June 26, 2016 – Protecting Monarch Butterflies and the Great Lakes Water Supply

Every monarch deserves a milkweed!

That phrase comes from Kay MacNeil, who is chair of the 2015-2016 Garden Clubs of Illinois President’s Project, Milkweed for Monarchs. This is the first year of the project and, as MacNeil notes, will not be the last.

Monarch numbers have been up in the past couple of years. Check out this chart.  monarch-population-figure-monarchwatch-2016
But, as you can see, the uptick in the past two years is in comparison to the near-catastrophic numbersthe insect recorded in the winter of 2013-2014. In fact, there is some seriously bad news, which was reported at The Monarch Joint Venture website earlier this year;

A new study by the Monarch Conservation Science Partnership reveals there is a substantial probability of “quasi-extinction” of the Eastern monarch butterfly migratory population within 20 years if ambitious habitat restoration and conservation goals are not achieved. Quasi-extinction means that the population reaches levels that are so low that it would be unlikely to recover.

Part of the problem with trying to rescue this iconic butterfly is that we don’t really know why they’re disappearing. Sound familiar? That’s often the explanation–or lack of it–for honey bee loss, too. All I can say is that there’s one common denominator–human beings.

In the case of monarch butterflies, the factors seem to include disease, climate change, drought, deforestation, habitat loss and herbicide use, especially against milkweed in farm fields.

And it doesn’t help when there’s a late winter storm in Mexico, as happened this year. The problem is that researchers haven’t been able to nail down a mortality rate. But the anecdotal evidence coming out of Mexico and out of Texas as the monarchs move north isn’t good.

MonarchWhich is why the State of Illinois just passed a bill to create a butterfly-themed license plate sticker that would generate revenue for planting milkweed along highway medians. The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to spend $4 million this year in 10 states, including Illinois, to help the monarchs. But is it too little too late?

Not if Kay MacNeil and her gardening friends have anything to say about it. She hopes to distribute one million swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) seed packets this year! She says that IDOT will use as much seed as they can give them in interchanges and road projects around the state.

To that end, Kay is collecting milkweed seeds by the big, black plastic bagful. And she says that she’ll send them to you, too. To get samples of three different kinds of milkweed and lots of information, send a stamped self addressed business sized envelope and $2 cash to:
Garden Clubs of Illinois Milkweed For Monarchs Chairman Kay MacNeil, 689 Golf Club Lane, Frankfort, IL 60423.

She joins Peggy Malecki and me on The Mike Nowak Show this morning.

Great Lakes water diversion: good idea or slippery slope?

In 2008, the The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact became law. It brought together eight U.S. states–Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin–in an agreement that would chart the future management of the water supply of the Great Lakes. The compact operates under the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement, which also includes the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

This week, the first exception to that compact was approved by the governing bodies. The City of Waukesha, Wisconsin was granted permission to tap into the Great Lakes watershed, though it technically lies outside of it.

This was  a decision ten years in the making, as Waukesha sought to LakeMichiganhave access to Lake Michigan water due to radium contamination in its own groundwater. The city was forced to make numerous changes to its proposal before it was finally accepted by representatives of the eight governors:

The added provisions include requirements that Waukesha restrict its water service area to the city’s borders, excluding surrounding communities; reduce the amount of water the city can withdraw, from an original request of 10 million gallons a day, to an average of 8 million gallons; and submit to performance audits whenever a request is made.

Not surprisingly, reaction to the move is split, with environmental groups not so happy but others declaring that the decision is fair. There are those, however, who worry that this sets a bad precedent, and that water could some day flow to Texas, Arizona and elsewhere.

The reaction from the Alliance for the Great Lakes was one of caution. In a statement release on June 21, spokesperson Jennifer J. Caddick said,

We appreciate the seriousness with which members of the Great Lakes Regional Body and Compact Council undertook their responsibility to review Waukesha’s diversion application. While we have always believed that Waukesha has a reasonable water supply alternative, we understand that the Regional Body and Compact Council saw that issue differently.
Today’s vote is not the end of the story. Great Lakes advocates will need to be vigilant in making sure that the city of Waukesha and the State of Wisconsin honor the terms of the agreement. We will be strong watchdogs to ensure that the Great Lakes are protected. We expect that the Compact Council and its members will act promptly if Waukesha and Wisconsin do not meet every requirement imposed by the Council. And, if necessary, we will take action to compel compliance with the Compact Council’s requirements.

We’re pleased to have Lyman Welch, Legal Director for the Alliance for the Great Lakes, on the program this morning to discuss the diversion decision and its repercussions.