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great lakes

International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board/Facebook

People who live along the Lake Ontario shoreline in the Rochester area are nervously watching lake levels.

The level of Lake Ontario currently is about a foot above its long term historic average, and while high, it’s not all that unusual.

That’s according to Bryce Carmichael, he is the U.S. Secretary of the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board which helps manage lake levels.

Conversations about plastic pollution often center around their impact on the world’s oceans, but what’s happening in our own backyard? Plastics and microplastics are imposing environmental pressures on the Great Lakes. From organic and inorganic pollution, to the threat of invasive species, to climate change, plastics are threatening the fresh water demands of many communities that rely on the lake system.

This hour, we’re joined by scientists who help us understand the current state and health of the Great Lakes and what’s at stake. We also preview Earth Day events happening at the College at Brockport. In studio:

  • Sherri "Sam" Mason, sustainability coordinator for Penn State Behrend
  • Jim Haynes, professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Ecology at the College at Brockport
  • Jamie Spiller, professor of modern U.S. history and environmental history at the College at Brockport
  • Tammy Bleier, graduate student at the College at Brockport studying microplastics in the Great Lakes. and founder of Plastic Lakes Project

Veronica Volk / WXXI News

The south shore of Lake Ontario might become a national marine sanctuary.

Ellen Brody is the Great Lakes regional coordinator for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

"In many ways," she said via phone, "sanctuaries are like national parks in that our mission is to protect a resource."

She said this effort was spearheaded by the counties along the shore of Lake Ontario, which pushed for recognition and protection of the lake’s shipwrecks.

There are 13 other marine sanctuaries in the U.S. – but only one in the Great Lakes.

Veronica Volk / WXXI News

A study from a group of Midwestern and Canadian scientists shows the Great Lakes Basin is warming at a quicker rate than the rest of the U.S.

The researchers conclude that because of rapid effects of climate change, the Great Lakes are vulnerable to more flooding, heat waves, and drought.

With Lake Ontario's water levels about a foot above average, communities along its shoreline are trying to get help in preventing the flooding that devastated the area in 2017.

Veronica Volk / WXXI News

President Donald Trump’s budget proposal includes major cuts to Great Lakes restoration efforts.

The administration's 2020 budget proposal would cut funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative by more than 90 percent.

This initiative funds projects from habitat restoration to shoreline improvement programs, and is usually fully funded at $300 million a year. This budget would knock that down to $10 million.

Veronica Volk / WXXI News

In a changing climate, people living on Lake Ontario may be more at risk for flooding and extreme weather, so what compels them to stay?

WXXI file

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) Advocacy groups are lobbying Congress to pump more money into programs to protect Great Lakes water quality. 

More than 100 representatives of organizations in the region are in Washington, D.C., this week for an annual gathering in support of funding for Great Lakes priorities such as toxic pollution cleanups and fighting invasive species. 

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition organizes the trip. Policy Director Chad Lord says a high priority this year is boosting federal investment in drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. 

Veronica Volk / WXXI News

Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand are calling on officials to reduce the higher than average water levels on Lake Ontario, but officials who manage the water regulation say that might not be possible.


Alex Crichton / WXXI News

According to the International Lake Ontario - St. Lawrence River Board, Lake Ontario is more than a foot higher than usual for this time of year.

Keith Koralewski with the Army Corps of Engineers says, we're not alone. "Most of the Great Lakes are currently above average," he said by phone.

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