The pandemic raises questions: As stay-at-home orders end around the Great Lakes, does Wisconsin’s experience opening businesses predict anything for other communities that depend on tourism? How are researchers, reef restorers and hydroponic farms reacting to the pandemic? What has the pandemic done to charter fishing for walleye on Lake Erie? Plus, with an increase in use of personal wipes — four times as many in one Michigan community — will there be more fatbergs growing in our sewer systems?
WHERE WE TAKE YOU IN JUNE
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
Premieres on DPTV
Tuesday, June 30 at 7:30 PM
STATIONS CARRYING THE SERIES
Bad Axe, Michigan
Bay County, Michigan
Bowling Green, Ohio
Buffalo, New York
East Lansing, Michigan
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Mount Pleasant Michigan
South Bend, Indiana
Syracuse, New York
University Center, Michigan
Watertown, New York for Ontario signal
Watertown, New York for U.S. signal
SEGMENT 1 | Macomb County, Michigan
In 2019, a 19-ton glob of garbage and waste clogged a southeast Michigan sewer.
Called a “fatberg,” the blockage was made of fats, oils and greases bound together mainly by disposable wipes. Great Lakes Now introduced you to the Macomb County fatberg in our “Waters Infected” episode last year. Here’s what we said:
It’s a congealed mess of things people have put down their toilets, sinks and drains that should go in the garbage — think wipes, paper towels and hygiene products. … What makes fatbergs such a problem is that if they get big enough, they clog the sewer linked, which can mean raw sewage backing up into basements or leaking into rivers or lakes.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a four-fold increase in the number of wipes appearing in the Macomb County system, according to Candice Miller, public works commissioner. Some of those wipes are labeled “flushable,” but research suggests they can cause big problems in sewers.
Wipe-makers disagree, and Miller is suing to keep the word “flushable” off of wipe labels.
The county has filed a lawsuit against wipe manufacturers, as researchers try to determine what’s really “flushable.”
Great Lakes Now Correspondent Will Glover takes you in the sewers, to the research labs and into the dispute that seeks to answer the question, “Can I flush this?”
Here is other Great Lakes Now work about fatbergs:
- Slow Legislation: Flushable wipes become an issue in court and in law
- Epidemic of wipes and masks plagues sewers, storm drains
- COVID-19 Caution: Water Resources Commissioner asks people not to flush cleaning products
- Don’t Feed the Fatberg: Michigan Science Center launches its fatberg exhibit
- Take the Great Lakes Now quiz to find out which city’s fatberg you have the most in common with.
Help your kids build a fatberg at home — SAFELY — in this Great Lakes Learning activity.
Wisconsin Doors Open
SEGMENT 2 | Wisconsin
After the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned the governor’s safer-at-home orders, the state’s businesses were the first to re-open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But owners confronted a dilemma: keeping staff and customers safe while trying to make a living.
Some stir-crazy Illinois residents began bouncing up to the Badger State for a sit-down brat and brew, and one of the closest places to do that is Kenosha. The community is just north of the border along Lake Michigan where Brat Stop owner Debbie Glembocki felt a responsibility to reopen her restaurant and cheese mart.
“It’s my family business. My dad passed away last year. I don’t want to lose something that’s been here forever,” she says.
Even though tourism is a key sector in the state, the Department of Tourism is cautious. They’ve adopted the slogan: dream now, travel later. Without a statewide executive order, counties can still decide when and how to open for business.
“In Illinois, the number of coronavirus cases is significantly higher than in Wisconsin,” says Wisconsin Public Radio journalist Corrinne Hess. “So I think some of these border businesses, border cities are worried about the people coming up here and going to the restaurants, going to their stores.”
Further north in Door County, doors are wide open.
“We certainly have different messaging this summer than we initially had planned to when we put our plan together late last year,” said Jon Jarosh, director of communications for Door County. “But, you know, I think our tourism industry here and our economy is resilient.”
However, local distillery Hatch Distilling Co, has eased into re-opening. For now, staff is investing in a side hustle: hand-sanitizer production.
“Everyone comments that it smells so good and that it smells like bourbon,” says owner Christ Roedl.
Here is other Great Lakes Now work about travel and tourism in the region:
- Big Five Dive
- Growing Pains: Big crowds on a little island can bring out the darker side of Great Lakes tourism
- Hope and Resilience: Great Lakes islanders continue to adapt to COVID-19 conditions
- Missing Opportunity: States, industry work together to promote outdoor recreation
- Cruises Continue Amid COVID-19: Uncertainty mars but doesn’t stop Great Lakes cruises
- Cruising the Lakes: Port stops for cruise lines all around the Great Lakes
SEGMENT 3 | Detroit, Keweenaw Peninsula, and Lake Erie
The global pandemic has changed how hydroponic farmers, lakes researchers and fishing charters are operating this summer.
In this segment, we first revisit PlanTed a hydroponic farm in Detroit to find out how urban growers are shifting their businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. HERE is the first segment about this business.
Researchers on Lake Erie shared how the health crisis is impacting their harmful algal monitoring programs. We first met them in “Toxic Algae and the Climate Conundrum.”
We also check in with scientists at Buffalo Reef, an important fish spawning site off the Keweenaw Peninsula where restoration efforts are underway. The EPA’s Chris Korleski gives an update on what will happen this summer – HERE is what we reported last year.
Finally, on Lake Erie, Captain Dave Spangler walks us through the precautions charter boats are taking to help reduce the spread of the virus. Spangler, who has been a source in numerous Great Lakes Now stories, died in October.
Videos from Episode 1015Subscribe on YouTube
Building boats, cleaning up trash and uncovering amazing fossils around the Great Lakes.
Birds vs. buildings in Chicago, algae blooms on Lake Superior, and aquariums re-open.
Marine sanctuaries protect shipwrecks while volunteers guard sturgeon against poachers.
Plovers nest on a Chicago beach, suckers spawn in Wisconsin, and storms rage in Duluth.
One lakeside town struggles with PFAS pollution from a local Air Force base, while cities around the region race to remove and replace thousands of lead water pipes. And after a year-long delay, Great Lakes…
Carrying oil through the waters of the Straits of Mackinac, the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline is arguably the biggest international, political and environmental issue in the Great Lakes region. Now, with a state-ordered shutdown, rigorous…
Invasive mussels are hastening the deterioration of historic Great Lakes shipwrecks, like the submerged Prins Willem V off Milwaukee. Zebra and quagga mussels are also a big problem for water treatment and power plants. But…
Who are the people in this old freighter movie? And where could PFAS be in your home?
The White House and the U.S. Senate change hands. What will it mean for the Great Lakes?
Come aboard a boat that delivers mail to ships on the Great Lakes. Learn about life on a Great Lakes freighter, and dive into some incredible shipwrecks that you don’t necessarily need a scuba tank to see in the Great Lakes’ only national marine sanctuary.
Lake levels rise, COVID’s in wastewater and invasive species weave new food webs.
Nature is both fragile and fearsome. In the Chicago River, fish populations have suffered since the river became a steel-lined channel, but can floating garden islands restore a more natural habitat? Our region offers spectacular night sky views, but will new satellites mar their beauty? And how are Great Lakes parks coping with COVID-19 and record-setting lake levels?
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.
The Flint water crisis remains at the forefront as the settlement deal waits for approval, the criminal cases are pending, and the city finishes replacing its lead pipelines.
Drinking Water News Roundup: Minnesota’s salty water problem, aging infrastructure affects taste, Pennsylvania grants
Catch the latest drinking water updates with Great Lakes Now’s biweekly headline roundup.
Blue Triton Brands, formerly known as Nestle Waters North America, has withdrawn its controversial permit allowing the company to extract more Michigan groundwater near Evart, Michigan.
Tens of billions of dollars for U.S. environmental justice initiatives originally proposed in a $3.5 trillion domestic spending package now hang in the balance as Democrats decide how to trim the bill down to $2 trillion.
The Great Lakes Now Series is produced by Rob Green and Sandra Svoboda.