Breaking news: Illinois releases plan to reduce nutrient pollution

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (Illinois EPA) and the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) are inviting residents to weigh-in on a new statewide effort designed to improve water quality in Illinois and the Gulf of Mexico. Public comments on the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy will be accepted until January 24, 2015

The Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy relies on the latest science and best-available technologies to guide statewide efforts to reduce phosphorus and nitrogen losses delivered to Illinois waterways and the Gulf of Mexico. These nutrients spur on algae blooms that deplete oxygen levels, hinder recreation, and threaten public health. Nutrient pollution can also degrade drinking water quality and require cities to install costly treatment equipment.

The strategy outlines a comprehensive suite of best management practices to reduce nutrient losses from both point sources, such as wastewater treatment plants and industrial facilities, and non-point sources, including runoff from farm fields and city streets. Identified practices target the most critical watersheds and build upon existing state and industry programs to achieve the ultimate goal of reducing the amount of total phosphorus and nitrate-nitrogen reaching Illinois waters by 45 percent.

At the heart of the plan is a scientific assessment of statewide nutrient loading from point and non-point sources and an evaluation of practices proven to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus losses from agricultural landscapes. Key components also include establishing committees to coordinate water quality monitoring, develop numeric nutrient criteria, and improve urban stormwater programs and education, creating a forum for improved agriculture stakeholder and agency collaboration, and defining a process for regular review and revision. 

Illinois EPA and IDOA developed the strategy with representatives from state and federal agencies, agriculture, and non-profit organizations as well as scientists and wastewater treatment processionals. The one-year effort was facilitated by the Illinois Water Resources Center at the University of Illinois and marks the most comprehensive and integrated approach to date for addressing both point and non-point sources of nutrients in Illinois.

The Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy was developed in response to the federal 2008 Gulf of Mexico Action Plan, which calls for 12 states in the Mississippi River Basin to develop strategies to reduce loading to the Gulf of Mexico, where excess nutrients have led to an aquatic life ‘dead zone’ that stretches for thousands of square miles. 

Public comments can be emailed to simon.daniels@illinois.gov or mailed to NLRS Comments, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Bureau of Water, 1021 North Grand Ave. East, P.O. Box 19276, Springfield, IL 62794. 

***Photo B courtesy of David Riecks. 


Place-based education inspires more than just students

Several IISG staff members were in Grand Rapids, MI earlier this month to share some of our education resources and curricula during the Great Lakes Place-based Education Conference. For Allison Neubauer, the experience had an unexpected twist. 

Stewardship and place-based education are nothing new to us educators at Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. In fact, the IISG education team has been leading efforts in these initiatives throughout southern Lake Michigan communities for years. For this reason, going into the conference, I thought it was a great opportunity for us to share our models of stewardship and place-based education. I didn’t plan on gaining much insight into how and why these objectives were critical. Boy, was I wrong.

IISG undoubtedly has an arsenal of exemplary stewardship models, and a jam-packed room of eager educators at our Friday afternoon session was an indication of their desire to hear how we’ve extended learning beyond classrooms and into communities.

But as much as I enjoyed sharing our examples of student stewardship as a means of combatting invasive species, promoting proper disposal of unwanted medication, and teaching about benefits and risks of fish consumption, the best part of the conference was actually hearing others share their stories.

The opening keynote address by Kim Rowland, a middle school science teacher, detailed how her students have been able to use their surrounding environment in Grand Rapids as a resource for exploration and learning. What was most captivating and exciting to hear was how this time spent investigating the outdoors was a way to reach students that are not typically high academic achievers. Kim told us about a particular student who was always getting in trouble—not wanting to come to school, and certainly not excited about learning. Though she had not anticipated this, venturing out to the stream on school property transformed him into the most enthusiastic student of the group. In fact, this student was now so interested in collecting samples that he waded even further into the stream, thus giving Kim a very fitting title for her presentation: “Getting Your Feet Wet and Allowing Water to Flood Your Boots.”

This was a great way to kick-off the conference. It really impressed upon me that place-based education should not be considered a luxury, or something that only all-star teachers are doing. Every student—from urban to rural, high achieving to special needs—must be exposed to learning outside the classroom. School should not take place in isolation, between the same four walls everyday. There is immense value in connecting students with their communities and surrounding environments as a means to enhance learning and civic understanding.


U of I students get creative with green infrastructure

Eliana Brown recently joined the Illinois Water Resources Center as an outreach specialist. Prior to starting at IWRC, she worked at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Facilities & Services as the MS4 coordinator and at Illinois EPA as a field engineer. Eliana has a M.S. in environmental engineering and a B.S. in general engineering and marketing from the University of Illinois.

The following is a contributing post from Eliana, who has a passion for rain gardens and green infrastructure:

When you were a university student, did you ever reimagine your campus landscape? Students at the University of Illinois did exactly that as an assignment for Landscape Architecture (LA) 452, Native Plants and Design.

The U of I campus has 84 miles of storm sewer, most of which drain rainwater directly to Boneyard Creek. The LA 452 students designed landscapes with elements that capture water and allow it to soak in on-site to reduce loads to the existing storm sewer and creek. These elements (called green infrastructure) include rain gardens, swales, and green roofs. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sees green infrastructure as a way to create sustainable, resilient communities that improve water quality.

EPA has a competition called the Campus RainWorks Challenge that invites “student teams to design an innovative green infrastructure project for their campus showing how managing stormwater at its source can benefit the campus community and the environment.”

According to Jason Berner, EPA environmental protection specialist, who has been involved with administering the competition, it is a great way for students to see how green infrastructure is related to the larger campus master plan. “It moves us beyond single pilot projects, but at the same time, blends both small and large scale thinking,” he explained.

LA 452 instructor Tawab Hlimi is leading the U of I Campus RainWorks entry. Students in his class helped brainstorm ideas for the entry. One of those ideas is pictured. Student Jiwon
Kim reimagined the grounds at the National Soybean Research Building (which happens to house Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and the Illinois Water Resources Center). Native plant rain gardens intercept stormwater from the building roof and parking lot. During large storms, the design takes advantage of existing storm sewers by overflowing excess water to them.

Like many cities and universities, the U of I began installing storm sewers more than 100 years ago. Storm sewers benefit cities by draining flooded areas. However, they can overload receiving streams and cause unintended damage. Adding green infrastructure elements to the existing infrastructure helps ensure a healthier ecosystem on-site and downstream.

Per Hlimi, “Through a campus wide application of rain gardens, students hybridized native plantings with a superficial stormwater management strategy to meet multiple objectives: accommodating the ‘first flush’ of frequent storm events through detention, infiltration, and biofiltration, reducing the load on existing subsurface infrastructure, improving the water quality entering into the Boneyard Creek, creating habitat for pollinators, and rendering the campus landscape as living laboratory.”

Perhaps one day in the not too distant future, students won’t have to imagine green infrastructure on campus. They’ll see it.

Learn how you can put in a rain garden on your property by checking out the Southern Lake Michigan Rain Garden Manual.


Join us in congratulating Jacob Wood

Former intern Jacob Wood received an award earlier this month for a poster he presented during Purdue University's GIS Day, an annual event dedicated to geospatial research and geographic information systems (GIS). 

"The poster detailed my work over the summer with IISG on mapping Lake Michigan catch data. Jarrod Doucette and myself have been working creating a web app for the IISG website to visualize two decades of recorded fish catch data from the Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin Departments of Natural Resources. I thought presenting the poster at Purdue's GIS Day would be a great way to show the work that I accomplished for IISG over the summer."

Read more about our summer internship program and hear from past interns about what they are up to now. 


Do you ThinkWater?

Kirsten Hope Walker, our environmental educator, is thinking about water education in a new way after attending a conference earlier this month. And today she shares those thoughts with us. 

Sometimes when you attend one conference, you hear about another one that sparks your interest. That's how I heard about the WE Thinks Water Education Summit. What first caught my interest was the promotional video. It wasn’t about water at all—it was about the way it’s taught. 

Information doesn't guarantee knowledge. I knew that, but the video really brought to light that the key to improving knowledge lies in the thought process of the person hearing the information. I thought, “This is my way of thinking and teaching.” I wanted to know more.

While at the summit, I met many interesting people who provide excellent water education opportunities all over the country. The presenters, Drs. Derek and Laura Cabrera, talked about meta-cognition and how it can be applied to already established curriculum and human interactions. They talked about what they called a meta-map—like a concept map, but more complex. They're built around four simple principles. 
  • Distinctions establish what a topic is as well as what it isn’t 
  • Systems are parts of a whole  
  • Relationships appear between parts and the whole, as well as other topics 
  • Every topic has different perspectives that have to be considered 
A perfect example is politics. There are a lot of parts to the whole, many are related to each other, and many people have very different perspectives of the same words. Designing curriculum around these meta-cognition principles will help learners turn information into knowledge. It’s the “Oh Captain, My Captain” style of learning.

This conference has impacted me greatly. I think differently about how I look at and construct new curriculum, as well as how I would  adapt curriculum that is already out there. It also confirmed that I was on the right track when I taught high school and challenged my students to question everything and look at different perspectives on the same topic. I would recommend this conference to anyone who wants to think beyond information regurgitation. 


South Carolina study offers more insight into microbead impacts

Microbeads have attracted a lot of public and political attention in the Great Lakes region since Sam Mason and her lab first discovered the tiny beads in staggering numbers in lakes Huron, Superior, and Erie in 2012. Since then, sampling excursions on the remaining lakes—conducted with help from Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and 5 Gyres—have turned up similar findings.

In many ways, the results of these studies raise more questions than they ask. One of the most important, though, is "What effect do microbeads and other plastic pollutants have on Great Lakes food webs and ecosystems?" Research into this question has only just begun, but years of studies in the oceans provide some insight. Some of these latest findings come from our friends at South Carolina Sea Grant

From Coastal Heritage
John Weinstein is studying how grass shrimp (Palaemonetes pugio) respond to a diet of plastic beads. A crustacean about the size of half of a shelled peanut, a grass shrimp consumes microalgae that grow on plant detritus—especially decomposing saltmarsh stems called “wrack”—along estuaries and coasts, but it’s also a predator on a wide variety of small animals. 
Because of its abundance, sensitivity, and ecological importance in southeastern U.S. estuaries, the grass shrimp is often used to study the effects of pollution in the field and laboratory. 
In Weinstein’s lab, Austin Gray, a graduate student in biology at The Citadel, has been feeding grass shrimp two types of beads: one a bright green and the other one translucent.  
The green beads are polyethylene, the type of plastic used in plastic bags, bottles, plastic wrap and other films for food preservation, and many other products. Polyethylene is the most common type of plastic found in marine debris around the world. 
The translucent beads are polypropylene, a type of plastic used in bottle caps, candy- or chip-wrappers, and food containers. Polypropylene is the second most common type of plastic found in marine debris. 
In a lab dish, Austin Gray deposits translucent 75-micron beads. But a visitor looks in the dish and can’t find a single bead. Under the dissecting microscope, though, dozens of tiny spheres suddenly appear. To put it in perspective, an item at about 40 microns is the width of two spooning human hairs. 
Gray fed 16 grass shrimp a diet of brine shrimp mixed in with plastic beads. Each grass shrimp was isolated in water that was changed every other day. Eight animals were fed polyethylene beads and eight were fed polypropylene beads. After six days, all of the 16 shrimp were dead. 
Dissecting the animals, Gray found plastic beads in their guts and gills. One individual had 10 tiny beads in its gut and 16 in its gills. 
The gut blockages, though, were deadlier. The grass shrimp could still take in water through their partly blocked gills. But they stopped eating with clogged guts—or couldn’t eat—and died. 
“In my mind,” says Weinstein, “it’s consistent with starvation. The more particles in guts, the more quickly the grass shrimp die.
Concern about results like these has led Illinois to become the first state to ban the sale of microbeads in personal care products. The law, passed in June, is slated to take full effect in 2019. Similar legislation has also been considered in New York and California. 

Click on the link above to read the full article.  

***Photo: Collecting plastic samples in southern Lake Michigan in 2013. 


Friday Foto: Molly tells a winter's tale

Last year's winter is still something to talk about, especially since this one appears to be looming large already. IISG's climate specialist Molly Woloszyn took the helm of the Staerkel Planetarium in Champaign, IL last Friday to sum up last winter's story, which was one for records.

Will the polar vortex return this winter? Molly told the crowd that NOAA Weather Service forecasts an equal chance of this winter being warmer or cooler than average in the Midwest.


UpClose celebrates two years and a new look

It's been two years since our first edition of UpClose, and we decided to celebrate the occasion by taking a behind-the-scenes look at the study that launched an era of scientific and public interest in pharmaceuticals and other emerging contaminants. 

And to top it off, we've given the award-winning interview series a fresh new look. 

Dana Kolpin, a research hydrologist and head of the U.S. Geological Survey Emerging Contaminants Project, played a key role in the first-ever nationwide survey of emerging contaminants. The study found pharmaceuticals, detergents, hormones, and other chemicals in streams across the country. When the results were published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology in 2002, they sparked a of flurry of media and research attention. To this day, in fact, it is still the most cited study in the journal's history. 

In the eighth issue of UpClose, Kolpin looks back on the challenges of designing and conducting a national study—particularly one in search of everyday chemicals like caffeine—and the cutting-edge methods scientists created to analyze the results. He also talks about the gaps in understanding that remain after more than a decade of investigating these contaminants and gives a sneak-peak at USGS's latest projects. 

Find previous issues of UpClose and additional resources at unwantedmeds.org. For print copies, contact Laura Kammin

And stay up-to-date on the latest in pharmaceutical and personal care product pollution by connecting with our pollution prevention team on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, and Google+


Cooler summer temps led to fewer swimming fatalities

If you're a regular visitor to Great Lakes beaches, you likely noticed that this year's swim season was chillier than normal. Cold enough, in fact, that many chose to skip swimming in favor of other beach activities. And according to officials at the National Weather Service, this may explain the unusually low number of current-related fatalities and rescues this year. 

From Michigan Sea Grant: 
There were 6 fatalities and 12 rescues related to currents on the Great Lakes, which is below the 12-year average of 12 fatalities and 25 rescues per year. 
As is typical, the majority of the 2014 incidents occurred along Lake Michigan. On average from 2002-2014, Lake Michigan had 25 incidents per year, while Lake Erie had 5 incidents per year, Lake Superior had 3 incidents and Huron and Ontario average 1 to 1.5 per year, respectively. 
The data for 2014 has now been updated in the Great Lakes Current Incident Database, available at DangerousCurrents.org. The database was developed and is maintained by Michigan Sea Grant and National Weather Service (NWS). Megan Dodson, a NWS meteorologist, gathers the statistics for the database and provides yearly swim season assessments of conditions related to currents. 
Dodson noted the cool weather influenced not just the below-average number of incidents, but where they happened too. 
“A majority of the current-related incidents in 2014 occurred near river mouths, which is unusual when compared with past years,” she said. “The cooler air and water temperatures may have driven beachgoers to swim near river mouths and other outlets, where the water is much warmer. However, there are currents present that can be strong and vary depending on the flow of the outlet and the waves at the beach. While these currents are most dangerous during times of high waves, they can still be strong despite calmer lake conditions — as we saw during the 2014 swim season.” Read more 
Swim season may be over, but it is never too early to start planning for next year. To stay safe in the water, be sure to:  
  1. Steer clear of the pier — Nearly 60 percent of fatalities and rescues in the Great Lakes database occurred near breakwaters and piers. Structural currents are nearly always present near these barriers, even when waves are low. Breaking waves can also bounce off the structure, making swimming nearly impossible. 
  2. Stay dry when waves are high — Nearly 85 percent of fatalities and rescues in the Great Lakes database happened when waves are 3-5 feet or greater. Unlike in the oceans, Great Lakes waves crash against the shoreline in rapid succession, making it difficult to swim. Additionally, strong rip currents are more likely when waves are above 3 feet. The combination of quickly approaching waves and strong currents create extremely dangerous conditions for swimmers. 
  3. Don’t swim in the outlet — Water flowing from a river mouth or other outlet can push swimmers out into the lake. Nearly 40 percent of the 2014 incidents were outlet-current related. 
For more information and safety tips, visit dangerouscurrents.org


Friday Foto: A bird's eye view of Chicago's water history

Today we have one of Gregg Woodward's aerial photographs of the Chicago skyline along Lake Michigan. You can see how the Chicago Harbor Lock keep those two water bodies separate. The reversing of the Chicago River more than a 100 years ago for public health reasons is sometimes overridden when large storms hit the city. The locks are opened and stormwater is allowed to flow into Lake Michigan.


Be a Hero – Transport Zero spreads to new areas

In Alaska's Kachemak Bay Research Reserve, invasive species prevention is taking on a new look. To prevent the spread of the invasive invertebrates while a local harbor undergoes renovations, officials have adopted the Be a Hero – Transport Zero logo and slightly modified the message to encourage those involved in the reconstruction to follow a few easy before moving all docks and other infrastructure.

Closer to home, the outreach campaign developed by Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is also expanding to include hunting, hiking, and other terrestrial pathways. Posters asking customers to "join the fight" can be found in outdoor supply shops in several Illinois cities, including Springfield. The message also made an appearance at this year's state fair in August. 

When it launched last year, Be a Hero – Transport Zero became the primary invasive species prevention message in Illinois. It's simple call for boaters, anglers, and other recreational water users to "remove, drain, dry" before leaving a waterbody has been featured in magazines, broadcast on radio and television, and wrapped into outreach programs like Clean Boats Crew

To learn more about aquatic invasive species and what you can do to prevent their spread, visit our invasive species page


In the news: EPA takes two Michigan sites off list of toxic hot spots

After decades of remediation work, two Michigan sites are no longer considered Areas of Concern (AOCs). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officially removed Deer Lake in the Lake Superior basin and White Lake in the Lake Michigan Basin from the list of toxic hot spots last week. 

These are the third and fourth U.S. sites to be delisted since a 1987 cleanup agreement with Canada identified areas hit hardest by legacy pollutants like PCBs and mercury. The Oswego River in New York became the first in 2006, and Pennsylvania's Presque Isle Bay was delisted last year. 

From the Detroit Free Press
The Deer Lake AOC, along the southern shore of Lake Superior on the Upper Peninsula, was listed because of mercury contamination that leached into water flowing through an abandoned iron mine, as well as other pollutants. Mercury contamination in fish—and reproductive problems—also were documented in animals and birds, including bald eagles. 
The remediation efforts included a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant for $8 million that helped pay for a project diverting water from Partridge Creek. It previously fed the stream flowing through old mine workings under Ishpeming, which then ran into another creek and into Deer Lake. 
The White Lake AOC was on Lake Michigan in Muskegon County and had been contaminated by pollution—especially organic solvents—from tannery operations, chemical manufacturing and other sources, degrading fish and wildlife habitats.
A $2.5-million grant was used to remove contaminated sediment and restore shoreline, with more than 100,000 cubic yards being removed. Read more
More than two dozen AOCs remain throughout the Great Lakes states. But as many as 10 are targeted for completion in the next five years thanks in part to funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which will enter its second phase next year. 

Two of the sites slated for delisting are the Buffalo and Grand Calumet rivers, where IISG's Caitie McCoy has partnered with federal, state, and local groups under the Great Lakes Legacy Act to connect nearby communities with the remediation and restoration. A big part of this work has focused on integrating environmental cleanup projects into the classroom with place-based curriculum and stewardship projects. 

***Deer Lake in Ishpeming. Credit: Stephanie Swart, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.