EPA Proposal Fails Great Lakes

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The nation’s inland seas, the Great Lakes, are getting short-changed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as well as the International Joint Commission, and demands are being made to get things right.

The Great Lakes Conservation Coalition is made up of 40 preservation, hunting and fishing organizations with a common goal: ensuring that invasive species are not newly introduced into or further spread throughout the Great Lakes system and St. Lawrence River.

The coalition is blasting the EPA’s latest proposed ballast water rule that would exempt cargo ships that only travel in the Great Lakes from having to treat their ballast water to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species.

In October, the EPA proposed the new ballast water standards, and further denied multiple requests by stakeholders and states to extend the comment period. Last week, the conservation groups said the proposed regulations fail to provide the strong safeguards needed to address the threat that invasive species pose to the Great Lakes.

“Aquatic invasive species are the biggest threat facing the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River biodiversity today,” the groups claim, “and a strong federal program to prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species is urgently needed.”

The trade group for the Great Lakes commercial fleet, the Lake Carriers Association, has long pushed for an exemption from having to treat ballast water to stop the spread of invasive species. The LCA claims their ships are not responsible for invasive species, only the ships coming in from the ocean are the problem. But a study by the Great Waters Research Collaborative at the University of Wisconsin-Superior documented that Great Lakes-only ships were spreading aquatic invasive species from one lake to another.

Among the reasons EPA wants to dump the rule is cost of the technologies that are available which, let be honest, the LCA members don’t want to pay. Moreover, the technologies take up too much room on the ships, they claim.

Perhaps Ebenezer Scrooge said it best - bah humbug!

Invasive species such as zebra and quagga mussels, by one estimate, cost Great Lakes businesses, homeowners and taxpayers big bucks, says Molly Flanagan, Chief Operating Officer of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, a coalition member. “So, when you compare the cost to put technologies on vessels to the cost that invasive species put on all of us, it's really not even a comparison.”

Here’s the bottom line: The governors of the eight Great Lakes states have the option of objecting to the EPA’s ballast water proposal, but must do so in the next two weeks, unless there’s an unlikely extension.

If you’re a dealer in a Great Lakes state, get on your governor to object to the EPA proposal immediately.

A possible answer to high water

Seems like the Great Lakes region, which represents about one-third of annual U.S. recreational boat sales, is always fighting something — on one hand it’s battling invasive species, on the other, it’s combatting high water.

Enter a good idea from New York's two U.S. Senators - Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand — who last week called for faster outflows from Lake Ontario during an International Joint Commission meeting that was discussing whether to grant permission to send more water down the St. Lawrence River and into the Atlantic.

Groups of businesses and lakeshore property owners have been pushing hard for more water to be let out of Lake Ontario now, contending it would reduce the chances of damaging floods next spring that have recently been ravaging all the Great Lakes. Lowering the lake levels seems to make a lot of common sense, but not so fast.

The IJC's engineers said during a public webinar last month that faster flows would not guarantee those results. They said a snowy winter and/or a wet spring might trigger floods regardless of current flows. (But they might not – perhaps that’s to logical!)

The Senators stated to the IJC that they are also concerned about the other four Great Lakes, all of which have water levels well above normal for this time of year. Lake Erie is 25 inches above its long-term average, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. Lake Michigan and Lake Huron were 32 inches above average, and Lake Superior is 11 inches above normal.

Although Lake Ontario was only 3 inches above normal for the first week of December, it’s a no brainer that the water will come down from the other lakes and eventually pour into Lake Ontario.

The IJC's subsidiary, the International Lake-Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board, regulates the amount of water that flows past the Moses-Saunders Dam at Massena, N.Y. at the eastern end of Lake Ontario. When the lake’s water level climbed to more than 20 inches above the historical average earlier this year, businesses and residents were justifiably concerned that they were facing another flood-filled episode.

Action taken by the IJC to boost outflows, combined with some fortunate favorable weather conditions, helped spare the region from a third year of major flooding.

Ironically, the IJC has ordered a three-year study of whether their current water management plan should be modified.

Meanwhile, the water is heading down the Great Lakes.

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