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Check out our new look!

After years of wishing, months of planning, and countless hours of work, our new website has finally arrived! We created this new space to be a web resource dedicated to the GLLC, its members, and the coordinated regional action that is the focus of the Caucus’s work.

Much of the site is ready to go, but we regard this space as a work in progress. The members of the GLLC staff are committed to keeping this site populated with timely, useful information for Great Lakes legislators — whether members of the Caucus or not (but we encourage all nonmember legislators to consider enrolling as members).

Please let us know what you think of the new site. And if you have any specific suggestions for information you’d like to see on this site, feel free to drop us a line at gllc@csg.org.

Categories
Annual Meeting Issues Nutrient Pollution Web Meeting

Controlling Nutrient Runoff Focus of Second Virtual Session of GLLC’s 2020 Meeting

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 SantinaWortman 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. 

graph showing severity of algal blooms from 2010 to 2020

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. 

Categories
Annual Meeting Events Issues Members

GLLC Annual Meeting Goes Virtual

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 gllc@csg.org or 920.458.5910 if you have any questions about the virtual meetings or would like to learn about sponsorship opportunities.

Categories
AIS Coastal Communities Information Issues Nutrient Pollution Toxic Substances Water Consumption

GLLC Statement During June 23 GLEC Meeting

I was pleased to be able to make the following statement today on behalf of the GLLC during the semi-annual meeting of the binational Great Lakes Executive Committee (GLEC):

Thank you for holding this online meeting and giving me the chance to report to the GLEC on behalf of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Legislative Caucus, or GLLC. For those who aren’t familiar with the Caucus, it is a binational, nonpartisan organization of state and provincial legislators serving in the Great Lakes region. The Caucus was founded in 2003 by a group of highly engaged state legislators led by the late Michigan Senator Patty Birkholz.

Today’s meeting has covered a lot of ground. The cleanup of Areas of Concern and the economic benefits that result from those investments of federal, state, and local dollars; high lake levels and the impact they’re having on coastal communities; nutrients and chemicals of emerging concern that affect our drinking water resources; and aquatic nuisance species introduced into or spreading throughout the Great Lakes in ballast water or other means – these issues are all of great importance to the leaders and the members of the GLLC.

We know that moving the needle on all the issues discussed today requires a significant investment on the part of the federal governments, municipalities, and state and provincial governments. And that leads me to make two points.

First, the economic impact of the COVID pandemic will no doubt have an impact on our ability to devote the necessary resources to some of the issues that are most important to the Great Lakes community. We’ll need to manage our expectations in the near term and, ideally, coordinate regionally to identify the most critical investments – those that can have the biggest return or are the most protective of public and environmental health. And we’ll need to work together as a community to increase investments again once we’re through this public health and economic crisis.

Second, investments specifically from the states and provinces will be critical to our collective success in addressing the key issues covered today. Because the GLLC is the only Great Lakes organization whose members can pass laws and appropriate funding at the state and provincial level, I encourage the agencies to engage with GLLC members whenever you can.

Whether it’s speaking on one of the Caucus’s virtual meetings or including GLLC members or staff on stakeholder groups or the Great Lakes Advisory Board, it’s important to make sure state and provincial legislators are part of the discussion. If legislators are going to be asked to prioritize funding for Great Lakes projects over other important activities, they need to know what’s being done, why, and how that work will benefit the lakes and the residents, businesses, and industries that depend on them. Thank you.

Categories
Federal Legislation Issues S/P Legislation Web Meeting

Quarterly webinar gives annual overview of federal, state/provincial legislation

Members of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Legislative Caucus got their annual update on federal, state and provincial legislation in a June 5 webinar.

Matthew McKenna, director of the Great Lakes Washington Program at the Northeast-Midwest Institute, provided an overview of recent and pending federal legislation in the U.S. Congress, starting with the reality that “we’re in uncharted territory here with the (COVID-19) pandemic.”

Congress has already committed $2 trillion through four bills (now laws) to myriad forms of pandemic relief, and a fifth bill is pending – the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, approved by the House of Representatives on May 15, just three days after it was introduced.

This bill, H.R. 6800, would direct $500 billion to state governments and $375 billion to local governments in two segments: $250 billion immediately followed in a year after passage by $125 billion.

While the U.S. Senate has not yet taken up H.R. 6800, it is working on America’s Water Infrastructure Act (S.3591) and the Drinking Water Infrastructure Act (S.3590), the former of which includes $375 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for Fiscal Year 2022, and final authorization of the Brandon Road project (along with an improved federal/non-federal partner cost share to 75 percent/25 percent [from 65/35]). Both bills have been reported in the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee.

McKenna also shared a section-by-section analysis of the DWIA along with highlights of the bill.

Also pending in the Senate, he said, is the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act of 2019 (S.2295), which would re-authorize the GLRI for five more years and ramp up funding by $50 million per year to $475 million annually by Fiscal Year 2026. (An identical bill, H.R. 4031, passed the House 373-45 on Feb. 5.)

Moreover, the House’s version of a new surface transportation authorization bill focuses on climate change mitigation and resilience, so may provide additional funds for programs to benefit the Great Lakes, McKenna said.

Attendees got a roundup of recent developments in state and provincial legislatures from the Caucus’ Executive Committee. Illinois Sen. Laura Fine said HB 2650, which became law last July, prioritizes disadvantaged communities for lead pipe removal funding. Minnesota Rep. Jennifer Schultz said the state became the first to ban trichloroethelyne (TCE), an industrial solvent linked to cancer, when SF 4073 was signed into law on May 16.

The webinar included a brief business session.

Caucus Director Lisa Janairo provided a brief business update including cancellation of the Annual Meeting which had been scheduled for Sept. 18-19 in Detroit, renewal of The Joyce Foundation’s grant, and launch of the Caucus’ new website.

Wisconsin Sen. André Jacque reported the Task Force on Nutrient Management in its May 8 conference call discussed ideas for a list of policy priorities to advance in next year’s legislative sessions, while acknowledging the reality that, with the states and provinces grappling with the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, expectations must be tempered for what can be accomplished in 2021.

A summer workshop to continue hands-on education about nutrient pollution will be postponed until 2021, he added.  

Minnesota Sen. Ann Rest reported the Nominating Committee will make arrangements to replace the in-person voting that would have taken place at the Detroit meeting, and that the nominating period will open from June 15 through July 13. The GLLC will elect two officers and 10 members of the Executive Committee to serve two-year terms starting on Jan. 1, 2021.

The Nominating Committee includes Reps. Tim Butler and Jonathan Carroll from Illinois, Sen. Tina Maharath and Rep. John Patterson from Ohio, MNA Gilles Bélanger from Québec, and Sens. Rest and Dave Senjem from Minnesota.

The slidedeck and recording of the web meeting are available.


Categories
Issues Web Meeting

ICYMI: Blue Accounting Web Meeting, April 17

On April 17, 2020, the Great Lakes Commission gave a virtual tour of its Blue Accounting website and the kinds of data available there.

Eric Brown, senior advisor for external relations, gave an overview of the commission’s history and the history of the Blue Accounting effort, followed by in-depth presentations/looks at pages presented by Program Managers Nicole Zacharda, who spotlighted the page on Lake Erie, and Erika Jensen, who spotlighted the page on Aquatic Invasive Species.

CIO Rhonda Wille also discussed how the website was developed, stressing the importance of feedback from legislators who are the site’s primary audience, and asked legislators for ongoing feedback to help the site’s continuing development.

Sen. Janet Bewley of Wisconsin asked if adequate attention is being paid to hydrology and flood prevention or recovery as climate patterns shift. Zacharda said Brown is working on resilience around the Great Lakes region; hydrology is an apt topic for consideration as a better understanding of how water moves through the entire system is needed. The Commission is also working on restoration of natural features, which will ultimately aid flood prevention.

Rep. Michael Sheehy of Ohio asked if it’s true that Great Lakes high and low water levels are cyclical on a 15-year basis. Brown said yes, and that the cycles’ high- and low-water marks are not only becoming more extreme, but the cycles are starting to come faster.

Rep. Tim Butler of Illinois asked how and why the name “Blue Accounting” had been chosen. Brown said the name was developed during branding work done in the project’s early days.

The slidedeck and recording of the web meeting are available.

Categories
Issues Nutrient Pollution Web Meeting

ICYMI: GLLC Web Meeting on Nutrient Pollution

On March 6, 2020, the GLLC’s quarterly web meeting focused on regional efforts to better manage nutrients to keep them out of the Great Lakes and their tributaries. Wisconsin Sen. André Jacque, Chair of the GLLC Task Force on Nutrient Management, began by reporting on the work of the task force, which aims to reduce nutrient runoff into waters of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region and is working on model policies to bring that about. The task force has adopted a resolution and finalized an action plan. He briefly reviewed the plan’s goals.

Danielle Green of the U.S. EPA Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) gave an overview of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and its “Focus Area 3” (Nonpoint Source Nutrient Reduction, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, Lake Erie, and Harmful Algal Blooms). FA3 aims to reduce nutrient loads from farmland, reduce untreated stormwater runoff, improve the effectiveness of nonpoint source control, and refine management efforts. Annually, $35 million is spent on research into HABs, about $17.5 million of which is spent in/on Lake Erie.

Dr. Elizabeth Hinchey Malloy, also of GLNPO, gave an overview of the Great Lakes Water Quality Nutrients Annex, which focuses on reducing phosphorus runoff into Lake Erie. Four states have Domestic Action Plans – Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania – and there is a basin-wide plan for Lake Ontario. Dr. Hinchey Malloy briefly mentioned the Canada-Ontario Lake Erie Action Plan and science priorities for agricultural runoff.

Darren Nichols, Executive Director of the Great Lakes Commission, gave a guest presentation on the Commission’s work and priorities, its visit to Washington, D.C., 2020 priorities, and beta testing for policymakers of Blue Accounting software upgrades (on April 10). March 5 was “Great Lakes Day” on Capitol Hill, visiting with Congressmembers and some Canadian MPs.

The slidedeck and recording of the web meeting are available.

Categories
Events Issues Lead Water Consumption Web Meeting

Action on Lead in Drinking Water

The GLLC’s Task Force on Lead held a web meeting on February 3 to learn about the U.S. EPA’s proposed changes to the Lead and Copper Rule. View the recorded web meeting here.

As part of its action plan for reducing lead in drinking water, the GLLC submitted comments on the proposed revisions. Key points raised in the comment letter were:

  • The federal government will need to increase investment in water infrastructure to help water suppliers upgrade their infrastructure while keeping water rates affordable;
  • Lead services lines should be fully replaced, not partially, in order to protect public health, with an aggressive time frame similar to Michigan’s 20-year period for replacement;
  • Water systems should test the water in all schools and child care centers for lead, with remedial action needed if lead is found in concentrations greater than 5 ppb;
  • Any communication to families or members of the public should be written for lay readers and translated into languages spoken by the affected community;
  • EPA should establish a clearinghouse for receiving standardized reports from states to help researchers document the incidence of lead contamination as well as identify effective strategies for eliminating the hazard.

Categories
Events Web Meeting

ICYMI: Recap of December 13 Web Meeting

The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Legislative Caucus’ 2019 Fourth Quarter web meeting on December 13 included summaries of recent work by the Task Force on Lead and the new Task Force on Nutrients.

The meeting also announced the Caucus’ 2020 annual meeting will be Sept. 18-19 in Detroit, Michigan, at the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel. Early registration for GLLC members will open on June 1, 2020; general registration will open on July 1. Travel scholarships may be available for active Caucus members. The 2021 meeting will be in Québec City, Québec (dates and location to be determined), hosted by the National Assembly of Québec/Assemblée nationale du Québec.

Featured speaker Joel Brammeier, President & CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, discussed the group’s policy initiatives for 2020. Mr. Brammeier shared several ideas for potential actions that members of the GLLC might wish to take in support of the Great Lakes in 2020:

  • Progress on new Asian carp barriers at Brandon Road Lock & Dam: Urge Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker to sign the “design agreement” with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the project, support its federal authorization in the 2020 Water Resources Development Act, pending in Congress, and pass resolutions in their states and provinces supporting the project.
  • Tighter regulation of ballast water in ocean-going vessels entering the Great Lakes system: Comment on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s updated Vessel General Permit when it is published, support funding for the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain Invasive Species Program at $50 million annually, and support Minnesota’s new water quality standards for “lakers” (lake-bound vessels).
  • Continuing action to reduce algae blooms: Hold pollution sources to account for successful implementation of “pollution diet” plans, tie state water conservation programs to water quality outcomes, and pay only for programs showing success.
  • Ensuring access to clean, safe drinking water throughout the region: Support passage in Congress of H.R. 1497, the Water Quality and Job Creation Act.
  • Planning for shoreline erosion: Urge funding of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Coastal Resilience Study, which needs only $1.2 million to begin; the study will identify opportunities for investments in shoreline infrastructure that can be done when lake levels are lower, to prepare for the next high-level cycle.

The next quarterly web meeting will be March 6, 2020, at 9 am Central. The featured topic will be improving nutrient management to better protect the region’s water bodies. Registration will open on February 3.