Ten organizations recently received grant to continue their research in monitoring the Great Lakes coastal wetlands.
The teams monitor all wetland wildlife including birds, fish, bugs, plants, and amphibians around the Great Lakes. The data they collect is evaluated to determine if environmental changes are natural or the result of human activity. It is then used for protection and restoration efforts.
“But up here where we can make sure that we’re not slipping, we’re not letting things accidentally get degraded just cause we’re not watching. This makes sure that we’re watching and making sure that we keep Lake Superior as healthy as it can be,” said Valerie Brady, an aquatic ecologist for University of Minnesota.
The grant money will allow Great Lakes researchers to monitor 1,000 wetlands through 2025.
This web meeting, hosted by the Caucus’s Task Force on Nutrient Management focused on the different approaches state’s in the region are doing to reduce nutrient inflow into the Great Lakes.
Senator Dan Lauwers told us about Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP). A voluntary program initiated in 1998, MEAP recognizes farmers stewardship of their land and helps them adopt cost-effective practices that reduce erosion and runoff into ponds, streams, and rivers. This, in turn, helps farmers comply with state and federal laws. The program begins with the farmers attending an education workshop, then inviting a local MAEAP technician to tour your farm. This is followed by the famer implementing changes or practices recommended by the technician. Then the land is verified as MEAP certified. Farmers are provided with technical assistance and educational programs to achieve verification. Reverification occurs every 5 years.
The state of Michigan contracts with local conservation districts so that the farmer works with local experts to achieve verification. To date there are 5910 farms verified, covering more than a million acres. The program is self-funded through a fertilizer and pesticide fees. While this is totally voluntary, it provides land owners with legislated certainty in case of accidental discharges or if a watershed is declared impaired.
Wisconsin provides $750,000 a year to producer-led groups that focus on nonpoint source pollution abatement activities through the Producer-Led Watershed Protection Grant Program. A minimum of 5 farmers in the same watershed have to collaborate to receive up to $40,000 to advance conservation solutions. Thirty-one projects have been funded since 2016. Dr. Don Niles a veterinarian and dairy producer in one of the densest dairy counties in the nation discussed the producer-led group called Peninsula Pride farms. This group of 46 farmers in Kewaunee and southern Door counties organized as a non-profit organization to improve surface and ground water quality. The group includes 50 percent of the cows and 50 percent of the acreage in the region.
Peninsula Pride provides its members grants to complete additional water quality efforts with funding coming from the state funds as well as donations from agricultural businesses that support the efforts. Members focus on improving soil health, reducing phosphorus loss and minimize surface effluent. In the last two years, this producer-led organization has over 80,000 acres covered by Nutrient Management Plans as well as installed more than 18,000 acres of cover crops.
Angie Becker Kudelka, Assistant Director of Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources provided us information on Minnesota’s mandatory riparian protection law. An initiative of Governor Mark Dayton in 2015, it mandates 50 ft of vegetative buffer along public waters and 16.5 ft on waters of public drainage systems. Local technical assistance and funding was provided to land owners to install the perennial vegetation that protects Minnesota’s waters from surface nutrient pollution. In 75 counties, local officials oversee implementation and the state enforces the law in the remaining counties that decided not to be the enforcing body.
Minnesota also has a voluntary Agriculture Water Quality Certification Program that is similar to Michigan’s, providing financial and technical assistance as well as regulatory certainty to participants. It has over 750,000 acres enrolled by 1049 land owners.
The next webinar, on May 7 will cover programs in Ohio, New York and Ontario.
The web meeting was the second of six planned for 2021; the next meeting will be May 7, again hosted by the Caucus’s Task Force on Nutrient Management, which developed from the inaugural Patricia Birkholz Institute’s focus on that subject.
The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Legislative Caucus’s 2021 web meeting schedule kicked off with a look at political changes in the U.S. federal government wrought by the 2020 election, and their potential impacts on policies and programs that affect the Great Lakes.
Chad Lord, Policy Director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, said the new situation in Washington, D.C. – a new administration, a narrowly Democratic House and an evenly split Senate – and the Biden Administration’s stated priorities, from COVID-19 relief/economic recovery to racial and environmental equity and climate change preparedness, present opportunities for the Great Lakes region.
For example, he emphasized the importance of water infrastructure funding and suggested that GLLC members might be able to persuade their federal counterparts to include in the Biden Administration’s pending infrastructure bill funding specifically for states and municipalities to replace old water pipes and/or extant lead pipes.
Lord said there is an opportunity for doing so now that will close when political concerns take over. Among those, he added, are the Democrats’ narrow House majority, redistricting and the 2022 Congressional elections, continued fallout over the 2020 election and the events of January 6, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
So, he said, the HOW Coalition will continue to press Congress to allocate full funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, as authorized in Congress’s 5-year renewal of the initiative, funding for water infrastructure and clean water protections, including prevention and mitigation of toxic algae blooms.
The Coalition will also keep working to ensure the Brandon Road lock and dam project moves forward to keep Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes, he added.
The web meeting was the first of six planned for 2021; the next meeting will be April 9, hosted by the Caucus’s Task Force on Nutrient Management, which developed from the inaugural Patricia Birkholz Institute’s focus on that subject.
The 2021 Birkholz Institute, which will take place later this fall, will focus on helping coastal communities become more climate resilient. Information about applying to be a Birkholz Institute Fellow will be disseminated during the summer, said Caucus Chair Illinois Rep. Robyn Gabel. The meeting ended on a bittersweet note as Caucus members said farewell to the group’s Director, Lisa Janairo, who is retiring at the end of February.
If you’re visiting the GLLC website for the first time this year, you may notice that the GLLC is sporting a new look: a logo that incorporates the organization’s acronym and, more importantly, an image of the waterbodies that are the focus of the Caucus’s work.
Approved by the Executive Committee in late January, the logo finally makes its debut here and on the GLLC’s Twitter account. We hope you enjoy the new look!
The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Legislative Caucus’s series of quarterly meetings for 2020 closed out with a presentation on aquatic invasive species and ballast water management from Sarah LeSage, who coordinates the Aquatic Invasive Species program in the Water Resources Division of Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.
The Dec. 11 meeting also featured a short business session during which the Caucus’s gavel was symbolically passed from outgoing Chair Indiana Sen. Ed Charbonneau to new Chair Illinois Rep. Robyn Gabel, and with acknowledgements of the Caucus’s Executive Committee former and new members.
Ballast water regulation is complicated and ever evolving, influenced by economic growth and global trade patterns, and the “irreversible harm caused by aquatic invasive species,” LeSage said.
Historically, ballast water has been the main vector for introduction of invasive species – between 55 percent to 70 percent of reported introductions since 1959, LeSage said.
Economic effects of aquatic invasive species include cost of control, lost aesthetic value, decreased property values, and negative impacts to tourism, recreation and fishing, she added.
She provided an overview of U.S. ballast water regulation, particularly the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act of 2018. The law designates the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the lead agency for establishing new ballast water standards (the EPA’s rulemaking page, with comments submitted by state agencies, can be found here). The U.S. Coast Guard will be the lead agency for monitoring, inspecting and enforcing those standards.
The EPA published its draft rules in the Federal Register on Oct. 26, and the subsequent 30-day comment period closed on Nov. 26. Once the final rules are adopted, the Coast Guard will begin developing its corresponding regulations for implementation, compliance and enforcement – a process expected to begin in 2022, LeSage said.
The law, known as VIDA, will pre-empt state authority to have specific ballast water regulations once its standards are final, effective and enforceable, but states will still have authority to enforce federal standards and requirements, and governors can directly petition for more stringent standards/requirements.
Michigan’s ballast water permit (based on 2005 legislation) has, since 2007, required ocean-going vessels to treat ballast water before discharge using one of four approved methods or certify that there was no discharge, LeSage said, adding Minnesota and Wisconsin have similar laws.
LeSage said each Great Lakes state and province has an aquatic invasive species specialist who can serve as a resource to legislators. (A list of specialists is here.)
VIDA also authorized $50 million for a Great Lakes and Lake Champlain Invasive Species program. Congress has not yet appropriated any money for the program, however. (The program was authorized for only five years, LeSage noted.
Thank you, Chair Jackson. It’s my pleasure to give this first report from the GLLC as an official observer of the Great Lakes Commission. Thank you very much for approving Sen. Charbonneau’s request. I’d like to relay his reaction:
I am extremely pleased that the GLC has granted the GLLC “observer” status. I am a firm believer in partnerships and working together on significant issues that affect the 40 million US and Canadian citizens who rely on the Great Lakes in so many ways. I look forward to a great future as a result of this move.Sen. Ed Charbonneau (Indiana), GLLC Chair
This “great future” that Sen. Charbonneau mentions will build on the strong working relationship between the Caucus and the GLC that has developed over the past two years under his leadership. Our two organizations partnered on the Caucus’s inaugural Birkholz Institute in 2019, which focused on nutrient pollution. Nicole Zacharda has been an amazing resource to the institute and to the GLLC’s Task Force on Nutrient Management, which organized following the institute. We’re looking forward to continuing to partner on this activity, and I’m hoping that our interaction will help identify some potentially interested parties for the Conservation Kick initiative.
The Caucus also appreciates the opportunity to serve on the Commission’s Standing Committee on Climate Resilience. I’d like to commend Eric Brown for doing such a great job leading a fairly large and very diverse group to produce what will be an important plan for the commission and also — because the commission is a convener, a collaboration leader — I believe it will be an important plan to guide the actions of other groups like the Caucus. Yesterday, Rep. Robyn Gabel (Illinois), GLLC Vice Chair and Chair-Elect, mentioned that the Caucus had decided to focus the 2021 Birkholz Institute on helping coastal communities to become climate resilient. I hope as we collaborate on the Birkholz Institute, the Caucus will be able to use the plan to zero in on some specific policy issues that require legislative action to advance. This is a great example of how our two organizations can be resources to one another.
Dr. Ralph Grundel made an excellent point earlier today about the U.S. Geological Survey translating data into “actionable intelligence.” Educating legislators about the Great Lakes is major part of the GLLC’s mission. And that’s because, to take coordinated regional action to benefit the Great Lakes, state and provincial legislators must first understand the enormous value the lakes bring to the region’s ecology and economy, as well as the threats that could potentially harm the lakes. We’re partnering with the American Association for the Advancement of Science — specifically, the Center for Evidence in Public Issues, or EPI Center — to put together a virtual workshop for legislators on PFAS contamination of groundwater.
It’s difficult to find subject-matter experts who are able to distill their knowledge — their “terabytes of data” — into nuggets of actionable intelligence that is salient to lawmakers. We’re hoping our collaboration with the AAAS will be just the first of many opportunities to help bridge the gap between science and policy. The Caucus would welcome the opportunity to partner with other agencies and organizations that have this same “grand challenge” that Dr. Grundel described.
I want to give a shoutout to Blue Accounting. Caucus members have high hopes for the platform. We’ve talked about using it to track the GLLC’s progress in implementing policy recommendations — e.g., on nutrient management and lead in drinking water. Also, as Nicole Zacharda and others have heard me say, whenever legislators develop legislation on any topic, a first step is always to look at what other states and provinces are doing. So it would be very helpful for Blue Accounting to present information on the actions the individual states and provinces are taking and the funding they are investing in solving specific problems. This information on policies, programs, and funding from all 10 jurisdictions is useful for identifying areas in common as well as innovative, effective approaches that might be transferable to other jurisdictions. It’s also helpful for identifying areas where our differences could be counterproductive to the shared goal of ensuring that the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River continue to provide a plentiful source of clean, affordable water to the region’s residents, businesses, and industries.
Finally, as Rep. Gabel observed yesterday, she will become GLLC chair in January. The new leadership team will have some overlap with the Commission: Commissioner Jennifer Schultz, State Representative from Minnesota, will become vice chair and Commissioner Carrie Ruud, Senator from Minnesota, will represent the state on the Caucus’s Executive Committee. And, of course, Minnesota Commissioner Sen. Ann Rest will continue to be an important and valued member of the Executive Committee as a past chair of the Caucus.
Congratulations to the commission, to Erika Jensen, and to the rest of the staff for hosting an excellent virtual meeting. I and the leaders of the Caucus look forward to interacting with everyone in person someday soon. Thank you.
LOMBARD, IL — During the final session of its “Virtual” Annual Meeting on October 9, the binational, nonpartisan Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Legislative Caucus (GLLC) took major steps forward by electing new leaders and adopting a policy goal of helping coastal communities become more climate resilient.
Members who met via Zoom elected Illinois Representative Robyn Gabel to lead the Caucus as Chair in 2021-22. Minnesota Representative Jennifer Schultz was elected to the position of Vice Chair.
“I’m honored that my fellow GLLC members selected me to lead the Caucus,” said Representative Gabel. “We have an important mission: to take coordinated regional action to assure that the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River continue to provide a plentiful source of clean, safe, affordable water to the residents, businesses, and industries that depend upon them. I’m excited to have the opportunity to advance this mission over the next two years.”
Outgoing chair Indiana Senator Ed Charbonneau will complete his term on December 31. Of Representative Gabel’s election, Senator Charbonneau said, “What an absolutely fantastic development for the Caucus. The GLLC really has come far as an organization over the past few years. I have no doubt that Representative Gabel’s leadership will take us even farther.”
The Caucus also elected members to serve in 2021-22 on the GLLC Executive Committee. All 10 jurisdictions – Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Ontario, Pennsylvania, Québec, and Wisconsin – are represented on the committee, which directs the GLLC’s activities.
Members also adopted several resolutions calling on state/provincial and national leaders to address topics of concern including emerging contaminants and coal-based tar sealcoats and other polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH)-based pavement sealants, the danger to Lake Superior posed by sulfide-ore copper mining in the St. Louis River watershed, continued (U.S.) federal funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and other topics:
- Creation of a (U.S.) federal rate relief programs for low-income water and wastewater customers, akin to the existing Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) program for energy customers, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Recommending that the U.S. Congress lift the volume cap on private activity bonds as a method of funding water infrastructure projects.
- Calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set a national Maximum Contaminant Level for PFOS and PFOA chemicals in drinking water and to convene a national task force to study their mitigation.
The members also approved a resolution thanking and honoring Senator Charbonneau for his years of service to the Caucus. In 2021-2022, Senator Charbonneau will continue to serve ex officio on the GLLC Executive Committee as a past chair.
The Caucus also chose the focus for the 2021 Patricia Birkholz Institute for Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Policy: helping coastal communities to become more climate resilient. The purpose of the institute is to bring together a select group of GLLC members to examine a single issue and create a plan for region-wide action to address the issue by coordinating on new policies. The institute is named in honor of the GLLC’s founder, the late Senator Patty Birkholz of Michigan.
The focus for the initial, pilot institute was the elimination of lead as a contaminant in drinking water. Members in 2018 adopted a resolution committing the Caucus to “collaborate regionally on policy measures in the Great Lakes states and provinces to reduce lead in drinking water in order to reduce the population’s exposure to and contamination from lead.” Last month, the Caucus’ Task Force on Lead released a Model Policy for state and provincial legislators addressing lead removal and mitigation. The task force will sunset this year, having completed its two-year workplan.
In 2019, the Birkholz Institute focused on nutrient pollution; the Caucus’ Task Force on Nutrient Management, chaired by Wisconsin Senator André Jacque, will continue working in 2021.
The mission of the GLLC is to take the best science-based recommendations from studies and put them into practice in the eight states and two provinces that share the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. Through its mix of programming, advocacy, and other activities, the Caucus provides a forum for the regional exchange of ideas and information on key issues that impact the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. Membership in the nonpartisan caucus is open to all state and provincial legislators in the eight states and two provinces that share the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence basin.
Recordings of, and briefing materials for, all four sessions of the Caucus’s 2020 “Virtual” Annual Meeting can be viewed at https://greatlakeslegislators.org/2020-virtual-meetings/.
The Council of State Governments Midwestern Office supports and provides staffing services for the Caucus, which is funded in part by grants from The Joyce Foundation, the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation, and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. CSG is a nonprofit, nonpartisan association serving all three branches of state government. As part of its services for GLLC members, CSG Midwest maintains a legislative tracker, available at www.greatlakeslegislators.org, that monitors bills being considered in state and provincial capitols.
In most years, on most days, nutrients from the agricultural operations of the Great Lakes region largely stay on the fields. But when heavy rains come, the runoff of phosphorus and other nutrients occurs, as they leave the fields, enter streams, and ultimately reach the lakes.
“The practices that are in place don’t work during those moments [of big storm events],” said Santina Wortman of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes National Program Office during a Sept. 21 meeting of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Legislative Caucus.
The result is a health and environmental problem that continues to vex the region’s policymakers, particularly those representing the western Lake Erie basin: how to get phosphorus loads below targeted levels in order to prevent harmful algal blooms.
That issue was the focus of the second of four virtual sessions being held as part of the GLLC’s 2020 Annual Meeting. Along with hearing from Wortman, lawmakers were briefed by Wisconsin Sen. André Jacque on the GLLC’s new model policies for reducing nutrient pollution. Sen. Jacque serves as chair of the GLLC Task Force on Nutrient Management, which developed the policies.
Wortman spoke to state and provincial legislators about the progress and status of Annex 4 of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the binational commitment between the United States and Canada (last updated in 2012) to restore and protect the waters of the Great Lakes. Annex 4 outlines the two countries’ plans for reducing nutrient pollution.
The two nations have determined that a 40 percent reduction is needed in Lake Erie’s western and central basin, and the state governments of Michigan and Ohio as well as the province of Ontario have committed to that same level. Under that state-province Western Lake Erie Collaborative, the 40 percent reduction is supposed to be met by 2025.
But as Wortman noted in her presentation, progress has been slow, despite new investments and initiatives across the basin. “We haven’t seen any kind of downward trend yet in terms of the [harmful algal] blooms,” she said.
And since 2012, annual phosphorous loading has exceeded targeted levels every year but one — with that single exception being a very dry year that didn’t have the kind of big rain events that lead to nutrient runoff.
According to Wortman, nonpoint source pollution from agricultural operations account for much of the nutrient pollution in western Lake Erie (85 percent in the Maumee River watershed, for example).
To date, the policy response has centered on voluntary, incentive-based initiatives, such as conservation programs funded by the states or U.S. Farm Bill and “4R” projects that help farmers improve their management practices.
The states of Michigan and Minnesota offer voluntary certification programs for agricultural operations that meet certain water quality standards and implement state-approved conservation practices. In return for meeting these criteria, farmers receive recognition and regulatory certainty from the state.
Wisconsin offers grants to groups of agricultural producers that collaborate on new conservation initiatives in a single watershed of the state.
Most recently, Ohio legislators invested $172 million this biennium in a new H2Ohio Initiative, with one of the four main goals being a reduction in phosphorus runoff that comes from the commercial fertilizer and manure on farmland. The state Department of Agriculture is funding projects that change nutrient-management practices in the counties that make up the Maumee River watershed. State incentives will go to farmers that have been certified as having adopted a mix of nine “best practices” in nutrient management — for example, soil testing and the use of cover crops and edge-of-field buffers.
Recent initiatives have also targeted reductions in point-source pollution.
One notable success story, Wortman said, has been the results of facility and operational improvements at the Great Lakes Water Authority, which provides water and sewer services in the Detroit area.
“It has already achieved a 400-metric-ton reduction, which goes a long way toward Michigan’s [overall] 40 percent reduction goal,” she said, adding that, along with these new initiatives, other positive signs include an increased use of science and monitoring to help inform policymakers. But this research also shows that reducing harmful algal blooms and lowering phosphorus loads could take many years due to factors such as “legacy phosphorus” — the buildup of this nutrient from previous years’ applications.
“That is going to take some time to work through the system,” Wortman said. “And in any given year, you have a combination of what was applied this year and what was there from before.”
The GLLC made a reduction in nutrient pollution the focus of its 2019 Patricia Birkholz Institute for Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Policy. Funding for the institute and for the GLLC’s work on nutrient pollution is provided by the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation.
At the Sept. 21 meeting, the Caucus also voted on the focus for the next Birkholz Institute, which will take place in late 2021. Members chose to concentrate on helping communities to become climate resilient.
The meeting was recorded and the slide deck is included in the virtual briefing book for the 2020 Virtual Meetings. The GLLC will continue its Virtual Meeting with two more sessions on October 2 and October 9, both starting at 9 am CDT/10 am EDT. Visit the meeting webpage to learn more about the remaining sessions and to register.
Like so many other meetings these days, the GLLC 2020 Annual Meeting is going virtual. We had an exciting agenda lined up for the in-person meeting planned in Detroit — including some really great off-site activities. With the pandemic, though, we’ll have to postpone those site-based activities until 2022. We can, however, bring high-quality, timely programming to GLLC members and other interested attendees through the wonders of technology. The significant “up” side to going virtual with this programming is that far more GLLC members and other legislators will have a chance to tune in to the sessions than could ever attend in person — especially in an election year!
We have four excellent sessions planned, featuring issues on the GLLC policy agenda and a variety of GLLC business. The full line-up is available here on the GLLC 2020 Virtual Meetings web page. We even have a handy flyer for you to share with colleagues who might be interested. All sessions will take place in Zoom and will start at 9 am CDT/10 am EDT. All sessions are open to anyone who would like to attend (we especially encourage GLLC members and other legislators to attend). And all sessions are free. We do ask attendees to please register here.
Kicking off the first session on September 11 will be Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and Elin Betanzo speaking about the long-term health effects of lead poisoning on the children of Flint, Michigan, and what state and provincial legislators are doing and still can do to eliminate lead in drinking water. The business session will feature a final chair’s report from Indiana Sen. Ed Charbonneau, outgoing GLLC Chair, and a report from the Caucus’s Task Force on Lead about the GLLC’s recommended policies for reducing exposure to lead in drinking water.
The remaining three virtual meetings will continue on September 21, October 2, and October 9. To learn what’s in store, visit the 2020 Virtual Meetings web page or view our flyer. Feel free to share the flyer, too, with colleagues who may be interested.
We thank the Joyce Foundation, the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation, and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation for their generous support of the GLLC’s activities, including the 2020 Virtual Meetings.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 920.458.5910 if you have any questions about the virtual meetings or would like to learn about sponsorship opportunities.