Unraveling the Mystery of the Great Lakes
Review by Norman Goldman
Many of us know very little about the five Great Lakes other than perhaps being able to name them. As Barbara Spring states in her introduction to her outstanding primer The Dynamic Great Lakes they are “a flowing river of seas left behind by Ice Age glaciers and are nearly twenty percent of the world’s supply of fresh surface water; the world’s greatest freshwater system.” The ecosystem of this great body of water is very complex and unfortunately due to pollution and the fallout of modern industry and agriculture they have gone through a gradual transformation.
One of the unique characteristics of this compact book is that it is written in a language devoid of esoteric explanations. The eight chapters of the book reflect the author’s teaching and journalistic aptitudes in knowing how to unravel the mystery of the Great Lakes and the many painful dangers it has faced and continues to face.
Each of the five Lakes is introduced with a brief synopsis of important elements distinguishing one from the other such as: elevation, length, breadth, average depth, maximum depth, volume, water area, retention time, population and outlet. From this point of departure the author deals with the various changes that have taken place as well as the various major issues affecting the Lakes. There are also brief descriptions of the various animal life found in each of the Lakes and how they have been affected by pollution and the appearance of harmful species, such as the Lamprey Eel.
However, we are also reminded throughout the reading of the book that “people power” can have an effect and if we band together and make our voices heard we could exert influence in reversing some of the harmful trends that have caused ecological disaster. For example we are apprised of the situation that occurred in relation to Lake Erie. In 1969 a tributary river of Lake Erie, the Cayahoga, caught on fire due to being heavily coated with oil and debris. As a result, the Federal Water Quality Administration launched a one and half billion dollar municipal sewage treatment program for the Erie Basin which included the five surrounding states: Michigan, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, and Indiana.
The conclusion of the book most appropriately reminds us that: “we are all challenged to use our knowledge, creativity and common sense to keep the Great Lakes great. Can you think of ways to think globally and act locally?” We are also warned ” life on earth is only possible as long as our limited life support system works.”
June 6, 2015
‘Emergency’ in the Straits of Mackinac (updated)
Wednesday, May 27, 2015 by: David Helwig
The U.S. National Wildlife Federation (NWF) today demanded emergency closure of a 62-year-old oil pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac.
Speaking at a news conference this morning at historic Trinity Episcopal Church on Mackinac Island, NWF National Board Chair Bruce Wallace called on the pipeline’s owner, Calgary-based Enbridge Inc., to stop using it immediately.
Wallace made the demand as an independent panel of scientists and engineers released an expert report concluding that retiring Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline is the only option to prevent a catastrophic oil spill.
Line 5 is the U.S. section of what Enbridge says is the longest petroleum pipeline in the world.
It runs 645 miles from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Ontario.
The pipe is 30 inches in diameter as it crosses Michigan.
At the Straits of Mackinac, it splits into two parallel 20-inch pipes for 4.6 miles under water.
“Line 5 has the capacity to transport up to 540,000 barrels per day of light crude oil, light synthetic crude, and natural gas liquids including propane,” the company says on its website, Enbridge.com.
No leaks in 60 years
Enbridge claims an exemplary safety record in Mackinac.
“Our Line 5 Straits of Mackinac crossing has never experienced a leak in more than 60 years of operation – and we’re working hard to keep it that way,” the company says.
“While the likelihood of a leak in the straits is low, we’re well aware of the environmental sensitivity of the area; we know the consequences would be significant.”
“Line 5 remains in excellent condition, and that’s a testament to Enbridge’s industry-leading operations and monitoring programs – which use both human resources and cutting-edge technology, providing multiple layers of protection and comprehensive leak-detection capabilities.”
A rather different picture was painted today by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), the biggest private conservation nonprofit in the United States, claiming more than six million members and supporters.
“The National Wildlife Federation is unequivocally opposed to the continued use of this pipeline,” Wallace told today’s news conference.
He knows the straits area well.
For decades, Wallace has spent summers at a cabin overlooking Mackinac Island and the Mackinac Bridge – the longest suspension bridge between anchorages in the Western Hemisphere.
2010 spill on Kalamazoo River
After Enbridge’s 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill – the largest inland petroleum spill in U.S. history – NWF started to look for similar pipelines in the Great Lakes watershed.
Two years later, the group began to draw attention to the twin Enbridge pipes at the picturesque Straits of Mackinac.
Unable to access Enbridge’s inspection reports, the group commissioned divers to conduct an independent inspection in 2013.
It found broken supports and unidentified debris covering pipes that Wallace described as looking “old and worn and at risk.”
The oscillating water flow in the straits pushes water between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron on an alternating basis with a force greater than all the water that goes over Niagara Falls, Wallace said today.
“If a spill occurs, it’s going to have devastating effects far beyond the straits themselves.”
Wallace pointed out that it took Enbridge more than 20 hours to respond to its tragic Kalamazoo spill.
“Who knows how they’d respond here?” he asked. “Who knows how they could even respond if this occurs in the wintertime.”
‘Got to get the oil out from under the straits now’
“We don’t see, in any of the evidence that we’ve reviewed, convincing reassurance that a spill or rupture or leak might not occur this week or this month or within this next year.”
“We can’t afford to keep talking about it while the product still flows. That’s got to stop. Then we can talk. But we’ve got to get the oil out from under the straits now. This is an emergency and that’s the action we demand,” Wallace said.
Liz Kirkwood, executive director of Traverse City-based For Love of Water (FLOW), said that the engineers and hazardous materials risk management specialists retained by her group determined that Enbridge’s underwater pipeline is archaic with no end-of-life plan.
“These pipelines rely on 1950s technology. The protective coatings they use are obsolete and the welds that connect each 40-foot segment are outdated,” Kirkwood said.
“Six decades of powerful currents and shifting sands at the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac have caused friction that has accelerated pipeline wear.”
Zebra mussel waste corrodes exposed steel
“The pipelines were constructed prior to the zebra mussel invasion of the Great Lakes and were not designed to withstand their corrosive impact.”
Zebra mussels excrete an acidic waste that corrodes exposed steel, Kirkwood said.
The Mackinac pipeline is protected by a coal-tar enamel that has failed in other locations, including Enbridge’s Line 2 in Odessa, Saskathchewan.
Line 2 was built in 1953, the same year that Line 5 was completed.
“Welds from 1953 are simply deficient both technically and due to deterioration over time,” Kirkwood said.
“Of the Enbridge pipeline spills reported from 2002 to 2010, 16 pipeline spills were caused either by weld failures or from the failure of coal tar enamel coating similar to the coating used on Line 5 through the straits.”
Missing structural supports
The State of Michigan required Enbridge to install structural supports along the pipeline at least every 75 feet to prevent it from grinding along the straits bottom and from bending or breaking at weld points, Kirkwood said.
She accused Enbridge of failing to install as many as 65 of the needed supports.
Kirkwood said that Enbridge’s 1953 pipeline easement grants the State of Michigan authority to regulate the Mackinac pipes.
“We at FLOW insist that the state undertake a careful review, conduct a transparent process, and consider as paramount the public’s interest in the Great Lakes,” Kirkwood said.
Until then, FLOW maintains the pipeline should not be used.
Gary Street, former director of engineering, at Dow Environmental – AWD Technologies, said that the weight of millions of zebra mussels has added stress to the pipeline that it was not designed to handle.
Mussels also prevent proper inspection of a pipe’s condition.
Worst possible place for an environmental disaster on the Great Lakes
Street is doubtful that Enbridge can quickly detect any pipeline leak and quickly activate shutoff valves in Mackinaw City and St. Ignace.
Even so, he says, each of the twin pipes contains 325,000 gallons of petroleum product.
“Where’s it going to go? It’s going to go into the straits.”
“We think the pipelines are a disaster waiting to happen,” Street said, citing a University of Michigan study that found the Straits of Mackinac are the worst possible place for an environmental disaster on the Great Lakes.
Also participating in today’s news conference was David Holtz, chair of the Sierra Club’s Michigan chapter.
The news conference took place as top Michigan political and business leaders are gathered at the annual Mackinac Island Policy Conference, and anti-Enbridge protesters disrupted a speech by Governor Rick Snyder.
Chris Shepler weighs in
In an article published in this week’s edition of Crain’s Detroit Business, Chris Shepler of Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry called for the leaders to retire or decommission the aging pipeline.
Offered an opportunity to respond to today’s news conference, Michael Barnes, senior manager for operations and project communications at Enbridge’s Houston, Texas office, sent us the following: “At this time, we have not seen the report. Once we obtain a copy, we will carefully review it. Enbridge will continue to work openly with the government of Michigan on the safe and reliable operation of Line 5 and all of our pipelines in Michigan.”
(PHOTO: Still from 2013 National Wildlife Federation video of Enbridge Inc.’s Line 5 pipeline under the environmentally sensitive Straits of Mackinac. Broken supports are visible.)
May 31, 2015
Originally posted on The Dynamic Great Lakes Blog:
In a climax forest on a dune near Lake Michigan, the cry of wood ducks rings through the air. It sounds like a squeaky wheel. Look up. Wood ducks nest in the holes of trees. When it is time for their young to leave the nest, they leap into the air and land on the ground. I drew this picture of a wood duck about to leap. From the ground, they follow their mother to water. They are the most colorful ducks found in the Great Lakes region.
May 29, 2015
Click the link to view Revolution http://ykr.be/hn62dkp6v
Film Review of Revolution
By Barbara Spring author of The Dynamic Great Lakes
As a young man who loves the oceans, and Earth’s living things, Rob Stewart has produced an award winning documentary film to show us what is being destroyed by the hand of man. The film is personal and heartfelt. It is eye opening and needs to be seen.
The photography is beautiful and shows coral reefs, tropical rain forests (the lemurs in Madagascar are especially enchanting) and just when I was entranced by all the beauty, the film shows the devastation of coral reefs caused by global warming and the effects of too much CO2 in the air; how the rain forests in Madagascar are being cleared due to human population growth and the need for more housing so the rare animals are losing their habitats.
Shocking film of the tar sands operations in Canada show how the forests are being burned and toxic wastes released into the air, earth and water. As a Canadian Stewart takes this personally
He shows some very basic ideas: how phytoplankton in the oceans produce the oxygen we all need and the loss of phytoplankton through the acidification of the oceans.
The documentary makes the point that corporations which profit immensely from polluting the Earth and governments that should be regulating these operations cannot be counted on to change: it is up to us. It is up to us as citizens to educate our communities.
Youth has the most at stake. A sixth grade teacher in the Orient taught her students about finning sharks, the practice of removing shark fins for soup.They worked to get this practice changed. (I know grass root changes such as this can work since I have worked on the ban of DDT where I live. Eventually DDT was banned in the U.S. and Canada.)
Stewart encourages us to work together to get corporations and government bodies to make changes. The problems are world wide and we are all in this together. He admits that in making the film he flew to many areas burning CO2 as flew in jets.
The film’s sound could have been better—I missed a few spoken words here and there—but it is a powerful film. I hope Stewart will continue in this important work.
May 22, 2015
There is a threat near the tip of the mitten where Great Lakes waters flow under the Mackinac Bridge: An oil spill there is an accident waiting to happen. The Huffington Post explains. Follow the link below.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/22/michigan-enbridge-pipeline_n_7308734.html Here is a revealing story about the threat to the Great Lakes system: oil.
May 14, 2015
The distance from Beaver Island to Mackinac Island is 50 miles. Water pours through the Straits of Mackinac like wine from a bottle.
According to Native American legend, Mackinac Island was formed by a giant turtle. Storytellers long ago said that when the world was very young and all the living creatures were wandering over its surface looking for the best place to live, a large number of turtles came to the marshy southern shore of Lake Erie. Most of the turtles liked the spot so well they settled there. But the leader of the band, a huge turtle, was lured northward from Lake Erie by strange lights he had seen moving across the distant horizon. He could not persuade the other turtles to go with him so he made the journey alone.
When he reached a point of land that partly divided Lake Michigan from Lake Huron, he could go no further because the winds were cold and ice began to form around him. Finally he could go no further and an icy barrier froze him into place, a little black spot on a waste of frozen water. When the spring returned and the ice melted, the shell of the huge turtle remained fastened in place by a tall reed. As the years passed the turtle grew into an island which the Indians named Michilimackinac which means “the great turtle.” The island has always been an important place for Native Americans who told many stories about it.
Today no cars are allowed on the island. There are horse drawn taxis and lots of bicycles. And on New Years Eve people on the Island celebrate with a Turtle Drop.
April 29, 2015
April 20, 2015
After a very cold winter, only three wolves survived on Isle Royale, but the Moose population has soared.
Click the link below for more information
April 9, 2015
March 20, 2015
The birds have returned and and some are starting to build nests even though there is still ice on Lake Michigan. Pictured is an oriole I painted in watercolor.
Read about ice on the Great Lakes in The Dynamic Great Lakes. This non-fiction book is available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com and many other places.
On the shoreline of Grand Haven Michigan, the ice on Lake Michigan is retreating and people are drawn to the spectacle. But it’s dangerous to walk out on this ice. Sometimes people fall through and the water is very cold. Sometimes dogs get stranded on ice floes and it’s difficult to rescue them.