CSG Midwest
With enactment of the Great Lakes Protection Act in October, Ontario is not only deepening the province’s commitment to the freshwater system, it also is hoping to spur more locally driven projects and initiatives. Glen Murray, the province’s minister of the environment and climate change, says the new law (Bill 66) is needed to help the lakes “withstand the impacts of the changing climate and keep them drinkable, swimmable and fishable for generations to come.”
CSG Midwest
In the decades of battling invasive species and trying to mitigate their economic and ecological impacts, one point has become abundantly clear to Mike Weimer and other fish biologists. “Prevention is by far the most effective strategy,” he told legislators at this fall’s Great Lakes Legislative Caucus meeting in Buffalo, N.Y. So ever since Asian carp appeared to be dangerously close to entering the lakes via the Chicago Area Waterway System, states and the federal government have been pouring millions of dollars into a wide range of prevention plans.
New electric fish barriers have been built. The movement and presence of Asian carp continues to be intensely monitored, in part through cutting-edge eDNA technologies. Commercial fishing operations (hired by the state of Illinois) have removed more than 3 million pounds of Asian carp.
As co-chair of the state-federal Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee, Weimer is helping oversee these and many other prevention strategies. In 2015 alone, he told lawmakers, the committee will fund a total of 43 projects at a cost of $74 million. Its goal: Protect a Great Lakes fishery that has an estimated value of $7 billion.
CSG Midwest
What can $1.7 billion in federal funding do to help restore an invaluable resource in the Midwest? Quite a bit, at least according to a recent federal study outlining the progress made during the first five years of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, or GLRI.
CSG Midwest
Hundreds of miles downstream from the farm fields of Iowa and the municipal water systems of Wisconsin, an enormous toxic “dead zone” continues to plague the Gulf of Mexico. This year, the zone — unable to support aquatic life due to an overgrowth of algae that sucks up all the oxygen — was measured at 6,474 square miles, bigger than some states.
All of the phosphorus and nitrogen pollution that enters the Mississippi River from its headwaters in Minnesota to its mouth in Louisiana contributes to this environmental, and economic, problem.
What is the solution?
Science-based assessments show that in order to eliminate these dead zones, nitrogen and phosphorus entering the Gulf of Mexico needs to be reduced by 45 percent.
“It’s going to take much more than a tweak here and a tweak there,” Iowa Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig says about meeting that goal. But that is the objective that his state has set under its nutrient-reduction strategy, which came from Iowa’s long-standing involvement in the Hypoxia Task Force: a state-federal partnership working to shrink the size of the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone.

On May 27, 2015, the Obama administration issued new regulations that identify the waters and wetlands the federal government can regulate under the Clean Water Act, or CWA.  The regulations are intended to resolve issues raised by several Supreme Court decisions that narrowed the reach of federal jurisdiction under the act. 

CSG Midwest
Across the Great Lakes region this year, bills have been introduced to ban the manufacture and sale of certain products containing plastic microbeads. This legislative trend began last year, in response to a two-year scientific study of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes. Its conclusion: Microbeads (tiny particles that are often too small to be captured by wastewater systems and that are also part of the trash left on beaches) account for the highest count of plastic pollution in the freshwater system.
CSG Midwest
Less than a year after a harmful algal bloom temporarily cut off the city of Toledo’s drinking water supply, Ohio lawmakers have passed groundbreaking legislation to keep pollutants out of Lake Erie. SB 1, signed into law in early April, establishes several new provisions to prevent nutrient runoff.
CSG Midwest
Over the last six years, nearly $2 billion has flowed from Washington, D.C., in support of more than 2,000 Great Lakes-related projects. Much progress has been made under the historic Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, says Todd Ambs of the Healing Our Waters Coalition, but it’s far from a job done.

“It’s really just a down payment,” Ambs says about federal spending to date. “When you’re talking about what needs to be done to restore the Great Lakes, this initiative needs to go on for years.”

President Obama created the program early in his presidency, building on work that had been done by his predecessor, George W. Bush, through the Great Lakes Regional Collaborative. In each of his proposed annual budgets since fiscal year 2010, Obama has included a line item to fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. But will the initiative continue once he leaves office?

In Kansas v. Nebraska and Colorado the Supreme Court agreed with a Special Master in a dispute about water rights involving an interstate compact, that Kansas would receive partial disgorgement (a fine) but not an injunction against Nebraska and accounting procedures would be changed so that Nebraska’s use of imported water would not be count against its compact allocation. Through an interstate compact ratified in 1943, Colorado, Nebraska, and Kansas share the virgin water supply originating in the Republican River Basin. The Court adopted the Master’s recommendation of $1.8 million in disgorgement because Nebraska knowingly failed to comply with the compact by knowingly exposing Kansas to a substantial risk that it would breach the contract and because water is more valuable to farmland in Nebraska than Kansas.

CSG Midwest
In Iowa’s largest city, Des Moines, the local water utility operates the largest nitrate-removal facility in the world. It runs any time nitrates reach levels above the federally mandated limit of 10 milligrams per liter. The cost of operating the facility, Des Moines Water Works says, can be upwards of $7,000 a day. Now, the utility wants some local drainage districts in surrounding rural counties held accountable for the costs associated with treating what it calls “extremely high concentrations of nitrate” in local rivers. (The costs were approximately $900,000 in 2013 due to severe rain events, but less than half that figure in 2014.)