March , 2019

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Offers an in-depth analysis of Lake Michigan’s environmental condition and how to improve its health
 Chicago, IL – United States Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill), Co-Chair of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, released the 2011 Lake Michigan Report Card. The Report Card evaluates six primary concerns important to the health and prosperity of Lake Michigan: beach water quality, sewage pollution, mercury contamination, water levels, cleaning up Superfund polluted sites, and invasive species.

“While we have made progress in some areas, Lake Michigan is still challenged by invasive species, sewage dumping and far too many closed beaches,” Sen. Kirk said.  “This report reflects the need to ban sewage dumping while cleaning up polluted harbors and blocking invasive species from the Lake.” 

The Lake Michigan Report Card issues each of the six primary environmental concerns a letter grade reflective of the concerns’ severity:

  • Beach Water Quality – D

The number of beach advisories and closings on the Lake Michigan shoreline in Illinois has remained above 500 per year over the last 5 years. These closures are a persistent threat to public health and result in millions of dollars lost revenue. In response,  Congress should enact the Beach Act to improve contamination warnings and assessment to lower the number of beach closings.

  • Sewage Pollution – C

Although sewage pollution has been on the decline, more than 24 billion gallons of raw sewage are still being dumped in to the Great Lakes each year. Sewage dumping contributes to beach closures and threatens the safety of our drinking water. To address this issue, Senator Kirk and Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) have introduced S. 147, the Great Lakes Water Protection Act, which would ban sewage dumping in the Great Lakes by the year 2031.

  • Mercury Contamination – Incomplete

High levels of mercury have been shown to cause serious nerve disorders, particularly in children. Unfortunately, there is not currently enough scientific data collected from Lake Michigan to accurately grade mercury contamination levels. The EPA must update its mercury tests annually, to report on the trend of mercury contamination in the Great Lakes.

  • Water Levels – D
Water levels are of enormous importance to the lake’s ecosystem, boating, navigation, and fishing. Lake Michigan water levels have steadily declined over the past 25 years. Congress should respond by resolving any disputes holding up the Harbor Maintenance Act.
  • Cleaning up Superfund Polluted Sites – B
Polluted Superfund “Areas of Concern” surround the Great Lakes. For example, the US and Canada recognized Waukegan Harbor as such an area after Outboard Marine Corporation dumped PCBs in the harbor. Waukegan Harbor is the only area of concern in Illinois. PCB remediation and cleanup efforts began in 1990 and full restoration of Waukegan Harbor is now within reach. 
  • Invasive Species – C

Keeping invasive species, particularly Asian carp, out of the Great Lakes is a top priority. Asian carp has yet to be found in the Great Lakes, but spawning populations are present within 150 miles and eDNA results positive for Asian carp have been found above the barrier. Last month, three consecutive eDNA samples for carp were found in Lake Calumet, above the barrier, which was designed to keep the carp out. The Army Corps of Engineers should take every effort to up the voltage at the three electric dispersal barriers as a further deterrent for carp.

Sen. Kirk’s Lake Michigan Report Card gives the overall health of Lake Michigan a “C”. Sen. Kirk has vowed to work with his colleagues in Washington towards advancing the solutions set forth in the Report Card. Click here to view full report. 

“There have been great strides in the last few years to enhance the restoration of natural habitat, reduce pollution and combat invasive species, but it is clear that we still have along ways to go,” Sen. Kirk said.

Senator Kirk unveiled the Lake Michigan Report Card this morning at the Shedd Aquarium. The Shedd Aquarium has been a long-time local leader in environmental education and beach cleanup efforts and, through the “Keep the Great Lakes” campaign, the Shedd Aquarium has impacted over 25,000 people with public outreach activities.

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