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A Voice for Clean Water

February 10th, 2016 | Posted by Lee

Originally published in the Thousand Islands Sun on February 3, 2016, from Lee Willbanks Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper and Save The River executive director.

Clean, drinkable water is a basic human necessity. It is fundamental to the environment that sustains all human activity. Even so, for much of our history we have taken fresh, life-sustaining water for granted. In the vast St. Lawrence River watershed, blessed as it is with an abundance of clean water, threats to it have frequently seemed remote.

It is a sad irony, when the Thousand Islands stretch of the River is ranked as America’s number one archipelago, the River is recognized as a premier destination, and Clayton is chosen to host the 2016 Empire State Tourism Conference, that right in our backyard the fundamental ingredient in those accolades – fresh water – is under such a threat.

In the unfolding story of Flint, Michigan, and, closer to home, Hoosick Falls, we are witnessing the toll on a community when access to fresh water is compromised and government turns its back or is slow to mobilize. Much closer to home news reports have made a compelling case that this is happening in the Town of Orleans.

While the number of affected residents and businesses is small compared to Flint or even Hoosick Falls, it is clear that salt from a source other than the individual homeowners is in the groundwater. And it is there in high enough concentrations to cause serious health concerns – the introduction of lead from salt-caused corrosion foremost among them.

Corroded pipes and appliances are not within the mission of Save The River. Protection of the River, its tributaries and the people that live within its watershed from polluted water is. Montreal’s massive sewage dump opened our eyes to the equally massive amount of sewage entering our waters upstream. Algal blooms, dead zones in Lake Erie and the threat of oil transport on and around the River make it clear that threats to freshwater are not remote but right here right now. As Riverkeeper we join our community in the effort to protect it.

Whether the state is culpable or has just been inattentive is not the immediate issue in Orleans. Bringing the necessary resources to bear to solve the problem is. A state that can contemplate $100 billion in multi-year capital projects should be able to put together a funding package for the Town that gets clean, safe and affordable drinking water to its citizens. And it is imperative that it do so as soon as possible.

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“Meet the upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper; Save The River prepares to host annual conference”

February 3rd, 2016 | Posted by admin

Great coverage by North Country Public Radio of our upcoming Winter Environmental Conference

“The upper St. Lawrence River’s largest environmental group holds its annual winter conference this weekend.

North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik will be one of the speakers at Save The River’s conference this Saturday at the 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel in Clayton.”

Tony Maas, Principal of Maas Strategies, is a nationally recognized water policy expert in Canada. He will be providing an update on Canadian environmental policy and Ontario’s Great Lakes Protection Act.

With the potential for New York State voters to vote for a constitutional convention in 2017, van Rossum will speak about the need for constitutional guarantees for clean water and air in the New York State constitution.

“Speakers will also tackle topics that kept Save The River busy in 2015, including passing a new, more environmentally-friendly water levels management plan for the river, and opposing Montreal’s dumping of raw sewage into the river last fall.”

Visit NCPR’s website for the full story:http://ow.ly/XTDaK

There’s still time to register for the conference. For more information call Save The River at 315-686-2010 or visit: http://ow.ly/WUDZF

WEC Speakers Panel Image

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Erie County Pennsylvania passes the strongest microbead ban in the nation

August 10th, 2015 | Posted by admin

Congrats to Erie County for passing strongest microbead ban in the nation. Now is the time for New York State to follow.

From the Buffalo News:

State, federal governments should join Erie County in banning microbeads

“It would be helpful for New York to enact a statewide ban, which could help to preserve the Finger Lakes, the Hudson River, Lake Champlain and other waterways. New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, who is pushing for a statewide ban, has estimated that 19 tons of microbeads enter New York waterways each year.

But even a state ban won’t prevent microbeads from continuing to contaminate the Great Lakes to the west, thence to reach the Niagara River, or protect other parts of the country along the Mississippi River and its tributaries, or the lakes and rivers in the West. That’s why federal action is important and, in that regard, it is good to note that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is bringing the issue to Congress.”

Microbeads NY Times Credit

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Show us why you love the River!

July 8th, 2015 | Posted by admin

happy

Save The River / Upper St. Lawrence will be participating in this easy to enter photo contest this month.

Swimmable Water Weekend is July 31 – August 2, and we want you to post photos with the hashtag ‪#‎SwimmableWater‬ whenever you’re out enjoying the water!

Every photo posted that weekend will count as one entry to win a grand prize package including a GoPro Hero, generously donated by Leadership Circle members Dylan and Emmeli Bruno, a Kokatat paddle jacket, KEEN sandals and more! For official rules, head to: http://bit.ly/1INS3kF

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Great Lakes Waterkeepers and Waterkeeper Alliance Urge Canadian Authorities to Ditch the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump

May 29th, 2015 | Posted by admin

From the Waterkeeper Alliance:

great-lakes-nasa-300x231 (1)NEW YORK, NY – May 27, 2015 – Environmentalists in the Great Lakes Basin are opposed to a new report from a Canadian Joint Review Panel that has called for the support of the Canadian Minister of the Environment to approve a deep geological repository for nuclear waste in Kincardine, Ontario due to its proximity to drinking water supplies for 40 million people in the United States and Canada. The proposed plan from Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is to store underground radioactive nuclear waste less than one mile from the shores of Lake Huron. Canadian officials are getting closer to approving this hazardous project and could even fast track the authorization of a final license within the next few months.

Under the Binational Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (amended in 2012), both Canada and the US acknowledge the importance of anticipating, preventing, and responding to threats to the waters of the Great Lakes.  Both countries share the responsibility and obligation to protect these shared waters from pollution.

“Great Lakes Waterkeepers and Waterkeeper Alliance oppose this project, which could threaten the drinking water supply of 40 million Americans and Canadians,” said Bob Burns, Detroit Riverkeeper. “We ask the U.S. State Department to stand with the citizens, local and state governments, and other stakeholders in the Great Lakes Basin whose voices have not yet been heard but who are at risk if the deep geological repository fails.”

Last September, the groups wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry and Canadian officials urging them to vote against this nuclear storage facility.

“With the Great Lakes containing 95% of the North America’s supply of fresh surface water, this is one of the worst possible locations for a permanent nuclear waste burial facility,” stated Doug Martz, St. Clair Channelkeeper. “Ontario Power Generation, the project proponent, did not investigate any other sites for this repository, but rather, selected the site based on the willingness of one local community. Furthermore, approval of this facility would set a devastating precedent for allowing other nuclear waste repositories to be located in the Great Lakes Basin.”

Marc Yaggi, executive director of Waterkeeper Alliance added: “The Great Lakes are suffering from failing infrastructure, contamination leaching from historical industrial and nuclear waste sites, ongoing agricultural pollution and invasive species. Intentionally siting a new toxic nuclear waste site in such close proximity to the largest fresh water system in the world would severely imperil the water security of two nations. The time to act is now, and we call again on Secretary Kerry to take action.”

The eight Waterkeeper organizations in the Great Lakes support proposed resolutions in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate to urge government action to ensure that the Canadian Government does not permanently store nuclear waste underground in the Great Lakes Basin.

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US EPA and Army Corps Issue Weak Clean Water Rule

May 28th, 2015 | Posted by admin

From the Waterkeeper Alliance:

Eno-River-3-300x225New York, NY and Washington, DC – May 27, 2015 – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) final “Clean Water Rule” issued today reduces the agencies’ jurisdiction to protect waters that have been covered under the Clean Water Act (CWA) since the 1970s. The final rule contains some very serious negative provisions including not protecting streams and rivers that have historically been protected under the CWA, exempting industrial-scale livestock facilities, and allowing streams and rivers to be impounded or filled with toxic coal ash and other waste.

The preamble to the rule states: “The scope of jurisdiction in this rule is narrower than that under the existing regulation. Fewer waters will be defined as ‘waters of the United States’ under the rule than under the existing regulations, in part because the rule puts important qualifiers on some existing categories such as tributaries.”

“The final rule inexplicably rolls back protections for streams and rivers, which feed into our water supplies,” said Marc Yaggi, Executive Director of Waterkeeper Alliance. “Since only waters that are included within the final rule can be protected under the core water quality protections and pollution prohibitions of the Clean Water Act, it is frightening to think what this will mean for the tributaries that are no longer covered.”

Strong clean water laws are essential to restoring our nation’s waters, which are still polluted 43 years after passage of the Clean Water Act. Recent reports from the states to EPA show that more than 78% of assessed bays/estuaries and 53% of assessed streams/rivers in the U.S. are unsafe for fishing, drinking, or swimming. The Science Report that underlies the final rule demonstrates that all tributaries need to be protected because “Tributary streams, including perennial, intermittent, and ephemeral streams, are chemically, physically, and biologically connected to downstream waters, and influence the integrity of downstream waters.” However, the agencies stated that they are not “dictated” by the peer-reviewed science, and are reducing protection for tributaries regardless of the science.

Lake Erie, the Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, North Carolina’s coastal estuaries, Puget Sound and many other significant water resources across the country are severely polluted and, in order to restore these waters, it is necessary to control the discharges of pollutants into the smaller waterways that feed into them. For example, tributary streams in the uppermost portions of the Gulf and Bay watersheds transport the majority of nutrients to the downstream waters.

“From the smallest tributary, to the mightiest river, to our lakes, bays and ocean, clean water connects us to many valuable resources. Maintaining legal protection is essential for safeguarding public health and the environment, including drinking water supplies, recreation and fisheries,” stated Chris Wilke, Puget Soundkeeper in Seattle, WA. “The narrowing of jurisdiction proposed by the EPA and the Corps is not supported by sound science or legal precedent.”

Reducing the jurisdictional reach of the Clean Water Act will also likely impact endangered species. For example, many salmon in the Pacific Northwest use drainage ditches and other minor tributaries during their lives. Ephemeral aquatic habitats are important habitats for endangered frogs, insects, and crustaceans like vernal pool fairy shrimp.  Removing these water features from the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction will mean that these areas could be degraded more easily without proper mitigation being implemented to protect endangered species.

“The EPA’s new clean water rule fails to protect far too many of our waterways, endangering the health of both people and wildlife,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity.  “Without the full protection of the Clean Water Act, critical wetland habitats across the country will be degraded or destroyed, undermining the recovery of dozens of endangered species.”

The EPA also refused to address in the rulemaking a loophole which allows polluters to dam up streams to form waste lagoons that would not be subject to the full protections of the Clean Water Act. In 1980, when EPA last updated the definition of WOTUS under the Clean Water Act discharge permitting regulations, the agency inserted the exclusion as a footnote, two months after the rule had been finalized. When it announced the insertion of the footnote, EPA stated that it “intends promptly to develop a revised definition and to publish it as a proposed rule for public comment. At the conclusion of that rulemaking, EPA will amend the rule, or terminate the suspension.” (45 Fed. Reg. 48620 (July 21, 1980)).

Now, nearly 35 years later, EPA has undertaken a significant revision of the WOTUS definitions, yet it explicitly refused to take comments on the waste treatment system exclusion. This exclusion allows polluters to escape treatment requirements by impounding waters of the United States and claiming the impoundment is a waste treatment system, or by discharging wastes into wetlands. By refusing to accept public comments on the exclusion, EPA appears to be attempting a slight-of-hand maneuver to evade judicial review of this dubious footnote.

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Every day is World Water Day

March 22nd, 2015 | Posted by admin

Great Lakes St Lawrence River from space

All citizens of the world should have access to swimmable, drinkable and fishable water.  And we, along with local, regional, national & international partners are working to restore, protect and preserve the St. Lawrence River, part of the greatest freshwater system on Earth, now and for future generations. Every day is #WorldWaterDay

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Swimmable, Fishable, Drinkable Water

March 17th, 2015 | Posted by admin

Lake Ontario Waterkeeper,Ottawa Riverkeeper & world-wide Waterkeeper Alliance to promote Swimmable, Fishable, Drinkable Water.We speak for the waters we defend.WKA LogoOTRK LogoLOW Logo

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Save The River’s Winter Conference to Feature Panel on Oil Transport

January 5th, 2015 | Posted by admin

Transporting Tar Sands Oil is Problematic

A tug recently sank down river of Montreal, releasing almost 7,000 gallons of fuel that is still being cleaned up. Fault hasn’t been assigned, but is blame important when the fuel or the toxic cargo is already in the water and spreading?

There is a huge difference between a tug and a tanker carrying the equivalent of 300 to 600 rail cars or 1,000 to 2,500 trucks of tar sands oil. It is a difference that should concern everyone who shares the use of the St. Lawrence River. A spill of that magnitude of tar sands oil, a cargo the Coast Guard has admitted it is “not prepared to handle,” would quickly dwarf the capabilities of first responders, would devastate the river for almost any conceivable use, would lay waste to the environment of one of North America’s most significant rivers and devastate the economies of communities along its shores in two countries.

Maybe lower oil prices will temporarily reduce the intense pressure, and thus the risk to our river, that has been building to get tar sands oil to market by whatever means possible. But maybe they won’t because producers will still seek the cheapest transportation alternative without regard to environmental impacts.

The proposals for new pipelines and ship terminals are still around. History shows we frequently construct beyond our ability to mitigate. The river community needs to shape the debate about such shipments and demand that not one drop of heavy oil should be put on a ship or in a rail car on or near the St. Lawrence River until response plans have been developed and tested and the Coast Guard and local first responders have the equipment and training to effectively implement them.

Become involved. Attend our Winter Environmental Conference on Feb. 7. We will have a panel of experts from the Coast Guard, spill responders, academia and advocacy organizations discussing the issue.

Letter to the Editor by Lee Willbanks
Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper / Executive Director

Published by the Watertown Daily Times on January 5th, 2015.

Click here to view the print article.

Click here for conference information.

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Coast Guard not prepared for a ”heavy” oil spill on the St. Lawrence River

September 19th, 2014 | Posted by admin

“Response plans and organization are not capable of responding to heavy oil spills” according to Rear Admiral Fred Midgette, commander of the Coast Guard’s District 9, which includes the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes.

A recent Detroit Free Press article highlighted the findings of a June 2013 Coast Guard report that was “frank on the limitations in dealing with heavy oil that sinks below the surface and makes traditional skimming recovery methods ineffective.” Noting that the report states “Current methods are inadequate to find and recover submerged oil, with responders having to reinvent the techniques on each occasion,” and “responses to recent higher profile submerged oil spills have shown responders have almost no capability in detection and recovery.”

Abay Oil Spill

We on the River know all too well what it means when agencies that are supposed to be prepared aren’t and events occur which exceed training and resources. Oil and water didn’t mix 38 years ago when the NEPCO 140 spilled 300,000 gallons of oil on the St. Lawrence River and they won’t today. But even the disastrous spill of ‘76 would pale in comparison to a spill of the heavier oils that may soon be shipped on the River and Great Lakes.

The Coast Guard and local first responders must be given the tools and resources necessary to develop appropriate action plans and the equipment and training to effectively implement them in the face of massive amounts of “extreme” energy waiting to get to overseas markets.      Alexandria Bay coated by the NEPCO spill, 1976

Kurt Hansen, a project manager at the Coast Guard’s Research and Development Center at New London, Conn. quoted in a recent Detroit Free Press Article, stated “‘Once the [heavy] oil goes below the surface, that sets a whole new set of problems. You’re going to have to figure out if it’s coming back up in tiny little droplets, because that’s going to need one set of recovery response and surveillance. Or, if it goes to the bottom in a clump, that’s going to need another set of response. And if it mixes with the silt and sand and dirt at the bottom, that’s going to need even a third set of response and information that you need.”

Another major oil spill will spell environmental and economic disaster for the St. Lawrence River and the communities that depend on its well being, severely damaging the fishing and recreational boating and killing off wildlife.

Its a lesson the River community hasn’t forgotten and we must make sure our elected officials, decision makers, shippers, the Coast Guard, the Seaway and energy executives don’t either. Before Bakken crude, tar sands oil or other extreme energy moves on the St. Lawrence River there must be a thorough and rigorous examination of the potential impacts and extensive public involvement.

Read the full article from the Detroit Free Press.

For more information on this and other pressing issues in the Great Lakes region click here.

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