Spring Edition | May 29, 2020
Great Lakes-St. Lawrence News for Legislators
GLLC Member News
Breaking: 2020 Annual Meeting Canceled Due to COVID-19 Pandemic

The GLLC 2020 Annual Meeting is the latest event to be affected by the challenges of traveling and gathering while maintaining social distancing practices during the global COVID-19 pandemic. The GLLC Executive Committee made the decision to cancel the in-person event in order to protect the well-being of members, speakers, and other attendees. Originally scheduled to take place in Detroit on September 18-19, the 2020 Annual Meeting would have marked just the second time Michigan would host the Caucus's signature event for state and provincial legislators from the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River region. Instead, the GLLC will wait until 2022 to take its annual meeting to the Great Lakes State; Québec is on deck to host next year's annual meeting in Québec City.

The agenda for 2020 included a number of timely, informative policy sessions, as well as important GLLC business such as electing officers and Executive Committee members, considering GLLC policy resolutions, and selecting the focus of the 2021 Patricia Birkholz Institute for Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Policy. To bring some of this programming to Caucus members and give them an opportunity to vote on GLLC business matters, we'll be scheduling short virtual meetings in September and early October. More information on these virtual meetings will be available in June.
June 5 Quarterly Web Meeting to Examine Impact of COVID-19 on GLLC Policy Priorities

Join the GLLC on Friday, June 5, for the Caucus's next quarterly web meeting. Traditionally during the spring web meeting, the Caucus focuses on federal, state, and provincial legislation related to the Great Lakes and water quality. This year is no exception, but now the conversation will take place against the backdrop of a global pandemic. Given the need for governments at all levels to focus on public health and restoring the economy, what is the likelihood of making progress on the GLLC’s policy priorities for drinking water, nutrient management, and preventing the spread of Asian carp into Lake Michigan? Can investing in the Great Lakes help to stimulate the economy and create much-needed jobs? The speakers on the June 5 web meeting will share their insights on these and other questions.

The web meeting will begin with Matthew McKenna of the Northeast-Midwest Institute providing an overview of federal legislative activities in the U.S., followed by members of the GLLC's Executive Committee reporting on activities in their own states and provinces. The web meeting will include a business session featuring reports from the GLLC’s task forces and committees, as well as an opportunity for open discussion among the members of the Caucus. The agenda is available here. The web meeting will begin promptly at 9 am CDT/10 am EDT. To accommodate a full agenda, the web meeting may last up to 90 minutes.

GLLC web meetings are geared toward members of the Caucus; however, they are open to all interested parties. There is no charge to attend, and everyone is welcome to stay for the business session. Recordings of web meetings are posted on the GLLC’s website.
GLLC Election 2020

Seven GLLC members have stepped up to join the Caucus's Nominating Committee to identify a slate of candidates to recommend for election this year as GLLC officers and members of the Executive Committee. The GLLC is a member-driven organization, so the service of these members is greatly appreciated.
Above: MNA Gilles Bélang er ( Québec ), Rep. Tim Butler (Illinois), Rep. Jonathan Carroll (Illinois), Sen. Tina Maharath (Ohio). Below: Rep. John Patterson (Ohio), Sen. Ann Rest (Minnesota), and Sen. David Senjem (Minnesota).
The Nominating Committee convened a conference call on May 20 to decide on the process and timeline for this year's election. The nominating period will be open from June 15 through July 13 and the election will take place in the fall. Legislators who have been GLLC members for at least one year will be eligible to nominate themselves or their colleagues. Candidates for the position of chair or vice chair must have prior experience serving on the Executive Committee. Elected officers and Executive Committee members will serve two-year terms beginning January 1, 2021.

GLLC members will receive the call for nominations via email on June 15. In the meantime, contact Lisa Janairo with any questions about the election.
The Joyce Foundation Awards New Grant to Support GLLC Activities

In April, the GLLC received the great news that The Joyce Foundation had awarded a new two-year grant to CSG Midwest for the purpose of supporting the Caucus's activities. The grant will support the GLLC's meetings and web meetings, as well as the newly launched Patricia Birkholz Institute for Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Policy. In addition to organizing educational events for GLLC members and other legislators, CSG Midwest will continue to facilitate the activities of the GLLC’s committees and task forces that are working to advance the Caucus's policy priorities.

GLLC Chair Sen. Ed Charbonneau expressed the Caucus's immense gratitude to the Foundation for helping GLLC leaders and members "to build on our success in transforming the Caucus to be an agent of change" in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence region. Thanks to The Joyce Foundation, said Sen. Charbonneau, the next two years will be focused on our mission to take coordinated regional action to benefit the Great Lakes and the people who rely upon them both now and in the future.
Developments Related to GLLC Policy Agenda
Water Consumption
As states and provinces began shutting down during the COVID-19 pandemic, some advocates called for moratoria on utility bill payments for the public health emergency’s duration. Delaware U.S. Sen. Thomas Carper’s staff in April analyzed how states are (or are not) responding to the call.

Of Caucus states, the roundup showed Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin among 15 states nationwide that took mandatory actions to ensure sustained utility service for all residents. Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and Pennsylvania were among 22 states that announced steps that partially restrict or discourage utility disconnections. Their measures:

  • The Illinois Commerce Commission issued an order prohibiting gas, electric, and water disconnections, but its jurisdiction only extends to privately owned utilities and does not include municipal utilities. Approximately 90 percent of residential water customers receive service from a municipal utility.
  • Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued executive order 2020-28 suspending disconnections of water services to all residents. Authorities have not announced any steps to suspend or restrict service disconnections for residential gas and electric customers.
  • The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission requested that regulated gas and electric utilities extend protection of the state’s Cold Weather Rule, which restricts disconnections and requires gas and electric utilities to provide a payment plan option for customers to make payments within their means before utilities can proceed with a service disconnection. Authorities have not announced any steps to suspend or restrict service disconnections for residential water customers.
  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced, “No utility can turn off service...if a person cannot pay their bill a result of responding to this virus situation. No information has been found whether this assurance is guaranteed by regulatory action or voluntary commitments, nor on whether protections extend to all utility services or only apply to state-regulated utility services, which does not include municipal utilities. Approximately 94 percent of residential water customers receive service from a municipal utility. 
  • The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission issued an order prohibiting regulated utilities from disconnecting residential customers from service. Its jurisdiction extends to all gas, privately owned electric, and some water utilities. Most municipal water utilities are not covered by the order.

In Canada, according to Canadian Urban Sustainability Practitioners , all electric and gas utilities in Ontario suspended disconnections after discussions with MPP Greg Rickford, who is minister of energy, northern development, and mines. Québec Hydro extended its annual winter moratorium on shutoffs (which usually ends on April 1) indefinitely through the COVID-19 pandemic, halted all cutoffs for non-payment, and suspended administration charges for unpaid bills since March 23.
Nutrient Pollution
New policy recommendations continue to be the focus for the GLLC Task Force on Nutrient Management. The options for the policy recommendations fall into six categories: agriculture, green infrastructure, land use, water quality trading, education and outreach, and accountability. On their May 8 conference call, members of the task force acknowledged the reality that, with the states and provinces grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be necessary to scale back on their plans for implementing new state and provincial policies in 2021.

As the task force members work on identifying their top priorities, Sen. André Jacque (Wisconsin), chair of the task force, urged them to focus on what makes the most sense for us to pursue at this time, especially with the fiscal constraints we'll be facing in the near term. The final set of policy recommendations is expected to be completed and approved by the Executive Committee before the GLLC meets in virtual sessions this fall. The task force had planned to hold a summer workshop to continue their hands-on education about nutrient pollution, particularly as it affects the western basin of Lake Erie. Due to the pandemic, the workshop has been postponed to 2021.

The task force also is developing a questionnaire to guide the members' outreach to state agencies and provincial ministries to obtain information on the current practices, policies, programs, and funding related to the policy priorities for nutrient management. A different questionnaire will be available for each of the policy recommendations that make the final cut. The information gleaned from this outreach will not only be useful to the GLLC, but will also help the Great Lakes Commission post content on the Blue Accounting platform that is specifically geared toward legislators.

Members who missed the GLLC web meeting on Blue Accounting are encouraged to view the recorded meeting to learn more about this valuable resource for tracking collective progress in restoring and protecting the Great Lakes ecosystem.
Aquatic Invasive Species
Under legislation moving in the U.S. Senate, an $863-million project to prevent the introduction and spread of Asian carp and other invasive species into the Great Lakes would receive formal congressional authorization — at a reduced share of costs for the non-federal partner.

This language on the Brandon Road Lock and Dam project is part of a larger measure known as America’s Water Infrastructure Act (S. 3591). The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the legislation in May.

Located on the Des Plaines River in Joliet, Illinois, Brandon Road Lock and Dam is part of the Chicago Area Waterway System, a mix of natural and engineered waterways that connect the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan. This system is the most likely pathway for Asian carp to reach the Great Lakes. Members of the GLLC visited the facility last September as part of the 2019 Annual Meeting in Chicago.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has studied various options and technologies for preventing the upstream movement of aquatic invasive species, and it has identified a mix of new controls at Brandon Road: a new electric barrier, an acoustic fish deterrent, an air bubble curtain, and a flushing lock.

The Army Corps requires a non-federal partner to pay a portion of a project’s costs, which include feasibility studies, construction, and operation and maintenance. The share of construction costs is often 35 percent for the non-federal partner, but the Senate bill proposes reducing the amount to 25 percent.

State and provincial leaders from the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River basin have met to discuss project costs and regional partnerships to cover the non-federal share.
Toxic Substances
PFAS contamination in Wisconsin

A November 2019 survey of the Milwaukee River estuary revealed PFAS ( per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) contamination in all surface water samples taken, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reported in early May. Thirteen locations in the Milwaukee, Menomonee, and Kinnickinnic Rivers, along with the inner and outer harbors, and one location in Lake Michigan, were sampled for 35 different PFAS compounds; the highest levels of PFAS were found in samples taken furthest upstream from Lake Michigan, the agency said.

In the Kinnickinnic River, samples of PFHxS (Perflurohexanesulfonate) were found at 44.4 parts per trillion (ppt) in the surface water. PFOS chemicals were found at 9.1 parts per billion (ppb) within sediment in the region. However, in samples taken closest to the drinking water source flowing through the Linnwood and Howard Avenue Water Treatment Plants, PFOA and PFOS were detected at 1 ppt. PFAS levels found in the Milwaukee Estuary were generally lower than those found in Madison’s Starkweather Creek, though higher than recent samples from the Wisconsin, Mississippi, and Menomonee Rivers.

The agency’s analytical report, along with sample locations, can be seen here .

ArcelorMittal under fire for lab tests

In a report filed on Jan. 6, Indiana state inspectors accused ArcelorMittal of re-analyzing water samples from its Burns Harbor plant that contained high levels of pollution and replacing the initial results with others that came back clean. “This practice is not allowable,” the report said.

The Chicago Tribune reported in April that the samples in question had been taken in late 2019 following releases of cyanide and ammonia into a tributary of Lake Michigan. According to the Tribune , “The company did not respond to emails about this story.

In a  Feb. 6 statement , the company said ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor uses certified third-party laboratories to test for cyanide and ammonia, and to our knowledge those labs follow all applicable laws and regulations. The company said it is submitting preliminary lab results to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management “within two hours upon receipt from the third-party lab and ensures a full Quality Assurance/Quality Control process is completed.” The statement went on to say, “ ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor does not manipulate or falsify data and would not tolerate a third-party laboratory that did so.
Coastal Communities
Record-high or near-record water levels will continue through 2020 for some Great Lakes (plus Lake St. Clair), according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Detroit District office.

The latest six-month forecast suggests record or near-record levels in Lake Michigan-Huron (which are measured as one lake, thanks to their connection at the Straits of Mackinac) and Lake Erie, with slightly less-than-record levels for Lakes Superior and Ontario.

The Detroit Free Press noted in February, “Every Great Lake except Lake Ontario set its new record-high water level in February, with connected lakes Michigan and Huron 17 inches above their levels at the same time last year. As of March 27, Lakes Michigan-Huron, St. Clair, and Erie are 2 to 5 inches above their record-high monthly average March level.”

And as if to prove that very point, late May storms dropped more than 6 inches of rain on the Chicago area in just four days, causing the Chicago River to flood streets and basements downtown. The flooding knocked out power at Willis Tower, which temporarily took WTTW-Channel 11 off the air. As a result of the deluge, the Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago let sewage flow into Lake Michigan to ease inland flooding.

Indiana shore threatened

The same system prompted flooding along Indiana’s Lake Michigan shoreline, exacerbating existing erosion that’s already threatening two historic homes relocated to Beverly Shores, Indiana, in 1935 following the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933.

As WBBM-AM (780) reported in mid-May, the houses were placed on barges after the exposition and floated to Beverly Shores. But now, the lake is chipping away at the dune that supports two of the five houses: the pink Florida House and the Rostone House.

The news station quoted Paul Labovitz, superintendent of the National Park Service at Indiana Dunes National Park, as saying the erosion has uncovered seawalls in front of both houses. The plan, he said, is to restore both seawalls by mid-summer – at a cost ranging from $20,000 to $50,000 – and hope for the best.
Mixture of shoreline management options on Chaumont Bay, NY.
Credit: Roy Widrig, New York Sea Grant.
NY Sea Grant offers ‘Virtual Visits’

A new online tool from New York Sea Grant allows Empire State property owners who need erosion management expertise to request a virtual site visit by New York Sea Grant (NYSG) Great Lakes Coastal Processes and Hazards Specialist Roy Widrig. The new online resource allows property owners to easily locate their property on a New York State map, describe erosion and flooding issues, and add photos of impacted areas.

Widrig, the author of Erosion Management for New York’s Great Lakes Shoreline Guide , has held popular erosion management workshops for Lake Ontario property owners and visited properties to help landowners evaluate options to achieve better drainage, bluff stabilization, and use of nature-based features or traditional structures for erosion management.
Legislative Trackers
The GLLC monitors federal, state, and provincial legislation on issues related to water quality in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River region. Several of these pieces of legislation are referenced in this newsletter. GLLC members and other legislators are encouraged to send their bills for posting to gllc@csg.org.

View the updated trackers here:

GLLC Events
Mark your calendars for these GLLC events! Unless otherwise noted, all events are open to anyone who wishes to attend. Registration is required for all events. Registration for GLLC web meetings opens one month prior to the event.
About the GLLC
The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Legislative Caucus (GLLC) is a binational, nonpartisan organization that exists solely for the purpose of engaging state and provincial legislators in the policymaking process related to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. Secretariat services are provided by The Council of State Governments Midwestern Office. Financial support is provided in part by The Joyce Foundation and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. The GLLC's work on nutrient pollution is funded in part by the Fred   A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation.

For more information about the Caucus, visit the GLLC website or contact Lisa Janairo, GLLC director, at ljanairo@csg.org or 920.458.5910.