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“How invasive species changed the Great Lakes forever”

December 31st, 2015 | Posted by Lee

MJS GREATLAKESExcellent series by Dan Egan in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first published July 26, 2014.

On the day the last ship has left and the Seaway locks are closed just briefly to the outside world it’s a good time to look at one of the most significant and ongoing impacts international shipping has had on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.

The whole series is worth the time to understand the nature of the invasion, the invaders and what might be next.

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Tell Rep. Elise Stefanik “Thanks!” for her visit to Save The River & continued strong support for Plan 2014.

August 28th, 2015 | Posted by Lee

Please take a moment to call Congresswoman Elise Stefanik’s office to say “Thanks!” Let her know that as a member, supporter or follower of Save The River you appreciate her visiting with us, her concern about the health of the St. Lawrence River and, especially now, her support of Plan 2014.

Jefferson and St. Lawrence County District office number:  (315) 782-3150
Washington, D.C. office number:  (202) 225-4611
-or- Send her an email (click here):

As part of her visits to many communities along the St. Lawrence River. Congresswoman Stefanik came to the Save The River office Wednesday to talk about Plan 2014, aquatic invasive species, microbeads and the threat of oil shipments on the River (among many other topics). It was an excellent first conversation. We came away very impressed with her grasp of the issues and her engagement in trying to find solutions that work for the benefit of all who share the use and enjoyment of the River.

We were particularly pleased with her continued strong support for Plan 2014, based as it is on a complete understanding of the problems the old water levels plan has caused and her commitment to be a strong advocate for adoption and implementation of the new plan soon.

Based on the discussion, we look forward to working with her on this and other River issues.

Your call or email of thanks to her office will let her know the River community appreciates and supports her efforts.

Coverage of her visit:
from the Watertown Daily Times
from TWC News Central/Northern NY

Stefanik Collage

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Invasive Species Awareness Week Ends, But Not the Invasions?

July 18th, 2015 | Posted by Lee

Heard of Caspian Sea Kilka? Black Sea Silverstripe? Black-striped Pipefish? Monkey (not Round) Goby?

Not yet? But maybe soon. These may be the next wave of invaders to swarm the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes.

Which of these is next?

Which of these is next?

Groundbreaking research by scientists at Buffalo State College, translating (from Russian) and analyzing previously unpublished research on Ponto-Caspian fish species, have identified these four species among forty-two as having a high risk potential of surviving current treatment methods and successfully establishing breeding populations in our already overtaxed and reeling waterbodies.

The Seaway and international shippers frequently state: “Since the latest measures [salt water flushes of ballast water tanks] were introduced in 2006, no new aquatic nuisance species have been discovered in the Great Lakes due to shipping.” Chamber of Marine Commerce

This new research calls the longterm effectiveness of salt water flushes into question. To quote the scientists, “Our results also indicate that ballast water exchange, if carried out according to current regulations governing shipping in the Great Lakes, should reduce but not eliminate the probability of future introductions of invasive Ponto-Caspian fishes.”

Their alarming conclusion, “Our updated listing of high-risk Ponto-Caspian fishes includes five species identified previously (the Black and Caspian Sea sprat, Eurasian minnow, big-scale sand smelt, European perch, and monkey goby) and five additional species (the Black sea shad, Caspian tyulka, Volga dwarf goby, Caspian bighead goby, and black-striped pipefish). Of these ten species, four (the monkey goby, big-scale sand smelt, Caspian tyulka, and black-striped pipefish) are likely to survive ballast water exchange as eggs, larvae, or adults based on salinity tolerances. The black-striped pipefish has spread rapidly throughout Europe and could cause significant ecological changes in the Great Lakes, and it is unlike anything currently found in the Great Lakes.

These conclusions make it imperative that the most stringent means possible must be put in place to protect our River and the Great Lakes from the next wave of unwanted invasives. Although very late to the game, the EPA and Coast Guard regulations to control vessel discharge must not be weakened by misguided Congressional efforts to do so. We will keep you posted and raise the alert to see that does not happen.

Summary of the Buffalo State research here: http://www.lakescientist.com/research-summary-updated-invasion-risk-assessment-for-ponto-caspian-fishes-to-the-great-lakes/

Fact Sheet prepared by New York Sea Grant here: http://blog.savetheriver.org/wp-content/uploads/Predicted-Fish-Invaders-fact-sheet-March-16-2015.pdf

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RIverkeeper Volunteers Learn to Spot Invasives

July 17th, 2015 | Posted by admin

Learn about invasive species on the River and how to report them by becoming a Riverkeeper Volunteer.

Recent Riverkeeper Volunteers

Recent Riverkeeper Volunteers

The next Riverkeeper Volunteer Monitor Training is Wednesday, July 29th at 6pm at the Save The River office. Space is limited so sign up today! Call 315-686-2010 or email info@savetheriver.org

Save The River’s new Riverkeeper Volunteer Program trains volunteers to be our eyes and ears out on the River, by teaching the basics on assessing River health and identifying potential pollution problems.

Riverkeeper volunteers will be trained to keep an eye out for pollution, wildlife die-offs and subtle changes in the River ecosystem that can indicate changes in River health. Volunteers will also learn how to assess pollution problems and how to effectively report these problems to the proper authorities.

Volunteers who attend a training session will receive all the materials needed to participate in the program as well as a Save The River t-shirt.

Save The River’s new Riverkeeper Volunteer Program trains volunteers to be our eyes and ears out on the River, by teaching the basics on assessing River health and identifying potential pollution problems.
Riverkeeper volunteers will be trained to keep an eye out for pollution, wildlife die-offs and subtle changes in the River ecosystem that can indicate changes in River health. Volunteers will also learn how to assess pollution problems and how to effectively report these problems to the proper authorities.
Volunteers who attend a training session will receive all the materials needed to participate in the program as well as a Save The River t-shirt.
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Invasive Species Awareness Week

July 12th, 2015 | Posted by Lee

Today marks the start of New York Invasive Species Awareness Week.

We know a little bit about invasive species here on the St. Lawrence. In fact, we’ve become a vector for for their movement from our waters to others in the state and provinces. The invasion of non-native, harmful species goes back to at least the construction of the Erie Canal. But it wasn’t until the opening of the River and the Great Lakes to international shipping in the 1950’s that the scope and pace of the invasion threatened to completely upend theH20 Highway natural ecosystem and species dependent on it.

It is estimated that at least 65% of the invasives now in the St. Lawrence – from quagga and zebra mussels, to bloody red shrimp, to round goby, to a hundred more came in through the locks of The St. Lawrence Seaway (or Highway H2O as it has been branded) in the ballast of ocean-going ships (“salties”).

After decades of efforts to stop this traffic in unwanted organisms the Seaway began requiring saltwater flushes in mid-ocean for all salties before they could enter the St. Lawrence system. Since then no new invasives have been identified. New research is raising questions about the effectiveness of this method of stopping invasives. Meanwhile EPA and the Coast Guard have put rules in place requiring treatment of discharges to remove live organisms – rules several U.S. Senators want to undo. And there is still the very real threat of Asian Carp.

It may be the River has not seen its last invasive species. More throughout this Invasive Species Awareness Week.

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Save The River in D.C., Urges Continued Levels of Funding for Great Lakes and River Restoration

March 4th, 2015 | Posted by Lee

Washington, DC— Save The River traveled to Washington D.C. with other New York and Great Lake organizations as part of the Healing Our Waters Coalition to meet with elected representatives in an effort to secure sustained funding for improved water quality and programs protecting the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.

The meetings, part of the 2015 Great Lakes Days, were focused on restoring cuts President Obama has proposed to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving funds, and targeting funds authorized for farm conservation programs to priority watersheds in the Great Lakes to deal with excess nutrient runoff.  Legislative priorities included passing legislation to authorize the successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative until 2019, allowing EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to adopt rules to protect all waters of the US and taking steps to prevent the spread of Asian carp and other invasive species.

“Our meetings with the New York delegation included Representatives Chris Gibson and Brian Higgins and the staff of several other members of the House and Senate and were very productive. It is encouraging to see that New York continues to have a congressional delegation that is very supportive of efforts to protect water quality throughout the basin,” said Lee Willbanks, Save The River’s executive director and Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper.

Even though the River region’s new congresswoman Elise Stefanik was unable to meet, the group led by Save The River had the opportunity to talk with a member of her staff. According to Willbanks, “it was our first opportunity to thank the Congresswoman for her strong support of a modern water levels plan and to raise the broad range of water quality issues facing the St. Lawrence River. Given her leadership on Plan 2014, we are looking forward to working with the congresswoman to ensure that our River, one of North America’s most significant, remains at the forefront of water quality and protection efforts.”

During Great Lakes Days Sen. Debbie Stabenow (MI) and Rep. Candice Miller (MI) , with Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Louise Slaughter, both of New York co-sponsoring, introduced the Defending Our Great Lakes Act. The bipartisan legislation is an important step in the battle to keep Asian carp and other invasive species out of the Great Lakes. The proposed bill calls for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Chicago Area Waterway System to implement short-term invasive species reduction measures at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam site on the Des Plaines River in Illinois and to secure a plan for a long-term permanent solution to prevent invasive species from entering the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River.

Published by the Thousand Islands Sun on March 4, 2015

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It’s National Invasive Species Awareness Week

February 24th, 2015 | Posted by admin

Something We on the River Know Too Much About

National Invasive Species Awareness Week is this week, February 23rd-28th. Non-native plants, animals and pathogens can harm humans and the environment and cause significant negative impact to our nation and the River region’s economy.

Invasive species have always been a threat to the River. To-date 186 invasive species have been documented in the Great Lakes and River.  Almost 60 aquaticAsian Carp invasive species have been introduced by way of ballast water since opening the Lakes and River to ocean-going ships. The resulting harm to indigenous species has cost many millions of dollars in control and mitigation efforts.

Even with increased regulations commercial shipping still poses a threat and opens the door for new invasive species to enter the River.  The threat of Asian Carp as has been an imminent danger to the Great Lakes and River. Other threats include the live trade of exotic plants and animals and the transport of recreational boats and equipment from one waterbody to another without proper cleaning – an all too common practice that poses a threat to all waters when owners use their boats in different locations.

Last year New York State took a step forward to help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species and to protect our waters. Beginning August 2015 all boats and floating docks launched in New York State must be clean of plant or animal matter. The intent of the new law is to prevent the spread of invasive species from one waterbody to another.

Cleaning your boat and trailer between waterbodies has long been a best practice to stop the spread of invasives. We hope that the state will follow up with extensive public outreach and education. Voluntary compliance is always preferable to enforcement.

The Department of Environmental Conservation is developing new regulations that will more clearly define how boaters must clean their vessels before entering the water. For a step-by-step guide on how to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species visit: http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/48221.html.

For more information on DEC boating regulations visit: http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/349.html.

For more information about invasive species click here.

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Its What We, With Our Members & Followers, Do

February 4th, 2015 | Posted by Lee

From this morning’s Watertown Daily Times editorial page:

“This weekend, Save the River will hold its annual winter meeting . . . As the conference attendees listen to the panels and enjoy the raw frozen beauty of the St. Lawrence in midwinter from a first-class hotel, it is time to send a strong message to Washington. The International Joint Commission’s lake level plan must be adopted . . . Save the River should remind U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik and U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand about the importance of this work to New York.”

We do and with over 5,000 members and followers, we think it is a message they should listen to.

And while our advocacy agenda may not embrace every item the editors of the Watertown Daily Times suggests, we agree 110% on the need for:

We have come to far in our joint effort with communities up and down the River it the US and Canada to restore our great River to back down now.

Join us at our conference Saturday, contact our office for how you can become a member, and let your representatives know you care and you speak out.

Read the full editorial here.

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New Data Show Multiple Asian Carp eDNA Hits Just Yards from Lake Michigan

January 15th, 2015 | Posted by admin

(Wednesday, January 14, 2015) Chicago, IL – Asian carp continue to knock on the door of the Great Lakes, based on eDNA sampling results released last week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The sampling data, collected in October, show the presence of bighead or silver carp DNA throughout the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS). Most alarming is detection of carp DNA very near the lock in downtown Chicago – less than one city block from Lake Michigan.

In the face of this threat, last winter the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its Great Lakes Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS) with no clear recommendation for next steps to prevent Asian carp and other aquatic invasive species from moving between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River. The GLMRIS report does, however, identify restoring the natural divide between the two waterways as the one long-term solution effective in preventing the movement of aquatic invasive species between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins. The report identified 13 invasive species at significant risk of moving between the waterways. Despite this finding, agencies and elected officials have yet to commit to this solution.

A committee of key, diverse regional stakeholders known as the “Chicago Area Waterway System Advisory Committee” has been formed with a goal to reach consensus on a set of recommendations to elected and appointed local, state and federal officials and the public on short-and long-term measures to prevent Asian carp and other aquatic invasive species from moving between the Mississippi River and Great Lakes basins through the CAWS. The Advisory Committee is working toward a deadline of Dec. 15, 2015, with interim work products as appropriate.

“Save The River supports this effort 100% because there is no doubt that, once in Lake Michigan, any invasive species, Asian Carp or other, will make its way to the St. Lawrence River, said Lee Willbanks, Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper and Save The River Executive Director. “Sadly, we do not have to speculate about the damage invasives cause. We know first hand, so we believe it is important to be part of this effort.”

In the shorter term, the people of the St. Lawrence River, Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins need quick action to reduce the risk of invasive species moving between these two great waters. While no substitute for a permanent solution to the problem, immediate risk-reduction steps can be taken, including:

  • Design of a new engineered channel to be constructed in the approach to the Brandon Road lock, a potentially effective location for reducing one-way movement of species towards the Great Lakes;
  • Evaluation, engineering, and design of control technologies to deploy in the approach channel and the Brandon Road lock structure; and
  • Research to further evaluate reconfiguring locks as a means to control aquatic invasive species while maintaining the health of native aquatic life and habitat.

DNA evidence is an early detection tool to understand the potential movement of carp, and testing results have consistently found DNA hits on a path closer and closer to the Great Lakes over the past several years of testing. We cannot afford to wait until a breeding population shows up in the Chicago River. Prevention needs to happen now, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other key decision makers should take swift action.

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Save The River to Army Corps, “Physically Separate the Great Lakes & Mississippi River”

March 31st, 2014 | Posted by Lee

Save The River joined thousands of citizens and hundreds of organizations in urging the Army Corps to move forward with the work necessary to physically separate the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River as the only viable alternative to stop Bighead and Silver carp from entering the Great Lakes and eventually the St. Lawrence River.

The letter, the full text of which can be read here, states, “Although obvious, it bears stating that if water does not flow between the Mississippi River and Great Lakes / St. Lawrence River watersheds, aquatic plants, animals and diseases will not be able to migrate actively or passively between them.”

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