FRESH, February 21, 2023: Proposed Wisconsin State Budget Includes Funding for Oneida Nation Wetlands Restoration

February 21, 2023

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.

— Christian Thorsberg, Interim Fresh Editor

This Week’s Watersheds

  • Oakland County approves millions of dollars of funding for three major water infrastructure projects. 
  • In Iosco County, a nearly $2 million invasive sea lamprey trap is completed on the Au Gres River’s East Branch.
  • As a copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota gains traction with a key partnership, environmentalists worry about the region’s water. 
  • Wisconsin’s state budget proposal includes nearly $1 million in funding for wetlands restoration.

Ice coverage on the Great Lakes has reached an all-time mid-February low

“There have been significant downward trends in lake ice for many years. This year is a continuation of warming winters and declining ice.” — Richard Rood, a climate researcher at the University of Michigan.

According to data from NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, as of February 13, only 7 percent of the five Great Lakes were covered with ice — down from the usual 35-40 percent expected ice cover. 

Per the Washington Post, Lake Erie “has the least amount of ice cover at less than 0.1 percent, compared with a historical average of 70 percent, while Huron has the most ice cover at 10.6 percent.” As reported in Newsweek, all five lakes had warmer air temperatures than average this winter, as the nation experienced its six-warmest January on record (35.2 degrees).

Fresh from the Great Lakes News Collaborative

  • For Ann Arbor water managers, ongoing battle to keep toxic chemicals at bay — Michigan Radio
  • Flint residents still fighting to replace lead pipes, get torn yards fixed — Bridge Michigan
  • Hope springs eternal for Michigan legislator who champions drinking water equity — Great Lakes Now

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.

Oneida Nation Bird and Wetlands Restoration Receives Budget Boost

Last week, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers released the state’s 2023-25 budget proposal, which includes an annual investment of $175,000, over the next five years, for the Oneida Nation’s ongoing bird and wetlands restoration project. 

“Over the past year, the tribe has restored about 3,000 acres of wetlands, grasslands, prairies and forests on the reservation,” the Green Bay Press-Gazette reports. Regional chapters of the Audubon Society have reported sightings of more than 120 bird species and 75,000 total birds — some of whom have been in regional decline. 

The budget also includes $200,000 for the Wild Rice Restoration and Public Education Initiative, conserving manoomin (wild rice), a wetland grass which “helps maintain water quality, and is an integral part of the culture of many tribes located in Wisconsin,” Audubon reports.

In the News

SEA LAMPREY: A permanent sea lamprey trap, constructed jointly by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District and Great Lakes Fishery Commission, has been completed on the East Branch of the Au Gres River in Iosco County, Michigan. The $1.67 million project took more than a year to complete and targets sea lamprey — an invasive, parasitic fish which sucks the blood of native lake trout and salmon, the Huron Daily Tribune reports. Per a press release from USACE, an estimated 4,500 lamprey enter Lake Huron from the Au Gres River per year, and a single lamprey can kill up to 40 pounds of fish annually. 

MEGA-MINE: The Associated Press reports that two mining companies, PolyMet Mining and Teck Resources, have agreed to a partnership with the intention of completing a pair of mining projects near Babbitt, Minnesota. In joining forces, the companies quadruple the amount of mineral reserves that were originally going to be mined in the Duluth Complex, one of the world’s “largest untapped resources of the critical minerals,” the AP reports. The so-called “mega-mine” has been met with pushback from environmentalists, who warn that the mining process will expose Lake Superior watersheds to toxic pollutants. Cook County Community Radio (WTIP) has reported on the legal and grassroots oppositions the companies have already been met with, which are likely to continue in the wake of the merger.

Looking Ahead

OMNIBUS FUNDING IN OAKLAND: The Oakland Press reports that $6.6 million in Congressional funding, part of the 2023 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, will be used to support three major water infrastructure projects in Oakland County, Michigan. In Holly and Groveland Townships, a $1 million sewer extension is planned along Dixie Highway; $1.6 million will be used to replace century-old pipes in Royal Oak Township; and $4 million will be spent on the creation of a “sanitary drain corrective-action” park near Farmington. The park will be able to hold 100 million gallons of overflow in place, temporarily relieving the treatment plant in Detroit to which this wastewater will eventually flow. 

Upcoming Events

February 21-23 — Western Dredging Association 2023 Midwest Chapter Meeting — register

February 22-25 — Society of Canadian Aquatic Sciences, Montreal — register

February 23 — Sanctuary Lecture Series: Continuing Archaeological Research on the Alpena-Amberly Ridge — register

March 1 —  Applications for Great Lakes Bay Watershed Education and Training for Indigenous Communities are due — apply

Other News

  • PFAS PERCEPTIONS: A new poll from Marquette University Law School shows public perceptions of PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” in Wisconsin, where last year lawmakers set new standards for the two most pervasive types.
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