1999 GREAT LAKES WATER QUALITY FORUM
SEPTEMBER 24-26, 1999
LIGHTLY EDITED, VERBATIM TRANSCRIPT
SATURDAY MORNING, SEPTEMBER 25
George Meyer, Secretary, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Thank you very much, Frank. It is really a pleasure and a privilege and an honour to be here today. I clearly would like to welcome all the U.S. and Canadian partners and friends to Milwaukee and the city of Wisconsin to discuss these important issues facing the Great Lakes. Wisconsin is very proud of its water, of its natural resources and is very committed to protecting, enhancing, and restoring our natural environment. Wisconsin, I believe, as a state demonstrates that you can have an environment that is clean and is getting cleaner and still maintain a strong and healthy economy. It's very important for us as a state to be part of the national and international community that is working hard to protect and restore the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes, as Frank mentioned, truly are a national and international treasure. We feel very committed as a state to doing our share to protect and restore the quality of these national and international treasures.
Let me just discuss some of the efforts and build upon those that were mentioned by Frank in his remarks. Wisconsin was in a close race to be the first state to fully adopt provisions of the Great Lakes Initiative and the state of Indiana beat us by a few months because we had a few more bureaucratic hurdles to go through, but basically we, in fact, have adopted, in a very early stage, the Great Lakes Initiative to reduce bioaccumulating toxic substances. Currently, those regulations are pending before the Environmental Protection Agency, but in fact, that doesn't mean that they're not being implemented, because as a state we had adopted the lion's share of those regulations in 1988. They have been largely implemented already in the state of Wisconsin. As you heard yesterday from Administrator Browner, Wisconsin is one of those states, in fact, that has committed to the elimination of mixing zones for these bioaccumulating toxic substances.
One thing I want to point out is that many of us, as we are going through the Great Lakes Initiatives, heard of the major dislocations that are going to take place of businesses in the states affected by the implementation of the Great Lakes Initiative. We have been implementing since 1988. We have not seen those high, and major costs and by emphasis on pollution prevention and waste minimization and reduction, these things have been accomplished in a relatively economic, cost effective manner.
Let just talk about some other major initiatives. We often talk about the point source impacts on the Great Lakes. As many of us understand that air deposition and non-point are major contributors to contamination of the Great Lakes. Wisconsin still has, I believe, the largest and most aggressive non-point program in the country. We spend as a state every year or every biennium close to 36 million dollars a year on non-point reduction. That has, in fact, been increased in the budget that is currently pending before our state legislature. We are going through a re-design of that non-point program right now and the non-design will have performance standards for every agricultural site, for every municipality, and for every industry that has, in fact, an impact in terms of non-point runoff into our waters of the state and nation. We hope to have that in place in the next calendar year.
Frank mentioned the importance of restoration of habitat and species. That is probably the most fun part of the jobs that we have is to see, not just the fact we are protecting the environment and enhancing the environment, but what it's doing in terms of introduction and re-introduction of species. I will just give an examples. Frank mentioned some of them. In this state, the eagles were delisted on the state list before even the federal list. In this state we now have 632 pairs of eagles in the state of Wisconsin. We have petitioned the federal government for the delisting of the eastern timber wolf and, in fact, are going through the process to accomplish that right now. Monday, Secretary Bruce Babbitt will be in Wisconsin to approve our Conger Blue Butterfly Habitat Conservation Plan, which we have been working with industry and local units of governments in the state of Wisconsin. We are in the process of formally taking over our elk herd that has been re-introduced to the state of Wisconsin, and holding public hearings on how we can expand on that. If you read yesterday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, you can see that a study committee for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended that the state of Wisconsin be the site for the northern terminus for the second migratory flock of whooping cranes. I think that many of us that have grown up in this business can remember when we were down to 14 whooping cranes in the U.S. and now we are at the point to being able to establish the second migratory flock. That occurs because of re-establishment of wetlands and water quality that we have all worked for many years.
Those all are mainly terrestrial species, but let me talk about the aquatic species. This state leads the nation in removal of dams from its streams. As we know dams, often cause major water quality problems that contribute to problems on those tributaries, but often on the Great Lakes, and just as importantly block the migration and spawning potential for migratory species including anadromous species. In terms of this very community were in today there is some excellent examples where, in fact, major steps are being taken to remove those dams. Not very far from here, just a few blocks, the North Avenue dam has been removed by a cooperative effort by Mayor Norquist and the city of Milwaukee. For the last few years there has been many, several anadromous fish runs up that stream. Not too far from here on the Menomonee River there has been a drop structure, which had the impact of being a dam, is being removed by Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. They are putting a million dollars into that project and it only took a verbal request about three years ago when I met with the head of that district and ... (tape change) ... the North Avenue dam. Now on North Avenue you can go several times in the spring, summer, and fall and see fly fisherman in the heart of our most urban area. As heartening it is to see those fly fisherman out there with their all their equipment and it is just as heartening to see the young men women out there with their $7 Zebco rods and a bucketful of worms to catch those anadromous fish.
Another major effort that Frank talked about was the Fox River clean-up. The Fox River represents one of the most ambitious clean-up efforts of all the Great Lakes Area of Concern. Eighty thousand pounds of PCBs still remain in the sediments of that river and contributes 70% of the PCBs that are in Lake Michigan. To date the technical work that has been done has been the most intensive and extensive of any of the Areas of Concern. A draft remedial investigation and feasibility study is being prepared by the Department of Natural Resources. We have been authorized and funded by Region 5 of U.S. EPA to prepare it on their behalf. It was released earlier this year and received a public review. We are taking all those comments, the agencies and the citizens of the state to put together a final study. We hope to issue that early next year and then a record of decision which would be issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about following that year. Then we can go beyond the two demonstration projects that are underway, hopefully to a full clean-up of that river. As I mentioned two demonstration projects are underway and we are learning quite a bit, in fact, from those projects. We anticipate any clean-up will take several years. We are dealing with a 39-mile stretch of river and we need to get it accomplished as quickly as we can in the most cost-effective manner. To put it in perspective, the range of costs to clean that up from the RFI draft RIF range from somewhere between $200 million to over a billion dollars. We clearly have to look at cost-effective measures of protecting the environment in this case. Without that we will not have the safe fish and we will not be able to remove fish contaminant advisories based on PCBs from Lake Michigan, Green Bay, and the Fox River for literally scores and scores of years. We need to get that accomplished.
We have looked at how we run our agencies. We all know the body of water Lake Michigan or Lake Superior really depends on what's contributed through its watersheds. We have looked at how we manage our organization in itself. In fact, we have organized ourselves based on watersheds and every one of the watersheds that goes in either the Mississippi River or the two Great Lakes are in fact run by management team of staff, which are made up of fisheries staff, wastewater staff, nonpoint, drinking water, and water regulatory staff. Their job is to holistically look at that watershed and what the problems are and what the opportunities are and then collectively come up with solutions, but not just by themselves. For each one of those basins we created external advisory teams, so we have that community-based input into what are the important environmental issues to be addressed in that basin.
As Frank mentioned, we are very committed to completing our Lakewide Management Plans for both Lake Superior and Michigan and we will have them completed by April 2000 and then we can get on to the important task of implementing those plans.
We talked about many of the things that have been accomplished, but let me emphasize one the areas I think we need to do a lot of work on. In terms of point source discharge, a lot of work has been done and is being done and I am confident we'll accomplish the objectives we have all set out. Non-point efforts need to increase in the basin, in fact, Wisconsin has committed to doing that. As we all know, air deposition plays a very, very critical role in terms of the contamination of both Lake Michigan and Lake Superior and the thousands of inland lakes that we have in this state. As an example, in this state we have about 550 bodies of water that are, in fact, impacted water under 303D of the Clean Water Act, and TMDLs have to be done. 320 of those are caused by mercury-based fish contaminant advisories and there is no point source discharge of mercury to those bodies of water. It's air deposition.
Our agency supports efforts currently in the Wisconsin legislature to reduce mercury emissions from all Wisconsin sources. We have proposed an amendment to a bill, actually, a proposed strengthening of the proposed bill, to require the reduction of mercury emissions from all sources in Wisconsin by 20% in the year 2005, 35% by the year 2010 and 50% by the year 2015. We call on all the states and provinces to seek similar legislation.
We know this has to be done on a national and international level. Let me put that in perspective. We are going forward because obviously, we are closer to those lakes and we know our sources probably have a disproportionate impact on our waters, but we know this is a global issue. Let me just put this in perspective. Every year our sources emit 2½ tons of mercury a year. The U.S. emissions are 100 tons a year and China's emissions are 1,000 tons a year. We will not solve our mercury problems in this city and Wisconsin by ourselves. We are going forward because we know we have to provide the leadership. As with acid rain where Wisconsin became the first state in the country to have a major acid rain reduction program, we know we can't call upon our sister states and provinces and other countries to go forward unless we do. I would call upon this organization and your individual governments to call on both the Canadian and U.S. governments to take the lead on an international level on mercury reduction.
Thank you very much. I had a very brief period of time to discuss some of the programs but clearly we enjoy working with all of you and your governments in dealing with these important programs to protect the Great Lakes. Thank you very much.
Thank you very much, George, for those comments and I particularly would echo the theme of leadership by example. We can't solve the problem on our own here, our two countries and all of our state partners but, if we are going to make progress on a global scale, clearly we do need to lead by example.
It is my pleasure now to bring forth John Mills my friend and colleague and counterpart from Regional Director General of Environment Canada. John will present the Canadian portion of our binational presentation.