9/30/14

September 30 is National Preparathon Day!

America's Preparathon is a campaign to raise awareness about hazards and encourage people to be prepared (obviously!) in the face of these potential events. Depending on where you live the risk of any hazard varies in Illinois and Indiana, we face the threats of floods, tornadoes, winter storms, and especially downstate, earthquakes.

As the climate changes and larger storms happen more frequently, the risk of flooding in the Midwest becomes more urgent. Through efficient infrastructure, smarter land use planning, and better forecasting, the likelihood and impact of high waters can be reduced. But, as individuals, we make smart choices to assess our risk and take preemptive action. For example, a simple, common sense step is to back up and secure important papers. You can also take more preventative measures like installing check valves in your sewer lines to prevent floodwater from backing up into the drains of your home.

This campaign is organized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. To find a multitude of resources, including comprehensive checklists, visit the Preparathon website. Follow IISG on Twitter today to read live tweets from the Climate Resilience Workshop in Chicago.

9/29/14

Caitie's canoe story: a Wolf Lake field trip

Caitie McCoy, our environmental social scientist, writes in today to tell us about a unique education experience: 

Last week, I ventured out of the office and into the field to hit the waters of the recently restored Wolf Lake with about 200 students from Hammond, IN. The weather was perfect for two days of canoeing and environmental education. Compassion for nature starts in childhood, so when asked by some partners at U.S. EPA, I jumped at the chance to help provide youth with such a meaningful outdoor experience.

We began our first day with an energetic greeting from Wilderness Inquiry, a national non-profit that aims to get as many city kids on the water as possible. The majority of the students had never been on any kind of boat before, but a friendly sun and slight breeze helped to calm a lot of nerves.

Students went out on the canoes in waves throughout the day, learning how to paddle and touring many restoration features. There were a lot of beautiful sites to see, including an egret that sat as still as a statue for hours on an island full of colorful native plants. Goldenrod, blue asters, and red maples dotted the landscape. With all the natural beauty surrounding us, we almost forgot that we were located in the middle of one of the country’s top industrial powerhouses .

The EPA team and I stayed busy providing the students with learning experiences as they waited for their turn on the canoes. We brought the Enviroscape, and it was a hit. Students loved the interactive nature of the game and learned a lot about their local watershed and what they can do to protect it from different pollution sources. We also took them on hikes by the lake, picking up litter and identifying different plant species.

We had a lot of fun teaching, but I must admit, the highlight of my two days at Wolf Lake was jumping into a canoe and paddling around on the calm water with the students. It was rewarding to see high school students drop their guard and excitedly point out different shorebirds or hear them discuss the need to clean up the pollution in northwest Indiana, completely unprompted by an adult. 

I’m grateful for our partnership with Wilderness Inquiry, and I hope to join them again next year. The opportunity is just too meaningful to miss!

9/26/14

Friday foto: Fishin' on a Sunday mornin' along Chicago's northside


In the news: EPA unveils second phase of efforts to reverse Great Lakes damage

The U.S. EPA announced a new plan to improve water quality and restore habitats in the Great Lakes earlier this week during a meeting of region's mayors in Chicago. The five-year plan, known as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan II, calls for a dramatic expansion of urban stormwater management projects and a more than 1,400 ton reduction in phosphorus fertilizer runoff. It also roughly doubles the number of acres covered by efforts to control invasive species and requires that new wetlands include plants that can thrive as climate change brings warmer temperatures.   

From The New York Times
It builds on a four-year initiative, begun in President Obama’s first term, that has already spent $1.6 billion on more than 2,100 restoration projects on the lakes’ American side. The added initiative, which extends through 2019, is expected to cost roughly the same. 
The government says the project is the largest conservation program in the nation’s history, involving 15 federal agencies and the eight Great Lakes states. Read more 
In addition to laying out new strategies, the latest phase of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative continues efforts to clean up Areas of Concern across the region, where polluted water and contaminated sediment pose a risk to wildlife and public health. Five of these largely industrial rivers and harbors have been restored in the last four years, and 10 more are slated for cleanup by 2019. 

9/25/14

LIVE! from the Lake Guardian: Bringing science to the classroom

Charleston, IL may be hundreds of miles from where the R/V Lake Guardian was collecting samples in Lake Erie earlier this week, but that didn't stop a group of sixth graders from taking a tour of the U.S. EPA vessel. From the comfort of their classroom, more than 60 students and teachers watched as EPA researcher Beth Hinchey Malloy talked about living and working on a boat and showed them around.

The tour started, of course, on the ship's deck and quickly moved inside to the labs, where scientists took a break from processing samples to explain how studying bug populations helps researchers judge the health of aquatic ecosystems. From there it was on to the galley to see what's for lunch and up to the bridge to chat with the captain. 

And the students had more than a few questions, particularly for the captain—Is it easy to drive the boat? How can you tell how deep the water is? Where does the Lake Guardian go?  

Students also got a sneak peak at the type of equipment they will use later this year to collect data on water characteristics like dissolved oxygen, conductivity, and pH. Their teacher, Pamela Evans, is one of several scheduled to use the Hydrolab to make science class more hands-on this year. 

The event ended after a jam-packed 30 minutes because another class was waiting on deck to take the tour. In fact, eight classes across the Great Lakes region got a first-hand look at the Lake Guardian this week. And this is just the beginning. The research vessel will soon dock for the winter, but video chats with EPA scientists will continue throughout the school year. 

The video chats and equipment loan program are all part of efforts by IISG and the EPA Great Lakes National Program Office to boost Great Lakes education. Teachers were introduced to the programs, along with other classroom resources, during the annual Shipboard Science workshop


9/24/14

IISG in the news: Looking at community resilience near polluted waterways

Community resilience is usually a concern in the face of turbulent change. In a recent issue of a University of Illinois publication highlighted an IISG research project that is using vulnerability measures to assess how two communities that have been designated Areas of Concern, due to high levels of contaminants, are coping with the disruption and after effects of sediment removal. Applying the concept from a different angle, Bethany Cutts and Andrew Greenlee are looking at how remediation has impacted the residents around the Lincoln Park-Milwaukee Estuary and portions of the Grand Calumet River in northwest Indiana.

From the Inside Illinois article:
“We’re applying the Vulnerability Index differently,” Greenlee said. “Instead of looking at disasters, we’re approaching it from the perspective of other types of disruptions – in this case the sediment removal itself, because that can have a huge effect on the surrounding people as well.”

“And it can be negative or positive,” Cutts said, “depending on how empowered and included in the process the community is.”
The researchers are also taking an innovative approach in methodology, which is providing real-world learning opportunities for U of I students. This was described in a Lakeside Views post earlier this year: 
Work is just beginning, but the project promises a lot of data collection and analysis over the next few years. That is where the students come in. They are all part of the Workshop in Urban Environmental Equity, an inter-departmental course focused on identifying historical demographic changes in the researched regions, as well as developing and piloting interview strategies that Cutts and Greenlee will continue to use well after the course is complete. Beyond being a big step forward for the research project, the workshop provides a unique opportunity for students to be a part of the design and implementation of a multidisciplinary, mixed-method research project—what one student called “the holy grail” of research.
Cutts and Greenlee's study will likely enhance efforts to connect with local residents during the remediation process, which is ongoing in many places in the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Legacy Act has been a catalyst for cleaning up waterways and, for many of these projects, IISG has played a key role in informing and engaging local residents, especially in the Grand Cal region. There, IISG's social scientist Caitie McCoy has worked closely with several schools  as well as the larger community. And hot off the presses, she also oversaw a needs assessment of community attitudes regarding the cleanup  in Milwaukee County's Lincoln Park.
Work is just beginning, but the project promises a lot of data collection and analysis over the next few years. That is where the students come in. They are all part of the Workshop in Urban Environmental Equity, an inter-departmental course focused on identifying historical demographic changes in the researched regions, as well as developing and piloting interview strategies that Cutts and Greenlee will continue to use well after the course is complete. Beyond being a big step forward for the research project, the workshop provides a unique opportunity for students to be a part of the design and implementation of a multidisciplinary, mixed-method research project—what one student called “the holy grail” of research. Situated at the intersection of social and economic shifts, environmental restoration, planning, and policy, the course and the research can have tremendous benefits for ongoing and future remediation projects and the coastal communities.  - See more at: http://lakesideviews.blogspot.com/2014/03/u-of-i-course-combines-social-science.html#sthash.U30ulI1z.dpuf
Work is just beginning, but the project promises a lot of data collection and analysis over the next few years. That is where the students come in. They are all part of the Workshop in Urban Environmental Equity, an inter-departmental course focused on identifying historical demographic changes in the researched regions, as well as developing and piloting interview strategies that Cutts and Greenlee will continue to use well after the course is complete. Beyond being a big step forward for the research project, the workshop provides a unique opportunity for students to be a part of the design and implementation of a multidisciplinary, mixed-method research project—what one student called “the holy grail” of research. Situated at the intersection of social and economic shifts, environmental restoration, planning, and policy, the course and the research can have tremendous benefits for ongoing and future remediation projects and the coastal communities.  - See more at: http://lakesideviews.blogspot.com/2014/03/u-of-i-course-combines-social-science.html#sthash.U30ulI1z.dpuf
Work is just beginning, but the project promises a lot of data collection and analysis over the next few years. That is where the students come in. They are all part of the Workshop in Urban Environmental Equity, an inter-departmental course focused on identifying historical demographic changes in the researched regions, as well as developing and piloting interview strategies that Cutts and Greenlee will continue to use well after the course is complete. Beyond being a big step forward for the research project, the workshop provides a unique opportunity for students to be a part of the design and implementation of a multidisciplinary, mixed-method research project—what one student called “the holy grail” of research. Situated at the intersection of social and economic shifts, environmental restoration, planning, and policy, the course and the research can have tremendous benefits for ongoing and future remediation projects and the coastal communities.  - See more at: http://lakesideviews.blogspot.com/2014/03/u-of-i-course-combines-social-science.html#sthash.U30ulI1z.dpuf

9/23/14

Hoosiers do their part to be SepticSmart

Indiana communities along Lake Michigan are celebrating this year’s SepticSmart Week, Sept. 22-26, by reminding homeowners of the importance of septic system maintenance to environmental and public health.

An estimated 60,000 households in Lake, Porter, and LaPorte counties depend on septic systems to treat wastewater. Without regular maintenance, these systems can backup or overflow, contaminating nearby lakes, rivers, and groundwater supplies with everything from excess nutrients to E. coli to pharmaceutical chemicals. Septic system failures are also one of the primary causes of beach closures in Indiana.  

To prevent failures, U.S. EPA and the Northwest Indiana Septic System Coordination Work Group has some advice for homeowners:
 
  • Protect it and inspect it: Have your system inspected every three years by a licensed contractor and have your tank pumped when necessary, typically every 3-5 years. Many septic system failures occur during the holiday season, so be sure to get your system inspected and serviced now before inspectors’ schedules fill up around the holidays.
  • Think at the sink: Avoid pouring fats, grease and solids down the drain. These substances can clog pipes and the drain field.
  • Don’t overload the commode: Only put things in the drain or toilet that belong there. Coffee grounds, dental floss, diapers and wipes, feminine hygiene products, cigarette butts, and cat litter can clog and damage septic systems.
  • Don’t strain your drain: Be water efficient and spread out water use. Fix plumbing leaks and install faucet aerators and water-efficient products. Spread out laundry and dishwasher loads throughout the day. Too much water at once can overload a system that hasn’t been pumped recently.
  • Shield your field: Remind guests not to park or drive on the drain field, which could damage buried pipes or disrupt underground flow.
The Northwest Indiana Septic System Coordination Work Group brings together federal, state, and local governments and agencies, state and county health departments, and not-for-profits to provide homeowners with information and assistance on the proper care of septic systems. IISG’s Leslie Dorworth has been a part of the group since it began in 2012. For more information or to get involved locally, contact Dorreen Carey at the Indiana DNR Lake Michigan Coastal Program at 219-921-0863 or dcarey@dnr.in.gov.

SepticSmart Week is part of U.S. EPA’s year-round SepticSmart program. In addition to educating property owners, the program is an online resource for industry practitioners, local governments and community organizations that provides access to tools to educate clients and residents.

9/22/14

Six ways to avoid unwanted medicines in your home

Recently the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) proposed new regulations that will allow pharmacies to collect medicines that people no longer need, including controlled substances. If this comes to pass, it will become much easier for you to safely get rid of unwanted or expired pharmaceuticals. The result is that fewer chemicals end up in local waterways.

This is good news. But, while bringing our unwanted medicines to take back sites is a good idea, there are other ways that everyone can help prevent medicines from impacting aquatic wildlife or even our drinking water. We can address the problem from the other direction—reduce the amount of unwanted medicine in your home by being careful about bringing pharmaceuticals in to your home in the first place. Here are some tips:
  • Purchase only as much medicine as you need.
  • Say “No” to samples if you know that you won’t use them.
  • Talk with your doctor about possible side effects, drug interactions, and the cost of medications. This can save you money as well as reduce pharmaceutical waste.
  • When starting a new medication, ask your doctor to prescribe a limited quantity. Don’t automatically purchase a 30-, 60-, or 90-day supply. That way, if the medication doesn't suit you, less goes to waste. Do the same for your pet’s medications.
  • Keep track of what medications are in the home so that you don’t inadvertently purchase a product that you already have.
  • Store medicine at the proper temperature and humidity as recommended on the label. Due to high humidity, a bathroom is not always the best place to store medicine.  
On September 27, 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., you can bring your unwanted medicines to the final DEA National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. To find a location near you, visit the DEA National Take-Back Initiative. If you are looking for other medicine collection opportunities or would like to organize one in your town, visit unwantedmeds.org. There, you can easily connect with IISG Unwanted Meds on social media to see the program's latest videos and learn the latest news on medicine disposal.

9/19/14

Friday Foto: Centennial Fountain


Along the Chicago River, the Centennial Fountain becomes a water cannon on the hour. While the weather is still nice, download the Chicago Water Walk app and head to the water to learn more about the Chicago River and the downtown lakefront. Photo courtesy of Gregg Woodward. To see more of our photos, visit iisg.photoshelter.com.

9/18/14

Social science leads to community stewardship in Wisconsin's Lincoln Park

Exciting changes are coming to Wisconsin’s Lincoln Park, part of the Milwaukee River Area of Concern. Phase two of Great Lakes Legacy Act efforts to remove historical contaminants from the river bottom is set to begin next month. And park neighbors and stakeholders from across Milwaukee County are already well on their way to launching a Friends of Lincoln Park group that will help foster greater community stewardship.

More than 20 neighbors came together for the first time earlier this month to get to know each other, discuss potential group goals, and brainstorm ways to achieve them. They were joined by numerous local and regional organizations interested in protecting Lincoln Park, including University of Wisconsin Extension, Milwaukee County Parks, the Park People, and the Illinois-Indiana and Wisconsin Sea Grant programs.

Nothing is official yet, but the meeting ended with two main goals on everyone’s mind: fostering a sense of community with the park at the center and protecting the local environment.

“For a long time, the park was very community centered, but it has become more of an outsider attraction in the last few decades,” said Caitie McCoy, IISG’s social scientists and co-host of the meeting. “The group had great ideas for re-energizing community interest with events that bring locals out to enjoy all the resources the park has to offer.”

The idea for a Friends group took shape during focus groups conducted this spring by Caitie and UW-Extension’s Gail Epping-Overholt. They spoke with a variety of people living or working near Lincoln Park to better understand community perceptions of the park and ongoing sediment remediation efforts. When the results of the needs assessment were in, it was clear that residents were interested in forming the Friends of Lincoln Park.

The results will also play a key role in shaping public outreach and project messaging as dredging kicks off again this fall for phase two of the remediation. More than 120,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment have already been removed from the Lincoln Park segments of the Milwaukee River, and this next round of dredging is expected to remove another 35,000 cubic yards. Together with cleanup efforts in nearby Blatz Pavilion lagoon, the two Lincoln Park projects are expected to reduce the amount toxic PCBs flowing into the Milwaukee River system by 70 percent, a drop that will go a long way towards delisting the AOC. 

To learn more about recommendations to come out of the needs assessment, download the full report from our products page. And if you live in the area and are interested in joining the Friends of Lincoln Park, come out to the next meeting on October 9. Contact Caitie McCoy at cmccoy2@illinois.edu for more information.   

Special thanks to IISG interns Erika Lower and Mark Krupa for their help analyzing and the results of the needs assessment and to Jane Harrison at Wisconsin Sea Grant for taking notes during the focus groups and helping to coordinate the Friends meetings. 

***Photo courtesy of University of Wisconsin-Extension.

9/17/14

Reducing the use of lawn chemicals prevents pollution in nearby waterways

Lawn care decisions play a large role in local water quality and the health of aquatic wildlife. The fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals we put on our lawns can be washed into nearby lakes and rivers in stormwater runoff. Once there, these pollutants spur algae growth, clog gills, decrease resistance to disease, and suffocate eggs and newly hatched larvae. 

The IISG-led Lawn to Lake program continues to educate homeowners, landscapers, and master gardeners on natural lawn care practices that can improve soil health and protect water quality. The program works with community partners across the region to conduct training workshops and provide 'how to' resources for a range of audiences. 

Lawn to Lake outreach has led to management changes on an estimated 22,415 lawn acres. These changes are expected to reduce the use of lawn care chemicals, including weed and feed, by more than 3 million pounds a year, protecting nearby aquatic ecosystems from chemical-laden runoff while fostering healthy lawns. 

To learn more about how IISG is empowering communities and individuals to secure a healthy environment, check out our 2013 program impacts

9/16/14

Nab the Aquatic Invader! now a one-stop-shop for AIS projects

Our education team is at it again! Allison Neubauer wrote in with this exciting announcement: 

Teachers across the Great Lakes region—have we got a treat for you! You can now explore creative projects from all-star educators to spark new ideas and read important tips for getting your students involved in the effort to “nab” local aquatic invaders.

The IISG education team has been working hard to compile model projects that successfully tie together AIS education and community stewardship. Our revamped Nab the Aquatic Invader! website will help you up your game—and the new-and-improved Top Desk Administrator is your one-stop-shop for project ideas.

Community stewardship projects like the ones highlighted here are an exceptional tool for pushing students beyond rote memorization and providing them with an opportunity to apply their knowledge in ways that have positive impacts on their communities.

Preview outstanding examples of student work, ranging from fun informational activity books to catchy musical compilations. When you’re done perusing, read the summary reports written by the teachers responsible for these successful activities for information on how to plan and implement similar projects in your own classroom.

The Nab the Aquatic Invader! website is the place for the latest and greatest invasive species project models, information, and activities. For more terrific educational materials, check out IISG’s education products.

9/15/14

In the news: Grass carp may be the Asian carp most likely to establish in Lake Erie

When researchers and the media talk about Asian carp reaching the Great Lakes, they are typically referring to bighead and silver carp, the two voracious phytoplankton eaters that are wreaking havoc in places like the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. But the species most likely to establish in Lake Erie may actually be a third member of the Asian carp family: grass carp

From The Voice

“Grass carp are a different kind of fish and pose different kinds of risk than bighead and silver carp,” said Jeff Tyson, administrator of the Lake Erie Fisheries Program Administrator for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Tyson addressed a meeting of environmental writers at Ohio State University’s Stone Lab in Lake Erie on Aug. 18. “We know we have some grass carp in the system. Grass carp impact the system through their impacts on structure and vegetation. They consume huge amounts of vegetation.”

Grass carp could put Lake Erie at risk “by damaging habitats and damaging fish in communities given the documented reproduction of grass carp in large rivers,” according to the Ohio Asian Carp Tactical Plan, 2014-2020. “Grass carp can also decimate submersed aquatic vegetation that is critical to migrating waterfowl and other water birds.” Read more


**Photo courtesy of Eric Engbretson, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bugwood.org. 

9/12/14

Interns Catherine and Jennifer tackled key water supply planning issues

Our summer internship program has wrapped up for another year. This year, seven students and recent graduates worked with our specialists on a broad range of issues, including AIS prevention, sediment remediation, and water supply planning. Catherine Kemp and Jennifer Egert spent their summer working with Margaret Schneemann, IISG's water resource economist. 

Catherine's work this summer focused on outdoor water conservation and natural lawn care outreach. As part of this, the University of Illinois student teamed up with Kane County and the Northwest Water Planning Alliance to create library displays highlighting a few easy steps homeowners can take to conserve water and reduce landscaping pollution. 

"I also organized a composting workshop for gardeners and worked on a white paper exploring the connection between sustainable look food systems and water. My projects covered such a diverse range of topics that my internship was really engaging and enjoyable. It was so great to work on issues that I am passionate about. 

There are so many organizations that inform and implement environmental policies in the Chicagoland area. I have learned a lot about the work they do and the importance of the large amounts of collaboration that occur here. My internship really opened my eyes to the opportunities available to me in the future." 

Jennifer, a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, dedicated her internship to creating a new, condensed version of the Full-Cost Water Pricing Guidebook using updated data.

"I worked with Margaret to collect water rate data from 284 municipalities in northeastern Illinois and used GIS software to design effective visuals and maps summarizing municipal water rate changes over the past five years. I also included supplemental policy recommendations based on the visuals created along with best management practices for incorporating full-cost water pricing across the region. 

What I enjoyed most about this internship was having the chance to use skills gained from my environmental science education and apply them to a project that has real implications for citizens in the area. I got to go home every day feeling like I had accomplished something worth-while that will benefit our environment and precious natural resources." 

Both Jennifer and Catherine say they will continue working on environmental issues after they graduate. Catherine plans to join the Peace Corps's environmental program, while Jennifer hopes to work in environmental law and policy. 

9/11/14

Take a minute to learn about pollution prevention

Laura Kammin, our pollution prevention specialist, has some exciting news. Let's let her tell you about it:

If you only had a minute, what would you say?

Just one minute to explain what pharmaceutical waste is and how people can help reduce it. That was the challenge posed by our new pollution prevention team members Erin Knowles and Adrienne Gulley

Challenge accepted! Here it is, the first installment of the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant Pollution Prevention Minute.



We know it’s a long name. But don’t worry, the content isn’t. They're one—ok, maybe sometimes closer to two—minute videos that give easy-to-understand answers to some of the more complicated questions surrounding the use, storage, and disposal of pharmaceuticals and personal care products.

Why videos? We are always getting asked questions like “what happens to the medicine that gets collected?” and “what are microbeads?” We think these new videos are a fun way to share the answers.

If you like them too, send us more questions. Contact Erin Knowles at eknowles@illinois.edu or on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.

And be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel and watch for the next episode of IISG’s Pollution Prevention Minute.  

ShareThis