Friday Foto: What's in YOUR aquarium?

If you are shopping for aquarium pets and plants, don't forget to think about whether you are buying invasive species. Dave Cozzolino, owner of Wilmette Pet Center in Wilmette, Ill., has a supply of brochures that encourage aquarium owners to purchase non-invasive alternatives to aquatic invasive mollusks, like snails, clams, and mussels. If your pet store isn't well-stocked with information, you can find out more about aquatic invasive species and responsible pet ownership on our AIS webpage about organisms in trade.


Teachers teaching teachers about the Great Lakes

Teachers participate in the mock oil spill activity.
IISG Environmental Educator Kirsten Hope Walker didn’t take it easy on  the teachers in the audience at the 3rd Annual Beginning Teacher STEM Conference this morning at the I Hotel in Champaign, Ill. The conference is focused on helping new teachers prepare students to compete in science, technology, engineering, math, and even the art fields in the global economy.

Walker began her session with a pop quiz testing the teachers on their knowledge of the Great Lakes.

“Don’t worry about being wrong,” she assured them. “Nobody is expecting a geographer!”

The teachers, who were from throughout Illinois, got a crash course on issues concerning the Great Lakes, like pollution, aquatic invasive species, and water depletion.

Walker also had the teachers take part in a mock oil spill clean-up activity, one they could use in their own classrooms. 

Fifth-grade teacher Carol Cofer recognized immediately how she would use the material with her students at McCleery Elementary school in Aurora, Ill.

IISG educator Kirsten Hope Walker leads the class.
“These lessons will help me to bring relevance to the student,”Cofer said. “Instead of talking about some ocean somewhere, we’re talking about Lake Michigan, which is right in our backyard.”

The goal of the workshop for Walker was to encourage Great Lakes literacy and understanding through education.  

“Once you love something,” Walker said, “you’re going to take care of it and advocate for it.”
-Abigail Bobrow


In three words

On July 18 the Lake Michigan Shipboard Science Workshop wrapped up a week of non-stop research and exploration aboard the R/V Lake Guardian. The educators and researchers also made time for stops at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc and Sleeping Bear Dunes in Frankfort, Mich.

At the end of the workshop, each group of teacher-scientists gave presentations of their research. The great clarity and confidence with which each team was able to describe their project was a true testament to how much they learned throughout the week.

The educators communicated their research questions, methods, and results so articulately that I finally understood what had been going on all week right under my nose.

One scientific process, finding soluble reactive phosphorus, was described by Indiana teacher John Gensic in two minutes to a room full of nodding heads, visibly following along—and understanding—the intricate procedure.

When we asked the educators to summarize their week in three words for this video, it was evident as they struggled to distill the experience down to such a limited depiction, just how much they had learned and grown.

A lot of the comments were centered on how cohesively the group worked as a team. Also prevalent was the realization that true science is “messy” with the need to adapt, given that real-life science doesn’t always work out exactly how it was initially drawn up.

I found it incredibly rewarding to hear the teachers say that working side-by-side with Great Lakes researchers actually bolstered their confidence as scientists and science educators—though they admitted they were intimidated at first.

There was a lot of two-way dialogue during the week, with educators suggesting practical adjustments to the scientific procedures they had just been introduced two days previously.

I look forward to the amazing classroom adaptations and stewardship projects that are already being planned by the workshop participants in collaboration with their new scientist cohorts.

Educators Liz McCheyne, Mike Mathis, and Suzi Hoffman had these parting words in their final blog post.

“With this in mind, we will return to our classrooms all over the Great Lakes region to share our new knowledge and expanded hearts as we teach students, colleagues, family, and friends to be scientifically literate citizens of our planet and good stewards of the Great Lakes.”

Allison Neubauer is part of the education team at IISG. She helped coordinate the overall logistics and planned the shore excursions.


Friday Foto: Take the Chicago Water Walk

DuSable Harbor is one stop along the way on the Chicago Water Walk app, a tour of the city's beautiful downtown lakefront. Whether you are interested in the Chicago River, Navy Pier, the Museum Campus, or marinas in between, you can enhance your view by reading historical, ecological, engineering, and just fun facts about Chicago.


The Aquatic Nuisance Species Hotline is no longer taking calls

 The round goby is a Great Lakes AIS originally from Eurasia.
Those of you in the habit of spotting and reporting aquatic invasive species (AIS) to the Aquatic Nuisance Species Hotline are going to have to try something different.

The toll-free hotline, started by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1999, is being phased out.

It was a popular resource when it first came out, but now that states have developed their own reporting systems, the calls have just been trickling in—as few as five a month.

But even though there has been an increase in state call centers and online reporting sites, the hotline is not being shut down without an alternative national operating system.

Now you can report AIS sightings at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Online Sighting Report Form at usgs.gov/STOPANS

Find out more about aquatic invasive species and their impact on the Great Lakes at http://iiseagrant.org/topic_ais.php.


Illinois releases strategy to reduce nutrient pollution in the Gulf

Illinois may be hundreds of miles from the Gulf of Mexico, but it’s a key contributor to the “dead zone,” a section of water the size of Connecticut devoid of oxygen that forms every summer. The culprit is millions of pounds of nutrients from farm fields, city streets and wastewater treatment plants entering the Gulf each year through the Mississippi River system.

Now, the state has just released a plan—the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy—to keep those nutrients out of the water.

The collaborative effort began almost two years ago in response to the federal 2008 Gulf of Mexico Action Plan, which calls for all 12 states in the Mississippi River Basin to develop plans to reduce nutrient losses to the Gulf. The process was spearheaded by the Illinois EPA and the Department of Agriculture and facilitated by Illinois Water Resources Center (IWRC) and Illinoi-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG).

“It’s the most comprehensive and integrated approach to nutrient loss reduction in the state’s history,” says Brian Miller, director of IISG and IWRC. “But what really sets the plan apart is how it was developed. Government agencies, agricultural producers and commodity groups, non-profit organizations, scientists, and wastewater treatment professionals were all at the table working together to create this strategy.”

The approach outlines a set of voluntary and mandatory practices for both urban and agricultural sources for reducing the primary drivers of the algal blooms that lower oxygen levels—phosphorus and nitrogen. By targeting the most critical areas and building on existing state and industry programs, these practices are expected to ultimately reduce the amount of nutrients reaching Illinois waterways by 45 percent.

Led by researchers at the University of Illinois, the study uncovered numerous cost-effective practices for reducing nutrient losses. At the heart of the strategy is a scientific assessment that used state and federal data to calculate Illinois’ current nutrient losses and determine where they’re coming from.

The plan for wastewater treatment plants is relatively straightforward. The state had already begun to cap the amount of phosphorus they are allowed to release, restrictions that will likely be expanded under the new plan. The strategy also calls for sewage plants to investigate new treatment technologies that could lower phosphorus levels enough to prevent algal blooms in nearby waterways.

For farmers and others working in agriculture, the options are a little broader. Most of the recommended practices, such as installing buffer strips along stream banks to filter runoff, planting cover crops to absorb nutrients and adjusting nitrogen-fertilizing practices have been used successfully in Illinois for years.

“There is no silver bullet for reducing nutrients,” said Mark David, a University of Illinois biogeochemist and one of the researchers behind the scientific assessment. “It is going to take at least one new management practice on every acre of agricultural land to meet the state’s reduction goals.”


GreatLakesMud.org website cleans up

Great Lakes Information Network awarded the July Site of the Month to GreatLakesMud.org.

IISG created the site to disseminate information and provide resources to promote sediment cleanup and habitat restoration in Areas of Concern.

The website was made possible by the Great Lakes Legacy Act, a program that, as of 2015, has cleaned up 2.9 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment through 17 remediation projects. 


Friday Foto: Still more to explore

Scientist and educators from the year's Shipboard Science Workshop aboard the U.S. EPA R/V Lake Guardian prepare to lower the Rosette sampler into Lake MichiganThe Rosette collects water samples from any depth to be analyzed in the laboratory for a variety of nutrients and chemicals

Be sure to check out all the amazing photos and great bog posts chronicling the trip on Twitter at #lakeguardian and on the Teacher Features page at CGLL website.

They will be tweeting and blogging until the trip concludes tomorrow.


DEA’s national drug take-back days are back

When the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced last September that they would no longer be hosting prescription drug take-back days, some communities were left wondering how they would be able to keep collecting unused medications for proper disposal.

Those communities can now breathe a big sigh of relief. DEA recently announced that they are going to reinstate collection events.

The next National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day will be held on Saturday, September 26, 2015. Police departments around the country will be working with local organizations to host these events from 10 a.m.–2 p.m. They will accept controlled, non-controlled, and over-the-counter medications. Small quantities of liquids can be dropped off, but not sharps or needles. As in the past, this take-back day is for households only—medications from businesses such as hospitals, doctor’s offices or veterinarian offices are not allowed. Once the date gets closer, DEA will post the locations of the collection sites.
The goal of the program is to reduce drug diversion, but also to help limit the impacts of pharmaceuticals in the environment. Over the past five years, DEA has been successful in working towards this goal—collecting more than 4.8 millions pounds of unwanted medicine with the assistance of its community partners.

Communities that wish to participate in this upcoming 10th event will need to have their law enforcement office register with DEA. The DEA contact person is Sandra Kitchen and she can be reached at (314) 538-4861 or sandra.r.kitchen@usdoj.gov.

IISG has been helping communities set up medicine take-back programs for more than nine years. While DEA take-back days are a great resource, communities have other options. For example, they can consider law enforcement-based programs such as the P2D2 program, pharmacy-based programs such as the Yellow Jug Old Drugs program, and for-profit companies such as Sharps Compliance, Inc. which offers the MEDSAFE® program and the mail-back envelop program Takeaway Medication Recovery SystemTM.

Communities in Illinois and Indiana that are looking to start new medicine take-back programs can contact me for assistance in getting started.

-Laura Kammin, IISG pollution prevention specialist


How does green infrastructure happen on the ground?

How does “green infrastructure” go from being just a good idea to actually being implemented in municipalities? At the recent Resilient Chicago workshop, we learned how this happens from a variety of perspectives.

Blue Island, Ill., a Chicago suburb with a growing problem with flooded basements, has become a leader in executing green infrastructure initiatives in recent years.

Jason Berry, deputy director of planning and building, described how at one point, even city engineers needed convincing that green infrastructure is not a "feel-good" project, but an effective and sustainable way to address stormwater issues.

Much of the city's success is due to grant support from local, state, and even national sources. And, there is public involvement. As part of its Blue Island, Blue Water project, the city engaged many of its residents in installing rain barrels and planting rain gardens. The city is putting in permeable pavement, a bioswale, and numerous rain gardens.

"Green infrastructure is visible infrastructure," explained Berry. "You can see it work."

It also takes maintenance, which Berry described as a challenge for the city going forward.

Most communities will need to fund green infrastructure through limited municipal budgets, according to Josh Ellis, program director with the Metropolitan Planning Council. But he thinks green infrastructure has the possibly of becoming the new normal for infrastructure through “optimization.”

Optimization, as done by the City of Chicago, means maximizing investments through partnerships, leveraged funds, and multiple goals. Aaron Koch, deputy commissioner for sustainability, explained that the city has been employing green infrastructure for many years with green roofs and alleys, for instance. Now efforts are being planned more strategically.

For example, through the Space to Grow program, the city is partnering with Chicago Public Schools and nonprofits to “green” Chicago schoolyards. By planting rain gardens, and adding landscaping and playgrounds, students have a dryer, safer, greener, and more fun environment to play.

Argyle Street on Chicago's north side is in the process of getting a facelift with porous pavement, planters, and trees that will go far to create community gathering spaces as well as enhance stormwater management. The Argyle Streetscape will be Chicago's first "shared street" where pedestrians, cars, and bicycles will all co-exist in a curb-free world.

One way to normalize green infrastructure is to incorporate it into comprehensive planning. The Chicago MetropolitanAgency for Planning (CMAP) provides assistance for municipalities to do this.

According to Kate Evasic, associate planner, CMAP provides a process to collect data related to surface drainage, including historic conditions, topography, impervious cover, land use, and repetitive flood claims. And, the process provides the opportunities for shared solutions. CMAP has 50 projects underway right now.

-Irene Miles
(Photos from the Blue Island and the site design group, ltd. websites)


Lake Guardian scientists and teachers journey to the core in this video

Ever wondered what it actually looks like as samples are collected from the floor of Lake Michigan?  A science teacher from Elk Grove High School in Illinois got to the bottom of it for you.

When it came time to lower the multi-corer and hydraulic extruders, Quinn Loch strapped on a GoPro video camera to go for the 158-meter ride to the bottom.

Loch, along with 14 other educators, is working with 4 scientists as a part of the Shipboard Science Workshop aboard the U.S. EPA R/V Lake Guardian.

The cores will be used to study dissolved oxygen and phosphorous levels in the water just above the cores.

The educators and scientists stand on the dock in Manitowoc, Wis.
Be sure to follow the educators on twitter at #lakeguardian and on the Teacher Features page on the CGLL website

They will continue tweeting and blogging until the trip’s conclusion on July 18.

-Abigail Bobrow


It really was the wettest June on record in Illinois

Heavy rain and flooding highlighted a wild month of June across central portions of the Midwest. Illinois was the wettest state, breaking a record that has stood for over 100 years. Illinois’ rainfall of 9.30 inches broke the record of 8.27 inches set back in 1902. This was more than twice the normal rainfall of 4.21 inches for the month. Indiana and Ohio also set June records with 8.90 inches and 8.13 inches, respectively. These states also saw more than twice their normal June rainfall and broke records that were set decades ago.

Chicago’s official station, O’Hare Airport, also reported more than double its normal precipitation with 7.12 inches. This was the 7th wettest Junethe record is 9.96 inches set in 1993. Even though Chicago did not break its June precipitation record, it did break another2015 now claims the cloudiest June on record with only 46 percent sunshine. The previous record low sunshine was 48 percent set back in 1942.

All of this rain has had its effect. Many crop fields are soaked, the rain stunting plant growth and preventing field chores. Lake levels continue to rise at record ratesmore than 3 feet since January 2013. And NOAA is forecasting severe algal blooms in Lake Erie this summer.

Wetter-than-normal June's have become a thing of recent years. In Illinois, four of the top 10 rainiest June’s on record have occurred since 2010 and for the Midwest as a whole, five of the top 10 rainiest June’s have occurred since 2000. The story isn’t much different in Chicago – five of the top 10 rainiest June’s at Chicago O’Hare have occurred since 2009.

With record-breaking June rain across portions of the Midwest and some of the wettest June months occurring in recent years, you may wonder if this is an indication what's in store for the future. But, even though June has been wetter than normal in the past 10-15 years, the overall trend of climate data for the Midwest, Illinois, and Chicago do not show a statistically significant upward trend in June precipitation. In fact, three of the top 10 driest June’s on record in Chicago have occurred since 2003 and two in Illinois since 2005. It's possible that the region is in a predominately wet pattern, which can last for a few decades or more, but it may not stick around for much longer than that. This is what happened in early part of the 20th century when drier-than-normal years were more common than wetter years.

Climate model projections show only slight increases in future total annual precipitation for the Midwest, particularly in the winter and spring (summer and fall precipitation are not expected to change much). However, larger increases are projected in the frequency and intensity of extreme precipitation across the entire regionmeaning more precipitation may fall with each event (and longer dry spells in between) but the overall yearly total may not change much.
-Molly Woloszen, IISG and the Midwestern Regional Climate Center


Friday Foto: Go green infrastructure!

During such a stormy summer, it seems appropriate to keep a focus on rain gardens. On the campus of Loyola University Chicago, rain gardens are just one of many green infrastructure techniques used to manage stormwater and conserve resources. As with many rain garden projects, finding the right plants for this location was key to its success.


From cruise to classroom: Educators learn from scientists aboard Lake Michigan ship

Fifteen educators from six states surrounding the Great Lakes are getting the chance to be scientists in the field – or rather water – during this year’s Shipboard Science Workshop in Lake Michigan on the Lake Guardian, the U.S. EPA Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) research vessel. The annual workshop will take place the week of July 12-18 and is hosted by  Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG).

The teachers, alongside four research scientists from U.S. EPA GLNPO, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Loyola University Chicago, will take part in sampling to evaluate the presence of microplastics and assess the impact of aquatic invasive species, especially zebra and quagga mussels.

And as part of the workshop, teachers will be able to analyze the samples in on-board laboratories. The hope is that the teachers will take their experiences back to the classroom and inspire their own students to want to do scientific exploration of the Great Lakes.

This workshop is IISG community outreach specialist Kristin TePas’ fifth, and she never tires of seeing teachers learning and researching in the field.

“Aside from the concept of educators working side by side with scientists collecting and analyzing data, these cruises have a lot of variation from year to year because the scientists change and thus the focus of research taking place is often different,” TePas said.

“I always look forward to watching how the educators take to the whole experience. They come on rather green and leave at the end of the week looking like they have always lived on the ship and working like a well-oiled machine with the field sampling and then analyzing in the lab.”

Bonnie Sansenbaugher, a teacher from last year’s workshop on Lake Erie, made sure she took advantage of the experience and didn’t return to her classroom empty-handed.

“As we were covering the curriculum portion of the workshop I was making notes of which lessons I will use for which class and which month I will cover that topic,” she wrote on the Center for Great Lakes Literacy blog. 

On July 12, the ship will set sail from Milwaukee, with stops in Manitowoc, WI on the 14th, and Frankfort, MI on the 16th. This year, four educators from Illinois and two from Indiana will be making the trip.

Teachers will be tweeting and blogging on this cruise as well. Look for them on twitter at #lakeguardian and on the Teacher Features page on the CGLL website.

Each year a different lake within the world's largest freshwater system goes under the microscope for this kind of intensive look-see. Next year it’s Lake Superior's turn.

This workshop is funded through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Wisconsin Sea Grant was a key partner in planning this year’s event.

-Abigail Bobrow


My Rain Garden Walk: Trials and tribulations on the streets of Champaign

When Anna Barnes and David Riecks originally installed their rain garden in 2010 they knew it might take a little work, but they were in for more than they thought. Ranging from the uncontrollable to the unavoidable they had their fair share of trouble. But it was nothing they couldn’t handle.

The couple took the opportunity to build their rain garden when the City of Champaign was putting in new sewer drainage and a driveway for their neighbor. Along with their neighbor, they decided to build their garden in the lawn space along the side of the road, as the city was going to dig up the whole area.

The garden itself is made up of two basins. The lower basin is along the road and the upper is on the main property, the sidewalk separating the two. The lower basin contains a variety of flowering plants and grass-like plants. When in full bloom the garden contains lavender, daffodils, black-eyed Susans as well as obsidian heuchera and dwarf goldenrod. The basin is lined with Pennsylvania sedge and Ice Dance sedge. The sedge helps keep the soil in place as well as protects the garden from things such as too much snow build up and salt. The upper basin now has brunnera, Pennsylvania sedge, and ‘Ice Dance’ sedge that shares space with the walnut tree in the front yard.

In the garden’s first years, it suffered from back to back droughts as well as a surprising foe, dogs. The upper basin originally had astilbe, ligularia, and osumnda. Not only were these plants unable to compete with trees roots, they were not drought proof either. Plants such as turtle heads, cardinal flowers, and ligularias in the lower basin could not survive with the extreme lack of water. Also, the garden did not thrive because their street is a popular path for dog walkers, so it was frequently urinated on. Dog urine contains chemicals that dry out plants and can lead to leaf burn. In addition, dogs walked through their garden, unintentionally damaging plants. 

Barnes explained that too few people understand that a single perennial can cost as much as a bag of grass seed, and that some people believe dog urine is no more harmful than water. She added a sign in the garden warning of the dangers of dog urine on their plants asking people to curb their dogs.

This led to changes in the original garden layout. The plants that couldn’t survive were replaced and some plants were moved around to protect others. For example, the Ice Dance sedge is now along the road in the lower basin, replacing the Pennsylvania sedge. Barnes did this strategically in response to the amount of snow and salt the area is exposed to. Barnes noticed the snowplow that cleans her neighborhood tends to pile up excess snow, and therefore, salt as well, along part of her garden. This damaged the Pennsylvania sedge that was supposed to keep the soil together and protect other flowers in the garden.

Barnes advice to homeowners who wished to start their own rain gardens, is that patience is key. “Really watch the site for a full year,” she said. She remembers that their landscape architect only saw the area of their potential garden in the fall, which heavily influenced the types of plants picked and their arrangement.

But these difficulties don’t discourage them. They look forward to watching their garden grow throughout the years.

“As time goes on it will look like a little prairie,” Barnes said.

They will have their little prairie in the midst of their city.

 -Victoria Figueroa


Case Study: Evanston plans for wise use of water

Municipalities throughout Illinois have been making determined efforts to conserve water though policy changes, education, outreach, and water-loss reduction strategies. The Illinois Section of the American Water Works Association (ISAWWA) Water Efficiency Committee and IISG assembled seven case studies from the ISAWWA Water Saver award applications to highlight water efficiency achievements. Evanston is our first story.

Evanston, a city of 74,500 that sits along Lake Michigan north of Chicago, developed a Water Conservation and Efficiency Plan through a grant from the  Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning Local Technical Assistance Program.

Community water efficiency and conservation plans are recommended in the Water 2050: Northeastern Illinois Water Supply/Demand Plan as a cost-effective strategy to ensure continued water availability in the face of growing regional water demands.

As a result of this plan, Evanston began to educate residents on how to reduce wasted water. It distributed  toilet leak detection testing kits, promoted WaterSense-branded bathroom fixtures, and encouraged drinking tap water. Evanston provided 9,300 gallons of tap water at city-sponsored events in 2014, eliminating the use of over 99,000 plastic 12-ounce bottles.

In addition, Evanston purchased new leak detection equipment and has completed a survey of the distribution system. The entire 157 mile system will be surveyed each year to minimize water loss due to aging water mains.

To read the Evanston case study, check out our Water Resources page.  
To learn more about water conservation planning, see U.S. EPA Water Conservation Plan Guidelines, http://www.epa.gov/watersense/pubs/guide.html.