Friday, January 8, 2016

been a spell since I was here. And it's a very different winter so far from last.

I have been a busy beaver on the writing front though. Last year a couple months after the last post we launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for an educational video about Lake Ontario based on my latest book
Saving The Beautiful Lake.

The campaign was a success and we spent a fair amount of the spring summer and fall doing video for the project. The script is now about finished. If anyone reading this wants to learn more Google "Kickstarter Lake Ontario".

The book is currently listed for sale at my on line store or can be ordered by e mailing me. The store is at

here's a bit from my press release

Gateley was moved to write the 276 page book after she read a news article in 2013 that described Ontario as the most polluted and impaired of all the Great Lakes. She set sail that summer with two others aboard an elderly yacht to circumnavigate the lake in search of how it became so stressed.

“I've sailed the lake for over forty years. It's incredible. We have eagles and ospreys and a world class fishery. This is an amazing place. But we also have two radioactive waste dumps, more than a dozen operating nuclear reactors, and the most polluted harbor in Canada on Lake Ontario that need to be contained and cleaned up.”

Saving The Beautiful Lake includes information on the threats of invasive species, legacy pollution, the impacts of energy extraction and use, and health issues associated with plastics and chemicals that disrupt hormone function in animals and people. She says, “We have made progress and we can still fix the worst problems. Nature is resilient, but there are limits. I think we must act soon and I believe a new relationship with our water is the only way it will happen.”

The book also describes that new relationship and the work of grassroots groups throughout the Great Lakes basin who are now working to implement it by reviving the ancient enduring wisdom of the commons, a management plan for sustainable water resource management.

“Our ancestors knew that water is a priceless gift that we must be grateful for. It should not ever be a mere commodity to make money off of. It is the responsibility of all of us to pass that gift on unimpaired to future generations.”

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Notes on winter 2015

Winter Lake Watching. Haven't been able to do this for a few years. This year my proximity to the lake combined with a lack of westward migration has made it easy to keep tabs on the winter wilderness a half mile from my house. The ice keeps growing.

According to the internet;
Between 1973 and 2013 the average ice cover on Lake Ontario ran a little under 20%. But last year it was around 60%. Welcome to the new age of the meandering jet stream and associated “polar vortex” weather factors that many believe are tied to reduced ice cover in the arctic and over all global warming.

Great Lakes ice cover nearly doubled last week between Feb 7 and Feb 15.

It's catching up fast to last year's totals. According to NOAA the usual maximum cover happens between mid Feb and end of the month. NOAA tells us “ Lake Ontario's extreme depth (86 m average; 244 m maximum) translates to tremendous heat storage capacity. It also has a smaller surface area for heat loss. In addition, cold air outbreaks from the northwest and west are moderated by the waters of Lakes Superior, Michigan, and Huron. These factors combine to keep ice cover on Lake Ontario at a relatively low level most years.”

Lake Ontario satellite photo from Feb 16 shows a big patch floating around in the middle of the lake and lots of solid ice up around Main Duck-Kingston- Prince Edward Bay. Looks like it's at least a third if not more covered now. At this time last year it was 40 % covered. We're close to that now. We topped out at 61.5% last year. Stay tuned.

A Michigan weatherman writes of the spell of light winds contributing to rapid ice build up on his lake.

He might have that right. Feb 16 and Feb 17 were both nearly calm here in North Wolcott. And our thermometer showed a lonely digit of 1 F this am. One is a lonely number here on the south shore. We even dipped negative barely last night. First time we'd seen this. So it might be another tough year for the ducks.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Infrastructure the untold story

 photo of my good friend  Roland Micklem on his Mt Top Removal campaign last year- he is now working with Save Seneca Lake (see below)

Media coverage abounds on tar sands crude extraction and  hydrofracking of shale gas and oil over the last few years. There has been far less coverage on another aspect of the  unconventional oil and gas plays- that of  issues associated with the 'infrastructure' needed to store and transport all that shale gas and oil and tar sands dilbit. 
Spectacular pipeline spills and lethal railroad accidents have made headlines, and Bill McKibben rallies the troops in Washington DC to protest the Keystone Pipeline. But around the Great Lakes region  the quiet and rapid building of storage and transport facilities for gas and oil goes on with little scientific or engineering study, minimal regulatory oversight, and little media attention.

On the U.S and Canadian shores of Lake Ontario, the drinking water supply for nine million Americans and Canadians, two controversial infrastructure projects have local folks riled up. The U.S. project is a proposed expansion of shale gas storage in a salt cavern on the shores of Seneca Lake, largest and deepest of the eleven Finger Lakes that lie within Lake Ontario's watershed. The plan by a Texas based company called Crestwood is to pump pressurized natural gas produced in Pennsylvania into an old salt mine cavern located in the heart of the New York wine producing region.

Underground storage of natural gas in salt domes has a poor track record. A similar storage facility in 2012 located in Bayou Corne Louisiana caved in creating a still expanding sink hole, while in Kansas in 2001 gas migrated seven miles underground before emerging from abandoned brine wells and exploding.The salt caverns by Seneca Lake of interest to Crestwood include one that experienced a massive cave in back in the 1960s when it was being used to store LPG.

Dr. Sandra Steingraber, nationally known activist, biologist, and college professor wrote in an op ed published on the USA Today website on Oct 21, 2014, “Crestwood has argued that key data about the structural integrity of these old salt caverns is proprietary information. Both FERC and Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Department of Environmental Conservation have complied with this request for secrecy.”

Though little is known about the geological integrity and suitability of the proposed storage area, we do know that salt is already entering Seneca Lake. The lake has chloride levels two to ten times higher than the other nearby finger lakes. We also know there is a connection to underground salt deposits. If a cavern is physically disturbed and or collapses, storage opponents fear their lake and its important recreational fisheries could be permanently damaged. And we know that a certain portion of whatever ends up in Seneca Lake will eventually make its way to Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence.Perhaps the lake trout fishermen could switch to bluefish or flounders.

The other proposed energy transport infrastructure expansion that is drawing protestors is on the north shore of Lake Ontario and falls within the jurisdiction of Canada's National Energy Board which oversees gas and oil pipelines. A company called Enbridge (which has the dubious distinction of being responsible for a million gallon spill of toxic all but impossible to clean up tar sands crude into a tributary of Lake Michigan after its Line 6B split in 2010,) wants to start pumping tar sands crude through a similar 40 year old pipeline that runs along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. That line built originally to move less viscous less corrosive imported crude oil westward.

Though Line 9, aka the Black Snake to opponents of its “re-purposing”, has not been newsworthy in the U.S. press, a Chippewa band has managed to get standing in the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal over treaty violation issues and has challenged the Energy Board approval. Enbridge had failed to notify the tribe of the proposed re-purposing of the old line. 

Possibly partly as a response to the tribe's court action the NEB recently told Enbridge  that it needed to install shut off valves at major river crossings and in other environmentally sensitive areas. The company is appealing, saying Line 9 is perfectly safe and already has plenty of shut off valves due to something it calls IVP (Intelligent Valve Placement). It wants to start pumping tar sands crude through the pipe this year if it can get around the legal road blocks erected by the Thames River Chippewas.

The appeal and legal challenge has, for the moment, has delayed the re-purposing of Line 9. It may be all that stands between us here on Lake Ontario and another potential disaster in the form of an impossible to clean up spill.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A glimmer of good news for our Great Lake.

Last Spring I wrote about the approval of Canada's National Energy Board to allow the re-purposing of an old pipeline for transporting tar sands crude. Line 9B also known as the Black Snake runs along the north shore of Lake Ontario and crosses dozens of creeks rivers and wetland areas like the one pictured above. Now, about three weeks ago, we see the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper site has posted the following.

“Yesterday, the National Energy Board put Enbridge’s Line 9B pipeline project on hold until the company proves it is taking reasonable precautions to protect our drinking water.
Line 9B was originally designed to move natural gas, not bitumen along Lake Ontario. Because the danger of piping bitumen far surpasses the risk of piping natural gas, the increased risk to our environment demands greater precaution.
The NEB’s focus on water protection is warranted, if only because 40 million people rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water.
Demanding Enbridge build emergency shut down capacity on its Line 9B pipeline when crossing rivers is totally justified and reasonable.
Further, the NEB’s decision sends an important signal beyond Line 9B. It will apply to other projects, such as with the 3A-West African Gas Pipeline and the Energy East Pipeline.
Many Canadians have rightly become alarmed at the federal government’s efforts to lower the bar for approvals of major energy projects through its narrowing of public approvals and weakening the Navigable Waters Protection Act and Fisheries Act.
The NEB’s decision to stand firm on protecting watersheds by demanding safety shutdowns near rivers and key water crossings has raised the bar back again – at least a little, at least for now.”

The Waterkeeper update follows a previous decision back in June to allow the Chippewa tribe legal standing in Canada's Federal Court of Appeals re Line 9B. Under Canadian Constitution the First Nation Inuit and Metis peoples must be consulted by treaty on land use issues that can impact their territories. Line 9 B crosses the Thames River that supplies this Chippewa band with drinking water.

A website titled states “Deshkaan Ziibing (that translates as the Chippewas of the Thames) demonstrated during the Line 9 public hearings held last October that its members exercise their rights by means of traditional practices (hunting, fishing, harvesting) in the area occupied by Line 9, the Thames River valley in case of Deshkaan Ziibing. A Line 9 rupture and the difficulties of adequately cleaning up a bitumen spill in particular would infringe upon Deshkaan Ziibing members' ability to exercise these rights.”

Now admittedly the track record of the U.S. and Canada in honoring treaties with the aboriginal peoples of North America is less than stellar. But still, one wonders if the Chippewa appeal has possibly influenced the National Energy Board to take another look at things. Re-purposed old pipelines have a pretty bad track record with tar sands crude. Several such lines including the 6B line owned by Enbridge (owner of 9B) that crossed a tributary of Lake Michigan and the Pegasus line in Arkansas have failed resulting in catastrophic spills.The 2010 Michigan spill of over a million gallons of tar sand crude into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River is the most costly inland spill ever to date.

There is evidence that the tar sands crude is particularly hard on old pipes because of its physical characteristics though the industry vigorously denies this. Tar sand crude's high viscosity, the theory goes, can stress old pipes through large fluctuations of pressure as it moves through the line. Reversing flows in pipes as is proposed for Line 9B may aggravate existing metal fatigue problems even further, as the pressure fluctuations now hit in different areas of the pipe than were previously stressed. An analysis of the Pegasus Line in Arkansas showed that manufacturing and welding methods of the time left tiny “hook cracks” that may have been enlarged by the movement and chemistry of the tar sands crude.

Stream crossings and other critical areas should have thicker walled or double walled pipelines with safety shut offs on each side. They should also have enhanced leak detection alarms. If the tribes can achieve that much with their court case it is at least a minimal precaution!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

 Blue Green Wake Up Call for Toledo- and other water drinkers!

                                    photo of blue green algae (cyanobacteria) bloom on left side

In Ohio on Saturday August 2 a state of emergency was declared as polluted water hit the water faucets along the west end of Lake Erie. More than 500,000 people in Toledo and its surrounding areas depend on Lake Erie drinking water. They were advised not to drink boil or wash their food in their tap water after a summer blue green bloom sent concentrations of a potent liver toxin called microcystin above EPA limits. 
A U. S. Senator from Ohio called it a “wake up call”. This water advisory was not from a chemical plant tank leak, a broken tar sands pipeline, or a gas well, or a coal fly ash dump. It was a more insidious source of pollution but one we know how to fix and can do so. If we have the will to fix it.

Blue green algae ( aka cyanobacteria) thrive on phosphate rich fertilizer from sewage and manure large amounts of which can run off during heavy rains from farm fields. Lots of rain plus lots of fall and winter spreading of sprayed on liquid manure from big factory farms that isn't worked into the soil for rapid uptake by growing plants create prime conditions for these events. Lake Erie, a drinking water source for 11 million people has suffered a number of huge blue green blooms in recent years. Closer to home a couple weeks ago I saw a small blue green bloom at the south end of Fair Haven Bay and also at about the same time during a hot calm spell I noticed a possible small bloom in shallow water on the neighborhood open lake beach a few yards from the mouth of a little creek.

Toledo residents stripped the supermarkets of bottled water in short order as the city scrambled to pipe in supplies from other sources. Businesses that risked exposing workers or customers to tap water closed. Restaurants, public institutions like libraries, schools, parks, and universities all closed. Anyone who thinks it is too expensive to regulate the application of farm fertilizers should consider the costs and lost revenues of a water advisory. Last year Toledo spent an additional million dollars on water treatment. This year one suspects they'll be spending a bit more. And we aren't even considering health costs, vet bills for sick pets, impaired waterfront property values or other possible costs- just the immediate expenses that this bloom imposed on the city and its residents.

There is a lesson here folks. Mother Nature always bats last. And if you don't play by her rules, you will pay.
For more information on current “HAB's” ( hazardous algae blooms) visit

Monday, July 7, 2014

Slow Death in Appalachia
This deviation from the usual Lake Ontario content is  very much about living on the edge. Land and water are connected, and we cannot have a healthy lake without healthy land and an ethos that respects that wholeness.

My friend Roland may now be dying for the mountains. He has chosen to fast with another activist, Mike Roselle, in the West Virginia state capital. It is a form of witness, he says, to call attention to the brutal tragedy of blowing up mountains to extract coal.

He has made no promises to return from this  witness.

Roland is a Virginia native with a deep and abiding love for nature and for a sustainable society. And he is also a tireless advocate for social justice. He converted to the Quaker faith many years ago and is a gentleman in every sense of the word. He taught school and at summer camps where he introduced children to the world of nature. Later he worked for an employee owned business that distributed organic food throughout western and central New York. He's been involved with various organic farms and growers near his upstate home as a volunteer “farm hand” where he and his bicycle were a long familiar sight to other travelers on our rural roads. He's also been tireless in his outreach and educational efforts on behalf of what he calls God's Creation.

The environmental and social costs of extreme energy extraction methods trouble him deeply. Mountain top removal for coal uses large amounts of energy to move tens of thousands of tons of top soil earth and rock to reach underlying coal deposits. The rubble is pushed into valleys and creeks and wetlands. More than 2000 miles of streams have been buried so far and hundreds of square miles of Appalachia lie barren. Water and land are also contaminated by dust and airborne pollutants such as selenium. And local communities pay the price in human health impacts, flooding and contaminated wells. In the end this grossly simplified leveled off land is “restored” by pitiful plantings of trees and grasses, no substitute for one of the richest and most diverse deciduous forest and stream lands in the world. Bleak doesn't even begin to describe this transformation. If affects all of us.

It has driven Roland Micklem to make a last stand. There are other ways to produce electricity. There are ways to mine coal and to increase efficiency and reduce the use of it. Destroying vast swaths of life giving land is a starkly immoral act in Roland's view. Mountains gone forever, land forms that will never nourish unborn generations of humans and other life is unacceptable.

If you agree with him call, or write to.... Earl Ray Tomblin Office of the Governor, State Capital 1900 Kanawha Blvd E Charleston, West VA 25305 (304) 558-2000 or 1-888-438-2731
Please feel free to cut and paste from this blog if you wish.

Then please send a letter or make a call to your representative in Congress and ask them to pass H.R. 1837 the Clean Water Protection Act which will help protect mountain streams and Great Lakes alike. All of us, like Roland, are running out of time.

visit for more ideas to stop this brutal practice.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Ahoy all neighborhood Lake Watchers!
Just in Time for Earth Day 2014

On April 26 at 11 am a beach clean up will commence at the end of Brown Road in Wolcott NY, sponsored by Adventures in the Finger Lakes, Silver Waters Sailing, and Lakeshore Environmental Action. Plastic trash is a pervasive problem throughout the world as we have seen during the search for the missing Malaysian airlines' Boeing 777 . While no one ever sighted the aircraft, they found plenty of debris and trash in one of the most remote parts of the ocean. Some of it was big enough to see from satellites. Here on Lake Ontario plastic trash of various sizes and types is also a problem. In 2012 Dr. Sherri Mason, a chemistry professor at Fredonia State U, sampled several of the Great Lakes for plastic. She found that Erie’s surface had the highest density of any waters surveyed, averaging somewhere around 80,000 particles of microplastic per km2. In 2013 volunteers including Lake Shore Environmental Action members sampled Lake Ontario for the first time for her studies with equipment loaned by Dr. Mason (see photo above). And plenty of plastic turned up in our lake too.

The problem with plastic in our drinking water is that the small bits can actually attract insoluble organic molecules through a process called adsorption. These molecules are usually toxic, and if the plastic bit ends up in the gut of a small fish or a waterflea or copepod, they may be taken up by the animal and then passed up the food chain. We now know that very small amounts of plastic can have big impacts on humans by mimicking the action of certain natural hormones in our bodies. The microplastics in Dr. Mason's samples came in part from the 40 plus billion pounds of plastic bottles, bags and other trash that we toss each year. It gets broken up and washed back off the beaches into the lake where it floats around and sometimes gets eaten by birds or fish or zooplankton.

Help us prevent this from happening by doing two things. Recycle and avoid single use plastic material whenever possible and join us at the end of Brown Road. Bring a black and a clear trash bag. We will sort our 'treasures' for recycling as much as possible.