In the news: EPA Releases First-Ever Baseline Study of U.S. Lakes

From the U.S. EPA:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today released its most comprehensive study of the nation’s lakes to date. The draft study, which rated the condition of 56 percent of the lakes in the United States as good and the remainder as fair or poor, marked the first time EPA and its partners used a nationally consistent approach to survey the ecological and water quality of lakes. A total of 1,028 lakes were randomly sampled during 2007 by states, tribes and EPA.

“This survey serves as a first step in evaluating the success of efforts to protect, preserve, and restore the quality of our nation’s lakes,” said Peter Silva, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Water. “Future surveys will be able to track changes in lake water quality over time and advance our understanding of important regional and national patterns in lake water quality.”

The National Lakes Assessment reveals that the remaining lakes are in fair or poor condition. Degraded lakeshore habitat, rated “poor” in 36 percent of lakes, was the most significant of the problems assessed. Removal of trees and shrubs and construction of docks, marinas, homes and other structures along shorelines all contribute to degraded lakeshore habitat.

Nitrogen and phosphorous are found at high levels in 20 percent of lakes. Excess levels of these nutrients contribute to algae blooms, weed growth, reduced water clarity, and other lake problems. EPA is very concerned about the adverse impacts of nutrients on aquatic life, drinking water and recreation. The agency will continue to work with states to address water quality issues through effective nutrient management.

The survey included a comparison to a subset of lakes with wastewater impacts that were sampled in the 1970s. It finds that 75 percent show either improvements or no change in phosphorus levels. This suggests that the nation’s investments in wastewater treatment and other pollution control activities are working despite population increases across the country.

The results of this study describe the target population of the nation’s lakes as a whole and are not applicable to a particular lake. Sampling for the National Rivers and Streams Assessment is underway, and results from this two-year study are expected to be available in 2011.


In the news: Suit on Invasive Carp and Great Lakes

From the New York Times:
Michigan asked the United States Supreme Court on Monday to sever a century-old connection between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River system to prevent Asian carp from invading the lakes and endangering their $7 billion fishery.

The Michigan attorney general, Mike Cox, filed the lawsuit against Illinois, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. They operate the canals and other waterways that link Lake Michigan and the Mississippi system. Read more.


Asian Carp and the Health of the Great Lakes

IISG's Pat Charlebois and John Epifanio discussed Asian carp and the Great Lakes on Champaign-Urbana's NPR station, WILL-AM, this morning on the Focus 580 program. You can listen or download it here.


In the news: Climate change blamed for Great Lakes decline

From the Globe and Mail:
The water levels of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan have been falling steadily compared with those on Lake Erie, and no one knew why.

But a major report financed by the U.S. and Canadian governments suggests an answer: The fingerprints of climate change are starting to be found in the Great Lakes, the world's largest body of fresh water, causing a discernible drop in their levels.

The report, released Tuesday, estimated that Lake Huron and Lake Michigan have fallen about a quarter metre relative to Lake Erie since the early 1960s, with 40 to 74 per cent of the reduction due to recent changes in precipitation patterns and temperatures. Read more.


In the news: salmon spawning in sewage plant

From the Environment Report:
You might not expect much good environmental news to come from sewage plants, but, believe it or not, there is some on occasion. And in one case, (in East Chicago, Indiana) that good news even involves thriving salmon. Listen to the story.


IISG in the news: Your mission, if you choose to accept it ...

From the Herald News:
Anglers and boaters are being asked to do their part to help reduce the Asian carp population by catching and eating them. Their meat is considered a delicacy in Asia.

"People who spend time out on the lakes and rivers are usually the first to spot new species," said Pat Charlebois, an aquatic invasive specialist for the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant in Urbana. "Now that it is almost certain that the carp are beyond the barrier, officials are really counting on their help in reporting any sightings." Read more.


All hands on deck in the fight to stop Asian carp

Now that Asian carp DNA has been detected beyond the electric barrier—a mere seven miles from Lake Michigan—it’s even more important for anglers and boaters to watch out for these species and help reduce their numbers.

These fish pose a considerable risk for the health of Lake Michigan and all the Great Lakes. Both bighead and silver carp, known as Asian carp, feed on plankton which is the base of the aquatic food chain. “They can compete directly with native organisms including mussels, all young fishes and some adult fish,” said Pat Charlebois, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant aquatic invasives specialist.

So far, the fish haven't actually been seen beyond the barrier--only water samples taken from various sites in the Chicago waterways have tested positive for their DNA. And, during the recent deliberate fish kill in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, one Asian carp was found downstream of the barrier site.

“People who spend time out on lakes and rivers are usually the first to spot new species,” said Charlebois. “To know with certainty whether the carp are beyond the barrier, we are really counting on their help in reporting any sightings.”

Asian carp have noteworthy differences from other carp species in terms of appearance. The key to recognizing them is their extremely low set eyes and their scales, which are much smaller than other carp. And while it has been reported that the Asian carp can grow to as much as 60 pounds in Midwest waters, most of these fish are likely to be much smaller than that.

If you think you’ve caught an Asian carp in Chicago area waters, it’s important to report this to Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (847-242-6440), the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (309-968-7531) or the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (317-234-3883). Note the exact location and if possible, freeze the specimen in a sealed plastic bag.

If you are fishing downstream of the barrier where Asian carp are plentiful, you can do your part to reduce their numbers by catching and cooking them. “At this point, we don’t know how the carp got to where they are in the Chicago waterways,” said Charlebois. “There are a number of possibilities. However, we can lessen their desire to move to less crowded areas such as Lake Michigan, by reducing their downstream numbers.”

Because Asian carp are filter feeders, traditional fishing methods don’t work. “In our research we found that the most successful ways to catch Asian carp are by bowfishing, using landing nets to catch jumping carp, which I'm not recommending because of safety concerns, and by snagging using trotlines, jigs or dough balls,” explained Charlebois.

On the plus side, Asian carp meat is tasty, surprisingly, so keep your catch. “They taste like cod,” said Charlebois. “You can cook them a number of different ways and use some great recipes.”

For more information on catching, cleaning and cooking Asian carp, visit www.iiseagrant.org/asiancarp. There, you can also order the Bighead and Silver Carp WATCH card, which provides general characteristics of Asian carp, including both photographs and drawings. For a free copy, contact Susan White. For more information on Asian carp management, visit Asian Carp Management.


Local success stories: unwanted medicine collection programs

At the 2009 Governor's Conference on the Management of the Illinois River System in October, several IISG specialists presented a talk titled Strategies for Sustainable Unwanted Medicine Collection Programs: in Communities, in the Classroom and Beyond as part of a session about community action success stories. The article from the conference proceedings is now available.

In their session, Beth Hinchey Malloy, Great Lakes ecosystem health specialist, and Robin Goettel, associate director for education, discussed the work that has been done related to unwanted medicine collection programs. They highlighted the Sea Grant tool kit—Disposal of Unwanted Medicines: A Resource for Action in Your Community and IISG’s partnership with the Prescription Pill and Drug Disposal Program (P2D2), which is a component of the program’s new education initiative. Coming soon for high school teachers and other educators is The Medicine Chest: A Collection of Safe Disposal Curriculum Activities and Education Resources.


In the news: Redrawing the American City

From the NRDC's onEarth:
On a warm, sunny day in July, I took a ride to the top of the Sears Tower in Chicago. By coincidence, it happened to be just a few days after the city's most distinctive landmark was officially renamed. It's now called the Willis Tower, for a London-based insurance company that acquired the naming rights. I had come to Chicago to contemplate urban sprawl, so the timing seemed symbolic: Sears began to lay plans for the tower in the 1960s and built it in the early 1970s, back when major corporations still saw our historic city centers as the real seats of power. But that would change, and by 1989 Sears was planning to build a sprawling, 786-acre office park some 33 miles northwest of downtown, in a suburb called Hoffman Estates. Read more.


In the news: Killer carp: In hiding or just a big fish tale?

From the Detroit Free Press:
As cleanup and Asian carp-searching efforts continued after a massive poisoning in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal on Thursday, officials said they had found a lone Asian carp among the 200,000 pounds of dead fish.

The bighead carp, nearly 22 inches long, was found just above the lock and dam at Lockport.

That's one of many spots where DNA testing since July has shown the presence of carp.

The find is important because it established that the DNA testing is correct. That same testing has shown that there are carp just below an even more critical lock, the O'Brien lock, 7 miles from Lake Michigan.

A biologist who tested the poison on carp said Thursday that the fact that more carp weren't showing up dead in the canal wasn't surprising, since his tests showed they would sink to the bottom. Read more and watch video.


In the news: Thousands of dead fish scooped from canal in carp-kill effort

From the Chicago Tribune:
Fisheries biologists were combing the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal this afternoon for dead fish as the state eradicates the invasive Asian carp outside Romeoville.

Boaters are scooping the fish off the surface of the water with hand nets and deploying drag nets to collect fish by the thousands. Officials can't say whether any of the tens of thousands of fish believed to have been collected so far are the dreaded Asian carp, a voracious species of fish that biologists are trying to keep out of the Great Lakes. Read more and see photos.


IISG in the news: Spreading word to halt spread of discarded drugs

From a Pentagraph editorial:
Like a pebble dropped in a lake, sending ripples far beyond the starting point, the Prescription Pill and Drug Disposal program started by teachers and students at Pontiac Township High School, continues to spread its impact across the country.

It’s a fitting metaphor for a program designed to protect the safety and quality of our drinking water.

The key message behind the program is that improper disposal of old drugs — flushing them down the toilet or down a drain — can lead to contamination of water supplies. Throwing them in the trash could lead to them falling in the wrong hands.

But, without an active Prescription Pill and Drug Disposal program — the P2D2 program — consumers have few options. Read more.


Public Meeting for Grand Calumet River Clean Up

On Thursday, December 3, 3:00-7:00 pm, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Great Lakes National Program Office will hold an open house to provide the public an opportunity to meet with EPA and Indiana representatives one-on-one about the cleanup of contaminated sediment in a section of the West Branch of the Grand Calumet River.

The first phase of the cleanup will begin in December 2009 and extend from Columbia to Calumet avenues. This is an opportunity to learn what to expect during the project, such as the cleanup process, transportation routes, air monitoring and the location of fencing.

Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and federal trustees are partnering with EPA to restore this neighborhood resource. Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is providing additional support.

This is a Great Lakes Legacy Act project.

The meeting will take place at the Hammond Public Library, 564 State Street.