Water: Protecting the Great Lakes


Bruce Hinkforth, bhinkforth@milwpc.com
Linda Cree, creelinda@hotmail.com

Tom Mair, traversegreen@yahoo.com
LuAnne Kozma, luannekozma@gmail.com

SUBJECT: Protecting the Great Lakes

BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: The first Europeans to see the Great Lakes were astonished at the size and pristine quality of these bodies of fresh water which the French called “sweet seas.” The Great Lakes contain 90% of the surface fresh water on the North American continent and provide drinking water to around 40 million people in the Great Lakes Basin. It is critical that our nation afford these lakes the protection they deserve. Unfortunately, commercial uses have often trumped ecological wisdom and have led to preventable degradation of these “sweet seas” that should never have been tolerated. At this point in time, virtually all of the Great Lakes have fish consumption advisories for one or more toxic pollutants, suffer beach closures due to sewage contamination, have decimated fisheries, and are under growing threats from invasive species! It’s long past time to enact strong protective measures. Therefore, PlatCom submits the following proposed amendment to the GP-US Platform.

PROPOSAL: Add the following paragraph on protecting the Great Lakes to the section on water under Ecological Sustainability as #10 as shown below.

Chapter III: Ecological Sustainability
H. Water

Water is essential to all forms of life. The Green Party calls for an international declaration that water belongs to the Earth and all of its species. Water is a basic human right! . . . etc.

1. We need strong national and international laws to promote conservation . . . etc.
2. Greens oppose the privatization of water . . . etc.
3. Decisions about water must be based on an ecosystems . . . etc.
4. Conservation must be an essential part . . . etc.
5. Set health and sustainability water quality guidelines . . . etc.
6. Achieve a truly sustainable water policy . . . etc.
7. Oppose the disproportional political influences. . . etc.
8. Integrate land use with water use . . . etc.
9. Ensure that municipal water and water systems are . . . [currently being put forth in another proposal]

10. It is imperative that we protect the waters and shorelines of the Great Lakes, and Greens strongly urge the following actions:

  1. Allocate funds to help upgrade and phase out aging municipal sewage systems and treatment plants, have mandatory inspections, and allow for composting and greywater system alternatives to septic systems.
  2. Prohibit municipalities from dumping sewage into the Great Lakes with a “zero discharge” mandate.
  3. Set clear and enforceable deadlines and standards for reducing nutrient runoff from agricultural lands.
  4. Devise and implement a plan to stop the release of flame retardants and other toxins into the Great Lakes without further delay.
  5. Immediately decommission and shut down the aging Enbridge Line 5 oil and gas pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac as it poses an unacceptable risk to the waters of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.
  6. Prevent the opening of a new sulfide mining district in northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s western Upper Peninsula to protect the waters of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior from the inevitable pollution that would be caused by acid mine drainage from such mining.
  7. Require ocean-going freighters to filter or treat their ballast water to meet high environmentally protective standards.
  8. Close the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal to prevent Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes.
  9. Stop the dumping of toxins by petroleum refineries into the Great Lakes by making it unlawful. Such dumping is currently allowed and administered by the EPA through the purchase of permits or licenses.
  10. Have the Federal government buy and protect more undeveloped areas of Great Lakes coastlines by designating them as National Lakeshores.
  11. Encourage the planting of buffer strips of vegetation to act as natural filters of toxins and contaminants, prevent erosion, and provide species habitat between waterways and developed land.








16 thoughts on “Water: Protecting the Great Lakes”

  1. The only concern has to do with the failure of the proposed amendment to mention the need of a collaboration with a foreign government, that of Canada, to achieve the ecological goals. The political aspect is thus glaringly absent. And should repaired. It involves treaty rights with a another country.

    1. Good point, Elie. Although we currently work with Canada in various ways on these issues, some of the plank’s goals do need more formallized international cooperation. We could add:

      12. Create a treaty with Canada to further the ecological goals set forth above.

      1. Linda and Elie,
        There already exists a treaty with Canada concerning the Great Lakes and an organization to implement it, the International Joint Commission (IJC) <http://www.ijc.org/en_/>.

        Perhaps we could add to the amendment something to the effect of “greater cooperation with the IJC.”

  2. “Close the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal” is a non-starter. That’s a critical waterway for one of the largest cities in the country, and literally the only shipping connection between the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes.

    There are several Army Corps of Engineer plans for preventing Asian carp from reaching the lake right now, but none of them call for closing down the canal.

    A zero-discharge mandate also needs clarification: what would the consequences of violating said mandate be? Because I can tell you for a fact that Chicago is not going to be able to completely end sewage discharges into Lake Michigan in the next year, or two, or probably even five.

    We’re getting it a lot more under control than it was as recently as a few years ago, but the infrastructure still can’t handle more than a couple days of serious storms before the options for overflow are “Lake Michigan” or “streets and basements.”

    If we can change the Asian carp proposal to something less extreme and clarify the sewer discharge language, this should be an easy pass, but take it from someone who’s running for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago — those two items make us look like we have no idea what we’re talking about in terms of the water usage realities, at least in Chicago.

    1. When I was a boy my father used to drive down to the harbor area in Milwaukee. There was a sand bar known as “Jones Island” where fish shanties and boats lined the shore. My dad bought fish cheap to feed our family of seven. But the fish shanties are long gone now along with the ones in Racine, Kenosha, Port Washington, Sheboygan, Manitowoc, Two Rivers and on up the west coast of Lake Michigan.

      The reason why? The opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway! Invasive species soon appeared along with the ships from other countries. Alewives entered the fishery and took over the niche of the lake herring and then died en masse to cover our beaches with their rotting dead carcasses . The Seaway was supposed to be a great boon to commerce. But even after over 50 years the percentage of ocean going vessel tonnage on the Great Lakes is less than 20%. We didn’t really need the Seaway and the ecological consequences and destruction of the Great Lakes fishery.

      Then long after the fishing fleets were gone the Zebra mussels showed up to further devastate the Great Lakes fishery and create economic damage by encrusting municipal water intakes and other structures in the lakes. Now they are moving inland to reek havoc on our inland lakes.

      Currently we are faced with the invasion of Asian carp to further decimate whats left of the Great lakes fishery and its ecosystem. The only way to guarantee that does not happen is to close the Chicago canal.

      Illinois has a shoreline of 63 miles along Lake Michigan. The Great Lakes basin has a total shoreline of 9,577 miles. Chicago is a huge, unsustainable metropolitan area. It needs to begin planning for the future when it will need to rely more on the bioregion in which it is situated for its resources. The Great Lakes basin has a population of 45 million people. Asking the 35 million of the rest of us to allow Chicago a pass on this issue is a nonstarter.

  3. None of the Army Corps of Engineers’ plans for preventing the Asian Carp from reaching the Great Lakes is very reassuring to those concerned about the potential disaster they would cause. IIRC, Doug Campbell suggested the complete closing of the canal. Do you have alternative language, Geoffrey?

    As to sewage discharge, that should be helped by #1 which calls for funds to upgrade municipal water systems. I don’t see zero discharge as something we should back off on.

  4. Closing the sanitary & shit canal may be a non-starter, but that doesn’t mean that it’s wrong policy or doesn’t belong in the platform. The electric fish barriers (or the infrastructure they rely on) will inevitably fail or be taken out of service temporarily. In fact, this has already happened but we’ve gotten lucky so far; Asian carp in Lake Michigan have not yet been able to reach critical mass.

    It boils down to a political decision: Will we protect the cheap & easy movement of freight, or will we protect the Great Lakes from the second-most invasive species in history?

    We probably ought to add some mention about natural population control for Asian carp. They weren’t a catastrophe in their native environment, presumably because there was something that kept their numbers in check.

    1. “We probably ought to add some mention about natural population control for Asian carp.”

      We mostly don’t know how to do that.

      Introducing new species to control other new species sometimes works. But remember the song about the little old lady who swallowed the fly. Sometimes the extra new species have no observable effect. Sometimes you wind up with extra new invasive species that threaten existing ones.

      There’s potential to use genetic engineering to create diseases etc that would keep invasive species from getting too-big populations. When the numbers get high enough to support an epidemic, they die back. We should be very very careful about introducing such things since we have no experience and we don’t know how bad the potential drawbacks might be. Once we release a new micro-organism into the environment we have no possible way to take it back, or to be sure it’s gone if it appears to be unsuccessful.

  5. If the authors are open to amendment, I would suggest the following language for point 8:

    “8. Implement multiple layers of invasive species deterrents in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal to prevent Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes.”

    The proposal is otherwise very good, but there’s no way Illinois could support closing the canal entirely. We run candidates for the governmental body that owns and operates the canal (the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago), and it’s a hard enough fight as-is.

    1. Deterrent is pretty easy since it’s uphill from the Illinois River to the lake. The carp would have to be allowed to pass through the locks like at Lockport. A subtle heartbeat electrical system or a more direct electrocution of anything trying to get through the lock would stop the Asian carp dead (no pun intended).

  6. I tend to agree with Bruce and Doug on the advisability of closing the canal, Geoffrey. A decision based on short-range political advantage doesn’t hold up when thinking about longer term ecological (and economic) repercussions. “An once of prevention . . . ”

    There’s a great book by William Ashworth, “The Late Great Lakes,” which is eye-opening reading. Greens need to begin pushing back against centuries of abuse of these incredible freshwater seas.

  7. I’d like to hope that the party will value local input on this one. The less our national platform makes state-specific (or even smaller) call-outs and recommendations, the better, to my mind.

    The Illinois Green Party runs candidates for the office that oversees the S&S Canal. We’ve got five of ’em up this year, including me: https://www.mwrd-ilgp.org/ None of us need to be sideswiped mid-campaign by our national party making a top-down call about what Greens should advocate for regarding a major piece of Chicago infrastructure.

    We’re just as keen to prevent Asian carp entering the lakes as anyone else, but there are plenty of methods beyond filling in a major waterway. There are a lot of environmental considerations beyond invasives in the S&S canal, from downstream irrigation to treated wastewater (“gray water”) disposal (if it doesn’t go into the S&S, we’re back to dumping it straight into the lake — that’s why the canal was built in the first place) to the loss of hydroelectric power generation at the dams.

    I’d like to see this proposal keep the language that prioritizes invasive control, but leave the specific solution to the relevant government authorities (in this case the MWRD). It might even be worth further amending it to read “8. Implement multiple layers of invasive species deterrents and population control in waterways connected to the Great Lakes,” since Asian carp are not the only invasive of concern, nor is the S&S Canal the only route by which invasives might enter the Lakes.

  8. I really don’t want to irritate the Platform Comm since they put so much work into overseeing this whole process…. however, I fail to see that this amount of detail makes sense in our general water plank.
    The proposed large addition to the Water Plank is so focused on a relatively small section of the country. To me, an analogy would be for CA to want to add a detailed section w/ 11 specific bullet points focusing on the Salton Sea and the relationship w/ Mexico. I don’t think this sort of detail belongs in the GPUS Platform, but rather Michigan’s state platform.

    1. I agree with Peggy Koteen.

      This is an issue that calls for decentralization.

      It is a great big argument between local knowledgeable Chicago Greens and local knowledgeable Greens in the Great Lakes area. It is not a good fit for the national platform.

      If Illinois Greens disagree with Michigan Greens and Wisconsin Greens, that’s something everybody can understand. When the national platform disagrees so fully with Illinois Greens about a regional policy, that hurts Illinois, likely more than the platform helps anybody else.

  9. I agree with Geoffrey. All good except for closing the canal. It’s possible to regulate it much further, without preventing trade.

  10. I asked my brother who lives in Chicago for input on Asian carp and S&S canal. Here are two statements from Terry Herlihy:

    “Deterrent is pretty easy since it’s uphill from the Illinois River to the lake. The carp would have to be allowed to pass through the locks like at Lockport. A subtle heartbeat electrical system or a more direct electrocution of anything trying to get through the lock would stop the Asian carp dead (no pun intended).”

    JH: I gather that “heartbeat” refers to the system that has been used to isolate lampreys in Lake Michigan. Not sure of the status of that.

    Sat 6/23
    “There is a lot of information there. The carp and the sterilization of ballast water could be solved together when the ship is in a lock the ballast water could be discharged and the contents of the lock sterilized. The funding has to be progressive like securities transfer taxes @ 0.5%=$3.3 trillion.
    A huge amount of carbon capture could be accomplished by restoring marshes and wetlands in river valleys which would nurture fish, frogs & turtles as well as filtering the water. …. It would help me if the platform identified the weak parts of the current law and how it is correcting
    them. A whole platform is going to bore the voters. A candidate should pick an item that his opponent has a clear stand on and demonstrate that it
    makes him a blithering idiot…….”

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