Friday foto: New hope for the Little Cal

Here by the west branch of the Little Calumet River, Joe Exl, senior water resources planner at the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission, explains an initiative that will facilitate pollution reduction and habitat restoration of the nearby Deep River-Portage Burns WaterwayThis waterway drains about 180 square miles in Lake and Porter counties and is the largest of six watersheds located within the Little Calumet-Galien sub-basin. Leslie Dorworth, IISG aquatic ecologist specialist, is helping with community outreach on the project. 


Looking back, it's been a very good IISG year

This has been a good year for Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. Working with our many partners, big projects reached their culmination, in some cases providing researchers and decision makers new ways to access data. And the spotlight was turned on Lake Michigan for research and education. Here are10 important stories from 2015.

The year started with big research news that southern Lake Michigan has high concentrations of plastic microfibers, which are likely from clothing that sheds in the wash. This news was picked up by media outlets around the world, including the Associated Press, The New York Times, The Guardian, and the Chicago Tribune.

2015 saw the release of the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy, which laid out a plan to reduce the flow of nutrients down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. This strategy was developed with input from a range of stakeholders, including government agencies and agricultural producers.

Be a Hero is now the primary invasive species awareness campaign in Illinois. Recreational water users have heard this message, but now the campaign provides easy tips to help water gardeners, teachers, and aquarium hobbyists curb the spread of aquatic invaders. Plus, Be a Hero provides guidance to hunters, campers, and hikers to prevent the spread of species that threaten habitat on land.

The Grand Calumet River in Indiana just keeps getting better. Another section of this long polluted waterway has been cleaned up through Great Lakes Legacy Act funding and that of many local and state partners. Remediation of the Kennedy to Cline Avenues section led to the removal of 1.1 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment.

Twice this year, it was Lake Michigan’s turn for ongoing projects that rotate yearly around the Great Lakes. First, the Lake Michigan Cooperative Science and Monitoring Initiative (CSMI) brought together agencies and scientists to study the nearshore environment, which ultimately will help inform management decisions. CSMI is part of a larger binational effort to advance Great Lakes monitoring and research.

Second, this was the year for the Shipboard Science Workshop on Lake Michigan, in which 15 teachers spent a week aboard the U.S. EPA R/V Lake Guardian working with researchers and learning about Great Lakes science.

IISG has developed new tools to help scientists enhance their research and help decision makers, and others make informed choices. Great Lakes Monitoring is a web application that provides the means for environmental data from across the Great Lakes region to be just a click away.

For communities looking to set water prices smartly, the Northeast Illinois Water and Wastewater Rates Dashboard allows them to compare rates with communities in the region that have similar characteristics. Setting the right price for water is the first step in managing water supplies sustainably.

In our latest issue of The Helm, we report on a tool under development for critical facilities in Cook County to reduce flooding impacts. Through answering a series of questions, facilities managers can assess how the building might be vulnerable to flood damage, and how this risk can be addressed.

Finally, IISG installed a second buoy in the waters of Lake Michigan. This one is off the shores of Wilmette, Illinois, joining the first one in the Indiana waters near Michigan City. These buoys provide key information to the National Weather Service, researchers, boaters, anglers, and beach goers alike. 

As we look forward to 2016, we thank partners, stakeholders, and many others that we worked with and supported to achieve noteworthy goals.


New tool will help Cook County critical facilities reduce flooding impacts

Flooding is always hard on a community, but when hospitals, mass transit, utilities, and others that impact the health and safety of residents are under water, these facilities may not be able to provide critical services or may even be forced to shut down. This leaves residents and businesses vulnerable to other threats and makes flood recovery ever more challenging.

To combat these hazards, IISG and the Midwestern RegionalClimate Center (MRCC) have joined forces with the Cook County Department ofHomeland Security and Emergency Management to assess the vulnerability of critical facilities throughout Cook County and to work directly with building managers on adaptation steps that could reduce their risks in the face of future flooding events.

The heart of the project is the Flood Vulnerability Assessment for Critical Facilities, which is an assessment tool. This set of questions will help Cook County managers determine a facility’s risk based on factors like its proximity to a flood plain, past flooding issues, stormwater drainage systems, and the location of key systems like back-up generators and computer servers. Facilities may also be able to use the tool to evaluate current emergency communication plans for heavy rainfall and determine whether improvements are necessary. After a pilot phase, the final assessment tool will be made available online for facilities beyond Cook County.

What’s more, to help managers plan with an eye on the future, the project team will use historic rainfall data and climate forecasts to pinpoint the frequency of heavy storms now and predict how that rate may change as the climate does. The Reducing Flooding Vulnerability of Chicago Critical Facilities project is led by Molly Woloszyn, IISG and MRCC extension climate specialist, and Beth Hall, MRCC director, with additional support from the Coordinated Hazard Assessment and Mapping Program at the Illinois StateWater Survey. Funding is provided through the National Sea Grant Office as part of the Community Climate Adaptation Initiative, which is focused on helping communities prepare for climate change.

This story appears in the latest edition of The Helm


UpClose: An insider’s view of plastic pollution research

The latest edition of the UpClose interview series takes readers behind-the-scenes of Great Lakes plastic research.

In 2012, chemist Lorena Rios-Mendoza took part in the first-ever sampling of microplastics in the lakes, a project that revealed that Lake Erie has a higher concentration of minute particles than the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Since then, she has led a number of studies to improve understanding of the chemicals that build up on the surface of microplastics and how photodegradation affects those chemicals and the plastics themselves.
UpClose with Lorena Rios-Mendoza is the tenth issue of the award-winning Q&A series that gives readers an insider’s view of research on emerging contaminants. The series kicked off in 2012 with Timothy Strathmann, an environmental engineer at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Later editions featured the work of John Kelly, a microbiologist at Loyola University Chicago, Rebecca Klaper, an ecologist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Dana Kolpin and Barbara Mahler.

Each interview highlights a unique component of emerging contaminant research—everything from tracing their source to understanding how they impact aquatic life. Readers also learn about the complex, and sometimes tricky, process of conducting field studies and the potential implications of research on industries and regulations.

UpClose is produced by Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and the Illinois Water Resources Center. Editions are available in print and online. For print copies, contact Laura Kammin at lkammin@illinois.edu.


Friday Foto: A misty Sunday morning over Chicago

What's more impressive from an airplane--the beautiful and massive Lake Michigan or Chicago's world class skyline peaking through the mist?


Fall 2015 issue of The Helm is now available!

Check out the latest issue of The Helm now available in print and online.

Highlights include: the expansion of Indiana aquaculture, new tools to reduce the impacts of flooding in Chicago, Grand Calumet remediation milestones, and research findings on the impacts of pharmaceuticals on Lake Michigan minnows.

You can subscribe to our e-newsletter to make sure you never miss an issue, and you can always view past issues of The Helm here


Wisconsin drug collection program arrest shows the system works

Recently it was reported that a police officer was allegedly stealing drugs from the medicine take-back program in Sauk Prairie, Wisconsin. I was disappointed when I first read the news. Then I was relieved, because the check and balance system worked just as it was designed to do.

Medicine take-back programs are set up to help prevent drug diversion and to keep unwanted medication out of the water. Many are located in police departments precisely because the threat of diversion is so high—some of the chemicals collected are highly addictive. So the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has set strict guidelines for collection programs to follow. There are checks and balances to make sure that the medicines that are collected are destroyed using best management practices and that they are not diverted from the locked collection boxes. The system is in place so that people can feel secure knowing that the medications they drop off cannot be removed out of the box except by those authorized to do so.

But what if the ones authorized to do so become lured by these drugs, even at the risk of losing their health, their career, and the trust of their police department and their community? The system is designed to prevent that sort of diversion as well.

In this situation it seems to have worked—other officers noticed odd behavior and took the appropriate steps. Regardless of whether the officer charged in the case is found to be guilty or not, this must certainly be a sad and frustrating time for the Sauk Prairie Police Department as they review their policies and procedures for the program.

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant helped set up the Sauk Prairie Police Department medicine take-back program, so as the IISG pollution prevention specialist, I think it is worth reminding the other programs that we work with, and the thousands of other take-back programs around the country, that having two officers managing the collection box is critical (and required by the DEA), but it may not be enough. Having others on staff who are paying attention to the program is not only responsible, it also helps maintain accountability.

These programs are not just about lessening the impacts of pharmaceuticals in the environment—they are about trying to stem the rising tide of drug abuse in the United States. They are about helping to protect lives.

The Sauk Prairie Police Department medicine take-back program provides an important service for their communities. I’m thanking them for hosting the program and for being transparent when something allegedly goes awry.

And thank you to all of the other law enforcement agencies that host medicine take-back programs. You are protecting and serving people and the environment. Please keep up the good work.

By Laura Kammin, IISG Pollution Prevention Program Specialist, visit unwantedmeds.org


IISG's 2016 Knauss fellows will be doing NOAA fisheries work

In late November, the 2016 Knauss Fellowship finalists from around the Sea Grant network met in Washington D.C. for a week to sort out where each will be working in the coming year. Over the week, the finalists interview for positions and try to match their skills and interests with agencies and legislators who are also looking for just the right person.

The Knauss fellowship provides a unique educational experience to students who have an interest in ocean, coastal and Great Lakes resources and in the national policy decisions affecting those resources. The program matches highly-qualified graduate students with "hosts" in the legislative and executive branches of government for a one year paid fellowship. This year, IISG had two finalists attending placement week.

Lauren Fields, who recently finished her PhD at the University of Illinois, will be a foreign affairs fellow with NOAA Fisheries Office of International Affairs and Seafood Inspection. This position reflects her long dedication to fish biology in the Antarctic waters. She has a particular interest in the Antarctic toothfish.

A Purdue University graduate, Sarah Stein will also be involved with NOAA fisheries work. For the year of 2016, she will hold the titles of executive secretariat and fisheries science coordinator in the Fisheries Office of Science and Technology. Sarah also has a rich history studying fisheries, but with a local focus. Her PhD dissertation study was centered on fish recruitment in southern Lake Michigan river mouth habitats.

If you are interested in applying to be a Knauss fellow, the deadline for 2017 positions is February 12. Visit our Fellowship page for more information on this and other fellowship opportunities.


IISG funds four new research projects

Residents of Illinois, Indiana, and the broader Great Lakes region will benefit from new IISG research. Altogether, the four, two-year projects will receive more than $780,000 starting in 2016.

John Kelly, a Loyola University biologist, will survey eight major rivers around the lake to
trace the origins of microplastics pollution and what river characteristics—such as
surrounding land use or nearby wastewater treatment plants—may be driving this.

Purdue University’s Zhao Ma will lead an interdisciplinary team that seeks to reduce
nutrients, sediment, and E. coli contamination in southern Lake Michigan. The team will use models to assess best management practices (BMP) for reducing runoff and the willingness of individuals to implement these BMPs. Looking at these two approaches together will allow them to optimize the best courses of action to reduce overall pollution.

A project led by SaraMcMillan, who studies biogeochemistry and hydrology at Purdue University, will examine drainage ditch design from multiple perspectives. McMillan will compare designs that improve long-term stability and ecological effectiveness.

And Beth Hall, Midwestern Regional Climate Center director, will work with Paul Roebber of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to improve how flash flooding events in urban centers are predicted and communicated. Hall and Roebber’s project is partially funded by Wisconsin Sea Grant.


Indiana governor appoints IISG staffer to Land Resources Council

Sustainable Communities Extension Specialist Kara Salazar received word earlier this week that Governor Mike Pence chose her as one of four council members to serve on the Indiana Land Resources Council.

The council serves as a resource for local communities to provide information and expertise on land use and zoning issues.

Salazar's affiliation with Purdue University Extension has helped communities throughout Indiana identify issues that impact their sustainability and land use policies. She will serve a four-year term through November 15, 2019.