December 2022

Great Lakes-St. Lawrence News for Legislators

GLLC Member News

Senators Jacque and Fine to lead the Caucus in 2023

For the past several years, Illinois Rep. Robyn Gabel and Minnesota Rep. Jennifer Schultz have guided the caucus as its chair and vice chair, respectively. Gabel led this year’s meeting in Chicago. The caucus regularly rotates its two-officer team, and at the September meeting, members elected Wisconsin Sen. André Jacque as incoming chair and Illinois Sen. Laura Fine as incoming vice chair. Their terms begin in 2023.

Sen. Jacque and Sen. Fine will lead the Executive Committee, which is made up of legislators from all 10 Great Lakes jurisdictions. The newly selected chair and vice chair will work together to strengthen the role of state and provincial lawmakers in policies that impact the Great Lakes and the region’s other water resources.

CSG Midwest provides staff support to the caucus, which also receives financial support from the Joyce Foundation, the Erb Family Foundation, and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. Next year’s GLLC Annual Meeting will be held Sept. 8-9 in Québec City. 

Caucus membership is free and open to all legislators from the Great Lakes states and provinces. Visit or email to become a member.

Five takeaways from the recent Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Legislative Caucus meeting

1. More rain coming, more adaptation plans needed

When a “billion dollar disaster” hits the Great Lakes region, a drought or severe storm is almost always the cause. Don Wuebbles’ message to legislators: Expect the frequency of potentially high-cost events to increase over the rest of this century, as the amount of precipitation in the region increases by 10 percent and temperatures rise by more than 5 degrees Fahrenheit (based on a “low scenario” of climate change along with a baseline of temperatures from the late 20th century). “Our choice is whether to adapt proactively or respond to the consequences of what happens when there’s a disaster,” Wuebbles, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Illinois, said to legislators at this year’s meeting of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Legislative Caucus. According to Wuebbles, too many toxic sites (landfills, coal ash storage ponds and industrial facilities) currently sit too close to the lakes. When considering a future with more extreme rainfall leading to a greater chance of flooding and higher lake levels, these sites could become problematic. He also suggested that policymakers re-examine zoning and planning standards along their coastlines, invest in nature-based shoreline resilience (for example, the restoration of wetlands and an increased use of vegetation), and upgrade their water infrastructures. “To minimize suffering [from climate change], what we have to do is really get into heavy mitigation and adaptation,” he said.

2. Nutrient pollution problem may worsen in future

A warmer, wetter Great Lakes region also could lead to a spread of harmful algal blooms, a problem that is concentrated now in the Western Lake Erie Basin. “As the other lakes warm, it’s likely to be an increasing issue across the [basin],” Wuebbles said. Runoff from agricultural land is a prime contributor to this pollution problem, and to date, the response from state and federal governments has largely been to incentivize the adoption of new conservation practices or pay to keep certain land out of production. “I wish I could tell you that we’re making huge progress, and that I could give you a time frame by which we think the blooms will be out of the lakes,” Chris Korelski, director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes National Program Office, said at the GLLC meeting. “We’re nowhere near that.” Without more progress, he said, pressure will mount for “a regulation of the agriculture community to a much greater extent than you’re seeing today.” In her presentation to legislators, Molly Flanagan, chief operating officer and vice president of programs at the Alliance for the Great Lakes, noted that upstream pollution in Ohio costs an average Toledo family of five close to an extra $100 on their water bill every year.

3. A cleanup of all toxic hotspots is now in sight

Between now and the end of this decade, Korelski envisions full or near completion of what he said would be perhaps the greatest achievement in Great Lakes restoration — a cleanup of the 31 Areas of Concern on the U.S. side of the border. First identified by the U.S. and Canadian governments in the 1980s, AOCs dot the entire Great Lakes coastline. They are a legacy of heavy industrial activity from the early- to mid-20th century, when little or no government regulations were in place to limit what could be dumped into the waters of the Great Lakes basin. “You have hundreds of millions of cubic yards of contaminated sediments that were left behind,” Korelski said. As a result, the region has toxic hot spots where water quality is low, and waterfronts are degraded and unusable for recreation. Cleaning up a single AOC can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and between 1987 and 2010, only a single one of these areas was delisted. Progress has accelerated with the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (which began in 2010), and last year’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocates an additional $1 billion for Great Lakes restoration. Most of that money will go to AOC cleanup. Korelski said his office is targeting to have the environmental work at these sites completed by 2030. “It is a moonshot, but I am very optimistic that we can hit [that goal] or get very close to it,” he said.

4. States have historic chance to upgrade water systems

Flanagan said the recent Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also gives states the chance to begin addressing an outdated water infrastructure. Remove lead pipes from drinking water systems. Stop sewer overflows into waterways. Prevent community flooding. That is the task for states as they prepare to use the new federal dollars. Flanagan urged lawmakers at the GLLC meeting to get this money to under-resourced communities, which sometimes struggle to meet the necessary federal or state cost-shares for water projects. Grants and loan principal forgiveness are two ways to help disadvantaged communities overcome funding obstacles, Flanagan said. She also suggested that lawmakers enact state bans on residential water shutoffs and establish permanent low-income water assistance programs.

5. A call for regional cooperation on invasive species

The Alliance for the Great Lakes and other groups are calling for congressional action that would have the federal government fully fund the construction phase of the Brandon Road project in Illinois. Minus such a new law, though, a non-federal match of some kind will be needed to get this invasive-species control project to the finish line. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is leading the work, but the federal agency’s projects require non-federal sponsors. Right now, the cost-share for Brandon Road is 80 percent (federal) and 20 percent (non-federal sponsor). Current congressional proposals call for a change to 90-10. Even that change could leave Illinois, the non-federal sponsor, with costs approaching $100 million. “We just don’t have that kind of money in a reserve vault, so it will take legislative cooperation — maybe not just in Illinois, but maybe by collaborating and coordinating with the other Great Lakes states,” Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Colleen Callahan said at the GLLC meeting. Michigan already has contributed some money to initial phases of the project, which calls for the construction of a new electric barrier and other controls at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam. The goal is to keep invasive carp and other species from moving from the Mississippi River System into the Great Lakes.

New Caucus Director

CSG Midwest is pleased to welcome Jessica Lienhardt as the new director of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Legislative Caucus. In this role, Jessica will guide the many activities and services provided to state and provincial legislators through the nonpartisan, binational GLLC.

A native and resident of Michigan, Jessica most recently worked for five years as public affairs officer for the Consulate General of Canada in Detroit. Jessica will lead CSG Midwest’s support of the GLLC and its work: in-person and virtual events, advocacy on federal policy, a legislative tracker, in-depth training for legislators on select Great Lakes issues, and more.

Great Lakes State and Provincial Legislative Tracker

See the latest status updates on Great Lakes legislation from across the basin:

State and Provincial Legislative Tracker

GLLC Policy Agenda News

Coastal Communities: U.S. Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study agreement signed

On September 28, the eight Great Lakes states and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held a signing ceremony to formalize their partnership to jointly fund the Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study. The study, which has been envisioned since 2016, will evaluate the 5,200 miles of U.S. Great Lakes coastline to identify vulnerable areas and coordinate coastal investments. The agreement laid out a partnership between the U.S. federal government and the eight states, where the states will pay for 25 percent of the $10.6 million study. State contributions were determined by population and miles of shoreline. The study is projected to take four years.

Federal funding for the study will still be subject to congressional appropriations and, thus far just over $1 million has been committed. The proposed Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) contains provisions to expedite the study, in addition to essential funding for the Brandon Road projects and Soo Locks expansion. WRDA will be considered as part of the National Defense Authorization Act by the Senate in the coming days. The package has already been approved by the House.

While Canada does not currently have plans for a similarly comprehensive study, there are a number of complementary studies and resources available to create a picture of the 4,200 miles of Canadian Great Lakes shoreline. Earlier this year, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) published an Assessment of the Resilience of Great Lakes Coastal Wetlands to a Changing Climate, which found that the most vulnerable wetlands on the Canadian shoreline were on the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario due to surrounding land use, hardened shores, and invasive species. From this assessment and other studies, ECCC has outlined best practices and recommendations for wetland protection as the climate continues to change.

Climate resiliency is the focus of the upcoming GLLC Birkholz Institute, to be held in Detroit in May 2023.

Nutrient Pollution: Hamilton, Ont. sewage leak into Lake Ontario

In November, the city of Hamilton, Ont., disclosed a sewage leak into Hamilton Harbour, which leads into Lake Ontario. While the repair to the sewage line was completed within a week, city employees revealed that the hole in the combined sewer line has been leaking directly into the harbor for a staggering 26 years, totaling up to 337 million liters of sewage leaked. The Ontario Ministry for the Environment, Conservation, and Parks will require the city of Hamilton to do a full audit of its sewer infrastructure. This is not the first ecological challenge that Hamilton Harbour has faced. It is an Area of Concern and struggles with contaminated sediment from past and current heavy industrial use.

Sewage and improperly treated wastewater contribute to nutrient pollution and eutrophication in the Great Lakes. While the Hamilton leak was not large enough to be detected in drinking water quality tests, there will be significant impacts on the nearby ecosystem. Many systems throughout the basin have adopted procedures in order to remove certain nutrients from wastewater before it reaches the system. The Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) in Québec City, is testing an ozonation technology in Montréal, which uses a chemical reaction to break down targeted nutrient and contaminants.

In addition to methods that reduce pollutants before they reach the lakes, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have piloted a tool to remove algae from Lake Erie. AECOM's hypernucleation flotation technology is able to collect algae from the water and condense it into an algae "cake." The cake is then removed from the water and disposed of or repurposed.

Water Consumption: Benton Harbor lead water service line replacement nears completion

In September 2021, residents of Benton Harbor, Mich., organized to bring urgency and resources to their Lake Michigan shoreline community to address high lead levels in the city's drinking water. Lead levels in Benton Harbor had exceeded federal standards since 2018, and even with reforms and action at the state level, residents feared for their access to safe drinking water. The Benton Harbor Community Water Council partnered with the National Resources Defense Council and other groups to petition the Environmental Protection Agency for emergency action under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The state of Michigan's response to the community-led call to action was swift; it provided bottled water and filtration systems, while also beginning an aggressive lead service line replacement project, which was to be completed by March 2023. In September 2022, Governor Whitmer announced that over 90 percent of the lead service line replacement had been completed. As of late November, the public dashboard shows that 99.3% of the scoped work is now finished, with only 32 lines left to replace. This effort was achieved by collaboration from all levels of government and consistent community involvement.

With a reported 3.1 million lead service lines remaining in the Great Lakes states, all levels of government and community members will need to work together to tackle this urgent need. The U.S. Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) has specific allocations to states for lead service line replacement, totaling nearly $600 million for Great Lakes states. While this amount falls short of the billions needed, it can be a start toward tackling this infrastructure issue.

Toxic Substances: For states, the work on ‘forever chemicals’ has just begun, and potential economic effects on agriculture loom large

Over the past two years, policy “firsts” have cropped up in state legislatures across the country to deal with the problem of PFAS, a class of widely used chemicals linked to harmful health effects in humans and animals. In the Midwest, Illinois became the first U.S. state to ban the incineration of PFAS (HB 4818), and Minnesota is the first in the region to outlaw these chemicals in food packaging (SF 20).

Wisconsin, for the first time, now has enforceable limits on levels of certain PFAS chemicals in community drinking water systems, joining Michigan in the Midwest.

Outside the region, some of the recent actions have been even further-reaching. Maine, for instance, is prohibiting all non-essential uses of PFAS in products, and after sewage sludge was discovered to be a source of widespread PFAS contamination on farmland, the state banned the use of sludge as fertilizer. Also this year, Maine legislators established a $60 million trust fund for farmers whose land and products have been contaminated by PFAS. Through the fund, the state will purchase contaminated property, replace the lost income of farmers and monitor the health of affected families. In Vermont, residents exposed to PFAS contamination now have a right to medical monitoring (paid for by PFAS polluters).

“It’s everywhere, and the cleanup is very difficult to do and very expensive,” Minnesota Rep. Ami Wazlawik says about the challenges posed by PFAS contamination. “So you have the prevalence of the chemicals in the environment, the fact that they are ‘forever chemicals’ that stick around, and then the negative health impacts.”

Continue reading Stateline Midwest article

Invasive Species: Brandon Road funding change in proposed WRDA

As the end of the year draws near, the Great Lakes region is eagerly awaiting final passage of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. In addition to funding for the Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study and Soo Locks expansion, this iteration of WRDA contains a pivotal funding change for the Brandon Road Lock and Dam Project, or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Brandon Interbasin Project. This project is critical to prevent the spread of invasive carp into the Great Lakes and includes a flushing lock, electric barrier, underwater acoustic deterrent, and other structural and non-structural measures near Joliet, Ill.

The project officially began in 2020 and is currently in the planning phase. Additional appropriations are critical at this point for the project to stay on schedule for a late 2024 construction start and 2026 completion. Although the project has broad support across the basin, funding has been a challenging discussion.

While a cost estimate update is scheduled for December 2022, the phased project is currently estimated to cost nearly $900 million. Portions of the total cost have already been appropriated; the IIJA provided $226 million earlier this year and the Rock Island District portion was funded with the non-federal cost share coming from Illinois and Michigan. However, it has been determined that a 20 percent non-federal match for the remaining costs is too steep for the Great Lakes states to shoulder. Therefore, WRDA provides a change in the funding structure that allows for a 90/10 federal/non-federal cost-share. This change would lessen the burden on the states and clear the way for proceeding with the project as scheduled.

GLLC Upcoming Events

Great Lakes Day 2023

Hosted by the Great Lakes Commission and Northeast-Midwest Institute

March 9, 2023

Washington D.C.

GLLC Birkholz Institute: Climate Resiliency

May TBD, 2023

Detroit, MI

Save the Date: GLLC Annual Meeting

September 8-9, 2023

Québec City, QC

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 Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation provides support for the GLLC's work on nutrient pollution.

For more information about the caucus, visit the GLLC website or email