Save The River’s 25th annual Winter Environmental Conference will be held Saturday, February 8th at the Clayton Opera House. This annual event brings together policymakers, scientists and citizens to discuss the most important issues facing the St. Lawrence River. Stay tuned for more details!
Save The River has long been a proponent of stringent ballast water regulations for all ships entering or transiting the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes as the only means of stopping the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species. Since 1959, when the St. Lawrence Seaway opened the River and Lakes to direct ocean-going shipping, 65% of species discovered have been attributed to ballast water release. River communities know the serious impact aquatic invasive species have on the health of the St. Lawrence River and our local economy. The cost of zebra and quagga mussel control alone is estimated at $500 million per year over the next five years and the impact on indigenous species such as bass from invaders like the round goby cannot yet be calculated.
While we have applauded incremental steps to clean up ballast water in the past such as the Seaway’s requiring salt water flushes of ocean-going vessels, we have steadfastly maintained that the goal must be zero discharges of non-native species in ballast water. This past week the EPA had an opportunity to make significant progress toward that goal. Instead it finalized regulations that limit, but do not eliminate the number of organisms that can be dumped into our River.
It is disappointing that almost 40 years after the enactment of the Clean Water Act it took a lawsuit to force the EPA to act to protect the nation’s waterways at all and that when it did act, it did so in such weak manner. Significantly the EPA regulations set out:
• a weak standard – the EPA accepted the industry endorsed ‘IMO’ standard, which from our perspective (and that of the state of California, with a standard 100x more protective) represents the bare minimum for regulation and is not protective of the River, with no requirements on ships that only transit the Lakes;
• a weak timeline – the EPA expects all ships to be compliant by 2018, but with no apparent recourse if ships do not meet that deadline; and
• no mechanism to strengthen standards or improve technology – our concerns come straight from an industry spokesman, who stated, “EPA’s final rules now end the debate over ballast water regulation.”
No one should be lulled into a sense that our River and the economy that depends on it are safe with these standards. The next destructive invasive species may be only a ballast discharge away.
Environmentalists, scientists, government officials and tourism officials were dismayed to wake up to the news this morning that a new and potentially devastating invasive species has been found in the St. Lawrence River – Sea Monkeys.
After the discovery of thousands of tiny carcasses, and hundreds of floating packages of “Sea Monkey Food”, biologists raced to discover what they were dealing with. Resembling tiny mermaids (and possibly brine shrimp) it took 68 year old Mervin Smenkle, biologist and avid comic book reader as a child, only seconds to proclaim the River is facing an onslaught of Artemia salina x nyos.
Awakened early this morning, a shocked and clearly shaken Lee Willbanks, Executive Director of Save The River, stated, “We knew the River was suffering from 186 other invasive species, legacy pollution, and a 50 year old water levels management plan – now we have to deal with another relic from the past. How much more can the River and our communities take.”
Speculation centers on the possibility that, much like Plan 1958DD, which has been left lying around wreaking havoc on the environment for the last 50 years, the ecological and economic costs of sea monkeys is about to be felt. Ironically the return now on the 50th anniversary of 1958D, of these seemingly harmless and adorable creatures, purchased in the millions by gullible young comic book readers in the ’50’s only to be discarded as dead up and down the River may significantly divert attention from the effort to get Plan Bv7 adopted.
Standing on the shore in Clayton. a local civic leader who asked to remain anonymous, said, “River region businesses, citizens and visitors have struggled right along with the River to adapt to every circumstance that’s been thrown at us – invasives from all over the world, an out-dated water levels plan, but this could be it. We’re just afraid once the kids see them, they’ll want to keep replacing them. It’ll decimate our budgets and divert our attention from more pressing matters.”
Along with the food packets, the discovery of advertising for the creatures discarded near the Clayton docks, has raised suspicions that the sea monkey crisis is a manufactured one to distract government officials, business leaders and concerned River citizen from the more pressing effort to have New York’s Governor Cuomo endorse Plan Bv7 and have the International Joint Commission adopt the plan which will restore tens of thousands of acres of wetlands and reverse the decline in populations of Northern Pike, Common Tern and other indigenous and valuable species.
Said Willbanks, “If that’s the case its truly tragic, Bv7 is a modern levels management plan developed after years of research that will return the River to health with little cost to the State. On the other hand the cost of controlling sea monkeys is currently incalculable. But we River folk are hardy, we’ll get through this – just like we’ll keep pushing on Bv7.”
Lee Willbanks, Save The River’s Executive Director, will be a guest on WPBS Public Eye Friday, January 11th at 8:30pm with Dave White,Recreation/Tourism Specialist and Great Lakes Program Coordinator for the New York Sea Grant Extension Program, and Greg Boyer, SUNY-ESF Chair of Chemistry and Director of Great Lakes Research Consortium discussing the recently released Great Lakes Environmental Assessment Mapping (GLEAM) Project.
The GLEAM research team built new tools to integrate spatial information for environmental management decisions on the Great Lakes. The goal was to build maps to visualize and understand environmental impacts on the lakes and benefits humans enjoy from the lakes; many, if not most of which make their way to the St. Lawrence River. The high resolution map of cumulative ecosystem stress the GLEAM team created will help guide future restoration, conservation, and management efforts. The map merges data for all major categories of environmental stressors to the Great Lakes, ranging from climate change to pollution to invasive species. The interactive map can be viewed at the GLEAM website (http://www.greatlakesmapping.org/).
(The show will repeat Sunday, January 13th at 7:30am, and be available to stream on the WPBS website (http://ow.ly/gIjxn) Monday, January 14th)
Here is the link to our Executive Director’s appearance on WPBS Live! Wednesday night.
As the Seaway opens this week for its 54th shipping season, we’ve been grappling to fully understand the long-term implications of last Friday’s release by the US Coast Guard of their final rule for regulating ship ballast discharges.
(The final Coast Guard rule can be found here. And, interested readers can learn more from the Watertown Daily Times: Environmental advocates “disappointed” with final US Coast Guard ballast rules and Associated Press: Coast Guard orders ships to cleanse ballast water to protect against foreign species invasions)
River communities know the serious impact aquatic invasive species have on the health of the St. Lawrence River and our local economy. Ship ballast discharges are the single largest source of aquatic invasive species introductions to the waters of the River and Great Lakes. Save The River and River communities have long advocated for strong ballast water clean-up rules to protect from future aquatic invasive species introductions.
As is often the case with news about federal regulations, we have good news and bad news to report on the Coast Guard’s rule. Unfortunately in this case the news is more bad than good.
The Coast Guard’s regulations contain several key disappointments.
- Weak Standard – The Coast Guard has selected to enforce the ‘IMO’ standard, which from our perspective represents the bare minimum for regulation and a standard that is not protective of the River.
- Weak Timeline – Most salties navigating the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River would have to comply with this new rule beginning in 2016, which is nearly 4 years away. (As a side note, the Coast Guard rule does not regulate ‘lakers’, ships that operate solely within the GreatLakes. Although lakers do not bring new aquatic invaders into the Lakes, they do contribute to their spread.)
- No Mechanism for Stronger Standards & Technology Development - In it’s draft, the Coast Guard had proposed a two phase approach to regulating ballast discharges, with a goal of ultimately reaching a very strong standard (commonly referred to as 1,000xIMO). This phased approach would have been critical in driving technology development for stronger ballast treatment systems. Unfortunately, the Coast Guard’s final rule eliminates the proposed second phase, removing incentive to develop even better ballast treatment systems.
While the Coast Guard does indicate in the final rule that they will consider stronger standards in the future, we are left to wonder how long it will take for them to do so and whether our River can wait.
A press release from our coalition partners Great Lakes United, National Wildlife Federation, Alliance for the Great Lakes and National Resources Defense Council details of actions for moving forward in efforts to clean up ship ballast tanks. (Coast Guard Issues Ballast Water Discharge Standards: Misses Mark to Protect Nation from Invasive Species; Conservation groups look to states and Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen standards, shortening timeline, and address loopholes )
In short, two opportunities are available in the coming year:
- US EPA Regulations – The US Environmental Protection Agency has yet to issue their final ballast regulations. We will be looking to the USEPA to step up to the plate on this issue and anticipate seeing their final regulation in the coming months.
- State Action – We will be continuing to ask states, such as New York that have considered their own ballast regulations, to continue to be leaders in protecting our waterways from the threat of future aquatic invasive species introductions.
Action Alert! Tell Congress that the Great Lakes Need Stronger (Not Weaker) Protection against Invasive Species
A bill being considered by Congress this week will derail progress on cleaning up ship ballast tanks and stopping aquatic invasive species introductions. Call your Member of Congress today and tell them that the St. Lawrence River needs stronger – not weaker – ballast clean up programs!
Aquatic invasive species, such as zebra mussels and round gobies, are one of the most significant environmental threats to the health of the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes. Invasive species foul beaches, wreak havoc on the fishery, clog water intake valves of cities and utilities, and harm fish and wildlife. A few invasive species facts:
- More than 60% of aquatic invasive species found today in the River and Lakes were brought in by ship ballast tanks.
- Research shows that the annual cost to Great Lakes states from invasive species introduced by oceangoing vessels may be upwards of $200 million annually.
- Recognizing this problem, in 2005 the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration warned of an impending “invasional meltdown” in the Great Lakes.
Unfortunately Congress is moving in the opposite direction. The House of Representatives is set to vote this week on the Commercial Vessel Discharges Reform Act of 2011 (Title VII of HR2838). This bad bill would:
- Set ballast clean up standards – called the ‘IMO standard’ – that are inadequate to fully protect the St. Lawrence River and our nation’s waters from invasive species;
- Delays even those weak standards by up to 10 years;
- Prevent states like New York from implementing their own strong ballast clean up programs;
- Makes it difficult, if not impossible, to add new protections even if the US EPA or other agencies determine that the IMO standard is not doing the job; and
- Stops citizens from being able to enforce the law through the Clean Water Act.
Bottom line: This bill does not protect the St. Lawrence River or our nation’s waters; it protects the shipping industry. It will derail progress on cleaning up ship ballast tanks and stopping more aquatic invasive species introductions.
Contact your Representative in Congress today to ask them to defeat this bad bill so that our River is protected from aquatic invasive species introductions. (Not sure how to contact your Congressional Representative? Find your Representative.)
Talking Points for Calling or Writing Your Legislator
- I am calling/writing to urge [insert Member's Name] to oppose the Commercial Vessel Discharges Reform Act of 2011 (Title VII of HR2838).
- Aquatic invasive species are one of the most serious threats to the St. Lawrence River. [Insert why the St. Lawrence River is important to you.] We need stronger ballast clean up programs that protect the St. Lawrence River and our nation’s waterways to prevent more damaging aquatic invasive species introductions.
- I urge [insert Member's Name] to delete the bad ballast water amendments – Title VII from HR 2838 – and to vote against the Coast Guard and Martitime Transportation Act of 2011 if those provisions remain.
- Thank you for protecting the St. Lawrence River.
Let us know what you hear! E-mail or call us to let us know how your Member of Congress responds!
Thank you for speaking out for the health of the St. Lawrence River!
On Thursday September 1, Save The River and the Antique Boat Museum took Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on a brief tour of the River.
After a full day of meetings on regional issues, we were pleased to provide the Senator with a break to enjoy the River and learn a bit about issues impacting our waterway and local economy. During the tour, we discussed the need for stronger ballast clean-up regulations to stop the introduction of aquatic invasive species as well as the impact of water levels regulation on the River ecosystem and the need for a new, updated plan that returns the River to more natural flows. Most importantly, the Senator and her staff had the opportunity to experience a gorgeous summer boat ride on the River. We also took a moment to thank Senator Gillibrand for her strong support of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) in the Senate. The GLRI is providing much needed funding for Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River environmental restoration projects. We look forward to having the Senator visit us again.
Victory! Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Navigation Study takes a 180: Webinar spots still available!
Join Save The River and Great Lakes United for a free lunch-time briefing on the latest news from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Navigation study. (Learn more about Save The River’s involvement in this issue here)
For more information on the webinar and how to register, read on for information from Great Lakes United.
Many of the presentations from Save The River’s Winter Environmental Weekend Conference are available via Save The River’s Vimeo channel. Or, select a specific presentation from the list below.