Several news stories about the health of the Great Lakes have been coming out over the past week. The EPA announced $2.2 million in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds for cleaning up the St. Louis River estuary in northeastern Minnesota. In Michigan, the number of beach closings due to unsanitary water conditions has been falling over the last few years. The EPA is also considering eliminating a $10 million program that helps states monitor the sanitary conditions on beaches, leaving states to find money in their budgets. The EPA also just withdrew proposed regulations regarding feedlot discharge that would have helped control excess runoff into the Great Lakes.
Duluth Restoration Funded
The St. Louis River estuary in Minnesota will receive $2.2 million from the EPA and $1.1 million from the Minnesota Clean Water Fund, totaling $3 million to help restore the river. The St. Louis River was designated as an area of concern in 1987 because of high levels of mercury, dioxins, PCBs, and PAHs found in the sediment of the estuary. Two superfund sites in the area, the Interlake and U.S. Steel sites, along with a sanitation facility and nearby landfills are some of the historic sources of pollution to the river. The funding will go to evaluate the best course of action to prevent further pollution, restore the area, and effectively reuse dredged river sediment.
Beach Pollution Declines in Michigan
Pollution on Michigan’s beaches that prevent the public from safely swimming was down 17 percent in 2012 compared to 2011, according to a report by the Associated Press. The main sources of pollution are from combined sanitary and storm water sewers that overflow and failing septic systems. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality conducts these tests with combined funding from the state and Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The GLRI awarded Michigan $3.2 million in 2010 to increase the forecasting and speed of water contamination analysis and reports.
Federal Beach Testing Faces Likely Cuts
The EPA has proposed a similar program, which helps states’ monitor the health of their beaches, be eliminated, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The BEACH Act is not part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, but benefits the people who visit beaches around the Great Lakes and across the country by collecting more accurate data about the quality of the water. The $10 million hole that the removal of this program would create has left local governments looking for alternative ways to accurately collect information about the health of their waters. The funding from the BEACH Act helped people reliably enjoy healthy Great Lakes and will be missed by communities around the Lakes. Wisconsin alone is facing a loss of $112,000 this year due to current program cuts.
EPA Drops New Factory Farm Regulations
Finally, the EPA has dropped new regulatory proposals for factory farm waste, according to the New York Times. The EPA proposed two rules last year that were withdrawn, including the requirement that factory farms have a national pollution discharge permit. The proposed regulations that were withdrawn three weeks ago would have updated the national rules regarding feedlot discharge—a critical component in controlling the 500 million to 1 billion tons of manure produced on these farms.
According to the E.P.A.’s own studies, agricultural runoff is the leading cause of impaired water quality…The task of keeping those hundreds of millions of tons of animal waste out of rivers, lakes and estuaries is enormous, clearly requiring a strong set of revised regulations for the handling of factory-farm waste, including provisions for tracking waste when it’s been moved offsite.
Excessive manure and fertilizers from farms are a big problem in the Great Lakes. Farm run-off has been responsible for the return of historic algal blooms in western Lake Erie and other parts of the Lakes. Tackling agriculture run-off is a top priority of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which is helping address the problem, but more needs to be done. The read more about how to reduce farm run-off, read our report on the impact of the Farm Bill.