Copy
TRIAL UPDATE ALERT
View this email in your browser

Fish Farm Hearings Start; First Week Ends Well

The hearing contesting the fish farm pollution permit for the Grayling fish farm started Monday, February 8, and continued through Friday. It was packed with important witnesses, and ended on a high note. But it isn’t over yet – we have seven more days of hearing scheduled into early March. This special edition of Flow is to help keep you up to date as the trial progresses.
 
The witnesses basically testified about the contents of the permit, fish hatchery science and technology, water pollution and fish diseases. Future witnesses will expand on that testimony, and will also address damages to the river, to the fishery, to local business and the local economy, and to property values and tax revenues.

DEQ Witnesses


The first witnesses were employees of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). They testified about their role in issuing the permit, and their rationales for including weak standards for phosphorus and suspended solids (fish food and feces), omitting standards for other pollutants (including ammonia), also omitting a standard for dissolved oxygen, allowing an insufficient water quality and disease monitoring program, failing to require a meaningful waste water treatment system, and denying our request for a performance bond.
 
The DEQ admitted that when the fish farm discharges effluent at the maximum levels allowed by the permit, the fish farm will emit 160,000 pounds of fish poop and uneaten fish food, and 1,600 pounds of phosphorus per year. ** Without getting into detail, suffice it to say the DEQ testimony was weak. It reminded me of what the Flint Water Advisory Task Force said about the DEQ’s performance there: “Minimalist,” willing to accept mere “technical compliance” to protect the public, dismissive of others who raise concerns, and wrong in its interpretation of the law.
 

DNR Witnesses

 
After that, the testimony picked up considerably. Two Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Fisheries Division employees testified. Ed Eisch is the director of fish hatcheries for the DNR. Gary Whelan is currently the director of fisheries research. Among other things, Gary, and now Ed, managed the Platte River State Fish Hatchery. Gary was instrumental in settling the litigation brought by Platte Lake property owners over pollution from the steelhead and salmon rearing activities there.
 
Ed Eisch testified that there are wastewater treatment technologies far superior to what is being proposed for Grayling, such as those at the Platte River facility, which he described in detail. He said a similar wastewater treatment system would be ideal for the Grayling fish farm. Gary confirmed Ed’s testimony, and he also discussed the problems caused by domesticated hatchery fish and creation of breeding grounds for disease downstream. He also mentioned the problems other states have experienced, such as the destruction of the wild brook trout fishery at Big Spring, Pennsylvania, and the spread of whirling disease from fish farms in Idaho.

Angler's Initial Witness, Dr. Ray Canale


Finally, our expert environmental engineer, Dr. Ray Canale, testified at length. Dr. Canale is a professor emeritus from the University of Michigan. His field is environmental engineering, and he has researched and written extensively about modeling the effects of fish hatchery pollution on the water quality of downstream waters. As a court appointed monitor, Dr. Canale coordinated the improvements that were required at the Platte River hatchery.
 
Dr. Canale first described the sources of the data he had used in the study of the Grayling fish farm and the Au Sable River. It included DNR studies and reports, USGS gauging station records, data on water quality gathered by Anglers of the Au Sable and MGTU, and numerous scholarly works. In addition, Dr. Canale just wrote a peer reviewed paper on hatchery effluent modeling with Dr. Stephen Chapra of Tufts University, which will be published in the 50th Anniversary Edition of the Journal of Environmental Engineering. It uses the Au Sable River as the vehicle for a discussion of their modeling techniques, which was perfect for the hearing.
 
Dr. Canale went on to describe the relevant parameters of the Au Sable River as it exists today, i.e., the baseline condition. This involved the chemical constituents of the water, flow, temperature, diurnal variations, various inputs (such as the North and South Branches), and related data down to Mio. Importantly, he testified that the DEQ’s data was wrong, its sampling of phosphorous was statistically insignificant, its laboratory does not have sufficient protocols to accurately measure low levels of phosphorous, and its analysis does not conform to the law. Dr. Canale found it extremely important to note that the river is often very close to the designated minimums for dissolved oxygen, and that it regularly violates dissolved oxygen standards.  Dissolved oxygen standards are established to protect the fishery in the Au Sable and other cold water fisheries.
 
Finally, Dr. Canale applied his new model to the Au Sable River, and then assessed the effects the fish farm would have under various scenarios. His testimony and exhibits were stunning. He found that, even without the Grayling fish farm, the river violates oxygen standards. He said that, even if the fish farm performs the best possible treatment of its fish poop and feeding, the river will continue to violate dissolved oxygen standards. Finally, he said that, during low flows (summer drought conditions), if the fish farm were at maximum production with no treatment, oxygen standards at Stephan Bridge would be violated 98% of the time!
 
In concluding their testimony, Ed Eisch, Gary Whelan and Dr. Canale were clear, concise and consistent. Ed Eisch testified that the goal of hatchery management should be an environmentally neutral operation, and that the technology exists to achieve that goal. Gary Whelan testified that hatchery effluent discharges should be near background levels. Dr. Canale testified that hatchery discharges should be zero, or else additional violations of water quality standards will occur and increase. His findings regarding dissolved oxygen levels at Stephan Bridge were particularly alarming. Gary Whelan was asked if the current DEQ permit is sufficient to protect the river. His answer was short, sweet and to the point: “No.”
 
The hearing will resume on February 24. We will present our biology and economic experts, who will show the increase in algae already occurring downstream from the fish farm, the increased threat of disease, and the devastating damage to the Au Sable River economy and property values which will occur if the fish farm continues to pollute the river. We may also find out how much the fish farm is now producing, so we can more accurately assess the damage which is occurring right now.
 
We will provide you with updates as they become available. As always, thank you for your continued support. The river needs our help and protection like never before.
 
--
Tom Baird
President
** These numbers assume the fish farm stays within the pollution limits contained in the permit. By comparison, if the facility ramps up production to 300,000 pounds of fish per year, as proposed by the owners, it is estimated that every year it will produce raw loads (before treatment, if any) of 3,540 pounds of phosphorous, and 217,234 pounds of suspended solids, mostly fish feces and uneaten fish food.
 
The Anglers Mission Statement: 

To preserve, protect and enhance the Au Sable River System for future generations of fly fishers. 
The Anglers of the Au Sable is much more than a fishing club. Our activities are driven by issues affecting the greater Au Sable ecosystem.

Anglers Address:

Anglers of the Au Sable
P.O. Box 200
Grayling, MI 49738

for information contact:
info@AuSableAnglers.org

Copyright © 2016 Anglers of the Au Sable, All rights reserved.


unsubscribe from this list    update subscription preferences 

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp