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Tag: The Death and Life of the Great Lakes

Recent Senate Legislation Threatens Great Lakes

In mid-April of this year, the United States Senate voted on a piece of legislation that would have removed the Environmental Protection Agency from managing ballast water discharge from freighters. Instead, management would be transferred completely to the Coast Guard. After days of immense pressure from conservationists, the measure was narrowly defeated. Was this a win for the conservation of the Great Lakes?

It was a small one, and to understand why conservationists are still concerned, it’s important to understand the damage ballast water has already caused. As defined by the Environment Protection Agency, ballast water is water that is taken up or discharged when cargo is unloaded or loaded, in order to maintain the ship’s stability and balance. Freighters traveling across the Atlantic pick up whole ecosystems when they take up ballast water, and the organisms subsequently dumped in the lakes can be a menace. Two such organisms, the quagga and zebra mussels, have been sucking the life out of the Great Lakes for over a decade. These organisms, which attach to hard surfaces like the iron infrastructure of industry, can cause up to $1 billion of damage per year, according to a 2010 report.

Photo: Kilian Fichou, AFP/Getty Images

Simply put, these invasive species are bad news, both in terms of industry and conservation. So why would the Senate try to roll back regulations that would curb the introduction of other invasive species?

Dan Egan reported on this issue extensively for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In an article released shortly after the Senate vote, Egan describes the conflict between the shipping industry, conservationists, and the government, saying, “Shipping industry advocates have been pushing for the change for years, arguing that the existing ballast water management program is too complicated…The problem, according to the conservation groups, is that the Coast Guard is ill-suited to manage this form of biological pollution and cannot compel the shipping industry to limit its discharges under the authority of the Clean Water Act, which is administered by the EPA.” A review of the measure is set for 2022, and until then, conservationists will continually advocate for regulations on ballast water discharge in the hopes of protecting the Great Lakes ecosystems.

Michala Roberts
Graduate Assistant, Go Big Read

Dan Egan and “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes”

Now that we have made the exciting announcement for the 2018/2019 Go Big Read book selection, let’s dive a little deeper. What’s the book about? Who is Dan Egan?

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes chronicles the recent changes to the Great Lakes and the new species invading them in the past several years. Some of the species, who may have started out in one of the Great Lakes, have now spread to all of them.

What does this mean for the Great Lakes?

According to a New York Times article reflecting on Egan’s book, although these invading species clean out the lake, they are also “sucking up 90 percent of the lake’s phytoplankton,” and that does not mean the lakes are benefiting from this change. As Egan puts it, “It’s the sign of a lake having the life sucked out of it.”

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes has been chosen for the 2018/2019 Go Big Read year.

In recent years, various invading species have made these lakes their home, largely thanks to shipping vessels dumping these foreign species directly into these Great Lakes. Some of these include: spiny water fleas, fishhook water fleas, bloody red shrimp, and most extreme, the zebra and quagga mussels, which have spread more rapidly than any other invasive species. Egan refers to the spreading of these mussels “like cancer cells in a bloodstream.”

Egan pairs these problems with potential solutions for the future. Achieving tangible solutions to this problem in the Great Lakes requires action from the E.P.A and other legislators, Egan suggests, which right now, might be difficult.

So, who is Dan Egan?

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes author Dan Egan.

Egan is a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist for his investigative reporting on the Great Lakes. He is also a senior water policy fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Hitting close to home, Egan has spent his life studying how the Great Lakes around Wisconsin and other Midwestern states have been changing and potential solutions for this issue.

For more information on Egan and his book, check out the publisher’s website: The Death and Life of the Great Lakes.

 

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office