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Great Lakes Ecological Protection and Restoration

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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8


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Great Lakes Report to Congress 1994

REPORT TO CONGRESS ON THE GREAT LAKES ECOSYSTEM

February 1994
EPA 905-R-94-004

Chapter 5
Actions By Federal Partners

This chapter presents FYs 1989, 1990, and 1991 accomplishments pertaining to the Great Lakes, as reported by five Federal agencies: the Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Soil Conservation Service.

The Army Corps of Engineers Back to Top

Under the Rivers and Harbors and Flood Control Acts, the Corps maintains navigational channels in authorized harbors and rivers of the Great Lakes, necessitating periodic dredging of bottom sediments. In recent years, the Corps has dredged four million cubic yards of sediments annually from the Great Lakes. Since half of this volume is contaminated and unsuitable for disposal in open-lake waters, the Corps builds confined disposal facilities (CDFs), which are structures designed to hold and isolate these sediments. Forty-three CDFs are completed or under construction within the Great Lakes.

The following Corps activities also relate to the Great Lakes:

  • Administration of the Federal program under the Clean Water Act that regulates the discharge of dredge or fill materials into U.S. waters, including most wetlands
  • Flood control and shoreline erosion projects
  • Technical support to EPA and States on Superfund site cleanups
  • Technical support to EPA and States in construction of municipal wastewater treatment plants
  • Technical support to environmental agencies on Great Lakes Remedial Action Plans (RAPs)
  • Technical support to EPA's Assessment and Remediation of Contaminated Sediments (ARCS) program
  • Cleanup of hazardous materials at formerly used defense sites through the Defense Environmental Restoration Program (DERP) exit EPA
  • Participation on various International Joint Commission (IJC) boards that regulate lake water levels.

FY 1989 Accomplishments

The Corps administered the dredge and fill permit program. Applications were reviewed in cooperation with Federal and State agencies, public comments were reviewed, environmental impacts were assessed, and mitigation were requirements determined.

The Corps analyzed bottom sediments at 19 navigational projects in the Great Lakes: Ashtabula, Cleveland, and West Harbors in Ohio; the Saginaw, Rouge, and St. Clair Rivers, Manistique Harbor, Keweenaw Waterway, and Lake St. Clair in Michigan; Buffalo and Olcott Harbors in New York; Chicago River and Waukegan Harbor in Illinois; Erie Harbor in Pennsylvania; Indiana Harbor in Indiana; Milwaukee and Sheboygan Harbors and Green Bay in Wisconsin; and Duluth/Superior Harbor in Minnesota/Wisconsin. Sediment analyses included physical, chemical, and biological testing. The results of Corps' sediment analyses represent the largest data base of its kind on the Great Lakes. Results have been made available to Federal and State agencies and have been widely used for Remedial Action Planning. The analyses are applicable to a wide range of water quality issues, including bench-top investigations of advanced treatment technologies for contaminated sediments at Indiana Harbor, studies of microbiological degradation of PAHs in sediments, and comparative analysis of sediment bioassays.

Navigational dredging and confined disposal removed nearly two million cubic yards of polluted sediments from the Great Lakes. Navigation projects where polluted sediments were removed and placed in a CDF included the Calumet River and Harbor in Illinois; Cleveland and Toledo Harbors in Ohio; the Rouge and Saginaw Rivers, Monroe Harbor, and Keweenaw Waterway in Michigan; Milwaukee and Green Bay Harbors in Wisconsin; and Duluth-Superior Harbor in Minnesota/Wisconsin.

A new CDF was completed at Clinton River, Michigan.

The Corps participated in the development of RAPs for several Areas of Concern, including Ashtabula, Buffalo, Cleveland, Grand Calumet River, and Milwaukee.

FY 1990 Accomplishments

The Corps continued to administer the dredge and fill permit program. Approximately 6,500 permits were issued and 343 enforcement actions were taken by Corps districts within the Great Lakes watershed.

The Corps analyzed bottom sediments from 19 Great Lakes navigation projects: Waukegan Harbor in Illinois; Cleveland, Conneaut, and Sandusky Harbors, and Rocky River in Ohio; Grand Traverse Bay, Manistique, and Ontonagon Harbors and the Saginaw and Black Rivers in Michigan; Ashland, Bayfield, Cornucopia, LaPointe, Manitowoc, and Milwaukee Harbors in Wisconsin; Duluth-Superior Harbor in Minnesota/Wisconsin; and Oswego Harbor and Rochester Harbor in New York.

Navigational dredging removed about 4.1 million cubic yards of bottom sediments. About 2 million cubic yards were determined to be unsuitable for open-water disposal and were placed in CDFs. Dredging projects were conducted in Buffalo Harbor, New York; Cleveland, Huron, Lorain, and Toledo Harbors in Ohio; the Detroit River, Saginaw, and St. Clair Rivers, Keweenaw Waterway, and Holland and Monroe Harbors in Michigan; Duluth-Superior Harbor in Minnesota/Wisconsin; and Green Bay and Milwaukee Harbors in Wisconsin. These projects included CDF operation, maintenance, and water quality monitoring.

The Corps assisted EPA's ARCS program by providing technical support, performing bench-scale testing of treatment technologies, developing plans for pilot-scale demonstrations, creating procedures for estimating contaminant losses, designing concept plans for full-scale remediation, and participating in five ARCS work groups.

The Corps assessed contaminant loss and bioaccumulation in fish at the Saginaw CDF and PCB bioaccumulation and volatilization at the Chicago CDF.

Construction of the Maumee Bay Shoreline Erosion and Beach Restoration and Reno Beach-Howard Farms Flood control projects were started in Ohio.

The Corps began a study of sediment and water quality in Onondaga Lake, Syracuse, New York.

Construction of two major flood damage reduction projects was started. The Chicagoland Underflow Plan is the reservoir portion of Chicago's Tunnel and Reservoir Project (TARP)exit EPA. The TARP will reduce the backflow of stormwater and sewage from Chicago area rivers into Lake Michigan. Construction also began on the Little Calumet River Flood Protection and Recreation Project in Northwest Indiana. This project includes significant wetland mitigation and enhancement and will provide a recreational corridor along the river.

The Corps removed underground storage tanks and transformers from a site near Sault St. Marie, Michigan, under the DERP program. Remedial investigations and feasibility studies are ongoing at this and other sites.

Water level impacts on wetlands along the St. Marys River were evaluated in support of the IJC Levels of Reference Study.

The Corps provided technical support to EPA's Superfund project at the Sinclair Oil Site in Wellsville, New York.

Technical review of a sediment sampling plan was conducted for the Fields Brook Superfund site in Ashtabula, Ohio.

Technical review of remediation designs was conducted for the Superfund site at Waukegan Harbor, Illinois.

The Corps provided support to Wisconsin in the development of management alternatives for contaminated sediments.

The Corps studied wetland mitigation, restoration projects, and environmental management of CDFs for the State of Michigan.

The Corps assisted States in the development and implementation of RAPs at a number of Areas of Concern (e.g., Milwaukee, St. Louis River, and Manistique).

A study of the movement of dredged material placed in Sandusky Bay, Ohio, was started under the Dredging Research Program.

FY l991 Accomplishments

The Corps continued to administer the dredge and fill permit program.

An EPA/Corps task group on Clean Water Act Section 404(b)(1) implementation met to develop guidance on dredged material testing and decision-making.

Continuing support to the ARCS program, the Corps demonstrated pilot-scale sediment remediation technologies and continued support to an EPA project to remove contaminated sediments from the Buffalo River.

Testing of bottom sediment was conducted at 21 navigation projects: Arcadia, Au Sable, Caseville, Holland, Lexington, Ludington, Manistee, Manistique, and Port Sanilac Harbors and the Detroit and St. Clair Rivers in Michigan; Waukegan Harbor in Illinois; Burns Waterway and Michigan City Harbors in Indiana; Dunkirk Harbor in New York; Erie Harbor in Pennsylvania; airport, Huron, Port Clinton, and West Harbors in Ohio; and Sheboygan Harbor in Wisconsin.

Dredging of polluted sediments and confined disposal was conducted for the following sites: the Clinton, Detroit, Rouge, and Saginaw Rivers, and Lake St. Clair and Bolles Harbor in Michigan; Buffalo Harbor in New York; Cleveland, Huron, Lorain, and Toledo Harbors in Ohio; Duluth-Superior Harbor in Minnesota/Wisconsin; and Green Bay and Manitowoc Harbors in Wisconsin.

The Corps constructed new CDFs or offloading facilities or made major modifications to existing CDFs at Erie Harbor in Pennsylvania; Duluth-Superior Harbor in Minnesota/Wisconsin; Green Bay Harbor and Sturgeon Bay in Wisconsin; St. Joseph Harbor in Michigan; and Toledo Harbor in Ohio. Routine maintenance and water quality monitoring was performed at other CDFs.

The Corps started construction of small boat harbors in Buffalo, New York, and in Little Calumet River, Indiana, and continued the Chicagoland Underflow Plan flood damage reduction project.

The Corps continued to identify and remediate hazardous wastes at former defense sites. An analysis was completed on a sample of the 1,400 barrels dumped into Lake Superior more than 30 years ago.

The Corps participated in a Fish and Wildlife Service assessment of the management and restoration needs of Great Lakes fisheries resources.

The Corps issued grants to States for programs aimed at reducing zebra mussels at public facilities.

The U.S. Coast Guard Back to Top

The Coast Guard promotes prevention of pollution from vessels by promulgating regulations and by conducting marine safety and law enforcement inspections. The Coast Guard is also responsible for responding to spills of oil and hazardous substances into the Great Lakes. Figure 5-1 provides selected statistics on spills within Great Lakes Harbors. As the Federal On-Scene Coordinator for spills from ships, the Coast Guard monitors cleanup activities and conducts the cleanup when responsible parties do not do so effectively. The Coast Guard operates nine marine safety units on the Great Lakes to perform pollution response and investigation functions. The Coast Guard also attempts to prevent the introduction of exotic species from ships into the Great Lakes.

Recent Accomplishments

In May 1989, the Coast Guard collaborated with the Canadian Coast Guard to establish voluntary guidelines to protect the Great Lakes from further introduction of exotic species through discharge of ship ballast water. Under these guidelines, ships scheduled to enter the Great Lakes system are advised to exchange their ballast water beyond the continental shelf or, if this is not possible, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The International Maritime Organization distributed these guidelines to its 133 member governments and organizations. The St. Lawrence Seaway Authority is monitoring compliance with the guidelines, and the Canadian Coast Guard plans to evaluate the effectiveness of the guidelines. The Authority reported 85 percent compliance with the guidelines during the 1989 shipping season.

In April 1989, the Coast Guard promulgated regulations to implement Annex V of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL 73/78). These regulations, which apply to all ships, including recreational boats, prohibit the discharge of garbage into the navigable waters of the United States. These regulations were amended in May 1990 to require maintenance of waste management plans and display of MARPOL Annex V placards on all oceangoing vessels greater than 40 feet in length. This amendment will help ensure that all persons on board are aware of garbage pollution laws and will promote proper disposal.

The Coast Guard continued to verify pollution incidents in U.S. waters of the Great Lakes. During calendar year 1989, the Coast Guard recorded 262 such incidents. Of these, 13 involved hazardous materials, and the remainder involved oil. The Federal Government funded cleanups for 17 incidents.

The U.S.-Canada Joint Marine Pollution Contingency Plan (JCP) was amended to include provisions for periodic meetings and exercises of the Joint Response Team and on-scene coordinator organizations. A binational exercise of the JCP took place at St. Catherine's, Ontario, in February 1989.

The Coast Guard reviewed all its oil contingency plans, including those for the Great Lakes. In conducting the review, Coast Guard on-scene coordinators considered preparedness to respond to the average, largest, and most complex oil spills that have occurred in their zones. In addition, they considered the most catastrophic potential incidents, given shipping patterns and cargos. The on-scene coordinators have amended their local contingency plans accordingly.

The Fish and Wildlife Service Back to Top

The Fish and Wildlife Service maintains fish and wildlife resources and provides public access. The Service collects and interprets diverse information on fish and wildlife species, populations, and habitats to assist resource managers in making decisions about the protection and restoration of the Great Lakes ecosystem. The Service's activities generally fall into five functional categories: fisheries, refuges and wildlife, law enforcement, fish and wildlife enhancement, and public affairs. Major activities include permit review, land acquisition and habitat management, management of migratory birds, anadromous fish (fish that spend their adult life in the sea but swim up rivers to reproduce) and endangered species, and research. As part of the permit review process, the Service reviews Federal Energy Regulatory Commission hydroelectric projects, Army Corps of Engineers dredge and fill permits, Farm Bill habitat easements, and wetland restorations. The Service's research activities address both needs of the Service and, when feasible, the needs of other Federal agencies, Indian tribes, State agencies, and international groups, such as the IJC and the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission.

The Service manages the National Fishery Center-Great Lakes, five National Fish Hatcheries that support Great Lakes lake trout restoration efforts, and six National Wildlife Refuges within the Great Lakes watershed--Iroquois and Montezuma in New York, Erie in Pennsylvania, Ottawa in Ohio, and Seney and Shiawassee in Michigan. In addition, the Service conducts surveys of wetlands to support the National Wetlands Inventory Program. The Fisheries Center studies fish populations and their responses to such stresses as exotic species, habitat modification, contamination, and fishing. The Center particularly focuses on the restoration of naturally reproducing lake trout populations. It operates five research vessels.

Some recent accomplishments are provided below by functional area.

Fisheries

FY 1989 Accomplishments
The Service stocked the Great Lakes with about 6.4 million lake trout. This native species serves as a valuable biological indicator of water quality because of its need for clean water and its long life span.

An offshore stocking vessel (the M/V Togue) was used to stock fish over traditional offshore spawning reefs to enhance fish survival.

The Service continued monitoring bloater chubs from Lake Michigan. The National Fisheries Research Center-Great Lakes has analyzed Lake Michigan bloater chubs for DDT and dieldrin since 1969 and added analysis for PCBs in 1972 and for chlordane in 1982.

As part of its sea lamprey control program, the Service applied lampricides to 31 Great Lakes tributaries. Parasitic and spawning adult populations, larval populations, and non-target organism populations were also evaluated. Operational fishery research was conducted on alternate control techniques, registration of lampricides, and special problems encountered by field crews.

Fishery assistance biologists continued to study exotic aquatic organisms that appear in the Great Lakes.

FY 1990 Accomplishments
The Service stocked the Great Lakes with 3.4 million lake trout. More than 2 million were stocked by ship over traditional offshore spawning reefs to increase their survival rate. Also, more than 300 thousand were stocked by airplane.

The Service applied lampricides to 28 Great Lakes tributaries.

The Service developed an interactive computer program ("expert system") that uses the structure of an organic molecule to predict acute toxicity to aquatic life. The system is being used to estimate toxicity of chemicals before starting bioassays.

FY 1991 Accomplishments
The Service began to implement the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act of 19 that calls for the Service to conduct a comprehensive fishery resources study through FY 1994.

The Service continued the lake trout stocking program.

The Service applied lampricides to 39 Great Lakes tributaries.

The Service continued monitoring bloater chubs from Lake Michigan. In addition, archived fish samples were analyzed by PCB and chlordane congeners to determine historical trends in these contaminants by congener.

The Service increased activities with State and Tribal cooperators to assess Great Lakes fish populations.

Refuges and Wildlife

FY 1989 Accomplishments
The Service increased wetland acreage in the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge as part of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, which is a cooperative effort between the Service and the Forest Service to preserve waterfowl habitats.

Under the Waterfowl Management Plan, the Service conducted a waterfowl breeding survey and developed a plan for Fort Drum, New York, which has 12,000 acres of wetlands.

The Service funded three studies that assessed the impacts of contaminants on Great Lakes wildlife. The first study, of St. Lawrence River contaminants, analyzed water and bird eggs for levels of PAHs. The others studied contaminants in two bird species: the double-crested cormorant and black-crowned night heron.

Samples of water, sediment, and biota were collected in five national refuges for analysis of chemical contamination.

Substantial pump, levee, and dike restorations were made at the Ottawa and Shiawassee Refuges to repair flood damage.

FY 1990 Accomplishments
The staff of two refuges supported wetland restorations through cooperative agreements with landowners. A total of 971 acres of wetlands were restored, including 109 acres in counties adjacent to Lake Erie.

The Service began a preliminary study to identify lands within 10 miles of Lake Erie that have potential for wildlife habitat and public recreation and that have unique natural, historic, or scenic features.

The Service continued to assist the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) in monitoring reproductive success of bald eagles nesting near Lake Erie. During the previous eight years, active nests have risen from 2 to 16.

The Service continued to support a survey of colonial waterbirds of the Great Lakes. This three year study, begun in 1989, will indicate where the Service should direct future management activities.

The Service began a study of black ducks in Ohio's Lake Erie marshes. This study should provide information on black duck habitat use, movements, and survival in this critical migration area.

FY l991 Accomplishments
In cooperation with Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, the Service began to implement the Upper Mississippi River and Great Lakes Region Joint Venture.

The Service continued to reintroduce common terns at Ottawa Refuge.

The Service continued to fund the restoration of wetlands on private lands through challenge grants to landowners.

The Service continued to monitor black ducks on Lake Erie and bald eagles.

The Service completed its preliminary Lake Erie shoreline study.

Fish and Wildlife Enhancement

FY 1989 Accomplishments
The Service participated in the IJC's water levels study that evaluated wetland changes and resulting ecosystem effects during low and high water-level years from 1979 to 1988. The Service examined Kakagon Slough, Wisconsin, on Lake Superior, Cecil Bay Marsh, Michigan, on Lake Michigan; Fish Point, Michigan, on Lake Huron; Dickinson Island, Michigan, on Lake St. Clair, and the St. Lawrence River, Sage Creek, and Campbell marshes, in New York.

Working with EPA and States, the Service began to develop water quality criteria for wildlife as part of the Great Lakes Water Quality Initiative.

The Service prepared natural resource damage surveys for two Superfund sites (General Motors Central Foundry located along the St. Lawrence River and Hooker Chemical along the Niagara River) and reviewed a report concerning tumors in fish at the 102nd Street site on the Niagara River.

To support EPA's ARCS program, the Service surveyed fish (bullheads) for tumors and abnormalities and sediments in Saginaw, Grand Calumet, and Buffalo River. The sediment collected will be used to study bioaccumulation of chemicals in fish collected at these three locations.

In New York, the Service participated in the licensing effort for 23 hydroelectric projects, recommending changes in operation or shutdown of three projects and minimum flow requirements at six plants because the projects were causing adverse effects on fish populations. Approximately 26 projects were reviewed by the East Lansing Field Office.

Also in New York, the Service reviewed about 300 dredge and fill permits, requesting modifications to approximately 100 projects to reduce habitat impacts and recommending denial of 10 projects due to unacceptable impacts.

Under its Farm Bill activities, in New York, the Service obtained easements on about 700 acres of wildlife habitat, transfers of approximately 500 acres of wetlands, and a wetland restoration project on a former farm. In the East Lansing Office, conservation easements were staked for 36 proposals. Twenty- one restorations under the Conservation Reserve Program were inspected--all are filled with water, and wildlife have been observed on most.

Endangered species consultations were conducted under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act on about 30 projects in New York.

The Service began an effort with the Forest Service to reduce beaver pond destruction and to develop small forest ponds to improve black duck breeding habitat.

The Service supported the development and review of RAPs for the Sheboygan, Marinette, Milwaukee, Oswego, Niagara, and St. Lawrence Rivers, Duluth-Superior Harbor, and Saginaw Bay.

FY 1990 Accomplishments
The Service reviewed bald eagle population and productivity data to evaluate the species' endangered status.

In cooperation with States and duck hunter organizations, the Service continued efforts to restore beds of wild celery along the Great Lakes. Wild celery provides foraging opportunities for fish, and the vegetation is eaten by waterfowl. In spring 1988, celery was planted at two locations in the lower Detroit River. While the celery failed at one site, about 5,000 plants took hold at the other. This work indicates that restoration of wild celery in the lower Detroit River is possible under suitable conditions.

The Service completed a recovery plan for the lakeside daisy, found only in Ottawa and Erie Counties, Ohio, and in Ontario.

The Service continued involvement in Federal Energy Regulatory Commission hydroelectric projects, Clean Water Act dredge and fill permits, Farm Bill habitat easements and wetland restorations, EPA's ARCS program, and EPA's initiative to develop water quality criteria for wildlife. In New York, the Service participated in the licensing effort for 12 hydroelectric projects, and reported about 30 dredge and fill permit violations to the Corps.

The Service worked with EPA on a wetlands inventory in the Green Bay watershed. This will be available to planning and regulatory agencies to assist them in making various decisions, including permit issuance and zoning.

The Service continued a pre-assessment of natural resource damages for Waukegan Harbor, Illinois and began a natural resources damage assessment for Saginaw Bay.

The Service continued to work with ODNR, Ohio EPA, EPA, and the Army Corps of Engineers on the proposed siting of a CDF for Toledo Harbor dredged materials. The proposed CDF would occupy 176 acres of productive shallow water habitat in Maumee Bay.

The Service studied gulls and bald eagles around the Torch Lake, Michigan, Area of Concern to determine if the high copper level in the lake was hurting their reproductive success. Initial indications were that the productivity of the species was normal. A companion study of yellow perch reproduction in Torch Lake found impaired hatchability of perch eggs.

The Service continued to support remedial action planning for the Cuyahoga, Grand Calumet, Menominee, and Maumee Rivers and Milwaukee Harbor.

FY 1991 Accomplishments
The Service completed recovery plans for Houghton's goldenrod and Pitcher's thistle. Both exclusively inhabit the Great Lakes watershed, primarily in sand dunes and beaches. The Service also completed a revision to the Eastern Timber Wolf Recovery Plan that addressees wolf populations in Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, and the upper peninsula of Michigan.

The Service proposed the Lake Erie water snake for threatened status and Hungerford's crawling water beetle for endangered status. The snake is found only on several Ohio and Ontario islands, while the beetle is found only on two Michigan sites and one Ontario site.

The Service supported the advanced identification of important wetland resources in northwest Ohio (Erie, Lucas, Ottawa, and Sandusky Counties) that are unsuitable for the discharge of dredged or filled materials. This is a joint activity with EPA, Ohio EPA, Ohio DNR, and the Army Corps of Engineers. The Service also continued to support a similar advanced identification of wetlands near Green Bay.

The Service continued its support to Remedial Action Planning.

The Service began a natural resource damage assessment for the Indiana Harbor and Grand Calumet River Area of Concern.

The Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory Back to Top

The Laboratory conducts research on Great Lakes ecosystem dynamics and physical processes, performing integrated, interdisciplinary research in support of resource management and environmental services in coastal and estuarine waters, with special emphasis on the Great Lakes. This program includes both basic and applied studies and combines experimental, theoretical, and empirical approaches. Field, analytical, and laboratory investigations are performed to improve understanding and prediction of environmental interdependencies between atmosphere, land, water, and sediments. The Laboratory emphasizes a systems approach to environmental problems and the development of environmental service tools to assist resource managers and others in the application of scientific findings to specific resource management problems. The Laboratory's work is discussed in the following paragraphs under the topics of bioaccumulative toxic substances, ecological processes, and benthic populations.

Bioaccumulative Toxic Substances
The Laboratory works with EPA, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and various Canadian agencies to improve understanding of the processes that control the distribution, cycling, and fate of organic contaminants, their toxicology, and the kinetics of transfer. A major focus is the association of toxic organics with suspended and deposited sediments. The adsorption of organic contaminants onto sediment particles, followed by settling and eventual burial, commonly controls the residence time and concentration of these compounds in the water column. Understanding the interactions between different types of suspended matter and dissolved organic contaminants is critical to modeling the behavior of such contaminants in the environment. Resuspension of bottom sediments in the Great Lakes is a primary process that introduces nutrients and contaminants into the water. Direct exchanges between bottom sediments and overlying water are also important processes but are poorly understood.

The Laboratory uses radiotracers to identify and model sediment transport processes because of their relative ease of measurement and dating. These measurements are used to discriminate between resuspended and fresh materials and to study horizontal sediment transport and the movement of sediments into ultimate depositional zones, the seasonal resuspension of sediments, and geochemical changes to sediments over time.

The Laboratory has collected and analyzed sediment cores from all of the Great Lakes during the past 15 years and has deployed sediment traps to obtain samples of suspended sediments from the water column. Sediment traps have been deployed for 10 years, primarily in Lake Michigan and to a lesser extent in Lakes Superior and Huron.

Extensive resuspension of sediments has been found in all three lakes, especially during winter months. Data are being integrated with data obtained by Canada from Lakes Erie and Ontario that will permit a comprehensive view of Great Lakes sediment resuspension.

The Laboratory's various sediment projects provide understanding that can be applied in the development of mass balance models and Remedial Action and Lakewide Management Planning. Better understanding of the physics, toxicology, and availability of Great Lakes sediments can be used to help define the assimilative capacity of the lakes for certain pollutants, the hazards that the reservoir of contaminated sediments pose to aquatic life, and the effects of alternative ways of dealing with sediments. The effects of possible remediation measures on contaminated sediment are poorly understood and are one of the fundamental unresolved issues concerning long-term restoration of the Great Lakes.

During FY 1989, some of the Laboratory's projects in the area of toxic organics focused on:

  • The sediment resuspension process, using radiotracers to identify fundamental sediment transport processes.
  • The physics of the bottom 25 meters of the Lake Michigan water column, with focus on bottom currents and resuspension of sediments.
  • The toxicology and bioavailability of contaminated Great Lakes sediments.
  • A 28-day mortality bioassay using a benthic organism to assess the presence of toxic organic compounds.
  • Testing of a gamma scan system to measure the porosity of sediments in a nondestructive manner.
  • The development of tolerances to toxic substances by exposing benthic worms collected from offshore sites in Lake Michigan near Grand Haven and Benton Harbor to sediments collected from these two sites. The Benton Harbor sediments were toxic to the organisms from Grand Haven, whereas the same type of organisms from Benton Harbor were unaffected by Grand Haven sediments. These results indicated, but seldom demonstrated, that organisms collected off Benton Harbor have developed tolerance to the generally higher concentrations of contaminants found in their habitat.

In addition, the Laboratory conducted three projects that contributed to the major interagency study of toxicants in Green Bay:

  1. Water volume movement through Green Bay and between the Bay and Lake Michigan.
  2. The food web of fish in Green Bay to increase understanding of the relative importance of the various food and water pathways of PCB accumulation by fish.
  3. The relationship between current velocity and sediment resuspension in Green Bay.

During FY 1990:

  • The Laboratory completed the initial examinations of major variables that could affect the bioavailability of sediment-associated toxicants to the food chain.
  • The Laboratory measured the water volume exchange between the upper and lower parts of Green Bay.
  • The Laboratory quantified the seasonal flux of resuspended sediments and estimated particulate and POC settling velocities within Green Bay.
  • During FY 1991, the Laboratory analyzed trap samples for organic carbon and PCBs, developed empirical sediment resuspension models for Green Bay, and completed projects in support of EPA's Green Bay Study.

Ecological Processes

In addition to physical processes, the Laboratory research focuses on ecological processes and mechanisms. In general, knowledge of many ecosystem processes is at an early stage. Food web processes have a dominant influence on the transfer of energy and contaminants throughout the ecosystem, yet predictive and simulation models of these processes are rudimentary. The Laboratory conducts research on both pelagic (i.e., water column) and benthic ecosystem dynamics to advance understanding of the flow of materials and energy within the food web.

During FY 1989, the Laboratory conducted numerous activities, including the following:

  • A project on the effects of contaminants on the fisheries and water quality of Lake St. Clair. Lake St. Clair food web models indicate that the benthic food chain is twice as important to fish productivity as the pelagic grazing food chain and that four times more carbon is available for aquatic food chains from external particulate sources as from aquatic vegetation and algae.
  • A study of the interactions between phosphorus, phytoplankton, and bacteria in Lake Michigan to help develop a better understanding of the seasonal succession of algae.
  • A project that studied the feeding dynamics of zooplankton to better understand the seasonal succession of plankton.
  • A project addressing benthic ecology and sediment nutrient/energy transformations. Benthic invertebrates feed on material settled from the water column and are in turn consumed by most species of Great Lakes fish.

During FY 1990, the Laboratory conducted the following projects:

  • Analysis of two nonindigenous species to the Great Lakes ecosystem: the zebra mussel and the spiny water flea.
  • A study of phytoplankton, zooplankton, and benthic populations in Saginaw Bay to determine the impact of the zebra mussel on the lower food web.
  • A study of the seasonal oxygen consumption and nitrogen (ammonia) excretion of zebra mussels collected from Lake St. Clair.
  • A study, using aquaria and fish-holding tanks, to demonstrate the development of aversion conditioning in perch to attacking the spiny water flea.
  • Initial analysis of the results of in situ feeding experiments performed during the past 2 years on the selectivity and predation rates of the spiny water flea on zooplankton in Great Lakes, and determination of the effect of the spiny water flea on the food web structure.
  • Initial observations of ecosystem components to demonstrate the variability in time and space and to improve predictions of food web dynamics that support the Great Lakes salmonid fishery.

During FY 1991, the Laboratory continued many studies started in FY 1990, including the identification of causes of ecosystem variability and continued seasonal research on oxygen consumption, nitrogen excretion, and lipid content in zebra mussels of Lake St. Clair and Saginaw Bay. New projects included examination of toxicokinetics and bioaccumulation analysis of organic contaminants in the zebra mussel, and the development of eutrophication models.

Benthic Populations

A third area of research by the Laboratory is long-term trends in benthic populations and the relation of these to water quality. Benthic communities are excellent indicators of trophic trends in the Great Lakes. Because of their limited mobility and relatively long life (compared to plankton), benthic fauna form stable communities that reflect the effects of environmental conditions over long periods of time.

During recent years, the Laboratory:

  • Identified benthic organisms collected from Saginaw Bay during 1989. Identification of the organisms collected showed a two-fold increase in pollution-tolerant worms since the early 1970s, which may be evidence of a degraded habitat since that time.
  • Collected additional benthic samples from inside and outside fish enclosures placed in Lake Superior during FY 1986.
  • Completed a study of long-term trends in mussel abundance over the past three decades in western Lake Erie.
  • Assembled and began to use a personal computer-based microscope/digitizer system that allows for rapid and reliable completion of body length measurements needed to estimate the energy budget in Great Lakes amphipods.
  • Sorted organisms collected in Whitefish Bay as part of fish enclosure experiments.
  • Continued periodic sediment grab sampling at 45 meters and 100 meters sites to determine if Diporeia production is still declining.

The Soil Conservation Service Back to Top

The Soil Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides technical and financial assistance to land users, including farmers, ranchers, and foresters, and to other government agencies on a variety of natural resource issues. The Service contributes to conserving the Nation's soil, water, plant, and animal resources by informing land users of best management practices and resource management systems that control erosion, protect the quality of surface water, and reduce the contamination of groundwater by agricultural chemicals.

Through its nationwide network of conservation specialists, the Service provides assistance on topics such as pesticide and nutrient management, reduced tillage practices, fish and wildlife habitat development, soil mapping and interpretation, and watershed protection. It also conducts natural resource inventories and maintains extensive data on soil erosion, land use and cover, conservation practices, and land treatment needs. To assist land users in protecting natural resources, the USDA (through the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service) also administers cost-sharing programs to pay land users for following certain conservation practices, protecting wetlands, and improving water quality. The Service is working with States in their development of Nonpoint Source Management Plans pursuant to Section 319 of the Clean Water Act.

The Service is participating in 10 major USDA projects that are currently underway or planned in the Great Lakes watershed. Five of these projects are Water Quality Special Projects: Cattaraugus Creek, New York; LaGrange County Lake Enhancement Program, Indiana; Vermillion River and the West Branch of the Black River, Ohio; and the Clam River, Michigan. These projects seek to cut agricultural loadings of nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen) and of sediments to surface waters.

USDA is also conducting two demonstration projects in the Basin. The East River Watershed project in Wisconsin, which affects the Green Bay Area of Concern, demonstrates crop management systems that reduce the quantities of nitrogen, phosphorus, and pesticides required to produce acceptable crop yields. The goals of the project are to prevent excessive loadings to surface water and groundwater and enhance farm incomes. The 10-year project will provide landowners up to 70 percent cost-sharing for installing land management improvements. The Saginaw Bay project in Michigan will not only focus on nutrients and sediment, but will also implement Integrated Pest Management practices to prevent groundwater contamination.

In the Saline Valley Rural Clean Water Project, the emphasis is on reducing the amount of phosphorus entering Lake Erie from southeastern Michigan. Final evaluation of the project, including an analysis of practices to reduce phosphorus in runoff, is underway. A hydrologic unit project related to Sycamore Creek Michigan, is using fertilizer, pesticide, and crop management techniques to reduce agricultural pesticides and sediment from entering surface waters. Another hydrologic unit project, in the Wolf Creek watershed, is working to protect Lake Adrian from sediment, phosphorus, and pesticides.

Recent Accomplishments

In FY 1989, the Service contributed to the RAP development process in Ohio (Maumee and Cuyahoga Rivers), Minnesota (St. Louis River), Wisconsin (Menominee River and Green Bay), New York (Rochester Embayment, Oswego River, St. Lawrence River, and Buffalo River), and Michigan (multiple sites). The Service assigned one staff person to EPA's Great Lakes National Program Office and another to the IJC's Regional Office in Canada to work on Great Lakes environmental issues. Service personnel also evaluated progress under the Great Lakes Phosphorus Load Reduction Plan. Additional Service accomplishments included:

  • Completed transect tillage surveys in the Saginaw Bay and Lake Erie watersheds
  • Developed conservation plans for 250,000 acres of highly erodible lands in Wisconsin
  • Designed and installed 68 animal waste management systems in Wisconsin
  • Completed the first phase of a direct drainage study of Lake Ontario
  • Completed inventories of Indiana wetlands within the Great Lakes basin and in 13 Michigan counties
  • Completed a stream bank erosion survey for the Au Sable River, Michigan
  • Contributed to a Saginaw Bay drainage project to assess the effects of crop production on surface water and groundwater
  • Participated in the Lost Creek Experimental Watershed Project in Ohio with Defiance Soil and Water Conservation District and Heidelberg College to assess the movement of pesticides, nutrients, and sediments
  • Worked with Ottawa County, Ohio, to measure effects of tillage practices on water quality.

During FY 1990, the Service continued to emphasize water quality benefits in all program delivery elements. All initiatives begun in FY 1989 continued into FY 1990. The Service assigned one staff person to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources for two years to assist in prioritizing watersheds affected by nonpoint source pollution. Significant accomplishments include the development of standards and specifications for nutrient and pest management, and revision of the standard and specification for waste utilization. Additional Service accomplishments included:

  • Completed wetland inventories in five Michigan counties
  • Started a new river basin study for the Menominee River Basin in the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Northeastern Wisconsin
  • Started a streambank erosion inventory on the Rifle River in north-central Michigan
  • Started implementation of the South Branch Kawkawlin River Watershed Work Plan
  • Prepared a watershed work plan for Mud Creek in Barry County, a highly intensified agricultural area with identified sediment and nutrient loadings
  • Participated in the preparation and implementation of four non-point source watershed demonstration projects.
  • During FY 1991, the Service continued to participate in the 10 major USDA projects in the Great Lakes watershed. It also increasingly emphasized integrated crop management in all its programs to reduce agricultural use of nutrients and pesticides to improve water quality.


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