Of all the wonderful tours and information Commissioners received during July and August visits to northern Lake Michigan, Georgian Bay and southern Lake Huron, perhaps the most valuable was the clear message of how treasured the Great Lakes are to residents in these regions. In each community – Traverse City and Petoskey, Michigan, and Collingwood and Goderich, Ontario, the IJC witnessed how committed residents are to protecting and cherishing the freshwater resources that lie at the heart of their physical, emotional, economic and spiritual well-being.
Tribes, local and regional governments, conservation authorities, foundations, conservancies, other nongovernmental organizations and residents are collaborating to design and implement restoration and protection programs based on the specific needs of their waters. Commissioners will use the wealth of information provided by residents, local experts and tribal leaders to assess progress under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. A brief summary of each visit follows; visit ijc.org this fall to view video summaries of public meetings held in each community.
Traverse City, Michigan
On July 24, more than 18 organizations partnered to provide the IJC with a day-long tour highlighting collaborative efforts to protect the Grand Traverse Bay and its tributaries. The tour included the wild and scenic Boardman River, a restoration project at Kids Creek and visits to the Inland Seas Educational Association and farmland protected through a collaboration of land conservancies, tribal nations, nonprofit organizations and federal and state agencies.
More than 300 of the region’s residents attended the evening public meeting to express thoughts about their treasured lakes. Concern for a possible rupture of the Line 5 oil and gas pipelines that cross Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac was mentioned most often by those who spoke at the meeting, as well as the view that they should be shut down as soon as possible to prevent a spill. Other issues raised included the threat of invasive species and specifically Asian carp entering Lake Michigan, the impacts of climate change, preventing water diversions and strengthening the Great Lakes Basin Compact, groundwater extraction by corporations, shoreline erosion, nuclear waste storage near the lakes and the increase in algae growth in the Great Lakes.
In addition, letters from more than 70 residents expressing their deep affection for the Great Lakes were presented to Commissioners (see “Love Letters to the Lakes”), the nongovernmental organization FLOW presented a proposal for an immediate study on the effects of climate change on water quality and quantity to drive regional action, and the local planning committee presented four recommendations for how Canada and the United States can make progress to restore and protect the lakes:
Commissioners also met with tribal leaders and representatives from several Michigan tribes in Petoskey on July 25, hosted by the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. Controlling invasive species − including sea lamprey, and zebra and quagga mussels − was a primary concern, particularly as they relate to ecosystem health and a vibrant fishery, as was the need for uniform ballast water standards and the need to prevent invasive Asian carp from becoming established in the lakes. They identified the Line 5 pipelines as an urgent issue that “will decimate our ability to live our traditional way of life” if ruptured, according to Aaron Payment, tribal chair of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa. Taking action to mitigate climate change was discussed as the highest priority, rather than adaptation and resiliency. Commissioners expressed their desire to develop an ongoing relationship with attendees and other indigenous nations, and received several suggestions for how to continue and expand dialogue with indigenous leadership.
The late afternoon public meeting on August 6 brought together almost 100 people from the Georgian Bay area. Local experts provided presentations on the effects of climate change on the region and Georgian Bay Forever’s efforts to eliminate the invasive Phragmites plant from coastal wetlands and shorelines; regional guidelines and other actions to reduce stormwater runoff and wastewater or septic discharges into Georgian Bay; and the agricultural industry’s efforts through the Thames River Phosphorus Reduction Collaborative and best management practices to reduce phosphorus loads into the bay, Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair.
In small group discussions, participants provided input to Commissioners and IJC staff about the most pressing water quality issues facing Georgian Bay and Lake Huron and how best to address them. Several groups identified educating the community, including children, to help preserve the environment, while others felt coastal zone management is essential to preserve wetlands and contain development. Consistent standards and enforcement are needed for the bay’s wastewater treatment plants and septic systems, participants said, as is better stormwater management and reducing the use of single-use plastics.
After the breakout sessions, residents made statements concerning: the need to develop coastal management plans that reflect the value of the lakes’ wetlands; eliminate combined sewer overflows, test and correct private septic systems, and better enforce fines to industries who discharge into the lake; expand the list of chemicals of mutual concern and increase action to control and eliminate them; eradicate grass carp from Ohio rivers and lakes Erie and Huron, as they can destroy wetlands in short periods of time; connect water quantity with water quality in terms of the impact floods have on wetlands and septic and wastewater treatment systems; create one IJC board to manage flows throughout the Great Lakes; hold public meetings on water quantity; increase Canada’s role in the Great Lakes Basin Compact to prevent further diversions; and ensure adequate funding for conservation authorities.
Several organizations in the Goderich region partnered to organize a day-long program for the IJC’s visit. Commissioners met with local experts and leaders involved in water protection programs for Lake Huron and local tributaries to identify key local issues and potential solutions during a facilitated breakout session. In an afternoon tour, Maitland Valley Conservation Authority staff provided a detailed orientation to Healthy Lake Huron, a partnership between provincial, federal and county governments with five conservation authorities and three public health units to develop an integrated plan to improve water quality along the Lake Huron shoreline. The tour included three stops to illustrate the Garvey Glen Priority Watershed Project, one of six priority watershed projects, and efforts by farmers to develop sustainable practices that will improve soil health, rural stormwater management, and restore flood plains, river valleys and watercourse buffers.
At the evening public meeting, more than 130 people listened to presentations about Lake Huron shoreline protection by the Lake Huron Centre for Coastal Conservation, the Huronview Demonstration Farm’s efforts to develop effective farming practices to ensure soil health and clean water draining into the lake, and the Healthy Lake Huron program. During the question and comment period following the presentations, residents brought up several concerns including the need for additional funding for programs like the ones described in the presentations, the IJC’s ability to provide recommendations about the proposed deep ground repository for nuclear waste in nearby Bruce Peninsula, how individuals can help to control Phragmites and how to expand educational programs about the lakes to foster awareness of the waters’ majesty.
The IJC travels next to Duluth, Minnesota; and Ashland, Wisconsin; as part of its Step In and Speak Out for the Great Lakes series of public meetings and consultations. Look for a summary of those meetings in the October issue of Great Lakes Connection. Everyone’s input will be considered as the IJC prepares its next report on progress under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.
Sally Cole-Misch is the public affairs officer for the IJC’s Great Lakes Regional Office.