FRESH, August 9, 2022: Unmonitored Ag May Account for Majority of Lake Erie Manure Pollution

August 9, 2022

Fresh is a biweekly newsletter from Circle of Blue that unpacks the biggest international, state, and local policy news stories facing the Great Lakes region today. Sign up for Fresh: A Great Lakes Policy Briefing, straight to your inbox, every other Tuesday.

— Laura Gersony, Fresh Editor

This Week’s Watersheds

  • A study finds the culprit behind manure pollution in Lake Erie.
  • PFAS rules take effect in Wisconsin.
  • A new report gives New York a failing grade for its flood risk disclosure laws.
  • Ontario’s new mining minister leans into a plan to boost mining in the region.

Concern over a nearby nuclear facility weighs on one Minnesota Indigenous community.

“Some of the earliest memories I have are of protestors standing in the road, blocking semi-trucks hauling nuclear waste.”

 — Mikhail Childs, Prairie Island Indian Community member.

Living near a nuclear plant has caused long-term stress in Prairie Island Indian Community, reports MPR News. While the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has declared the plant to be safe, tribe members remain worried about their proximity to nuclear waste. Environmental health concerns compelled the tribe to expand the reservation inland in 2019, away from their home on the Mississippi River. Xcel Energy received permits to temporarily store nuclear waste at its Welch, Minnesota, facility in the early 1990s. The waste has remained there because the federal government has not established a permanent long-term storage facility. Despite their concerns over nuclear waste, tribal leaders are celebrating a $46 million grant from Minnesota’s Renewable Development Fund, which will allow them to draft a new clean energy plan based on solar and geothermal energy.

Fresh from the Great Lakes News Collaborative

  • State lawmakers consider taking away local authority to issue gravel mining permits — Michigan Radio
  • Scientists work to understand cause of Great Lakes earthquakes — Great Lakes Now
  • Cancer-causing hexavalent chromium spills from Wixom plant into Huron River — Bridge Michigan

The Great Lakes News Collaborative includes Bridge Michigan; Circle of Blue; Great Lakes Now at Detroit Public Television; and Michigan Radio, Michigan’s NPR News Leader. We work together to produce news and information about the impact of climate change, pollution, and aging infrastructure on the Great Lakes and drinking water. This independent journalism is supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. Find all the work here.

Unmonitored Agricultural Operations Cause Bulk of Lake Erie Manure Pollution

An estimated 60 percent of manure pollution in Lake Erie’s western basin may originate from farms that are not large enough to need a waste-management permit, and whose manure disposal is not tracked, Indiana Public Broadcasting reports. Lake Erie has long suffered from harmful algae blooms, caused by excess nutrients. A new report by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group finds that much of this pollution comes from farms that are too small to require a state permit. In Indiana, those thresholds are: 300 cows, 600 pigs, or 30,000 chickens.

In the News

PFAS: Wisconsin’s drinking water standards for “forever chemicals” took effect this week, WXPR reports. The rules limit PFAS to 70 parts per trillion in drinking water, a higher number than state health officials’ initial recommendation of 20 parts per trillion. The rules also set thresholds for PFAS in surface water and firefighting foam, but not groundwater. The standards will allow Wisconsin to regulate the harmful chemicals while the state’s other attempts at rulemaking are challenged in court. 

RISK DISCLOSURE: Thousands of flood-prone homes sold in New York City last year, writes City Limits, putting homeowners at risk of future damage. On average, previously flooded homes have an annual expected loss of $3,000, according to a new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The report issued New York an F for its risk disclosure law, saying that the law “stacks the deck against buyers.” Under state law, sellers are not required to disclose flood history or risk to potential buyers, and may instead provide a $500 credit to buyers in lieu of providing flood risk information.

Looking Ahead

THE “RING OF FIRE”: Entering office, Ontario’s recently-appointed mines minister George Pirie is emphasizing the importance of mining for the green energy transition, reports Timmins Today. Pirie takes office during a mining exploration boom in Ontario that could potentially fuel a low-carbon economy. Ontario Premier George Ford is pushing plans for development in the remote “Ring of Fire,” a mineral-rich region around James Bay. The plans are controversial for the risks they pose to the region’s massive stores of peat moss, a sensitive carbon sink. Some Indigenous groups also express strong opposition to the projects.

Upcoming Events

  • August 12, 2022: Webinar: Climate Change in the Great Lakes Basin — register
  • August 22-24, 2022: Conference, Aquatic Ecosystems Health and Management Society: “The Ecosystem Approach in the 21st Century: Guiding Science and Management” — register
  • August 25, 2022: Interagency Ecological Restoration Quality Committee Monthly Webinar Series — register
  • August 30, 2022: Webinar: Lake Erie Algae in the Depth of Winter — register
  • October 11-13, 2022: Great Lakes Commission Annual Meeting – register

Other News

  • Minnesota’s Department of Public Safety searches for the source of a petroleum spill into Minneapolis sewers.
  • The EPA raises concerns over the climate impact of a proposed Wisconsin natural gas plant.
  • New York’s cooling assistance program ran out of funding in the weeks leading up to a heat wave.
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