Friday, January 29, 2010

An Adventure: The Full Circle Tour

Shortly after the first of the year, a time when people make New Year’s resolutions, I considered making some for myself. I turned 64 at the end of December and I feel like I should do something significant in preparation for my Medicare years. I have begun a new blog, When I’m 64, which will document my thoughts as I become a woman of a “certain age”. But in one of my recent posts, I decided that I would rather present myself with a challenge rather than make resolutions I probably wouldn’t keep anyway.

I still have not come up with exactly what my challenge will be, but this morning I learned about someone else’s challenge and want to share it with you.

At the end of April, Mike Link and Kate Crowley are beginning what they are calling the Full Circle Tour around Lake Superior. They will walk the entire 1,826 miles and take five months to do it. Along the way, they will record their observations, while raising awareness of freshwater issues and conservation. Both are professional naturalists with a passion for the lake, nature, and adventure.

I could tell you more about their proposed adventure but their wonderful website says it all much better than I can. When you read it, you too will be hooked and I am sure you will want to follow their adventure. I am still going to search for my own challenge but I will closely follow Mike and Kate’s adventure when they get started. Maybe I can figure out a way to get up to at least one section of Lake Superior this summer to meet them, too. The picture and bio of Mike Link and Kate Crowley tell me that they are my age – they are retired and have grandchildren. All the more reason for me to support and follow their efforts.

Following someone else’s adventure may not qualify as a challenge for me but I am sure it will be interesting to watch, even from a distance. As for me, the only lake I have walked around recently is the 2.3 mile paved path around Lake Andrea, in nearby Pleasant Prairie, and that doesn’t qualify as a “challenge”.

I wonder if anyone has hiked around Lake Erie yet. Can I call it a challenge if I just drive?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Water for Haiti

We have all been watching the news from Haiti for days now, and although the initial shock of the crisis has passed, there is still an overwhelming need for aid. We are told that the best thing we can do is send money to a reputable organization that will then be able to purchase goods and provide services. Many of us have already done this and will continue to do so.

Last night I watched as the TV showed gallon jugs of water being unloaded from a ship that is unable to dock. People passed the jugs from one person to the other. Other photos focused on the distribution of small bottles of water – the ones so many of us carry around and think nothing of the cost of that water.

The cost of water can be identified. Sure we have all been told that bottled water costs more than oil; depending on where you shop or where you buy it, a 16 ounce bottle can be 89 cents at the grocery store or $5.00 at a rock concert. Tap water costs a whole lot less. According to the American Water Works Association, the average price of tap water is $1.50 per 1,000 gallons, which is less than a penny a gallon.

But those are all costs in the United States, where both bottled and good tap water are readily available. What are the costs of getting any water to Haiti? Given the extreme need, the extreme destruction and the extreme everything else there, I can’t even begin to calculate it. I don’t even know how to begin the research.

Clean water is needed for drinking, but it is also essential to public health, fire protection, and economic development. We may be able to calculate the cost of water, but its value is priceless.

I may never get the opportunity to stand hand in hand with George Clooney (alas) or any of the other superstars who are active raising money for Haiti, but I can support their efforts. So can you, if you haven't already. My hope is that you already have. The need is enormous.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tail 1 - Dog 0

It looks like the tail has won this time around. Today, The US Supreme Court sided with the State of Illinois, the City of Chicago, and the United States Government and US Army Corps of Engineers not to close the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal as an effort to stop Asian Carp from entering Lake Michigan.

I could repeat what is being written elsewhere in the blogosphere, but I won’t. The best summary of what happened and what might happen is at Noah Hall’s Great Lakes Law blog. I urge you to read it, including the referenced article from the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal on the political fallout of the decision for the President Obama. I have been an Obama supporter right along, but this decision does not make me happy with our present administration.

My dog has a little tail, but when he wags it, his whole body moves. If the State of Michigan is the body, I think we will see a lot more body moving to come, but as Noah Hall and others ask, will it be too late?

(If this dog reference doesn't make sense to you, just look back at my previous post.)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Is The Tail Wagging the Dog?

I heard a statistic the other day that really got me thinking. It was in a discussion on a Chicago TV station about Asian Carp (OK, so I’m obsessed). Senator Dick Durbin (D, IL) pointed out that although Illinois has only 63 miles of Great Lakes shore land, Lake Michigan is a major natural resource in the area. 63 miles? At first, I couldn’t believe it, but I checked it out on an NPS Great Lakes Shoreline Recreation Area Survey and of course, it is true. Senator Durbin did not lie or even exaggerate. Only Indiana and Pennsylvania have less coastline (46 and 51, respectively) and in fact, people often forget that those two states are actually Great Lakes States.

Michigan has a whopping 3,222 miles of shore land. Wow, they really do get to be called the Great Lakes State. But here comes the problem. You start looking at other statistics and the situation becomes complex. How many people live in the part of Illinois that borders Lake Michigan? How many live in the Detroit area? And what about Cleveland, Buffalo and Toronto; Sandusky, Marquette and Dunkirk? What is the dollar volume of shipping through Chicago to the Mississippi River? How big an industry is sport fishing on The Great Lakes? And what about the tourism and recreation dollars?

The answer to some of those questions can be found in the Great Lakes; An Environmental Atlas and Resource Book put out by US-EPA, but the latest edition from 2003 contains statistics from 1990, so its value only goes so far. And can you put a dollar amount on a healthy ecosystem, anyway?

I am not saying that Illinois’s position is wrong, but just given the basic numbers, Michigan has a very good point. Senator Durbin’s remarks brought to mind the “tail wagging the dog”. I wonder why.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Life's a Clean Beach

The sun is warm on my face and the sand soothes my feet. I set my blanket in a spot a few yards from the water’s edge, slip off my sandals, and I am ready to dip my toes into the lake, but as I approach, a green gooey mass stops me. Unless I am willing to wade through the thick algae bloom there will be no swimming for me.

Okay, so that scenario is months away. It’s frigid cold and the beach on Simmons Island where I usually swim is white with icy peaks preventing anyone, even Polar Plungers, from taking a dip. But an announcement on the website of the Alliance for the Great Lakes told me that now is the time to do something about the algae on Wisconsin beaches. Now, in January.

The Alliance is encouraging people to tell the Wisconsin DNR that you want our beaches to be considered “impaired waters”. Then they can tell the US-EPA so these beaches can included in a list of targeted for improvement under the Federal Clean Water Act. Okay, I can do that – the Alliance makes it easy by posting a direct link to the DNR on their website, although beyond just telling them, which beaches are polluted, I am not sure what they want me to do.
My local beaches at Simmons Island and Eichelman Park aren’t among the worse waters, but occasionally they do have an unpleasant algae buildup.

A few years ago, my husband and I visited the Lake Erie Islands and stayed in Port Clinton Ohio. The weather was beautiful, warm, and sunny and we thought we would go for a swim in the lake, but when we got to the beach, it was disgusting. A barrier of green gunk prevented us from going into the water, to say nothing of the foul odor. We went back and swam in the motel pool, but we were disappointed. Lake Erie, the shallowest of the Great Lakes, is particularly vulnerable to these algae blooms, technically eutrophication, but the scenario happens all over the Great Lakes.

I also learned that the EPA is making almost $10M in grants available to 37 eligible coastal and Great Lakes states to monitor beach water quality and notify the public of unsafe swimming conditions. The funds are made available under BEACH (Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health) Act of 2000. Again, I would be happy to help but I am not sure what I can do.

Keeping beaches clean and safe for swimming is a public health issue. It is also a good for recreation and tourism and just plain smart. So is dreaming about warm, summer days as a way to get through what is becoming a long winter. Tell me what I can do to make sure that life this summer will be a beach. A clean beach.

Monday, January 11, 2010

What's in a Name?

Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Is a rose is a rose is a rose? When is an Asian carp just a fish?

I really want to get away from writing about Asian carp but it doesn’t seem that I can right now. Articles about them seem to be jumping out into my face, much the same way these huge fish jump out of the water. As a follow up to my last posting about carp in the court, I was looking for information about the Supreme Court case trying to keep the Asian carp out of the Great Lakes when I came across an article in the Chicago Tribune entitled Asian Carp: Take That and Fry it.

The article describes how the fish is cooked in coconut milk with lemon grass and chili peppers to make a Vietnamese dish and that deep-fried carp has been a staple on the menu at an Omaha restaurant for decades. Apparently, many ethnic groups view the carp as a food fish, and perhaps that gefilte fish that my Bubbie made did use a variety of Asian carp, too.

Of course, as the article suggests, if Asian carp starts appearing on menus instead of Coho salmon or trout, it may have to get a name change to get out from under its bad reputation. It won’t be the first food to have an AKA. For example, did you know that canola oil is actually rapeseed? When the oil was introduced as an alternative to higher fat oils by a Canadian company it was given the designation CAN. O. L.A. and the name sounded so much better than rapeseed, it was used commercially. Mahi-mahi, another fish name change, is actually dolphin-fish but there was concern that it would not sell with that name, even though this fish is not the same as the dolphins that accompany cruise ships, entertaining passengers, and who are actually marine mammals.

I am by no means suggesting that the invasion of carp would be a good thing. These aggressive fish would destroy other fish in the Great Lakes and the entire ecosystem will change if they become permanent residents. Still, it helps to look at things in a different way.

Now I am wondering what kind of name change would be good for the Asian carp. Maybe lemon fish – for if they come to the Great Lakes we may have to make lemonade from them. Bouillabaisse, too, perhaps. What would that mean for a Door County fish boil?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Carp in the Courts

There’s a children’s book called A Carp in the Bathtub. It is a story about how Jewish women would put carp in the bathtub to keep them fresh until they were ready to make gefilte fish for holidays. The story always resonated with me because my mother used to tell the same story about her mother. The fish in the book took up temporary residency in a Brooklyn apartment bathtub. My bubbie’s fish came out of Lake Ontario and went into a bathtub in Hamilton Ontario. I don’t think it was an Asian carp, the kind getting all the publicity around the Great Lakes these days.

Perhaps the authors of the children’s should write a sequel. They could call it Carp in the Courts, because that’s where carp are these days, along with the people who are trying to prevent them from getting into the Great Lakes.

Wisconsin has joined Michigan, and other Great Lakes States in a lawsuit trying to close the locks and canals that would bring the fish into Lake Michigan and then the other lakes. The impact on the environment, to say nothing of the huge fishing industry, would be enormous. The Supreme Court is hearing the case this week.

Here on the Illinois-Wisconsin border, we hear both sides of the story. Illinois officials claim that closing the canal would endanger public safety and disrupt the flow of cargo. Shipping, I can understand. It is estimated that 14.6 million tons of commodities, including and iron and steel move through the channel every year, and it is a $1.65B industry, but I couldn’t find any data on how closing the canal would endanger public safety. If someone can explain that to me, I’d appreciate it.

Illinois is also questioning whether finding a small amount of carp DNA in the lake really means that an invasion is imminent. Not surprisingly, President Obama, previously Senator from Illinois, and the Feds oppose closing the channel.

The thing that I find so interesting is that aspects of the legal case are not new. Wisconsin and other states have taken issue with the reversal of the Chicago River for decades. That Lake Michigan is linked to the Mississippi River in an unnatural way through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, and has been for over 100 years, is partly the reason for the current invasion of these monster fish. In 1929, several states filed complaints and the courts ruled that the reversal was illegal but nothing was ever done about it.

If you want to know more about this ongoing dispute, read The Great Lakes Water Wars by Peter Annin. I know I have mentioned this book before (February 20, 2009) but it is worth mentioning again. Chapter 5 of Annin’s book is called Reversing A River. It reads like a novel about politics in Illinois, always a fascinating topic.

Maybe I am wrong about a book on Asian Carp. Instead, perhaps someone should make a movie. It could be modeled after the movie Chinatown. Remember that one? It a classic and it is also about water and politics based in parts of real life events in what has been called the California Water Wars. Politics and water are great topics for books and movies - and blogs - these days.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Great Photos of Lake Michigan

The pictures I post on this blog are taken to help me make my story. They fill in where words are not sufficient, but they are not award winning photos. That’s okay because someone in my neighborhood is taking high quality photos of places I love. If you haven’t clicked on the link at the left that say lakemichiblog, you have been missing some great pictures. Do it now, and make sure you see the ones from the past few days, back to New Year’s Eve. Great work.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Plunging Into A New Year

I missed seeing the ball drop down in Times Square ushering in 2010. I was indulging in a different New Year’s Eve tradition. For the past few years, we have stayed at home, cooked a nice dinner, and then watched a movie in our own living room. Our selection this year was an exciting, fast-paced adventure and 11 AM Eastern Time came and went before we realized it. At midnight Central Time, I think we were already in bed.

We have another tradition for New Year’s Day. For the past few years, except for last year, we have watched the Polar Plunge in Lake Michigan. Last year the event was cancelled because the ice build up along the beach on Simmons Island was too thick. You can see pictures that I posted about the non-event on my entry from the beginning of January, 2009.

Today, in spite of temperatures in the mid-teens and winds of 20 mph or greater, making the wind-chill factor below zero, the event took place, and we were there to watch. It seemed to me that there were fewer people this year and I think those who did go in the water, stayed shorter times than in the past. The three boys at the right were the first in the water – first out, too, I think.

In order to get the Tee shirt that says you took the plunge, you have to get your head wet, so participants did and then ran out very quickly back to shore to wrap up in warm blankets and don sweat suits. The whole event took under five minutes, and I can’t say I was sorry. My feet were getting cold, but not as cold as those who left their flip-flops in the water.

After watching the plunge, I was ready to get back inside to spend the day doing not much of anything – yet another New Year’s Day tradition. I tip my ski cap to those who entered Polar Plunges everywhere today. I hope they are sitting in front of a warm fire now, sipping hot cocoa, and telling tales of their adventure. Happy New Year to them – and to all.