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Collaborative, Bi-national Fish Habitat Study Reaffirms the Importance of Wetlands, and Natural Shorelines in Promoting Abundant Bass and Bluegill populations

The recently released summary of the findings of a bi-national fish study conducted on Lake St. Clair serves to emphasize the critical role that wetlands and other natural shoreline features play in promoting and sustaining healthy freshwater fish populations. Focusing on relatively small fish such as minnows, bluegill, and sunfish as well as the young of species such as largemouth and smallmouth bass that ultimately mature into much larger fish, the Collaborative Lake St. Clair Fishery Assessment was conducted by fisheries biologists from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Ontario Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry, and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The primary goal of the study was to help fisheries biologists understand how many of the small fish exist within the lake, and to also identify exactly what type of shoreline habitat serves to promote their abundance. The most important finding of the study is indicated by the fact that the keystone fish were found to be ten times more abundant in areas of the lake featuring nearshore and shoreline habitat consisting of wetlands, and other natural features in comparison to more urbanized areas on the Michigan side of the lake where shorelines now consist primarily of steel seawalls, piles of rock and concrete, and other forms of artificial shoreline armoring.

Even though Lake St. Clair possesses a surface area of only 430 square miles it is considered to be an important bi-national resource due to the fact that it is connected to Lake Huron by the St. Clair River, and to Lake Erie by the Detroit River, and is therefore considered one of the busiest waterways in the world due to the fact that 5,000 ships transit the lake each year on their way to and from commercial ports located within the expansive Great Lakes, and to locations far beyond the region via the St. Lawrence Seaway.

It is also important to note that Lake St. Clair’s remaining coastal wetlands, located primarily on the Ontario side of the lake, also provide critical habitat to a diverse array of fish, reptiles, migratory birds, and amphibians. The large inland lake also provides an array of highly valuable ecological, recreational, and commercial benefits, including drinking water, to millions of people who live on or near the lake in southeast Michigan and southern Ontario.

Conducted on both the Michigan and Ontario sides of Lake St. Clair, fisheries biologists deployed fyke nets at 110 locations around the lake in areas defined by both hardened and natural shorelines, and recorded both the quantity and type of fish that swam into the nets. Reporting the findings of their study within the context of a written summary recently submitted to The Detroit News, the fisheries biologists wrote that “the overall fish catch rate was 10 times higher on the Canadian side of the lake, likely related to better nearshore habitat.” In sharp contrast to hardened shorelines comprised of seawalls or piles of concrete, natural shorelines and nearshore habitat comprised of emergent, floating, and submerged aquatic plants such as cattails, bulrush, water lilies, and pondweeds provide small fish such as bluegill and young bass with an ideal habitat within which to forage for abundant aquatic insects, protection from predation, and an ideal habitat for spawning and supporting young fish.

To learn more about the multi-faceted benefits of preserving, and/or restoring natural shorelines, visit the Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership at https://www.mishorelinepartnership.org/ .

Legislation Introduced to Limit the Authority of Local Governments to Regulate Aggregate Mining and Short Term Vacation Rentals Pending Further Action in Lansing

Introduced by Rep. Sarah Lightner, R-Springport Township, and passed by the Michigan House of Representatives by a margin of 55-48 this past spring, House Bill 4722 would act to severely limit the authority of local units of government to regulate short term rentals. The primary language of the bill indicates that “a local unit of government shall not adopt or enforce zoning ordinance provisions that have the effect of prohibiting short-term rentals.” Compromise language in the bill would allow local units of government limited authority to oversee short term rentals in instances where local noise and traffic ordinances are violated due to significantly increased numbers of summer vacation season short term renters. Local units of government would also maintain the authority to set limits on the number of available short-term rentals, as long the established limit is not less than 30 percent of existing residential units in the municipality.

Supported by the Michigan Realtors and the Mackinaw Center for Public Policy, if passed by the Senate, and signed by Governor Whitmer, the legislation would allow a large number of local home owners to rent their property on a short term basis via services like Airbnb to summer vacationers. Arguing that local units of governments lead by duly elected officials are in the best overall position to determine a particular community’s suitability to allow short term rentals, the Michigan Municipal League and the Michigan Association of Planning are adamantly opposed to the legislation. House Bill 4722 has been referred to the Michigan Senate Committee on Regulator Reform, and is pending further action by the Michigan Senate.

Legislation passed by the Michigan Senate this past June which would deprive local units of government of the capacity to issue permits, and to otherwise regulate gravel and sand mining operations is pending action by the Michigan House of Representatives. SB 431 would make the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) responsible for issuing permits for gravel and sand mining operations, and would also require EGLE to assess fees on sand and gravel products for the purpose of funding the need for the agency to monitor, administer, and enforce mining operation regulations. If passed, the legislation would also make EGLE ultimately responsible for taking action if a particular mining operation presented an imminent danger to public health and safety, or pose a threat to the local environment.

The controversial legislation is supported by the Michigan Aggregate Association who indicates that the legislation is necessary to help ensure ample supplies of sand and gravel that are used extensively in highway construction projects. The legislation is opposed by the Michigan Townships Association, Michigan Municipal League, Michigan Association of Counties, Michigan Association of Planning, Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, Michigan Environmental Council, and the Michigan League of Conservation Voters who argue that the legislation unnecessarily deprives local officials of the ability to issue permits, and to pass and enforce common sense local ordinances intended to help ensure the aggregate mines are operated in a manner that protects the environment, and the health and safety of local citizens.

Four Lakes Task Force and Lake Associations Work to Lay the Groundwork for Rebuilding the Dams and Restoring the Four Inland Lakes Impacted by the May 2020 Tittabawassee River Disaster

Article and Photos by Bill Gebo
Vice-President
Sanford Lake Association

On May 19, 2020, four dams that created four large lakes on the Tittabawassee River system failed, draining or severely reducing the level of all four lakes and flooding hundreds of homes on the lakeshores, and in the city of Midland.

While this was big news across the state, and nationally, at the time, the people of the area have been living with the aftermath of this disaster for the last 18 months. After the initial cleanup, much work has been done to stabilize the dams in preparation for them to be rebuilt in order to restore the lakes. Residents of the four lakes have focused their efforts on this through the four lake associations and an organization named the Four Lakes Task Force. The Four Lakes Task Force is the Authority delegated by the Counties of Midland and Gladwin to manage the debris cleanup and the stabilization and reconstruction of the dams.

Along with the physical work involved, much discussion has taken place between representatives of the Four Lakes Task Force, together with the lake associations, and the offices of numerous state legislators. These local representatives have been requesting that the state legislature enact legislation to improve dam safety and provide funding for dam restoration and repair. There are currently four bills in both the state House and Senate dealing with these issues. In addition, there is MI Senate Bill 565 that includes money for dam repair along with funding for other water related infrastructure upgrades including failing septic systems, and lead water pipe replacement.

The lake associations of the four lakes support and manage the website RestoreTheLakes.org. The website is designed as a tool to help residents of the four lakes communicate with their elected officials about their desire to have the lakes restored. The website contains a summary of the issues that lake residents should want to communicate to state legislators. It also has lists of various officials, along with their office, and email and postal addresses. Example letters and information points are also included. These letters and information points are periodically updated as legislation moves through the state House and Senate.

Editors Note: The Officers and Directors of the Michigan Waterfront Alliance (MWA) wholeheartedly support MI Senate Bill 565, and all currently pending legislation that seeks to appropriate funding to enable the repair and restoration of not only the Tittabawassee River dams mentioned in the article above but to also restore hundreds of dams distributed throughout Michigan that due to their age, and/or deficient design are known to be in imminent danger of catastrophic failure.

It is also important to note that in addition to providing funding allocated to dam repair and/or restoration, MI Senate 565 also provides much needed funding to help protect and promote clean drinking water such lead pipe replacement, to fund the repair or replacement of failing septic systems, to provide clean water infrastructure grants, to fund wetlands mitigation grants, and to provide PFAS remediation grants.

The passage of Senate Bill 565 is critical to helping to ensure a safe and viable future for hundreds of Michigan communities and millions of our fellow citizens! MWA therefore encourages all of our readers to to reach out to their respective State Representatives and Senators in order to express their support for this critical legislation. Readers can find their State Senators by clicking here ; and their State Representatives by clicking here .

Hundreds of Thousands of Failing Septic Systems Contributing to an Ongoing Major Public Health Issue in Michigan

Attributed in large part to the fact that Michigan is the only state that does not require regular septic systems inspections, and that only eleven out of eighty three counties in Michigan have established local regulations that require regular septic systems inspections, hundreds of thousands of failing septic tanks in Michigan are acting as a major source of e-coli and human fecal bacteria laden raw sewage that contaminates ground water, and renders the waters of many our lakes, rivers, and streams unfit for total contact water sports such as swimming or snorkeling. The steadily escalating environmental and public health associated problem is derived from that fact that approximately 20%, or 280,000, of the 1.4 million septic tanks that were constructed in the 1950’s and 1960’s throughout Michigan in order to enable the use of indoor toilets that served as much needed replacement for the “outhouses” that were once a common site on millions of family farms in America, are now failing. The problem has also been exacerbated by the fact that many Michigan homes, and their now severely antiquated septic systems were built prior to the construction of sewer systems that now serve even the smallest of towns and villages.

In Kent County, for example, where the health department has only a volunteer septic systems inspection program in place, an estimated 11, 250 failing residential septic systems distributed throughout the county leak approximately one million gallons of raw sewage into vulnerable groundwater supplies each day. In inland lake inundated Oakland County, as another prime example, where public health threatening cases of e-coli contamination of rivers and lakes are reported on a more and more frequent basis, and where county officials have also yet to establish a program that would mandate regular septic system inspections, approximately twenty-five to thirty percent of the 100,000 septic systems located in Michigan’s most affluent county are known to be leaking. The gravity of the situation is also effectively illustrated by the fact that the results of a 2015 study conducted by Michigan State University researchers on sixty-four Michigan rivers revealed that concentrations of e-coli that were higher than U. S. Environmental Protection Agency permitted water quality standards. The significance of the issue is also amplified by the fact that the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lake, and Energy (EGLE) reports that approximately one half of Michigan’s thousands of miles of rivers and streams suffer from concentrations of toxic e-coli that exceed minimum water quality standards.

Representing a major environmental and public health issue that promises to escalate in significance as increasing numbers of septic systems fail and begin to leak with the passage of time, past efforts to enact legislation that would have established a meaningful statewide standard for how septic tanks are designed, built, inspected, and maintained have sadly disintegrated in the face of arguments suggesting that in addition to treading on individual property rights, regulating septic tanks in a manner that would require regular inspections and maintenance in order to help minimize their capacity to pollute Michigan’s freshwater treasures would be too costly for homeowners, over burden local health departments, and make it more difficult to sell homes.

It is important to note that Michigan Governor Whitmer recognize the significance of the problem and accordingly, declared the week of September 20-24, 2021 as Septic Smart Week  that encouraged homeowners and communities to properly maintain their increasingly vulnerable septic systems. While it is not very likely that the Michigan state legislature will overcome its concerns for treading on individual property rights, and act to pass a statewide standard for effectively regulating septic systems anytime soon, both Governor Whitmer and Senator Jon Bumstead have proposed dedicating $35 million of this year’s state budget to enable the establishment and funding of an MDEQ administered program that would make low interest loans available to homeowners seeking to repair, replace, or eliminate leaking residential septic systems.

For more information on how failing septic systems are capable of degrading our precious freshwater resources, visit the U. S. EPA’s web page entitled “How Your Septic System Can Impact Nearby Water Sources” .  The always wise, inland lakes preservation focused folks from northwest Lower Michigan’s Glen Lake Association have also created a septic smart webpage that contains valuable information regarding the proper maintenance of septic systems.

Highly Capable Small Unmanned Aircraft are Enhancing the Capacity of Lake Managers to Monitor, Assess, and Manage Michigan’s Inland Lakes

by Scott Brown, MWA / McNALMS Board Member &
FAA Certified Unmanned Aircraft Systems Remote Pilot

Unmanned aircraft systems, commonly referred to as drones, are rapidly changing the way we perceive our world, and perform a multitude of complex tasks. The capacity to deploy drones is proving to be particularly beneficial in places that are difficult for man to reach, in natural habitats that are highly vulnerable to disruption or damage by the presence of humans, or in circumstances where people might otherwise be incapable of performing necessary tasks in a timely, efficient, or affordable manner. Moreover, the use of remotely controlled small aircraft allows for expeditious assessment of hazardous situations, and the capacity to gather real-time data in dangerous environments without placing humans at risk. Industry observers believe that the nearly unlimited potential for state-of-the-art technology enabled unmanned aircraft to contribute to safely and reliably accomplishing an increasingly diverse array of human endeavors is only in its infancy. Enabled by a constellation of twenty-four global positioning system (GPS) satellites, and leap frog advances in aviation technology, computer science, information technology, wireless communications, digital imaging, battery technology, and the development of high-resolution remote sensors, small unmanned aerial systems are dramatically changing the way a host of professionals are conducting business.

In contrast to the large, extraordinarily expensive to operate fixed wing drones that have been in use by the military for almost two decades, the vast majority of the drones in use today are lightweight hover craft that are capable of being launched and retrieved almost anywhere due to their small size and their ability to take-off and land vertically. Ranging in price from $500.00 to $2,000, consumer grade unmanned aircraft are capable of capturing high resolution still photographs and videos that are useful for generating geo-referenced natural color mosaics and digital surface models. Capable of collecting scientific research quality data, commercial grade drones that range in price from $5,000 to $50,000 are equipped with advanced, application specific remote sensing equipment. Relatively easy to operate commercial and consumer grade unmanned aerial vehicles currently being deployed by scientists, engineers, and natural resource managers on an increasingly frequent basis are nominally equipped with global positioning system (GPS) enabled navigation systems, high resolution video and still photography cameras, and wireless digital communications systems that allow their operators to view and record real-time images and data from altitudes of up to 23,000 feet, and from distances of up to several miles. Inland lake management professionals operating in North America are just now beginning to recognize the tremendous potential for the small remote-controlled aircraft to enhance their overall capacity to effectively monitor, assess, and manage aquatic ecosystems. The use of highly maneuverable hovercraft that are authorized by the Federal Aviation Agency to operate anywhere in uncontrolled airspace to a maximum altitude of four hundred feet provide lake managers with a versatile and cost-effective tool with which to obtain high-resolution images, and precise data regarding the nature and status of inland lake ecosystems.

One of the most important benefits derived from the use of small unmanned aircraft is their ability to provide lake managers with a crystal-clear bird’s eye view of the lake, and its surrounding area. Unlike the coarse images derived from earth observation satellites, the spatial resolution of the photographs and videos provided by high-resolution camera equipped drones operating at relatively low altitudes ranges from sub-meter to the centimeter level. Detailed visual images that are viewed in real-time, and simultaneously recorded for future reference are extremely useful for accurately monitoring and assessing the characteristics and ecological status of inland lake ecosystems, and their surrounding sub-watershed areas. Finely detailed color images captured and transmitted by hovercraft allow lake managers, for instance, to readily identify potential point, and non-point nutrient laden runoff sources that may be having an adverse impact on the lake’s aquatic ecosystem. Lake managers are also capable of easily maneuvering their hovercraft in order to view and record close-up images of areas of special interest such as natural shorelines, vegetative buffer zones, wetlands, or a nearby creek. Lake managers and aquatic biologists working on behalf of the home owner’s association of northwest Lower Michigan’s Big and Little Glen Lakes, for example, recently deployed drones to survey and record high resolution video of the entire shoreline of each of the lakes that will serve to establish an accurate baseline reference with which to compare and measure future changes to the shoreline.  Lake managers working to help preserve and protect the high quality of Big and Little Glen Lakes also intend to deploy drones in order to survey and map green belts, drainage pipes, sea walls, critical fish habitat, shoreline erosion, and invasive plants.

The ability to safely operate the versatile lightweight aircraft at low altitude vantage points also allows lake managers to assess the composition, abundance, and coverage area of the lake’s emergent and floating leaf aquatic plant communities, or to visually scan nearby shorelines and wetlands in order to detect, and/or assess the abundance of invasive plants such as exotic phragmites, or purple loosestrife. Lake managers operating their high-resolution camera equipped drones just a few feet above the surface of lakes with good water clarity are also capable of accurately assessing the abundance and coverage area of submerged exotic aquatic invasive plants such as Eurasian watermilfoil and starry stonewort. Drone technology enhances the capacity of lake and aquatic plant managers to plan and implement aquatic plant management activities by increasing the number of surveys they are able to conduct in a single season as well as by greatly improving the accuracy and reliability of the data they are capable of capturing during aquatic plant surveys.

Lake and water resource managers throughout North America are also deploying drones in order to enhance their capacity to detect, monitor, assess, and attempt to minimize the harmful effects that are often associated with harmful algal blooms. Capable of producing powerful toxins that pose a significant health threat to animals and people, creating dead zones in lakes, ponds, and reservoirs, and of greatly increasing the cost of treating drinking water, harmful algal blooms in the form of red tide, blue-green algae, and cyanobacteria are occurring on a more frequent basis throughout the United States and Canada. The use of satellite derived images and high-resolution images captured by drones have been particularly useful in the development of predictive models that have been used, for example, to forecast the spatial coverage and depth of the cyanobacteria and blue-green algae blooms that have frequently occurred in the nutrient rich waters of western Lake Erie in recent years.

Lake managers are also capable of deploying small commercial grade unmanned aircraft that are equipped with advanced remote sensing technology that is capable of accurately measuring trophic state dependent concentrations of chlorophyll, dissolved oxygen, and total suspended solids present in the water column. Remote sensing capable drones are also being deployed by water resource managers on an increasingly frequent basis to measure surface water temperature, electrical conductivity, and the amount of organic nutrients present in the water. The use of drones equipped with state-of-the-art remote sensing capability promises to greatly enhance the capacity of scientists and managers to develop and implement sound water resources management strategies.

Lake managers utilizing state-of-the-art drones to enhance the accuracy and efficiency of their efforts are also capable of creating precise, geo-referenced ortho-mosaic maps of inland lakes and their surrounding watershed areas by using advanced analytical software to stitch together the high-resolution images that are captured during comprehensive aerial surveys. In contrast to aerial surveys conducted by manned aircraft that are time consuming and extraordinarily expensive, the use of drones to capture high-resolution images of large areas in a cost effective and expeditious manner has helped make high quality aerial maps much more affordable, and readily available. In addition to significantly contributing to the capacity of lake managers to monitor, assess, and manage aquatic ecosystems, high resolution natural color maps also enhance their ability to effectively communicate with lakefront home owners, and other lake users in regards to the importance of preserving wetlands, natural shorelines, and of controlling aquatic invasive plants.

It is important to note that lake or water resource managers contemplating the use of drones to support their operations should be advised that in addition to the requirement to register both consumer and commercial grade small unmanned aircraft weighing at least .55 pounds, and not more than 55 pounds with the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA), those intending to operate small unmanned aerial systems as part of their job or commercial business will also need to earn their FAA Remote Pilot Certificate under the auspices of 14 CFR Part 107 Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems.

Soon to be Back in Session, the Michigan State Legislature Will Ponder the Status of Legislation that, if Passed, Would Act to Severely Limit the Authority of Local Units of Government

If passed by both the Michigan House of Representatives and the Michigan Senate, Michigan House Bill 4722 would serve to amend Public Act 110, the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act, to prevent local units of government from passing ordinances that would prohibit short term rentals in areas that are zoned residential. In areas such as northern Lower Michigan that are blanketed with inland lakes possessing lakefront homes that serve as high demand short term vacation rental properties, the ability to rent to vacationers on a short term basis during the summer months usually plays an important role in allowing property owners to be capable of affording the considerable mortgages that are often associated with lakefront properties in Michigan.

The Michigan House of Representatives will also be tasked this fall with considering Senate Bill 429 that would add Part 639 (Sand and Gravel Mining) to the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA), that, if passed would:

– Specify that mining would be considered authorized under Part 639 if it had received a local permit for mining, zoning approval, or other governmental authorization, or was not required to have obtained an authorization because of nonregulation or because the mining was a legal nonconforming use.

— Specify that Part 639 would preempt an ordinance, regulation, resolution, policy, or practice of a governmental authority created by statute, municipality, or county that prohibited or regulated certain aspects of a mine.

— Prohibit, except for minimal extraction activities or for certain exempt activities, a person from engaging in mining except as authorized by a mining permit, which would have to be obtained from the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (DEGLE).

Passage of Senate Bill 429 into law would effectively strip local units of government of the authority to deny or approve gravel mining permits. It is important to note that the Michigan Senate has already acted to overwhelmingly pass bills to strip local governments of authority to issue gravel mine permits.

The bills would also act to give gravel mining permitting authority to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. In the vast majority of cases, EGLE would be required to issue the permits even if local governments and residents oppose new mines.

The bills currently set no limits on hours of operation for gravel mines, and they would also be allowed to operate within a block of schools, churches, or areas zoned residential. Opponents of the legislation suggest that the bills would destroy the quality of life for many people across the state who live in quiet, rural areas.

Senate Bill 429 (S-3) would add Part 639 (Sand and Gravel Mining) to the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA) to do the following:

– Specify that mining would be considered authorized under Part 639 if it had received a local permit for mining, zoning approval, or other governmental authorization, or was not required to have obtained an authorization because of nonregulation or because the mining was a legal nonconforming use.

— Specify that Part 639 would preempt an ordinance, regulation, resolution, policy, or practice of a governmental authority created by statute, municipality, or county that prohibited or regulated certain aspects of a mine.

— Prohibit, except for minimal extraction activities or for certain exempt activities, a person from engaging in mining except as authorized by a mining permit, which would have to be obtained from the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).

Our readers are encouraged to contact their respective state representative or senator to express their support or opposition to the proposed legislation.

USEPA Survey Reaffirms that an Extraordinarily Abundant Exotic Invasive Quagga Mussel Population Continues to Dominate Lake Michigan’s Aquatic Ecosystem

Reporting that quagga mussels continue to be “major drivers and stressors” within the lake’s aquatic ecosystem, aquatic scientists assigned to the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) 180-foot Lake Guardian research vessel who recently completed their once every five-year survey of Lake Michigan have concluded that although the population of the exotic invasive mussels appears to have leveled off, the rapidly reproducing member of the Dreissena mussel family is becoming larger, and is occupying deeper areas of the lake’s basin. Enabled by the capacity to attach themselves to hard surfaces ranging from water intake pipes to the hulls of shipwrecks as well as to soft sediments, the filter feeding mussel, a native of the waters of Eastern Europe, now occupies more than one half of Lake Michigan’s 22, 406 square mile basin. According to scientists working aboard the vessel, the recently completed survey of the lake’s basin reaffirms that exotic invasive quagga mussels (scientific name: Dreissena bugensis) have become the dominant factor in Lake Michigan’ aquatic ecosystem.

First discovered in the Laurentian Great Lakes region in Lake St. Clair in 1988, quagga mussels represent one of two species of Dreissena mussels, the other being the now widespread zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha), that each entered the region via the ballast water discharges of trans-oceanic freighters navigating into the region through the St. Lawrence Seaway. Since their initial discovery over thirty years ago, quagga mussels have spread rapidly throughout Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basin states, and several other watersheds located throughout the eastern, central, and western United States, including the Colorado River, and Lake Mead, located in Nevada and Arizona. Both quagga and zebra mussels are capable of being introduced to other water bodies via microscopic larvae that are easily transported in ballast water, bilges, live wells, and other on-board equipment that holds water.

Although quagga mussels are capable of tolerating salinities of up to five parts per thousand, they have evolved to prefer the calcium carbonate rich freshwaters found in all of the Laurentian Great Lakes except Lake Superior. Unlike zebra mussels that prefer water temperatures ranging from 68° to 77° F (20° to 25° C), quagga mussels have evolved to prefer significantly cooler water temperatures ranging from 59° to 68° F (15° to 20° C). It is also known that water temperatures of 82° F (28°C), or greater begin to produce high mortality rates in quagga mussels. In contrast to zebra mussels that are more likely to be found thriving in near shore shallow water areas hosting higher water temperatures, quagga mussels are more likely to be found occupying off shore areas of the basin hosting water depths of up to 500 feet (152 meters), and inherently colder water temperatures.

Although the long term ecological effects of trillions of quagga mussels feeding upon the microscopic aquatic plants and animals that form the basis of the food chain in most lakes and rivers are not yet well understood, scientists working aboard the R/V Lake Guardian are concerned that an astronomical population of filter feeding quagga mussels are in fact gradually depleting a once abundant aquatic food chain that has a long history of supporting a robust Laurentian Great Lakes fishing industry. Moreover, the economic cost of managing the steadily escalating harmful influences of an extraordinary abundant population of exotic invasive Dreissena mussels is $500 million per year. Exotic invasive Dreissena mussels reduce the operational efficiency of power and waste water treatment plants by clogging water intake pipes, and are having an increasing negative influence upon the Great Lakes region’s lucrative recreation boating and sport fishing industries by completely covering docks, breakwalls, buoys, boats, and beaches. Littering beaches with millions of sharp edge shells, removing dead mussels from public beaches has also become a significant expense for municipal governments.

Scrappy Bluegill Thriving in Most of Michigan’s Inland Lakes

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For those of us who were lucky enough to spend our childhood living on or near one of Michigan’s thousands of inland lakes, the scrappy bluegill, also sometimes referred to as bream or sun perch, was often the first fish that many of us ever caught while dangling a hook, worm, sinker, and bobber from the end of a flimsy cane pole. Native to the eastern half of the United States, due to the fact that the rapidly reproducing member of the sunfish family gradually became one of North America’s most popular sport fish, and have therefore been intentionally introduced to many regions where they are not indigenous, bluegill now commonly inhabit the waters of lakes, lagoons, reservoirs, ponds, quarries, and rivers extending from Canada to northern Mexico.

Capable of growing to 9½ inches (.24 meter) in length, and achieving a weight of up to 12 ounces (340 grams), bluegill (scientific name: Lepomis macrochirus) may be differentiated from other commonly occurring members of the sunfish family by the six to eight dark vertical bars that adorns both sides of their compressed body, a namesake pale blue spot on the upper most lobe of their gill cover, a relatively small head and mouth, a dorsal fin that features nine to eleven spines, and by an anal fin defined by three spines. Bluegill possess an upper body that is dark olive-green in color that gradually blends to colors ranging from lavender, brown, copper, or orange on the sides, and a reddish-orange or yellow belly. It is interesting to note that adult male bluegills may be distinguished from the females of the species by the presence of brighter, more tense coloration patterns.

Preferring quiet waters found in small to mid-sized inland lakes or ponds, bluegills are most often observed in large numbers within habitats ranging from dense submerged aquatic plant stands located near the drop-off in water depths of up to ten feet to areas hosting shade induced cooler waters located under docks, swimming rafts, or overhanging tree branches. In addition to habitats defined by complex vegetative or woody structure that provide protection from predation, bluegills prefer habitats that are capable of supporting their voracious, non-stop foraging upon insects, insect larvae, small crustaceans, and worms.

Reaching sexual maturity within their first two years of life, bluegills are capable of achieving and sustaining prolific rates of reproduction. Responding to the arrival of late spring or early summer, bluegill begin their annual reproductive cycle as water temperatures reach 70° F (21° C). The process begins as male bluegills use their tail to create a sediment free dish shaped nest lined with gravel and stone in water depths ranging from 1.5 to 4 feet (.45 – 1.21 meter). Given the fact that bluegills are colonial nesters, areas of inland lakes characterized by ideal breeding habitat comprised of flat or gradually sloping areas of shallow water interspersed with dense aquatic plant growth, and/or woody debris will often host hundreds of the saucer shaped nests. Depositing their eggs within the stone and gravel lined areas of several adjacent nests, mature female bluegills are capable of producing up to 80,000 eggs per year. The survival of each nest’s offspring is promoted by the fact that females and males make genetic contributions to multiple nests. Following the creation of nests, and the deposition and fertilization of eggs, male bluegills aggressively guard their respective nests from predators, and help promote the viability of the fertilized eggs by preventing sediment from accumulating within the nest. Following a brief incubation period the eggs hatch, and the male of the species guards the hatchlings until they are mature enough to venture out of the confines of the nest, and into open water.

Governor Whitmer Declares July 2021 as Lakes Appreciation Month

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 6, 2021
Nick Assendelft, Public Information Officer, AssendelftN@Michigan.gov, 517-388-3135

Gov. Whitmer proclaims July Lakes Appreciation Month

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has designated July as Lakes Appreciation Month, highlighting a resource that fuels Michigan’s economy, is the source of drinking water for millions, draws tourists from around the world and offers countless opportunities for recreation.

“Michiganders are blessed with an abundance of natural water resources, namely our awesome Great Lakes and over 11,000 inland lakes. We have a duty to protect and preserve these precious resources as well as our wetlands, rivers and groundwater for future generations,” said Gov. Whitmer. “Ending sewer overflows, fixing failing septic systems, cleaning up contaminated sites and planning for the effects of climate change are critical to a clean and healthy future for our lakes. We must work together to protect our treasured water resources and do everything we can to ensure they are here for Michiganders to enjoy centuries from now, just as we enjoy them today.”

While there are many challenges facing Michigan’s lakes and connected waterways, aging infrastructure and the effects of climate change are two highly important issues that require increased awareness during Lakes Appreciation Month and the months to come.

The Governor’s MI Healthy Climate Plan creates a roadmap to a carbon neutral economy by 2050 that will also protect the state’s natural resources, including lakes. The Governor’s MI Clean Water Plan is a $500 million investment in infrastructure from source to tap that will make for cleaner, more affordable water. Nearly $3 million under the plan will help communities develop, update and improve their wastewater and stormwater plans, keeping pollutants out of Michigan’s lakes and rivers.

Protecting water resources is part of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s (EGLE) mission and the department is leading the development and implementation of the MI Healthy Climate Plan and the MI Clean Water Plan.

EGLE’s Water Resources Division protects and monitors Michigan’s waters by establishing water quality standards, assessing the health of aquatic communities, encouraging natural shoreline practices, regulating wastewater discharges and overseeing aquatic invasive species concerns and water withdrawals. EGLE’s Office of the Great Lakes oversees Great Lakes water policy and strategy implementation as well as representing the state at national forums regarding the Great Lakes.

To learn more about Michigan’s lakes or how to help keep them healthy, consult these resources:

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Canada Imposes Strict Ballast Water Management Regulations on Maritime and Great Lakes Shipping Industry In Order to Reduce Exotic Aquatic Invasive Species Introductions

Representing a precedent setting action that will likely result in a dramatic reduction in the number of inadvertent introductions of exotic aquatic animal, plant, and algae species that occur in North America over the course of the next decade, the Canadian Ministry of Transport recently announced new ballast water regulations that will apply to vessels navigating the waters of Canada as well as to Canadian vessels operating anywhere in the world. Canada’s newly promulgated ballast water regulations include “lakers” – vessels that navigate only from port-to-port within the Laurentian Great Lakes.

Observing that “coasts and waterways are vital to our environment, livelihoods, and economy, and must be protected”, Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra stated that new ballast water regulations would require companies that own and operate vessels on Canadian waters to take action to significantly reduce the number of new exotic aquatic invasive species introductions by installing updated ballast water management systems, by increasing the frequency of ballast water management system inspections, and by enhancing the requirement to create and maintain records pertaining to ballast water system inspections, maintenance, surveys, and system certifications.

In announcing implementation of what the maritime and Great Lakes shipping industry views as strict, and expensive to implement ballast water regulations, the Canadian Ministry of Transport revealed that the decision to require the installation of modern ballast water system technology is supported by studies that indicate the action will result in reducing the number of exotic aquatic species that are introduced to Canadian maritime and Great Lakes ports by as much as 82%. It is important to point out that ballast water that is not treated before it is taken on-board in order to help keep vessels stable in turbulent waters can accidentally lead to the introduction and spread of exotic aquatic invasive species. Well known examples of ballast water enabled introductions of exotic species within the Laurentian Great Lakes region include now widespread species such as Eurasian water milfoil, quagga and zebra mussels, spiny water flea, and starry stonewort. The introduction and spread of exotic aquatic plant, animal, and algae species are now well known to be capable of rendering severe, long term negative impacts on native freshwater ecosystems, local fisheries, beaches, and critical infrastructure such as hydro-electric dams.

While conservation focused organizations such as the Chicago-based Alliance for the Great Lakes are “excited to see Canada decide to regulate lakers which can move aquatic invasive species from lake-to-lake”, United States-based Great Lakes shipping firms as represented by the Lake Carriers Association  have suggested that the new Canadian regulations regarding the use and release of ballast water are “unfair, excessively expensive, and designed to undermine competition in the business of ferrying goods across the world’s largest collection of freshwater lakes.” In response to Lake Carriers Association concerns, the United State Federal Maritime Commission recently launched a formal investigation into Canada’s intent to change the rules that govern an important aspect of shipping on the Great Lakes. The complexity of the issue is compounded by the fact that United States Environmental Protection Agency regulations effectively exempt “lakers” from the need to treat ballast water, only requiring ocean-going vessels to manage ballast water.