Trail Towns and Urban Farming in Michigan

For Jan. 23, 2015

1 – The East Coast concept of Trail Towns is coming to Michigan.

Trail Town committees have sprouted up in areas including the Thumb. It’s the result of a year-long Coastal Zone Management grant, according to the Michigan State University Extension, and aimed at promoting sustainable tourism.

Leaders in the Thumb, which includes Huron and Tuscola counties, have been active in outfitting their downtown areas and trail networks to attract visitors.

In 2014, the governor signed legislation that established the Pure Michigan Trail Network.

Communities can establish a Trail Town by developing their own strategy or look at adopting a “Four Point Approach” that includes organization, promotion, design and economics.


2 -Delta College is teaching people about urban farming.


The college, along with an area group called the Wildroot Food Collective, is offering an Urban Farming series of workshops.

The series is geared toward backyard gardeners, chicken enthusiasts and others interested in local foods.

Sessions will include demonstrations, discussions, and hands-on activities led by local experts.

The Wildroot Food Collective is a farm-to-table operation that hopes to transform the region into a hub of local eateries, growers, and consumers.

The benefits of urban farming include growing what you need, where you live, and decreasing the miles associated with the long-distance transportation of foods.

Six topics will be explored during the sessions, including soil health, growing in small spaces, raising chickens, and taking your goods to market.

The series starts Monday, Jan. 26, and runs through March 28. The cost for all six sessions is $149.

For more information, see

— Mr. Great Lakes is heard at 9 a.m. Fridays in Bay City, Michigan, on Delta College Q-90.1 FM NPR.

$10 Million for Saginaw Bay, and the (Low) Cost of Wind Power

For Friday, Jan. 16, 2015

1 – A total of $10 million in federal funding is coming to Saginaw Bay.

saginaw bay

Credit: Matt Stehouwer

The Saginaw Bay Watershed Conservation Partnership has been selected to receive the money under a new program created by the 2014 Farm Bill.

The initiative will help farmers improve the water quality and wildlife habitat in the Saginaw Bay watershed, which has problems with phosphorus and nutrient sediment runoff.

The Michigan Agri-Business Association and Nature Conservancy will lead 35 local partners to restore acres of wetlands, reduce excessive sediments and nutrients in the watershed, and monitor long-term trends in the fish population and habitat, according to U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

The funding is part of $40 million going to conservation projects across Michigan and the Great Lakes region. The others are in western Lake Erie and the St. Joseph River.

Farm runoff contributes to harmful algal blooms, beach closings and unsafe drinking water.


2Leaders will discuss the future of wind power in Michigan next week.

The American Wind Energy Association is holding its State Wind Energy Forum in East Lansing on Tuesday, Jan. 20.

Business, community and political leaders will attend, including representatives from Consumers Energy and Huron County.

The forum will take place at Michigan State University.

The agenda includes a panel discussion on proposed federal rules for reducing carbon pollution at existing coal-fired power plants.

An upcoming federal Wind Vision report also will be discussed. The report says American wind power is on track to double by 2020 and double again by 2030.

Michigan has 1,350 megawatts of installed wind capacity, enough to power more than 230,000 homes.

The American Wind Energy Association says wind power has the potential to meet 163 percent of the state’s current electricity needs.


3Can you spare $2.60 a month?

That’s how much it would cost the average household to expand Michigan’s renewable energy portfolio standard to 25 percent over the next 10 years.

A report from the University of Michigan’s Energy Institute says the price tag could even be cut in half if key federal tax credits are extended.

Michigan utilities are on pace to meet a 10 percent goal for renewable energy generation by the end of this year.

The report follows a failed 2012 ballot initiative to expand the state’s standard to 25 percent by 2025. A utility-backed group claimed a higher standard would be too expensive.

Michigan lawmakers and Gov. Rick Snyder are expected to propose policy changes this year, since the current 10 percent standard is due to expire.

– via Midwest Energy News


— Mr. Great Lakes is heard at 9 a.m. Fridays in Bay City, Michigan, on Delta College Q-90.1 FM NPR.

EPA to Coal Plants: Get Your Ash in Order

For Jan. 9, 2015

1 – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced the first national regulations on the safe disposal of coal combustion residuals, also called coal ash, from coal-fired power plants.

tva coal ash spill 2008

View of the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant fly ash spill. Credit: Brian Stansberry/Wikimedia Commons

The final rule includes safeguards to protect communities from coal ash impoundment failures and prevent groundwater contamination and air emissions from coal ash disposal.

The EPA assessed more than 500 facilities across the country after the failure in 2008 of a TVA coal ash pond in Kingston, Tennessee. Those assessments included the Karn-Weadock complex run by Consumers Energy in Bay County’s Hampton Township. The EPA rated the condition of disposal facilities at the local complex as “satisfactory.”

Improperly constructed or managed coal ash disposal units have been linked to nearly 160 cases of harm to surface water, groundwater, and air, the EPA says.

These first federal requirements include regular inspections of surface impoundments, and restrictions on the location of new impoundments and landfills so that they can’t be built in sensitive areas such as wetlands.

The rule also requires facilities to post information online, including annual groundwater monitoring results and corrective action reports.

2 – Information on Great Lakes currents is currently available.

The Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab in Ann Arbor is posting the visualizations online.

The flow patterns depicted in the visualizations are based on simulations from the Great Lakes Coastal Forecasting System operated by the lab.

The lab is arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Online, you can see snapshots of water motion at the present time and from three hours ago, including conditions on Saginaw Bay.

The maps use the same technology developed for mapping winds, and the potential for wind energy generation.


— Mr. Great Lakes is heard at 9 a.m. Fridays in Bay City, Michigan, on Delta College Q-90.1 FM NPR.

Where Does Your Christmas Tree Come From? And Grading Michigan’s Renewable and Efficiency Programs

For Friday, Dec. 19, 2014

1Where does your Christmas tree come from?

christmas trees oregon

Credit: Wonderlane

If it’s a real tree, it’s mostly likely to come from North Carolina or Oregon. That’s nationally.

According to The Washington Post and federal data, American tree farmers harvest at least 17 million Christmas trees each year, and nearly half come from North Carolina and Oregon.

What about Michigan?

Our state, along with New England, the mid-Atlantic and Wisconsin are near the top for Christmas tree harvests in the U.S.

In 2012, just over 3,900 Christmas trees were harvested in Bay County. There were just over 2,200 harvested in Saginaw County, and just 128 in Midland County.

In Michigan, about 1.7 million trees were cut from from more than 700 farms.

In case you wondered, artificial trees are still king when it comes to sales.

2Michigan has received passing grades for its solar energy policies, but there’s room for improvement.

The state gets a B for net metering and a C for interconnection in a report from Vote Solar and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, both advocacy groups.

At least it’s better than the F received for net metering and a D for interconnection, both in 2008.

Net metering and interconnection are policies that allow energy customers to use rooftop solar and other small-scale renewables to meet their own electricity needs.

States at the top of the class this year include Ohio, along with California, Massachusetts, Oregon and Utah.

The report is designed as a resource for policymakers, regulators and stakeholders to build upon clean energy progress that many states have achieved to date.

The groups say net metering and interconnection are some of the primary state policies driving growth in the American clean energy field.

3Energy efficiency is cost effective.

Michigan funding for energy optimization programs in 2013 was $253 million, which will result in savings of $948 million for electric and natural gas utility customers.

That means that for every dollar spent on energy optimization programs in Michigan in 2013, customers saw benefits of about $3.75 by eliminating energy waste.

The figures are according to the Michigan Public Service Commission’s annual report on a 2008 law.

The report shows that overall, the programs saved 132 percent of what they were targeted for by electric utilities, and 121 percent for natural gas utilities.

The savings equate to the annual electric usage of about 121,000 households and the annual natural gas usage of about 58,000 households.


The Detroit Lions Won’t Win the Great Lakes Bowl, But Water Levels Will Flood Beaches

For Friday, Nov. 28, 2014

1 – Registration is open for Great Lakes Bowl.

The Great Lakes Bowl is part of the National Ocean Sciences Bowl, an academic competition where teams of high school students compete for the regional and national title.

The matches feature quiz-bowl style rounds and challenge questions that test a team’s ocean and Great Lakes knowledge.

The questions focus on math and science related to biology, chemistry, geology, physics, technology, history and economics.

Regional competitions are held throughout the nation in February and March.

The next Great Lakes Bowl is set for Feb. 7 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The national competition is in April in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

The Great Lakes Bowl will award cash, trophies, medals and other prizes to top finishers.

There’s a limit of 16 teams, approved on a first-come, first-served basis. The deadline is Dec. 19.

The last bowl featured schools from around the state, including Standish-Sterling Central High School in Standish. The first-place trophy went to a team from Greenhills School in Ann Arbor, which placed sixth nationally. The national champions were from Boise High School in Idaho.

2 – How will lake level changes affect a shoreline? You can see visualizations for the Saginaw Bay area and other parts of Michigan using a Lake Level Viewer from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

pinconning great lakes water levels noaa viewer

High water levels in Pinconning, Michigan. Via the Lake Level Viewer.

The tool is intended to help communities along the U.S. Great Lakes plan for, and adapt to, climate change and changes in lake water levels.

You can use it to zoom in on places like Pinconning, and see how the area would be affected by changes in water levels.

You can compare the levels ranging from zero to six feet above and below average lake level.

The amount of  beach and other land under water quickly changes depending on the levels you choose.

More than 4,900 miles of U.S. shoreline ring the Great Lakes, of which 3,800 miles are currently mapped on the Lake Level Viewer.

The tool also covers areas in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

— Mr. Great Lakes is heard at 9 a.m. Fridays in Bay City, Michigan, on Delta College Q-90.1 FM NPR.


Superstorm Research May Save Your Life, New Sugar Trails For Your Bike

For Friday, Nov. 21, 2014

1 – Wow. Central Michigan University meteorologist Leigh Orf has created a spectacular 3-D simulation of a tornado and the supercell thunderstorm that spawned it.

The monster storm visualization was presented recently at the 27th Conference on Severe Local Storms in Madison, Wisconsin.

Determining which storms will generate monster tornadoes remains a challenge for weather forecasters. The goal of the research is to help meteorologists better understand the mechanics of devastating storms, and provide earlier warnings to people in the storm’s path. The current average lead time for tornado warnings is 13 minutes.

The simulated storm features winds exceeding 300 mph, remains on the ground for 65 miles, was “grown” in the same environment as an actual storm that produced a long-track EF5 tornado in Oklahoma on May 24, 2011.

When CMU researchers examined the inner structure of the simulated thunderstorm, they discovered storm-generated cooled air that had never been seen in previous simulations.

As far as CMU researchers know, this is first time a supercell producing a long-track EF5 tornado has ever been simulated.

2Some sweet mountain bike trails are being created in Bay City.

Michigan Sugar Trails is transforming 26 acres of vacant land into the community’s first trails for mountain bikes and outdoor activity, according to the Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy.

The Conservancy has partnered with the Michigan Sugar Co., who owns this property, to make the project a reality. The trails will be located on the Middlegrounds Island in the Saginaw River. These will be natural surface, single-track trails.

Michigan Sugar Trails is a part of the Conservancy’s Outdoor Urban Recreation Bay City Project.

The Conservancy will be hosting a volunteer event at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 22, in cooperation with Ray’s Bike Shop, to clean trash and debris from the site.

You can find out more on Facebook by searching for the Michigan Sugar Trails Clean-Up event.

Group Restoring Au Sable, Windows Killing Birds

For Friday, Nov. 7, 2014


1A nonprofit is making progress on restoring the Au Sable River watershed in Northern Michigan.

au sable river restoration

Via Huron Pines

Huron Pines in Gaylord reports that it’s still trying to raise an additional $140,000 for the work, but much has been accomplished this year.

The group has received more than $1.1 million in funding from government and private sources, and has removed 11 barriers to fish passage to reconnect 35 upstream miles.

Large woody material also was installed along one and a quarter miles of the river to provide more diverse habitat.

To fight invasive species and restore native plants, 150 acres were treated, including 5,000 feet of riverbank.

Nine streambank sites were stabilized, and are expected prevent the erosion of 300 tons of sediment per year.

The Au Sable River watershed covers more than 1,900 square miles.

2Thud. That’s the sound of a bird hitting a window.

Windows kill hundreds of millions birds a year in the United States, according to a recent national study.

A student chapter of The Wildlife Society at Michigan Technological University in Houghton is participating in an international research project on the issue.

The project involves 41 college and university campuses from Mexico to Canada.

Ten buildings are being studied on Michigan Tech’s campus, including the Dow Environmental Sciences and Engineering Building.

Seventeen students, faculty and staff have observed the buildings and recorded the number of dead birds, according to Michigan Tech.

Some of the same windows are hit most frequently. So far, the local study has found that how much a window reflects surrounding trees or how transparent it is makes a difference.

Two buildings have suffered the vast majority of the collisions, with the Dow building accounting for at least 75 percent of them, Michigan Tech says. Most of the dead birds found at Michigan Tech were migrating species.

The Wildlife Society chapter plans to work with the school’s Department of Visual and Performing Arts to design window treatments that help reduce the collisions.

A 2014 study by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and others say the most bird deaths by windows occur at low-rise buildings that are four to 11 stories tall. Skyscrapers make up less than 1 percent.


— Mr. Great Lakes is heard at 9 a.m. Fridays in Bay City, Michigan, on Delta College Q-90.1 FM NPR.


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