Buffer impacts of global warming

MADISON — Enacting a comprehensive strategy to stop sewage overflows, halt invasive species and restore wetlands and other habitat will be essential in the effort to mitigate the impacts of global warming on Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes, according to a new report released today from the Healing Our Waters (HOW) Coalition. Clean Wisconsin is a member of the HOW Coalition, which is dedicated to passing federal legislation to protect and restore the Great Lakes.

“The report underscores the need to restore the Great Lakes as a way to limit the damage from global warming,” said Melissa Malott, Water Program Director for Clean Wisconsin. “We urge Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation to act now to restore the lakes and confront global warming. Delay will only make the problems worse and more costly.”

The new report, “Great Lakes Restoration & the Threat of Global Warming,” released by the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, documents the likely impacts warming temperatures will have on the lakes, including lower lake levels, more sewage overflows and increased pressure to divert Great Lakes water.

The report documents challenges to Lake Michigan, including:

  1. A wide range of negative impacts caused by global warming.
    • Daily high temperatures in the region will increase 5.4 to 10.8 degrees relative to what was typical from 1961-1990, with wintertime temperatures increasing even more than summer temperatures.
    • Increased evaporation from warming lakes—particularly in winter—is expected to result in less ice cover, contributing to lower water levels and increases in lake-effect snow.
    • Lake levels could drop during the next century by approximately 3 feet on Lakes Michigan.
    • Water quality will likely worsen as more intense storm events will send polluted urban and agricultural runoff to our waterways, leading to drinking water impacts, beach closings and higher costs to water suppliers.
    • Biological dead zones will increase, jeopardizing fish and other aquatic life.
    • Great Lakes forests and grasslands will change as plants adapted to the area confront increasingly unsuitable habitat. The ranges of some plants and animals will shift northward, while other creatures will vanish.
  2. Exacerbated existing threats to the lakes.
    • Make the Great Lakes more suitable for some non-native aquatic invasive species that out-compete native species for food and habitat.
    • Shrink or dry up coastal wetlands that filter pollution and provide a home for fish and wildlife.
    • Expose toxic sediments to people and wildlife posing public health risks.
    • Increase sewage overflows resulting from increased storms resulting in beach closings.
    • Increase pressure to divert Great Lakes water outside the region with expected declines of freshwater.
  3. People, businesses and citizens will likely see impacts to drinking water, public health, economy and way of life stemming from the changes global warming will have on the Great Lakes.
    • Drinking water: increased odor and taste problems
    • Public health: increased sewage overflows lead to beach closings and exposed toxic sediments due to lower water levels pose health risk to people
    • Economy: increased costs to meet water quality standards and generate hydropower; harm shipping; industry; impact food supply; devastate tourism
    • Way of life: Threatening region’s National Parks and recreational opportunities; could rekindle shoreline conflicts such as those in Michigan and Ohio over public access to lakes

“This report is a wake-up call that left unabated, global warming will wreak havoc on Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes, with ramifications for our public health, economy and way of life,” said Malott. “We have solutions. It is time to use them.”

The report recommends several federal policy initiatives, including:

  • Restoring the Great Lakes through enactment of the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy, a comprehensive plan put forward by more than 1,500 citizens and backed by the region’s mayors, governors and Congressional delegation;
  • Protecting the Great Lakes from water diversions by passing the Great Lakes Water Resources Compact, a regional agreement to ban diversions outside the region and promoting conservation within the region; and,
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions to limit the magnitude of change to our climate and ecosystems.

“We urge Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation to stand up for the millions of Wisconsinites who depend on Lakes Michigan and Superior,” said Malott. “We cannot let the momentum behind restoring the Great Lakes die, or else we will be back at square one. We need to press forward.”