Great Lakes Now Presents

Episode 1018: River Influence

The health of the Great Lakes is inextricably linked to the health of the rivers that feed them. In northern Minnesota, one river faces environmental threats from a proposed mine. In Michigan, a second river is unleashed when aging hydroelectric dams are removed. In Indiana, a third river is protected from invasive Asian carp, which have infested rivers further south.

Explore Episode

River Influence – Episode 1018

The health of the Great Lakes is inextricably linked to the health of the rivers that feed them. In northern Minnesota, one river faces environmental threats from a proposed mine. In Michigan, a second river is unleashed when aging hydroelectric dams are removed. In Indiana, a third river is protected from invasive Asian carp, which have infested rivers further south. 



Have a question about the Great Lakes or life in the region?

Ask Great Lakes Now, and if we can answer it, we might loop it into our coverage so others can learn too.

Submit Your Question

Premiered on DPTV

Tuesday, September 29 at 7:30 PM


Detroit, Michigan

Akron, Ohio

Alliance, Ohio

Alpena, Michigan

Bad Axe, Michigan

Bay County, Michigan

Bowling Green, Ohio

Buffalo, New York

Cadillac, Michigan

Chicago, Illinois

Cleveland, Ohio

East Lansing, Michigan

Erie, Pennsylvania

Flint, Michigan

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Kalamazoo, Michigan

Marquette, Michigan

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Mount Pleasant Michigan

South Bend, Indiana

Syracuse, New York

Toledo, Ohio

University Center, Michigan

Watertown, New York for Ontario signal

Watertown, New York for U.S. signal

In the Month of September on Great Lakes Now

Click the tabs to read descriptions of each feature in Episode 1018.

Photo courtesy Lakeland PBS

Watch The Feature

Conflicted Over Copper

SEGMENT 1 | Duluth, Minnesota and Chicago, Illinois

Upstream of Duluth along the St. Louis River is the Mesabi Range — one of Minnesota’s legendary iron ranges. The region’s mining once employed thousands of people, but employment in mining has dwindled over the years. 

Now, though, a proposed copper mine called NorthMet promises to revive a shuttered taconite mine and create jobs in a region that needs them. But opponents say the effort also poses threats to the environment. 

Mine supporters say we need copper and other metals the mine will produce for products we all use every day. But will mine waste pollute the groundwater? 

And is the mine’s tailings pond a disaster waiting to happen? 

Lawsuits have the project on hold, and the issue will soon come before the state’s Supreme Court. If NorthMet moves forward, more new mines could follow.

This report was made possible in part by the Fund for Environmental Journalism of the Society of Environmental Journalists. SEJ credits The Hewlett Foundation, The Wilderness Society, The Pew Charitable Trust, and individual donors for supporting this project.

Here is Lorraine Boissoneault’s Great Lakes Now work in the “Conflicted Over Copper” series:

Twin Cities PBS explored what’s at stake in the Twin Metals project in a documentary. Watch it HERE.

Damming Decisions

SEGMENT 2 | Traverse City, Michigan

Four dams were built along the Boardman River in Northwest Michigan to generate hydroelectric power for Traverse City. 

But by 2004 they were no longer economically viable. A decision was made to remove three of the dams and renovate the last one in downtown Traverse City. 

Now the removal of the dams has changed the nature of the river and allowed native fish to return. 

But as the river is being returned to its natural state, the challenge has been keeping invasive species out. The answer is a state-of-the-art research facility called Fish Pass that will use a collection of technologies to determine which fish can go through.  

As the first project of its kind, Fish Pass is a decade-long effort that will begin this fall and is expected to serve as a model program for other programs across the world.  Part of the project includes additional amenities at the Union Street Dam in downtown Traverse City, including a pedestrian bridge, rain gardens, kayak and canoe portages and special areas for educational programs. 

Dam removal in the Pacific Northwest is covered in the PBS documentary series “The Age of Nature.” For more information about that series, click HERE

“The Age of Nature” will air on PBS stations at 10 p.m. ET on Wednesdays, Oct. 14, 21 and 28, 2020.

Photo courtesy of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.


Watch The Feature

Carp Advance

SEGMENT 3 | Kentucky Lake, Camden, Tennessee; Fort Wayne, Indiana, Brandon Road Lock & Dam, Illinois; Empire, Michigan

Since their introduction decades ago, invasive Asian carp have infested rivers and lakes around the United States. 

They’ve been kept out of the Great Lakes — so far. 

Some steps have been taken to protect the lakes system, but many believe that more effective policies — and more substantial barriers — are needed to keep the fish from spreading and to reduce the numbers where they’re already established.

This segment was produced in partnership with the National Wildlife Federation, which is exploring the issue of Asian carp in a documentary film. 

Where are Asian carp in the Great Lakes Region? Learn more HERE in an earlier Great Lakes Now segment.

Can you tell the difference between the types of carp? Learn more in a previous Great Lakes Now video HERE.

Here is other Great Lakes Now work on Asian carp:

In her “previous life” as a writer at Detroit’s Metro Times newspaper, GLN Program Director Sandra Svoboda once ate some Asian carp. Read about that HERE.

A probable ablation spherule micrometeorite that NASA scientist Marc Fries believes has a good chance of being from the 2017 meteorite fall. (Photo courtesy of Adler Planetarium)

Watch The Feature

Lake Michigan Meteorite – UPDATE

SEGMENT 4: Chicago, Illinois

In the “Finding Impacts” episode, produced in December 2019, Great Lakes Now reported about the search for a meteorite that crashed into Lake Michigan two years earlier.

The Adler Planetarium in Chicago launched The Aquarius Project, a teen-driven program with the ambitious goal of recovering meteorite fragments from the bottom of Lake Michigan. Scientists and researchers from NASA and Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium and Field Museum of Natural History got involved, and the teens designed, built, tested, and deployed the world’s first underwater meteorite recovery sled.

After a lot of analysis, the team members reported this month that they found something.

Read Great Lakes Now’s article about the discoveries:

One Old, One New: Teen project finds meteorite fragments in Lake Michigan

Here are more Great Lakes Now stories about meteorites:

  • Click through this interactive timeline to learn more about meteorites that have fallen into the Great Lakes.
  • Learn more about The Aquarius Project in this interview with Chris Bresky HERE.

Videos from Episode 1018

Subscribe on YouTube

Previous Episodes

Featured Articles

Road Salt, A Stealthy Pollutant, Is Damaging Michigan Waters
- by Circle of Blue

Rivers and lakes are becoming saltier while law and practice limit effective responses.

Energy News Roundup: Gas stove debate, electric vehicle expansion
- by Kathy Johnson

Catch the latest in Great Lakes energy news in Great Lakes Now’s biweekly headline roundup.

Book chronicles human, water connection from nomadic to modern times
- by Gary Wilson

The journey of modern man began 10,000 years ago and “the distribution of water defined its starting point.”

Science Says What? Climate change, deluges and snow days
- by Sharon Oosthoek

In this new feature, see what scientists are learning about the impacts of climate change on the region – and what can be done to mitigate them.

Digital Credits
The Great Lakes Now Series is produced by Rob Green and Sandra Svoboda.