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Over the next week the International Joint Commission will hold another series of hearings on a plan to alter the levels and flows of Lake Ontario to better protect the lake’s fragile ecosystem, especially coastal wetlands. The Commission, which has responsibility to resolve boundary water issues under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 between Canada and the United States, has proposed the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence Plan 2014. The plan would allow current water levels and flows on Lake Ontario to vary slightly higher and lower (2-3 inches) than permitted under current regulations in effect since 1960. More variation will allow coastal wetlands to dewater and subsequently rewater to promote more diversity among plant and animal species. The current control regime does not allow enough variability in water levels to maintain healthy coastal wetlands.
Troubling is the call by lakeshore property owners to reject Plan 2014. They reason that the slightly higher high levels and lower low levels will damage their properties and have an adverse impact on boaters. For the most part their arguments are overblown, based on lousy science, and encouraged by several uninformed lakeshore politicians, especially in Niagara County. Erosion rates are unlikely to change. Storms will continue to be the primary cause of property damage. In addition, the Commission is setting in place a Directive to the International Lake Ontario-St Lawrence River Board on Operational Adjustments, Deviations, and Extreme Conditions. In short, if water levels are predicted to rise above projected levels, the Board may act to reduce levels through increased discharges at the Moses-Saunders dam on the Upper St. Lawrence. Similarly, extreme low levels may be moderated by holding back more water at the dam. There is really nothing to lose and everything to gain by adopting Plan 2014.
Moses-Saunders Dam on the St. Lawrence River
Twenty-five years ago I was appointed to serve on the Natural Resources Committee of the International Joint Commission Water Level Reference Study. The study was designed to investigate the possibility of regulating all five Great Lakes to maintain water levels that did not vary more than one foot from the long term mean. The issue then was high water levels. It was clear from the study that lake levels limited to such small variations would have a severe detrimental effect on the health of coastal wetlands. The civil works that would be required to completely dampen water fluctuations would cost billions, far more than buying out all the properties at risk. The damage downstream on the St. Lawrence River from moving such massive amounts of water through the system would be disastrous. Similarly, holding back water in the upper lakes during low water periods would limit boating, shipping, and hydroelectric power production. In both cases, wetlands would be the losers. The Study Board concluded that further regulation of the Great Lakes water levels was not practical, nor economical, nor warranted, save for some modest efforts to adjust water levels on Lake Ontario to better protect the lake’s ecosystem and downstream St. Lawrence River.
My training is as a meteorologist. I was the first to introduce the prospect of climate change into the original five lake study. In the long term, water levels of the Great Lakes are expected to decline, in some models by several feet. Over the next several decades we will be tackling an altogether new set of issues: maintaining flows over Niagara Falls, limiting hydroelectric power production, limiting shipping through the St. Lawrence Seaway, limiting recreational activities that depend on higher water levels, and protecting emerging wetlands from mindless development. Even if adopted now to protect the Lake Ontario ecosystem, Plan 2014 will have to be rewritten as climate change accelerates negative changes to the Great Lakes. But for now, Plan 2014 is the best management option we have. I will be urging the International Joint Commission to adopt Plan 2014.
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The climate that many of us, or for the younger crowd, their parents, grew up with, will soon no longer exist. Humans have performed an experiment upon our planet's climate, which has been done by other species in the past. We have changed our planet's climate by changing the composition of our atmosphere in what appears to be a minor manner. We have upped the concentration of some trace gases (the so-called Greenhouse Gases) that naturally exist - especially carbon dioxide (CO2). Our planet now receives about 0.75 watt (about a small Christmas LED light) more solar energy for each square meter of surface area than it radiates out into space. And while this may seem trivial, keep in mind that the planet's surface has a lot of surface area. A LOT of area…
Global Warming has been compared to turning a big lake freighter with a bunch of minnows pushing hard on the ship's bow. But, with enough well-fed minnows and enough time, that lake freighter will turn. Right now, more ice is being melted than is being made in polar and mountainous regions, so that tends to buffer whatever temperature rise we experience. But we ARE warming the planet, and when most of the ice has melted, temperatures will rise quite fast…
We (human beings collectively, though only a small percentage of us were "key players" in this effort) have succeeded in altering the climate. Congratulations, human race, now why don't you do something useful and not harmful for a change? We can undo some of the damage that has been caused, and some that is already "built in" due to that much higher CO2 concentration in our atmosphere.
Those CO2 levels have to stop rising, and need to be reduced. Obviously, we have to stop burning fossil fuels at the rates we are now doing, and then just stop burning them. A way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere is via “agrichar”. Agri-char is made when cellulose (made by plants from atmospheric CO2) gets fried into biofuels and carbon (char) – that char is then buried in farmer’s fields. "Agri-char" is actual carbon sequestration, and it is an enormous improvement on stashing CO2 underground, at tremendous energy expenditure in its own right.
Anyway, care to read more about climate change challenges? You may find this article interesting and thought provoking: http://wagengineering.blogspot.com/2013/05/memorial-day-for-our-climate.html.
For more information contact: email@example.com
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This story was originally posted on Jackie James Creedon's Blog, The Whole Truth on May 14, 2013.
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On Wednesday May 8, Andrew Baumgartner, Tonawanda Community Fund (TCF) intern attended the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 2′s seminar titled “Leveraging Environmental Monitoring – Key Steps in Producing Credible Data” at University of Buffalo (UB) North campus. Here is his review from the seminar.
Me, designing and reporting TCF soil study
The purpose of the workshop was to help teach “citizen scientists” how to produce useful data and reports that can be used in community based environmental monitoring, data that could open up new doors for community groups like the Tonawanda Community Fund. Although it’s always been possible for community groups to do their own preliminary research, the EPA now recognizes the effectiveness of this type of research and is promoting concerned citizens to act as partners in change. This was only the third workshop of this type in the country. Judith Enck, our EPA region 2 administrator, is a big proponent of citizen science, so we have her to thank for bringing this seminar to Western New York
The first half of the program focused on the details behind what’s considered “good” citizen science and things to keep in mind when designing projects, both from a scientific and an activist point of view. EPA representatives touched on a little bit of everything, from statistics to the organizational structure of a community based project. For the less technical people in the room like myself, this all went by a little fast and was fairly brief. Focusing on mostly air and water sampling, the information didn’t always directly apply to the soil testing like that of the Tonawanda Community Fund (TCF), but did get across the main idea of the need to look heavily into the design of a study before starting. Things like background samples, co-location of test sampling, contamination all need to be taken into account before proceeding. Since community groups usually don’t have a lot of extra cash sitting around, this is easier said than done.
Sampling, whether it’s the equipment or the lab analysis, is expensive so community groups have to pick and choose between spending money on gathering more data or validating data already obtained. This is where the EPA comes in. When having to make decisions like these, the EPA can be a great ally. Also available are local colleges and universities who can help out and provide everything from professor input to undergraduate volunteers to help provide the most credible data for the money spent. We understand how this resource can be helpful because UB and the State University of NY at Fredonia are currently collaborating with us on a soil testing project in Tonawanda.
The second half of the program focused on what to do once the community based data was obtained. Groups can then use their reports to apply for grants and gain more support both politically and residentially for their cause. The main purpose of a preliminary study is to show whether or not further study is warranted, and it’s hard to say exactly where to go from there until you have a judgment call on what the data actually means. Touching on an example used, an air sample showing toxins could mean either that the air is polluted, or that am amtrack train was idling nearby giving a “false positive”. This judgment call is up to whoever is reading the report, whether it be somebody at the EPA, a local professor or a politician. This is why it’s so important that citizen scientists focus on gathering “good” data not just data. Even if a study does show high levels of whatever toxin you’re looking for, there’s a long process of rationalization that has to be done afterwards to determine whether or not those numbers reflect what’s going on in the community as a whole.
TCF members taking soil samples in Tonawanda: Me, Chuck Matteliano (L) and Jackie James Creedon (Background)
While I was working with the TCF on our preliminary soil study in Nov. 2012, I kept these things in mind during its design. We had to think about contamination, background sampling and the overall scientific validity of our work. To prevent contamination, we made sure that our samples were taken several feet away from the curb, grills, lawnmowers, driveways and anything else onsite that could be another potential source for the contaminants (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAH’s) we were looking for. We took our comparison sample upwind, in Grand Island, of the suspected pollution source. This was used to compare samples from an area of suspected contamination to that of what we considered “normal” soil in the area. We wanted to be able to take more background samples, as well as co-locate samples as suggested in the EPA seminar, but our financial limitations acted as a roadblock. Our report was finished in the spring of 2013 and given to both the EPA and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation for their interpretations of our study.
This summer (2013), the TCF will be doing an extension to our original soil study by taking 12-24 more samples in neighborhoods around the Tonawanda industrial corridor. If you live in Grand Island, the Tonawanda’s, North Buffalo, or Kenmore, and are interested in having the soil tested in your yard, contact TCF at 716-873-6191.
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In recognition of Earth Day 2013, Ecology and Environment, Inc. is pleased to announce the 2013 WNY Earth Day Awards. Awards will be given in the following categories:
Given to two or more organizations that collaborated on an environmental or sustainability-oriented project or program. The award will be given to the organizations (non-profit, for-profit, government agencies, K-12 schools, universities, etc.) that achieved the most noteworthy impact as a result of their collaboration.
Next Generation Award
Given in recognition of the program or event that most creatively and successfully educated and trained the next generation (children ages 4-18) in sustainability, ecology, biology, or other related areas. Did you do something impactful with kids or students in the last year? What was the goal, how did you creatively approach the challenge, and what was achieved?
Sustainable Business Award
Given to the for-profit enterprise that demonstrated the most significant impact (relative to its size) on behalf of its clients or by changing its internal operations or business model to advance the goals of triple bottom line thinking. Large and small businesses are welcome to apply. What have you achieved or undertaken over the last 12 months in terms of the impact of the products, processes of manufacturing those products,services you provided or the cumulative effects of improvements to your operations?
Earth Day Program Award
Given to the organization that most creatively and successfully leveraged Earth Day in a positive way,
either through a community event or program or through an internal event or program. What are you
doing for Earth Day this year, and why is it award-worthy?
Given to an individual whose significant and longstanding service to the people and the environment of Western New York should be recognized and celebrated. Frequent or prominent leadership is commendable but not a requirement for this award—behind-the-scenes leaders will also be considered.
Any organization, team or individual within the 8-county Western New York region may apply. Projects must be currently underway or have been completed within the last 12 months.
To be considered for an award, please send your submission to Bob Gibson (firstname.lastname@example.org) by Wednesday, April 10th. Please indicate the award or awards for which you would like to be considered, and attach your entry as a Microsoft Word document. Entries must be limited to two pages, but additional supporting information may also be attached, such as PowerPoint presentations, spreadsheets, photos, or videos.
If you would like to nominate someone for the Impact Award, please let us know why you feel the individual
should be considered, limiting your response to a one to two page Microsoft Word document.
Selection and Announcement
E & E will convene a panel of 5 judges representing a cross-section of experts frombusiness, academia, NGOs, etc. to review the submissions and determine this year’s winners. The winners will be notified the week of April 15-19, and the awards will be presented during an Earth Day event at the UB Solar Strand on the North Campus from 5:00 pm to 6:30 pm on Earth Day, Monday, April 22.
If you have any questions, or require additional information, please contact Bob Gibson (email@example.com).