North Central Region Water Network launches with webinar series

The North Central Region Water Network is a recently formed partnership between extension agencies and professionals in twelve states. The network was created to help foster collaboration between researchers and extension staff throughout these states addressing water issues common to the region.

The Current, a webinar series designed to connect people with the new network and the water issues that are critical to the region, held the first round of presentations earlier this month. IISG’s water resource economist Margaret Schneeman was among the presenters for the inaugural webinar, Managing Water Supply: Resources for Education, Engagement, and Research, and she highlighted the work done so far to address water supply planning in northeastern Illinois. Gary Zoubek of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension, and David Lusch from Michigan State University presented for the webinar as well.

Through both the webinars and collaboration between extension programs, the North Central Region Water Network hopes to expand water protection efforts, research, and the spread of information throughout the states. Visit the webpage (linked above) to learn more.


In the news: Asian carp could be approaching Lake Erie

Asian carp may be getting a foothold in waters near Lake Erie according to recent water sample analysis. 

“Multiple water samples taken from the Muskingum River last fall carried the environmental signature of bighead carp, an invasive species threatening the ecosystem of the Great Lakes. A report released Friday by the Nature Conservancy -- in conjunction with the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and researchers from Central Michigan University -- indicated 10 of the 222 samples from the river tested positive for bighead carp eDNA.

Asian carp have been established in the Ohio River for more than a decade, but these eDNA results indicate the fish could be present in the Muskingum some 80 miles north of where the Muskingum joins the Ohio at Marietta.

The Muskingum has a series of old dams and deteriorating locks, but if the genetic evidence is accurate, those have not provided a significant impediment to the carp moving up the river system.”
Read more about the findings at the link above.


U of I course offers students a chance to get hands-on with pharmaceutical disposal outreach

For University of Illinois students, getting a break from the mundane, lecture-based class is as easy as enrolling in ENG 315: Learning in Community (LINC). The multi-section course offers a chance to team up with local nonprofits to design, plan, and implement new community-based projects. And this fall, they can spend the semester working with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant to reduce pharmaceutical and personal care product (PPCP) pollution in Champaign-Urbana. 

The IISG course will introduce students to the threats PPCPs pose to aquatic habitats and simple steps individuals can take to reduce those risks. Tours of local water quality labs will also provide a behind-the-scenes look at ongoing PPCP research. But the majority of the semester will be dedicated to designing and executing projects that help spread the word about proper disposal of unwanted medicines

“This is a unique opportunity for students to apply what they are learning to help solve problems in sustainable ways,” said Terri Hallesy, IISG education coordinator. “They will gain real-world experiences while helping to boost awareness of a critical environmental issue and protect the health of our aquatic ecosystems.”  

Specific projects are still to be determined, and the class will have a lot of freedom to design outreach efforts that appeal to them. Previous classes mentored local high school students, wrote an article for a campus-based environmental magazine, and created outreach materials to be used at the McKinley Heath Center and at campus events. Other options include modifying K-12 curricula, designing social media campaigns, and even building a mobile app.  

Students will also be in charge of planning and orchestrating a single-day medicine takeback event at the end of the semester. The class will work throughout the semester to design a promotional plan and coordinate with campus housing and other organizations on campus.  

Its community focus and interdisciplinary approach make this course a perfect fit for a wide range of majors—from marketing to education to environmental sciences. Students will leave with new skills and experiences that move them closer to their career goals.  

LINC courses are offered through the College of Engineering and are open to all University of Illinois students. For fall 2014, students can choose between sections that address issues like water conservation, after-school safety, and homelessness. The IISG course will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:30-4:50 p.m.  

Contact Terri Hallesy for questions about the IISG course. To learn more about PPCP pollution and proper disposal, visit www.unwantedmeds.org.


In the news: Illinois Coastal Management Program awards 26 grants to shoreline conservation

The State of Illinois recently awarded grants totaling over $1.6 million to several groups working to protect and preserve the Lake Michigan shoreline and other waterways in the state. 

From CBS Chicago
"The grants ranged in size from $10,500 to $143,000 and were awarded to projects from just south of the Illinois-Wisconsin state line to the Calumet region.

In awarding the grants, with the Oak Street Beach as his backdrop, Gov. Pat Quinn said he sees no better way to observe Earth Day than working to keep Illinois clean and safe for future generations.

He urged people across Illinois to get outside and volunteer for beach and river shoreline clean-up programs. He made the announcement as volunteers from the Alliance for the Great Lakes did a clean-up of Oak Street Beach."
Read more about the Illinois Coastal Management Program here.


Celebrate Earth Day by watching "Living Downstream"

The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center is hosting a Sustainability Film Festival in celebration of Earth Week, including a showing of Living Downstream tonight from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Spurlock Museum’s Knight Auditorium. After the show, IISG's Laura Kammin will join Jeff Levengood (INHS) and Joy Scrogum (ISTC) to answer questions about the film and the connections between human health and the environment. Admittance is free and open to the public.

Sandra Steingraber is an acclaimed ecologist and cancer survivor, and the documentary follows her for one year as she works to break the silence about cancer and its environmental links. The film follows these invisible toxins, the chemicals against which she is fighting, as they migrate to and through some of the most beautiful places in North America. The themes of endocrine disruption, chemical mixtures, prenatal exposure, and epigenetics are all woven together to tell the story of Sandra’s personal journey in exploring how the rivers, farms, towns, and streets of our childhood affect our heath.

Sandra is passionate about educating people about the impacts that their daily decisions have on the environment, a critical area of outreach and education for IISG. Whether it is teaching people about properly disposing of expired pharmaceuticals or using natural lawn care practices instead of often redundant and unnecessary fertilizers and pesticides, several IISG focus areas tie into the film's topics on Earth Day and the other 364 days of the year.


Summer intern Alice continues on with IISG's aquatic invasives team

We first introduced you to Alice Denny last year when she worked as an IISG summer intern. Well, we liked her too much to let her go. When her internship ended, Alice became the newest member of our aquatic invasive species (AIS) team, located at the Chicago Botanic Gardens.  

As an outreach assistant, Alice works on wide range of projects, including finding new opportunities to connect with recreational water users, aquarium hobbyists, water gardeners, and more. She will spend much of the summer spreading the word about AIS at professional and amateur fishing tournaments. Her message to anglers and boaters will be simple—be sure to remove, drain, and dry after a day on the water.      

Prior to her internship with us, Alice worked as a field technician in the Chicago area and conducted research on invasive species in New York state parks. She holds a Bachelor’s in Biology from Hartwick College and is a member of the Illinois Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program.     


In the news: Lake levels look to get back on track

With the big spring thaw underway (mostly) and warmer weather on the way, Lakes Michigan and Huron are on track to get closer to their long-term water levels than they were last summer. 

From Michigan Live
"Water levels on Lake Michigan- Huron typically rise from March through July. Lake Michigan- Huron has risen one inch since early March, but is 13 inches higher than this same time last year. Although the above two lakes are higher, they are still 16 inches below the long term average for this date.

The rise in the lakes in the past month was the result of melting snow. Precipitation didn't help much to the rise in lake levels, as March was fairly dry. The dry pattern in March was good for helping Michigan avoid major flooding. However, heavy rain would have really boosted lake water levels. March precipitation over the Lake Michigan-Huron drainage basin was only 1.49 inches, which was 69 percent of normal."
Read more about the projected lake levels for this summer at the link above.


In the news: Cause of Lake Erie’s algae becoming clearer

Lake Erie is one of the Great Lakes that is most affected by toxic algal blooms, and finding the cause for them is the first step in reducing or preventing them. Scientists may be closer to understanding just what causes these harmful blooms. 

"Algal blooms and dead zones in Lake Erie were severe during the 1960s, caused primarily by large releases of phosphorus from sewage and industrial plants. The 1972 federal Clean Water Act and the 1978 bi-national Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement led to dramatic reductions in phosphorus from these sources and a rapid improvement in water quality.

Lake Erie, however, saw a reemergence of the algal blooms and the growth of the dead zone in the mid-1990s, and the problems are worsening. In 2011, for example, Lake Erie experienced its most severe bloom of toxic algae on record. Last fall a toxic algal bloom in the lake forced officials to shut off a public water supply system in Ohio.

The new studies, part of the Ecological Forecasting (EcoFore) Lake Erie project led by researchers at the University of Michigan, found that the current targets to reduce phosphorus to alleviate algal blooms in Lake Erie may not be low enough to revive the dead zone. That conclusion informed the International Joint Commission’s recommendations in February for improving Lake Erie’s water quality.

The findings, and those of other studies from across the Great Lakes region, are delivering an ever clearer picture of the specific causes of nonpoint phosphorus runoff, algal blooms, and dead zones. The basic drivers of these problems are no longer unknown. The new research fills a critical void in information that has been often cited as a reason that strict regulations on nonpoint pollution sources, including agriculture, were not regulated under the 1972 federal Clean Water Act."
Read the complete article and findings at the link above.


Illinois Water Conference 2014 now accepting paper proposals

The 2014 Illinois Water Conference is coming up later this year, October 14-15 at the University of Illinois, and abstracts are now being accepting for presentations.

From the event website:
"To submit an abstract for an oral presentation or student poster, complete the appropriate online form by Monday, May 5. You will be notified regarding the status of your abstract by June 2.
The majority of accepted abstracts will fit within one of the session topics listed below. However, you may submit under the Open Topic category, from which we will develop one or two additional sessions. Student posters are requested as general submissions.
  • Application of statistical and machine learning methods in hydrology
  • Biomass crops to enhance water quality
  • Critical zone observatory research
  • Effects of climate and land use changes on Illinois water resources
  • Floodplains: recent developments in science, management and restoration
  • Global challenges and opportunities at the boundaries of water and sanitation research
  • Illinois regional water supply planning
  • Monitoring to modeling (TMDLs)
  • Protecting water quality and addressing flooding on multiple fronts in Cook County
  • Resolving chronic problems with landfills and waste fills
  • State of Lake Michigan
  • Stream restoration
  • The energy implications of resource recovery in wastewater treatment
  • Water for energy: power generation, fracking, and more"
Follow the link above for additional information about the conference and the submission process, and contact Lisa Merrifield for questions.


In the news: Illinois looks to keep microplastics out of waterways

Illinois lawmakers are looking at legislation that would ban microbeads (very small plastics used in several personal care products like exfoliators and cleansers) from production and use in cosmetics. 

"The proposal, introduced March 14 by Sen. Heather Steans (D–Chicago), would outlaw the production and sale of microbeads used in cosmetic products, which are toxic and pollute the Great Lakes in addition to harming the marine wildlife that inadvertently consume them, according to Steans.

Major metropolitan cities contribute greatly to the high concentration of cosmetic microbeads in the Great Lakes, said Olga Lyandres, research manager at the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

The beads’ size makes it impossible for filters to eliminate them before water reaches lakes, according to Jennifer Caddick, engagement director at the Alliance for the Great Lakes. Though Chicago doesn’t discharge sewage into the lake, many cities do and the pollution from these other sources makes Chicago’s main water source a public health threat."
Read the complete article at the link above.


In the news: Great Lakes lawmakers lobby for further funding

Members of the House of Representatives from Great Lakes states are lobbying their colleagues in Congress to continue funding the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. 

From CBS Minnesota
"Forty-six House members from both parties recently sent a letter to leaders of a subcommittee that recommends spending on the environment.

It requests $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The program usually gets about that much for projects dealing with threats such as toxic pollution and invasive species. President Barack Obama’s 2015 budget would cut it to $275 million.

Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan says the program has done much to improve the lakes’ health and now isn’t the time to cut back."
Read more at the link above.


Illini Bass Fishing Club helps IISG spread invasive species info

The IISG aquatic invasive species team (AIS) kicked off their fishing tournament season with a bang earlier this week. Several members were onsite April 6 for a high school bass fishing tournament to talk with young anglers about the threat of AIS and what they can do to prevent their spread. Hosted by the Illini Bass Fishing Club, the third annual High School Open drew a record number of teams and anglers to central Illinois’ Clinton Lake. 

IISG science writer Anjanette Riley joined the AIS team for the tournament and recalls the day’s events:  

“If every fishing tournament this year was like the High School Open, this will be a great year for AIS outreach. During the couple hours we were onsite, Sarah Zack and Alice Denny  talked with hundreds of anglers, coachers, and on-lookers from Illinois and Wisconsin. 

But more than the numbers, what really made Sunday a success was people’s enthusiasm. Groups huddled around the IISG table to talk about Sea Grant, invasive species, and three easy steps to ensure invaders can’t hitch a ride to new waterbodies: remove, drain, dry. Many of these coaches said they would take the message—and the Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers giveaways—back to team members not competing that day. And frequent announcements from Luke Stoner, the Illini club president, reminded the crowd of the risks AIS pose to their sport and the importance of “leaving the lakes better than we found them.” 

The day also proved successful for many of the anglers fighting to catch the most and biggest bass. The fish were hesitant to bite, but more than half of the 79 competing teams weighed in at least one. Several teams brought in bags of fish weighing more than 6 lbs. The winning duo, though, sealed their victory with two fish weighing in at 8.3lbs, and the Big Bass award went to an Edinburg-South Fork student who caught a 6.46lb largemouth bass—a true “Clinton Lake slaunch.”  

These hard-working high school anglers have a full season of fishing in front of them. In fact, for many of the teams, Sunday was their first day on the water this year. And their successes at the tournament will help them qualify to compete in sectional and state competitions.  

Sunday was the first of many tournaments for IISG’s AIS outreach team as well. Sarah, Alice, and others will take their message of prevention to professional and amateur tournaments across Illinois and Indiana this spring. But the annual High School Open marked a rare and important opportunity to talk with young anglers about the importance of curbing the spread of AIS.” 

To learn more about AIS, visit the IISG website. And watch for our "Be a Hero - Transport Zero" campaign this summer with how-to information on basic steps to take before leaving a marina or boat ramp.     


In the news: Michigan’s White Lake inches closer to getting removed from Areas of Concern list

White Lake, located in Michigan just north of Muskegon, has long been listed as an Area of Concern in the Great Lakes region. Federal officials are currently moving forward on one of the last efforts to remove the lake from the AOC list. 

"The lake is one of 14 major sites in Michigan on a list of toxic hot spots in the Great Lakes region. The cleanup work is difficult and expensive, but it’s expected to improve conditions for people and wildlife throughout the region.

Most of the work left at this point in the process for White Lake is paperwork. If everything goes as planned, White Lake will be taken off the toxic hot spot list in October, making it the very first in Michigan to complete the cleanup process."
Read the complete story at the link above.


Buoy workshop for Indiana teachers coming up August 6

Indiana science, math, and geography teachers for grades 8-12 are encouraged to apply for an upcoming workshop, Using Buoy Data to Teach about Lake Michigan Conditions and Current Issues, scheduled for August 6 at Purdue University North Central. 

Utilizing data from IISG’s own nearshore Lake Michigan buoy, the workshop offers teachers numerous examples of how the information can be used in science, math, and stewardship projects. Topics covered will include emerging Lake Michigan ecosystem issues, in-lake processes and environmental functions, Great Lakes literacy, and developing activities based around freshwater science. 

Applications for registration are due by May 15, and spaces are limited. Fill out the registration form here, and for additional information contact IISG education coordinator Terri Hallesy.


In the news: Spring could bring increased flood potential

While the spring thaw will be a welcome change of weather in most of the country, there is a risk that snow melt and spring rains could lead to rivers exceeding flood levels. 

"The continuation of winter weather, above-average snowpack, frozen ground and thick ice coverage on streams and rivers will delay spring flooding into April in the upper Midwest eastward to New England.

The intensity of the flooding will depend on the rate of snow and ice melt, and future rainfall.
Continued well-below average temperatures this winter resulted in significant river ice formation and ice jams in locations further south than customary, flooding homes and businesses, and impacting river commerce.

There is also an elevated risk of more ice jams this spring in the northern tier of the U.S. from Montana eastward to northern New England.

'This year’s spring flood potential is widespread and includes rivers in highly populated areas putting millions of Americans at risk,' said Louis Uccellini, director, NOAA’s National Weather Service.

'Although widespread major river flooding is not expected, an abrupt warming or heavy rainfall event could lead to isolated major flooding.'"
Read the rest of the article at the link above.


In the news: Lake Michigan oil spill larger than first estimated

Last week’s oil spill from an Indiana refinery into Lake Michigan looks to be larger than initially estimated. 

From the Chicago Tribune
"More oil than previously thought may have leaked into Lake Michigan this week from BP Plc's Indiana refinery, the company said on Thursday, after two U.S. Senators requested a meeting with the British oil major.

The request from Senators Mark Kirk, a Republican and Dick Durbin, a Democrat, both from Illinois, came before BP issued its estimate that between 15 and 39 barrels of oil had spilled - more than an earlier assessment that nine to 18 barrels leaked on Monday.

The Senators asked for details on the spill's cause, an analysis of the impact of the 405,000 barrels-per-day (bpd) Whiting refinery's production increase, and information on what is being done to prevent future spills."
Read the complete story at the link above and the initial report here.