“Turbidity” is not a rock band and the Hydrolab is still jammin'

Environmental educators gathered at Portage Lakefront in Indiana last Friday to attend a Hydrolab training workshop led by IISG community outreach specialist Kristin TePas.

The day kicked off with an activity to get an idea of the group’s knowledge of water quality parameters the Hydrolab, a sophisticated data-gathering instrument, is capable of measuring.

TePas asked the educators to write down what each parameter is, why it's measured, and what affects it.

One of the parameters, "turbidity," struck one Indiana educator, as a cool name for a band. After a good laugh, he and the larger group were able to come up with descriptions of what kind of information the Hydrolab is gathering when it's submerged, like calculating dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature, conductivity, and chlorophyll a.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent familiarizing educators with the equipment, how to borrow the Hydrolab through the Limno Loan program, and a variety of lessons and activities that would work well in their own educational settings.

With hands-on training under their belts and implementation plans drawn up, the Hydrolab is likely going to make some extra visits to Indiana in the coming months.


New video helps retailers do their part to fight AIS

Colorful fish and lush greenery that make up backyard oases sometimes include aquatic invasive species (AIS) purchased from well-meaning, but unaware retailers.

Wisconsin Sea Grant, in partnership with IISG and the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network have produced a new video, which is the latest tool in the effort to stop the spread of AIS. Beauty Contained: Preventing Invasive Species from Escaping Water Gardens is directed toward retailers, though consumers will surely appreciate the knowledge as well.

“It's a must-see for businesses that deal in water garden plants and animals, supplies or services. The health of our natural areas depend on responsible purchasing and disposal behaviors of water gardeners," said Greg Hitzroth, an IISG aquatic invasive species specialist. "Retailers are at a great advantage to provide this information to their customers.”

Purple Loosestrife, which arrived in the U.S. from Europe generations ago, provides a good example of a pretty plant that became an invasive species in its new environment. It now grows throughout the country and is taking over native vegetation, stifling plant diversity, and creating changes the nutrient cycling. Even the popular pond fish, koi, can disrupt habitats for native fish if it escapes or is released into waterways. Billions of tax dollars are spent every year trying to control the spread of these and many other aquatic invasive species.

The guidelines outlined in the video were adopted from the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council and the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force and address the care and selection of plants and animals for water gardens. This information and much more can be found at takeAIM.org and Release Zero.org


Friday Foto: Chicago's Northerly Island gets back to its roots

At one point, Northerly Island was part of the Century of Progress Exposition and then an airport until 2003, when Mayor Daley shut it down. This man-made island was was originally developed in 1920 as part of Daniel Burham's park plan. Now it has returned to its original intention. This 40-acre natural area opened several weeks ago. This is the beginning of a another beautiful green space in Chicago.


Checking in with Knauss Fellow Rachel Gentile

I am working as a fellow in Congressman Alan Lowenthal’s (D-Calif. 47th District) office.  When someone asks what a typical day looks like on Capitol Hill, it’s really difficult to answer.  

Every day is unique, and there are often surprises. When Congress is in session, the best-laid plans can be upended by the President deciding to drop in on Capitol Hill to meet with members, or a carefully orchestrated vote running off the tracks. 

I manage the activities of the Safe Climate Caucus, a group of more than 47 members who have made a point of talking about climate change in Congress.  I write speeches, op-eds, memos, and keep the members’ staffers up-to-date on the latest news and research around climate change.

I staff Rep. Lowenthal on some of his work on the House Committee on Natural Resources issues. I brief him on the topic of upcoming hearings, write talking points and questions, and develop amendments for markup. I attend a lot of briefings to hear what Executive agencies are working on and how other offices are thinking about natural resource issues.

Other Congressional staffer activities I’m involved in are drafting legislation, writing letters to send to administration officials, circulating Dear Colleagues, organizing briefings, and meeting with constituents. I also have to find time to research legislation and prepare vote recommendations. 

One question I often get is: “Do you have time off when Congress is not in session?”

The answer is “no.”  

Recess, as it is called, is the time when things go at a normal pace and I can actually get research and writing done. 

Congressman Lowenthal’s district includes the beautiful city of Long Beach and the picturesque Santa Catalina Island. I had the opportunity to visit in August and met so many wonderful people.  NOAA, USC-Sea Grant, and the Aquarium of the Pacific hosted us on a boat tour of the harbor, where we discussed the impacts of sea level rise on the district. 

I visited Catalina Island and learned about water infrastructure, the drought, and conservation efforts on the island. We gathered a group of people together to talk about how local researchers, government agencies, and businesses are working to understand the impacts of climate change and how to adapt.  I also headed north for a few days to visit the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary and discuss oil spills and whale-ship collisions in the Santa Barbara channel. 

I am loving my year in Congressman Lowenthal’s office and hope to continue to work on Capitol Hill when my fellowship ends. 


IISG is looking for a new program leader

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) has an opening for a talented person to oversee the program’s science-based projects, working with specialists, scientists, and community leaders. 

The program leader will be responsible for coordinating the development, expansion, and delivery of science-based programs that empower communities to make informed decisions about resilience and natural resource management. IISG currently supports 17 extension specialists and assistants and conducts community resilient outreach at local, regional, and national scales.

The program leader will also be an active member of the Resilient Watershed Initiative, and in that capacity will foster connections between Prairie Research Institute-based scientists and IISG outreach specialists.

This position will be housed in IISG’s office in Urbana, Illinois. For more information and to apply, visit the University of Illinois jobs board.


Science students experience Wildcat Creek feet first

Honors and AP high school students from Howard County, Ind. got their feet really wet Thursday at the 2015 Wildcat Experience at Wildcat Creek near Kokomo.

The program was started by Howard County Stormwater Technician Sarah Brichford with important goals for these high achievers.

Wildcat Creek is 84 miles long and a major tributary of the Wabash River. In 2003, a study showed that most of its pollutants are from urban and rural run-off and wastewater discharge. Since then, state and local governments have taken steps to stem the flow of contaminants.

Plus, they decided to bring youth into the picture.

“We wanted to get high school students who are taking biology and environmental sciences out into the community so they could see some local natural resources, and more importantly, some of the services and infrastructure that depend on the natural environment like wastewater, drinking water, and stormwater treatment,” Brichford said.

“That’s why we created this, so they could experience it live and in person.”

Six years and hundreds of students later, Wildcat Experience is thriving and educating students with the help of volunteers and IISG specialists.

Jay Beugly, an IISG aquatic ecologist, shared his expertise on the region’s fish and aquatic insects. He was also hoping to change a few minds about the pollution stigma the Wildcat carries to this day.

“Typically students that come to this don’t get in the water initially because they think it’s so polluted,” Beugly said. “But I hope they go home and tell family that it has a lot of good fish and insects that don’t occur in terrible streams. I hope that they’ll decide that Wildcat Creek is a lot better than they initially thought.”

So after fish, water, macroinvertebrate, and soil testing some of the students felt differently about the creek right in their backyard.

“There’s a lot more diversity than you would think there would be in Indiana,” senior Sarah Schwarzkopf said. 

“I always thought the Wildcat was really dirty, but after all the tests we did it’s really not that bad.”


Friday Foto: You can find a Lake Guardian teacher story in the Chicago Tribune

In July, 15 teachers from the Great Lakes region spent a week aboard the U.S. EPA research vessel, the Lake Guardian, on Lake Michigan, learning from scientists, Sea Grant specialists, and each other.

Mike Stoehrmann of Humphrey Middle School in Bolingbrook, Illinois (on the right) was featured this week in a Chicago Tribune story about his experience.

Mike is joined here by teachers John Gensic and Jed Freels, left and center.

Photo by Allison Neubauer


Purdue pharmacy now accepts unwanted medicine

Last week, the Purdue University Retail Pharmacy became the latest participant in IISG’s multi-state effort to help communities properly dispose of their expired, unused, and unwanted pharmaceuticals.

This is the first pharmacy-based collection program that IISG has helped to start. Collaborators also include the Yellow Jug Old Drugs medicine take-back program, and Purdue College of Pharmacy.

Laura Kammin, IISG pollution prevention program specialist, worked closely with Patricia Darbishire, a Purdue clinical associate professor of pharmacy practice, to get the ball rolling.

“The reason I wanted to work with Patricia is that I know we will get really good feedback on how the program works from the pharmacy’s perspective,” Kammin said. “And because they will be conducting surveys, we’ll have solid data that can help improve collection programs in other communities in Illinois and Indiana.”

The Yellow Jug Old Drugs program was started in 2008 by the Great Lakes Clean Water Organization working with pharmacies to collect and properly dispose of non-controlled substances to help reduce their impact on the Great Lakes.

In September of 2014, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) changed the rules to allow pharmacies to take controlled substances. Individuals with unwanted medications can visit a participating pharmacy and dispose of both types of drugs in the yellow container that contains a substance that renders the pharmaceuticals non-retrievable.

To date, The Yellow Jug Old Drug Program has properly disposed of more than 52 tons of prescription waste—which means a reduction of pharmaceuticals getting into waterways.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who is the co-chair and founder of the state’s Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force, was also in attendance.

"Nearly 80 percent of heroin users say they started out abusing prescription drugs, and prescription drugs are causing half of the drug overdose deaths in our state,” Zoeller said. “Purdue's participation in Yellow Jug Old Drugs will not only provide more disposal options to the community, it will instill in young people the risks of prescription drug abuse and hopefully save lives."

Kammin was excited about the enthusiasm among the partners. “We all agree that we want to get drugs out of the community safely and to reduce the environmental impacts of improper disposal,” Kammin said.

For more information about how to start a medicine take-back program in your community, contact Laura Kammin or Adrienne Gulley and check out more resources available at www.unwantedmeds.org.

Purdue University Retail Pharmacy accepts both prescription and over-the-counter medications, including pills, ointments, liquids, and creams, Monday though Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. 

The pharmacy is located at the Robert Heine Pharmacy Building, 575 Stadium Mall Drive, West Lafayette, Ind.


Friday Foto on Monday! A Great Lakes Sea Grant meeting at a lovely lake

Last week, the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network held their bi-annual meeting near Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont. In addition to hearing what's going in the network, and planning for new projects, we learned that this pretty lake suffers from similar environmental issues as its larger neighbors, with nutrient pollution being a special concern.


Clean Boat Crew connected with record number of boaters

With the boating season winding down for the year, Clean Boat Crew (CBC) volunteers and site leaders can take a deep breath knowing they engaged a record number of boaters, anglers, and other water recreationists this year to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS).

The CBC reached 4,431 water-lovers — 25 percent more than last year’s all-time high of 3,519 — at boat ramps and docks in 10 locations in Illinois and Indiana. The crews were out from Memorial Day weekend to August 9.

The program in its fifth year continued to educate about ways to prevent the transfer of AIS from one waterbody to another through simple cleaning techniques outlined in the Be a Hero – TransportZero™ campaign:
  • Remove plants, animals, and mud from all equipment
  • Drain all water from your boat and gear
  • Dry everything thoroughly with a towel
The crews distributed 8,000 pieces of outreach materials not only at busy marinas, but at several summer events: Gary’s Clean Water Days Festival, the Big Bass Bash, Hammond Marina’s Venetian Night, the Geoffrey Morris Memorial Fishing Tournament at North Point Marina, and Harbor Days at North Point Marina.

“The program continues to be well-received by the public, and more and more people recognize the message.  But there’s still a lot of curiosity about it, which leads me to conclude that there’s still work to be done,” said Sarah Zack, an IISG organizer of the program.

To date, CBC has engaged with more than 13,000 boaters, so if you’re interested in becoming a volunteer to further expand its reach, contact Sarah Zack.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources funded the Illinois program, and Indiana Department of Environmental Management funded the Indiana effort.


Friday Foto: Be Current Smart!

The weather is hot, the weekend is long. Perfect for one more trip to the beach! But be careful out there and Be Current Smart.


Intern update: Tipping Points' Josh Hewitt

My name is Josh Hewitt and I am a web developer intern for the IISG Tipping Points and Indicators project at Purdue University. I graduated from Purdue in the fall of 2014 with a degree in computer graphics technology (CGT) with a focus on web development.

I started in the summer and was really excited about working on the Tipping Points project. Tipping Points and Indicators is a collaborative program that gives watershed planning groups across the Great Lakes the information they need to protect natural resources and enhance local economies. The process evaluates the users' community characteristics, displays maps full of data about the watershed, and ends by creating action plans to achieve the desired goals of the user. The platform they use to do this is the web. 

That’s where I come in!

My job is to fix bugs on the website and to add features to give the user a better experience. Recently, we have talked about redesigning the layout of the website because the current design is a bit outdated. 

The past few weeks I have been talking with my team to figure out a layout that would enhance the users’ experience. I create mock-ups of layouts in Photoshop and then code it in Dreamweaver. We’re really excited to get this redesign done and show it to our users. We think they’ll be blown away with the improvement.

My internship has been great so far and I have learned A LOT. I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking to get some experience in web development. Not only is the web experience great but my team is really friendly and helpful. They’re always willing to give me advice when I’m stuck. 

Great experience. Great people. Great internship.

-Josh Hewitt