spend all that money next year anyway. A few smaller bills have been funded lately, and there’s still unspent money out there from other projects, so there is some money available. If it looks like Washington is going to procrastinate beyond next year, we’ll be asking you to send letters to our congressional delegation. Speaking of which, neither one of our U.S. senators is co-sponsoring this $20 billion bill, but all our Congressmen are except Mr. Obey. The bill was written by Sen. Levin of Michigan and Sen. DeWine of Ohio, anybody want to guess where most of that money will wind up? That’s why we try so hard to keep up with what’s going on and make our voices heard.
What’s Going On Around Wisconsin
It’s been a mostly quiet summer from the standpoint of visible actions or results from the DNR, EPA, etc., but what you can’t see because our media does not report it is that a lot of organization and planning activities have begun. States are beginning to talk to each other and some of the better and more influential environmental groups, like the Sierra Club and Clean Wisconsin are getting involved. All this needs to be coordinated of course and as you know, we don’t think anyone is steering this ship. But we’re not alone in that anymore, there are more groups rallying to the cause, and that’s good.
There are several things in Wisconsin that you should be aware of:
NR115 – Wisconsin’s Shoreland Management regulations
There was so much public reaction to the DNR’s proposals last year that a large re-write is under way. Over 12,000 comments were received from the public, and believe me, it got the DNR’s attention. The major concerns are enforcement, which is the responsibility of the counties, and impervious surfaces. I’m not informed on what the enforcement issue is, but I can speak about the other. The proposed regulation says that no more than 20% of a lakeshore property can be covered with impervious surfaces like your roof, deck, sheds, walks, and parking areas. This includes gravel surfaces but not sand. If you have more you’ll probably be grandfathered, but if you don’t and you want to put on an addition that would put you over, you won’t be able to do it. If you want to pave or even put gravel on a sand or grass surface, you may not be able to.
The Ordinary High Water Mark (OHWM) continues to be a concern to us. Remember that it was designed to establish a benchmark on inland waters, not the Great Lakes, for finding the set-back limit for building, additions, etc. You may also remember that the Glass case in Michigan used the Wisconsin definition of OHWM to determine exactly where on the beach the public could walk. We don’t think the public using the is an issue here, but we do think that defining the limits of the property we own and pay taxes on and carry liability insurance on should be recognizable to anyone without having to hire a surveyor is. We understand that you can’t drive a stake in the sand as is done on inland waters, and so the mark will have to be based on something else, like an elevation. One of the Michigan Supreme Court justices (one of the two dissenters) thought it should be where the sand was wet from wave action, that might have some possibilities. In any case, this will be an issue at the next series of public meetings if it hasn’t been resolved by then. The re-write is due this spring, public hearings will be held in June-July. We’ll let you know. We need your input too.
Not a pretty story. As of yet, there’s no solution to the problem. Researchers think that three things are causing it; 1 – zebra and quagga mussels making the water clearer so light penetrates to greater depths; 2 – higher phosphorus content in the water, some of it maybe caused by the mussels; and 3 – higher water temperatures: depending on who you listen to, the water temperatures have increased by as much as 5 degrees F. We also think that lower water levels allow more light penetration and also brings the rocks on which the stuff grows closer to the shoreline, or I guess brings the shoreline closer to the rocks. Not all the lakes have the problem – areas with few rocks, like the east side of Lake Michigan, don’t have much of it.
To those of you who want to rake it up and bury it, a word of caution – you need a DNR permit that costs $500. We‘re getting that changed, but since it’s a state law, we have to go to the legislature. I think we’ll be successful, but until then, don’t any of you go running out there with your rake and shovel and get in trouble!
Areas Of Concern (AOC) are areas around the lakes that are so badly polluted that special projects have been created to clean them up. That was in the 70s, and of the original 43 areas, only 2 have been officially cleared. But, the Sheboygan River AOC is being worked on as we speak – in fact, there’s a public viewing area in Sheboygan Falls where you can actually watch. Credit for this effort goes to several local groups who made enough noise that something actually got done – Sheboygan River Basin Partnership especially. Our friends at the DNR were very helpful too. See? Not all the news we have for you is bad.
NR243 – Manure Management regulations
We can’t take credit for this but it gets our support – the DNR, the Dept. of Agriculture, and the dairy industry have put together a set of regulations that ultimately will control manure runoffs into streams and lakes. It’s not final yet but we expect it will be in effect by this winter. As you know non-point and shoreland runoffs are the biggest polluters of the lakes, so we think this is major progress. We’ll send you more news as we get it. This is an example of the good things that are happening, but our media does not keep us informed.
Great Lakes Caucus
As we reported in our last newsletter, this caucus has been formed at our request in our state legislature. Credit and thanks go to Senator Joe Leibham, 9th Senate district, who told me he’d do it and by golly, he did it. This is big – it gives us, the property owners, a direct and very visible line of communication to the legislators who must eventually vote on all these things. It’s using our position as private citizens and advocates to ensure that legislators know what we think, not what some group or agency tells them we think. It’s also bi-partisan, and in our first meeting there was no squabbling or bickering, the entire group seemed interested and anxious to help. The first meeting was in May, the next will be after the November elections.
What’s Going On Around the Lakes
Great Lakes Charter (the Compact)
Remember that Waukesha wants Lake Michigan water and so does New Berlin, plus probably a lot more cities and towns than we’d care to know. It’s in the review process so that each state can pass legislation implementing it, then Congress has to do the same. A state group called the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters (WLCV) is lobbying our state legislature to pass the laws needed, and they seem to be doing a pretty good job. Stay tuned.
Great Lakes Clean Water Agreement (GLCWA)
As we’ve said in other newsletters, this is the agreement that covers pollution etc. in the lakes. Last spring review groups were established by the EPA with the intent of recommending changes. The agreement was written in 1972 and has been revised three times since then. But it hasn’t kept pace with all the creative ways we find to damage our lakes, hence another review. Your president is on one of those committees, and our draft recommendation will be done next month. I won’t bore you with all the details, but we were successful in getting a statement about controlling aquatic invasive species into the document, but couldn’t quite pull off an enforcement clause. Next steps – draft recommendations submitted, then EPA re-write and review, then public hearings, then IJC review, then off to Congress. Makes you tired just reading about it, doesn’t it? But this is the way our government works, and they ain’t about to change anytime soon. We need to learn to adapt, and we’ll get what we want.
The IJC wants to rewrite the agreement completely and put it in the form of a treaty. They also want some teeth in it. A treaty would require the President’s and Prime Minister’s signatures and it would become legally binding on both countries – right now there is no enforcement mechanism. We agree with the IJC: of all the federal agencies we’ve run into they have the most lake-friendly approach.
Upper Lakes Plan of Study
This is the study to be done by the Corps of Engineers to determine if they should change the way they control water levels in Lakes Superior and Michigan/Huron. It will also study what impact on water levels, if any, there’s been by dredging in the St. Clair River. The study was recently funded and work teams are being set up on both sides of the border. We’ve asked to be included on the Citizens’ Advisory Committee when it’s set up. Our friends at the IGLC in Michigan are closer to this than we are, since they have a very good contact at the IJC, so we plan to work with them. Our objective here, which follows the results of the survey we did last year, is to see the extreme highs and lows controlled by whatever means the Corps thinks feasible, so we avoid lake levels like we had in 1986 or 1964. Absolute control is too big a stretch, but if the extremes are controlled, we’ll be happy campers.
The Asian Carp Barrier
The feds have finally funded a second barrier in the Chicago Ship Canal to prevent the Asian Carp from getting into the lakes. If you saw the excellent series of articles in the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel this month you got a very good explanation of the problem. We will now have two barriers, the electric type that the DNR used to use for lamprey eel control. This is good news but more needs to be done: there’s funding to operate the system for only one year, and there’s no stand-by electricity source in case of a power outage. All the more reason why our group needs to be aware of these issues and helping to get things done.
Coast Guard Live-Fire Exercises
The Coast Guard has just issued a proposal to use 34 areas around the lakes as live-fire target ranges. Five of these ranges are along the Wisconsin shore of Lake Michigan. While they would be several miles from shore, they could still affect some salmon fishermen and boating. The Coast Guard proposes to close these areas to the public during those times they’d practice, and they would notify us of these closings via marine-band radio. Many of us, myself included, don’t have a marine-band radio. I for one don’t like the sound of this at all, it restricts our use of the lake, it creates a safety hazard, and it dumps who knows how many tons of lead into our drinking water. Maybe we need to be protected from Canada? We’ll keep you posted.
These last two items are appropriate subjects for you to send a letter to your federal legislatures, state too. We have some powerful allies in this, like the Sierra Club, but nothing gets a congressman’s ear better than an irate taxpayer and voter.
Last But Not Least
We’ve talked to several groups up and down the lakeshore this year. The focus of these talks is similar to the format of this newsletter, and our purpose is to make sure we all understand what’s going on and can make sure our legislators know what we think. If you have a group who’d like to see our presentation, let us know.
And please send money! In round numbers, every mailing we send out costs us a dollar and we have over 7,500 addresses on our mailing list. We try to send out four newsletters a year but of necessity they don’t go to all 7,500 addresses, which means the majority of us shoreline property owners won’t know what’s happening that might affect them. Trips to meetings or events also cost money. We are not paid and take no money from any publicly-funded source, and we’re not a 501(c)3 corporation; that makes it hard for us to get large donations. We depend on our members, so we need you! Included with this newsletter is the announcement of our upcoming annual membership meeting. Please use the tear-off form and return envelope to send us your check. $35 buys you one year’s membership but if you have any extra cash laying around, we’ll take that too.
OK, Now It’s The Last
We’re including here a list of all the Wisconsin State Senators and Representatives who are members of our Great Lakes Caucus. We’re also giving you names and e-mails and phone numbers of our US legislators too. It’s a separate piece of paper from this one so when you throw this away you’ll still have the list. I usually file things strategically, meaning they’re gone forever – please don’t do that with this list. Use it. With elections coming up, Madison and Washington should hear from us!
Jim TeSelle, President