Waters Restored – Great Lakes Now Full Episode – 1006
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Waters Restored – Great Lakes Now Full Episode – 1006

September 22, 2019


– [Ward] On this edition
of “Great Lakes Now.” Bringing back a
riverbank habitat in
the middle of Chicago. – You only got one Earth. To really be a part
of it and clean and help the environment
is always the best. – [Patrick] One county on
the Lake Michigan shoreline is running out of water, and the race is on to protect
the Lake Superior fishery from pollution from
century-old mine tailings. – It might be clogging up
their spawning habitat, but it’s also a
chemical pollutant so it might be
toxic to the fish. – [Announcer] “Great Lakes
Now” is brought to you by: the Fred A. and Barbara
M. Erb Family Foundation; Laurie & Tim Wadhams; The Richard C. Devereaux
Foundation for Energy and Environmental Programs
at Detroit Public Television; the Polk Family Fund; Eve & Jerry Jung; The Americana Foundation; The Brookby Foundation, and… – [Narrator] The Consumers
Energy Foundation is committed to serving Michigan from preserving our
state’s natural resources and sustaining our future to
continuing business growth, academic achievement, and
community involvement. Learn more at
consumersenergy.com/foundation. – [Announcer] And viewers
like you, thank you. – Hi, I’m Ward Detwiler, welcome
back to “Great Lakes Now.” At Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, visitors can see fish
and wildlife up close, including some from
the Great Lakes. The Aquarium staff also
works in the field, researching wild animals
and their habitats. Today we bring you the
story of one project that’s right in the
heart of the Windy City. (soft music) The Shedd Aquarium’s Kayak
for Conservation program lets participants gather data and help protect one of
Chicago’s river habitats. – Welcome to Kayak
for Conservation. Obviously this is
a Shedd Program where we’re gonna
be taking you guys out on the Chicago River,
doing some paddling, but you guys are gonna
also be helping us out with some really important scientific data
collection and monitoring. I am a conservation
stewardship facilitator at Shedd Aquarium. A big part of my
job is finding ways to get the public engaged in our public and natural
areas in the Chicago area. So we’re out here as part
of Kayaks for Conservation which is a Shedd
Aquarium program designed to get folks
out on the Chicago River to collect really important data about the work that
we’re doing out here in terms of trying to bring
back riverbank habitat. So my job is to get people
out here to have fun, engage with the space, and then also collect
valuable data that we can use to then study the way
that the river is changing and hopefully find ways to
change it for the better. – [Narrator] The
kayakers’ destination? Custom-built floating
island habitats, installed by Shedd Aquarium and environmental
nonprofit Urban Rivers. The islands host
native plant species, and are intended to
welcome wildlife. The kayakers help monitor
and maintain them. – One of the things that
we’re asking our participants to collect out here while we’re
on the river is trash data. So our participants are
collecting that baseline data so that we can start
looking at, for example, how much is in the
river of any given type whether that’s maybe a
cutlery like food utensils, and then determining what are
the best courses of action to actually prevent them from getting there
in the first place. And hopefully five, 10
years down the line, we can look at what
we’ve collected today and be able to compare that and say we’ve made this kind
of progress on the river. People don’t really
know what to expect. Whether that’s how
much trash there is or what kind of birds or
turtles are around here. And so we have an opportunity
to really show people down on the river,
up close and personal just what this river and
this space has to offer, and more importantly
showing them, if this is what
it looks like now, this is what it could look
like giving them a vision and an idea of what
an incredible space
this can become. – It’s actually cleaner
than what we thought it was. The Chicago River
you don’t think beautiful gorgeous
flower scenery, you don’t think, okay,
these buildings is here but they make the
water look nice too. They all complement each other. So to really sit here and see
it is like it is beautiful. – [Edward] Bringing folks
like the family today, who are from Chicago, out to the Chicago River,
is really incredible because they lived their
entire lives in this city and probably have never
actually experienced the river this way, or even
thought a moment about it. So providing an
opportunity for people to have that a-ha moment
to really see things with a new fresh set
of eyes is incredible. – I’m from Chicago,
my whole family is. It was really good and I
could teach my brothers, too, like, hey, take
care where you live because you only got
one Earth, you know? And to really be a
part of it and clean and help the environment
is always the best. – [Narrator] The kayakers
aren’t the only ones visiting the floating islands. At night, when the
kayakers are gone, research biologist Austin Happel studies the islands’ effects
on the fish population. Why at night? We’ll get to that in a minute. – I’m specifically sort of
looking at how did these islands provide any benefit to organisms that are living
within the waterways. So, I’m going out at
night like I am tonight to look for larval fish to
see if fish are spawning on those islands more
than they are elsewhere or at least what times
are they spawning and what fish are
using this area? One thing about these
floating islands is that most of the
research that’s been done, if not all the research
that has been done, has been on nutrient abatement. They’re really good at
cleaning up waterways, but I can’t find
anything on what they do for biotic organisms. So it’s really important
to get some data on, are they providing
zooplankton for fish to eat? Are fish hanging
out around them? Are fish spawning on them? – [Narrator] Over time, the
Chicago River has been changed as the city grew up around it. For one thing, its
flow was reversed. It’s also been wrapped
in steel walls, a far cry from
natural riverbanks. – So a lot of these
urban waterways have sides or walls
that are essentially made out of this sheet metal
that’s straight up and down. And you can kind of
think of it for fish as if it’s like us
walking down a city block where it’s windy, things
are blowing in your face, you can’t really get any
refuge from that wind? For fish, they can’t really get
any refuge from the current, and they can’t really
find any habitat that they really
like to hang out in, maybe feed off of or spawn on. So one way of helping the area is putting in these
floating wetlands. So these wetlands are
made out of coconut core, they are held together
with recycled plastic, and then we can plant native
wetland plants on them. Their roots go
down into the water and not only provide
oxygen for the fish but habitat for zooplankton, which are essentially fish food, and then habitat for the fish. So the fish can eat off of ’em, maybe spawn on top
of those root masses. – [Narrator] Happel is
interested in whether fish are using the floating
islands as spawning grounds, which is why he’s on
the river after dark. – [Austin] I’m going out at
night to look for larval fish. We’re going to be going
out and setting gear called larval light traps. These are traps that
attract these larval fish into them using light. So, we’ll actually
crack a glow stick, put it in the trap and the
fish are attracted to it over the course of an hour and then we’ll pull it
and see what we’ve caught. – [Narrator] Each night
Happel sets his traps, he gets insight into what
fish are spawning in the area. – So we just pulled
in the first trap. I’m trying to kind
of wash everything that’s within this
pan down to one area so I can get a sense
of what is in here. And then I like to try to
just see what I’ve caught. It looks like there’s… A skud in here, which is a
type of freshwater shrimp and then, yeah, there’s a
larval fish swimming around. – [Narrator] The data Happel
collects will be compared with historical data
to paint a picture of how the river’s
spawning fish population is changing over time. – I’m working with the
Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Chicago
to look at what fish are hanging out in this
section of the river, and how is that changing from
before we put the islands in to now as we’re building
more and more islands, and this project is growing. This is a highly urbanized area that we’re trying to rejuvenate. So if we can see what
fish spawning here now, we might be able to see
and track a difference in what fish are spawning
as these islands build out and we get a larger floating
wetland mass in this area. So one thing our
partners, Urban Rivers, is learning about them is
how to actually put them in, and how to maintain them,
how long do they last, what are best practices? That way, other cities can
kind of emulate the project. Since the river’s reversed, it’s kind of difficult to
talk about how this area might have a direct
effect on Lake Michigan. But it’s not like this
couldn’t be replicated in the Cuyahoga or
in the Kalamazoo or in the Fox River
or other rivers that flow directly
into the Great Lakes. So this might end up
being a model system that can help both
clean up nutrients and provide fish habitat
for other Great Lake cities. – Visit us at
GreatLakesNow.org for a map of other habitat restoration
projects on the Lakes. A groundwater shortage
might be the last thing you’d expect to face on the
shores of Lake Michigan, but that’s just what
people who live, and farm, in one lakeshore county
are dealing with. Partner station WGVU in
Grand Rapids, Michigan brings us the story. – You look at where we are
situated, Ottawa County, of 30 plus miles of shoreline
next to Lake Michigan, water is ubiquitous here. We have a water problem,
we thought it was isolated ’til we started to get the
results back from the study. – [Patrick] Ottawa County
is located in West Michigan. More than 290,000 residents
live here, and they’re wrestling with an expanding
groundwater shortage. It was first revealed
here at Highland Trails. – The subdivision is the
epicenter of the issue in central Ottawa
County that triggered the need for us to
better understand what’s happening underneath
our feet with groundwater. – When was that? When did that happen?
– Was in 2008 when we were notified of
residents in this location at the subdivision who
were running out of water, they woke up in the morning,
turn on their faucets and had no water coming
out of the pipes. – [Patrick] Paul Sachs is
Ottawa County’s Planning and Performance
Improvement Director. He explains the groundwater
wells had run dry. Allendale Township
took emergency measures connecting Highland
Trails to municipal lines drawn from Lake Michigan. It triggered a study conducted
by Michigan State University and Michigan Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering exploring the county’s geology
and its two primary aquifers: the shallow and sandy
Glacial Drift Aquifer, and the deeper Marshall
Bedrock Aquifer. In this animation, the
shift toward dark blue shows the decline in
static water levels over the past 50 years. – [Man] Look closely at the
central parts of Ottawa County. These areas exhibit the
most significant declines. – [Patrick] Nearly 11,000
residential, industrial, and agricultural wells are
depleting the aquifers. – They were drilled into
the Marshall formation, and the Marshall formation
then was depleted because of all the
people drawing from it. So if we have 40 houses
doing 20 gallons a minute, what do we have? 40 times 20, we have
800 gallons a minute that is being drawn. That’s a lot of water in an area that is only a couple acres. – [Patrick] That’s
24/7, year-round compared with periodic
farm irrigation spread over large swaths of land three months out of the year. John Yellich is the
director of the Michigan Geological Survey at
Western Michigan University. – The geology here
is very complex because it doesn’t have an
area where you can recharge, rainwater coming in and
recharging the aquifers, it’s very limited. And that’s what restricts how
much water we really have. Whereas there are other
parts of the state where we have enough rainfall, it recharges the aquifer
and people are satisfied. – [Patrick] But, in
parts of Ottawa County, the aquifer can’t refill fast
enough to meet the demand. There are too many areas
of clay preventing snowmelt and rain from soaking back in. The scientific
findings were presented to Allendale Township at the
epicenter of the challenges. – And at the very end
of that presentation, I asked the commission, “Do
you have any questions?” There was silence in the room. There were jaws
that were dropped. – What was the big finding
that caused that reaction? – Our water levels
are declining, they’ve declined 40 feet
over the last 50 years, and it’s not replenishing. Allendale Township is the
fastest growing township in Ottawa County. It’s also one of the
fastest growing communities in the entire state of Michigan. When you are growing
as a community, and the economic
development and vibrancy is dependent on that growth, and you find out that
there’s a water issue, that’s gonna make
you stop and think, “What are we going to
do moving forward?” – [Patrick] Allendale
Township now requires every new development to
connect to municipal water, and nearby in Olive Township, it’s declared a moratorium
on new housing developments using well water. The farming community
is also under the gun. Ottawa County is a state leader
in agriculture production and back in 2008, not
far from Highland Trails, farmer Merle Langland
had no shortage of well water for irrigating, but he was noticing his crops
wilting and turning yellow. – We had underneath the pivot, the soybeans looked the worst. And it should have
been the opposite, where we irrigated it
should have been the best. So we got
investigating and yeah, there was chloride in the water. – We’re a unique area, it’s
called the Michigan Basin, and it’s essentially a bowl that essentially was seawater
since 600 million years ago. And it all forms
salty formations, and they all have
salt water in them. – [Patrick] As groundwater
levels dropped, irrigation wells
were drilled deeper drawing briny water
damaging crops. The study revealed some of the
more densely populated areas are experiencing
a double-whammy; declining groundwater levels, and elevated
groundwater salinity. So, how to address the issue? There are municipal water lines pumping water from Lake Michigan
but with limited capacity. – And there’s two,
there’s Grand Rapids, and there’s Wyoming, and then Holland also
has a small pipeline that’s coming in from the lake. But remember, the water
needs to be appropriated from the compact. And that, of course,
includes Canada plus all the Great Lakes states. So in order to draw
water out of it, you have to get approval
from all of those, and then there’s a cost, the cost estimate
is over $100 million to put another pipeline in. – What would the sources
be to pay for that? – I wouldn’t even
venture a guess, I can’t. – [Patrick] And it’s
not just Ottawa County dealing with the problem. Armed with study results,
Yellich and Sachs are on a mission to
reshape water-use habits before it’s too late. With the help of community
and business leaders, they’re formulating a
groundwater mitigation plan. It begins with an
education campaign followed by initiating change. – Water conservation,
landscaping and irrigation, how we handle those
things traditionally, with green grass and
abundant irrigation, those practices need to change. – [Patrick] Christina
Knizner and her family moved to Highland Trails
nearly six years ago. – I think there’s
probably some things that the residents could do
in terms of coming together and brainstorming and
thinking about ways that we can help contribute
to helping the problem. – What we’re looking at
is that we have landscape that’s not really taken
advantage of the fact that we have a low
water supply here. And we should be doing
something to put xeriscape, put things in that
use less water. – What is xeriscape? – Xeriscape means substituting
some of these grasses for rocks and other things that do not require
any kind of water. – Traditional development
patterns can’t continue. To have high density
residential developments with small lots and areas that
don’t have municipal water but need or are dependent on
groundwater shouldn’t occur. We’re also looking
at overlay zones for land pattern development. There are areas of the county where there is recharge
to that deep formation, we need to know where
those areas are. And we need to protect
those areas for recharge, we just can’t develop
our land blindly knowing that there is a
water resource concern. – [Patrick] And the county is
partnering with farmers, too. – We’re working with
the drain commission here in the county as an example of how we can pump the
water out of the ditches, put it into ponds so that
it can be effectively used for agriculture in local areas, but also how it can be put
onto the field as well. – A number years
ago we dug this pond and this catches all that water. The irrigator back
there in the distance, that’s what we used to
apply it to the field and in the summertime
when we need it. – How much water is here? – Well, I don’t know. I’m guessing this is
good 10 million gallon. – [Patrick] It’s not for
drinking but it does the trick. A similar tactic can be
applied in urban settings. – Gray water, is say the
water from your dishwasher, your shower, your sink,
your washing machine, you have a chance to route
that water and reuse it. I understand, you know,
we talked xeriscaping and native landscaping. People have this
desire for green, lush lawns and landscapes. Why use fresh drinking
water for that? – If things don’t change,
what’s the outcome? – We could have places that
are not gonna have groundwater for drinking water supplies. That’s bad. – People won’t be able
to sell their homes. – That’s the worst thing. You find out that
you don’t have it, they may have
gotten a loan on it, but the value of the house has
just gone down, that’s right. – So it’s gonna take
really a punch in the gut for people to get this. – And what we hope is, is
that we don’t have to do that, we’re providing
enough information and enough background after
the six, seven year study that has been done, and the things that
we’re showing right now is that if we can
serve and we do it, we can survive, and
everybody can be happy. – For more on our
region’s groundwater, sometimes called the
Sixth Great Lake, visit GreatLakesNow.org. In the mid-19th century, on the south shore
of Lake Superior, the copper mining
business was booming. But the waste from
all that mining is threatening Lake Superior’s
trout and whitefish. Now, scientists and engineers are working to undo the damage. – [Laura] In the 19th
and 20th centuries, immigrants flocked to
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, to work in copper
and iron mines. The Keweenaw Peninsula became
known as Copper Country, and it produced over
seven million metric tons of copper since the mid-1840s. Two copper mines, in the
towns of Mohawk and Wolverine, sent trainloads of rock
to mills in Gay, Michigan. There, the rock was crushed,
and the copper was extracted. The waste rock, known as
tailings or stamp sand, was then dumped
into Lake Superior. – As the rock moves
through this mill, it’s crushed to a smaller
and smaller particle and then it would separate
out the sand from the copper. The copper was a heavier weight, and then the sand would
be washed out of the mill and with high volume
of water is sent out as a slurry into Lake Superior. – [Laura] Before the
mills closed in 1932, they generated 22.7 million
metric tons of stamp sand. Since then, wind and waves have
been moving the stamp sands across the lake bottom
and down the shoreline. Robert Regis is a
geology professor at Northern Michigan University. His family has been
coming to the area since he was a toddler, long enough for him to
see dramatic changes. – Probably in the early ’70s, we started to see
the black stamp sand migrating to this
point right here. And every year from there on, the beach got wider
and wider and wider. So in 30 to 40 years,
the beach has grown to well over 100 meters in
width and all of that thickness, which equates to probably
about 10 feet per year of, you know, width growth. – [Laura] The stamp
sand is also drifting on to Buffalo Reef, an important
spawning ground for fish. These Great Lakes reefs
aren’t made of coral, they’re composed of rocks, and the spaces
between those rocks are where spawning
trout and whitefish want to drop their eggs. – Lake trout and whitefish
that are spawning in this area like very specific habitat, and by that I mean they
prefer small cobble substrates both sizes of sort of hard balls in terms of baseball
on a softball, provides protection
for incubating eggs but they’re also exposed to
nice cold well-oxygenated water. And Buffalo Reef is a
almost sort of very perfect spawning reef for lake
trout and whitefish. And it’s been a spawning reef basically since probably
Lake Superior’s formed roughly 15,000 years ago. And it’s also one of the
most productive reef habitats in Lake Superior for
lake trout and whitefish. – [Laura] It’s estimated
that the Buffalo Reef fishery provides $4.5 million of revenue through commercial and
recreational fishing every year, but fishermen in the
area have already noticed a decline in their catch, and some have had
to fish elsewhere. That’s partly because the stamp
sand can fill in the space between the rocks where
fish wanna have their eggs. But the sand is also
a chemical pollutant. – So it’s still
relatively speaking slightly enriched in copper
relative to natural sand. And that sort of dual
nature of this material as a contaminant poses two
risks to spawning fish. Physical pollutant, it
might be clogging up their spawning habitat, but
it’s also a chemical pollutant so it might be
toxic to the fish. – [Laura] Charles Kerfoot of Michigan
Technological University, has been studying the
environmental effects of the Upper Peninsula’s
copper mining history for over a decade. – You have to realize the
concentrations of copper are really high. 500 parts per million of copper, where the state says 120
can have ecological effects. See, you’re dealing with
orders of magnitude here. – [Laura] Dr. Kerfoot and
his team collect samples from the lake bottom
around the reef. – [Charles] The jaws come in and scoop up a
sample of the sand that’s on the bottom of the
sediment is on the bottom, and then we’ll take it back and determine under
the microscope how many grains are stamp
sand and how many our natural. It’s a way for us to calculate copper concentrations
and potential toxicity. – [Laura] Dr. Kerfoot
has shown a direct link between higher
concentrations of stamp sands and fewer benthic organisms. These are the bottom
feeding animals that fish rely on for food. – By 50% stamp sands
is very serious affect, by 75 it’s a desert. There’s just nothing down there. If nothing is done
within 10 years, 60% of the Buffalo Reef will
be covered by stamp sands. – [Laura] That
would be a disaster for those who depend on the
fish of the Buffalo Reef, including the Keweenaw
Bay Indian Community, which has fought to
secure federal funding to clean up Buffalo Reef. – The Keweenaw Bay Indian
Community’s a fishing community, it’s part of our identity. The loss of that reef would be
devastating to our community. If we lose that
one, we’ll be losing not only parts of the fish
population that are here, but then we’re losing all
those connections to that area. It’s not something
that can be replaced. – [Laura] Scientists
and engineers are racing against the sand
and Lake Superior’s currents, to try to save Buffalo Reef. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been working with local
environmental scientists to figure out what to do
with all the stamp sand. They’re exploring several
potential permanent solutions. But it will take
time to determine which is the most feasible. In the meantime, they need
to keep more stamp sand from drifting onto the reef and choking the Big
Traverse Harbor. – We’re dredging two different
areas here in Lake Superior: one at the at the Harbor, of
the Grand Traverse Harbor, and then the other area
we’re dredging is a trough, an old drown riverbed that’s
adjacent to Buffalo Reef. If we can clear some of
that sand out of the trough, the theory is that’ll buy us about three to
five years of time as we develop a long-term
solution to the problem. – This has been a big endeavor. As a whole, this is
important to everybody. It’s been really good to
see that so many people consider it to be important and so many agencies
consider it important. – It’s a lot of energy. We’re out here today
touring the site where, there’s a whole group of
various stakeholders here from not only the
federal government, state government,
tribal interests, but the local
university, Michigan
Technological University, you know, there’s a lot of
people that have a passion to really, you know, ensure
that this site is remediated and that the Buffalo
reef is saved. – We’re only stewards of the
land, we don’t own the land, and other nations within here, the plant, animal, fish
nations, they have rights, too, and we always have to remember that we’re borrowing
from the future and we want to make
sure that our children, grandchildren,
great-grandchildren have the same opportunities
in those relationships and connections that we do. – Thanks for watching. For more on these stories, and
the Great Lakes in general, visit GreatLakesNow.org. When you get there, you can
follow us on social media or subscribe to our newsletter to get updates about our work. See you out on the lakes! (light music) – [Announcer] “Great Lakes
Now” is brought to you by: the Fred A. and Barbara
M. Erb Family Foundation; Laurie & Tim Wadhams; the Richard C. Devereaux
Foundation for Energy and Environmental Programs
at Detroit Public Television; the Polk Family Fund; Eve & Jerry Jung; The Americana Foundation; The Brookby Foundation, and… – [Narrator] The Consumers
Energy Foundation is committed to
serving Michigan, from preserving our
state’s natural resources and sustaining our future, to continuing business
growth, academic achievement, and community involvement. Learn more at
consumersenergy.com/foundation. – [Announcer] And viewers
like you, thank you. (soft music)

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