8/31/15

Asian carp lure new business ideas to Peoria

Optimism was high at the International Conference Asian Carp in Peoria a week ago Friday. The goal of this event, sponsored by the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council, was to bolster the economy of the region by networking and sharing ideas and information on marketing Asian carp. And many of the attendees were very interested in exploiting this fishery.

Natural resource managers and entrepreneurs have a similar goal at this point, which is to remove Asian carp from the Illinois River. This bodes well for the river’s future.

IISG was in the room to share outreach information about Asian carp to participants from as far away as China and South America. The audience also represented a variety of professions, including researchers, food service professionals, processors, investors, and more.

In recent years, several Midwest businesses have jumped into the carp market. Schafer Fisheries, for example, has developed new products, such as dog treats and liquid fertilizer, but also processes fillets. Asian carp species have a mild flavor, and the conference crowd was treated to a variety of inventive carp dishes, from spring rolls to chili, which were all delicious.

The “if you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em” mantra has reaped some rewards. Matt O’Hara, with Illinois Department of Natural Resources, reported that the three-year catch at Marsielles Pool along the Illinois River has steadily declined. The leading edge of Asian carp moving towards the Great Lakes has stayed miles away from this critical freshwater resource.

If the enthusiasm at the conference translates to successful businesses, at some point they will need to be prepared to diversify when carp species have been reduced to manageable levels. At that point, they may be able to shift to native fish, which, in fact, are more lucrative.

Peoria was also the host for the annual Asian carp bowfishing tournament on Saturday, and IISG was there to talk with participants about how to prevent the spread of Asian carp and other invasive species. Both events were rescheduled from July due to high waters earlier in the summer. As it turns out, flood waters are very good for spawning. It's likely that we'll see Asian carp numbers increase in the future because they had a good spawn this year.

-Sarah Zack, AIS outreach specialist

8/28/15

Friday Foto: Sometimes green is yellow

Green infrastructure that is. Rain gardens and urban prairies don't just help with stormwater run off and flood prevention. They can take you through the seasons. Springtime blooming in the Midwest starts with the yellow sprays of the forsythia bush. Summer comes around to yellow again in a big way as it draws to a close with goldenrod, attracting busy bees, butterflies, and more.

8/26/15

Case Study: Highland Park water conservation heads in the right direction

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. 

Highland Park is the second story in our series.

Highland Park Case Study PDF
Highland Park is located on Lake Michigan about 25 miles north of Chicago. The city of about 29,000 provides water to over 10,000 residences and businesses, as well as to several municipalities. It draws 30 million gallons per day from the lake, about half of which is sold contractually.

City leaders recognized the importance of responsible water resource management and took measures to make water distribution more efficient. In spring 2013, Highland Park established its Water Conservation and Efficiency (WCE) Initiative.

“Highland Park is a very progressive community, very conscious of all things green,” Donald Jensen, superintendent of Highland Park Water Plant said. “Sustainability is a big agenda item here for all of our elected officials, and it filters down through all the professional staff as well. That’s just the way business is done in Highland Park.”

The main component of this initiative was the 3-tier conservation water pricing plan, including annual reviews to assess the program’s influence on conservation behavior and on revenue. The city would then make necessary adjustments to the rate structure.

The city implemented the tiered rate plan in 2014. The majority of single-family customers in Highland Park used water at a rate that was unaffected by the new initiative. However, city officials found that residents using high volumes of water saw increases in their water rates.

Highland Park’s schedule of quarterly meter reading was also seen as a drawback since residents receive their bill up to four months after water use. Beginning in the spring of 2016, the city is converting to Automated Meter Reading technology that will permit more frequent meter readings to provide timelier price signals to residents.

“The more frequently the meters are read, and the bills are sent out the more likely it is the tier-grade system is to have an impact,” Jensen said. “And of course our goal isn’t to generate income, it’s to conserve water.”

The second component of the WCE was to create a sprinkler system ordinance that would reduce the amount of water wasted by irrigation during the heaviest months. The ordinance contains sprinkling  restrictions as well as standards for new lawn irrigation systems.

Sprinkling restrictions, which are effective from May 15 until September 15, prohibit sprinkler use between the hours of 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. and limit lawn irrigation to odd-even days that correspond with the property address (odd-numbered properties are permitted to use sprinklers on odd-numbered days and likewise with even-numbered properties).

The installation of smart sensors will prevent sprinklers from running during precipitation. As of May 2013, all newly installed lawn irrigation systems will be equipped with weather-based sensors that meet EPA WaterSense standards.

“I think we’re headed in the right direction, (but) I think there’s a lot of work yet to do," Jensen said.

8/21/15

Friday Foto: Abe hangs with IISG educator at the state fair

IISG educator Allison Neubauer, left, and her friend pose with Abraham Lincoln at this year's state fair in Springfield.

A big thanks to everyone who stopped by IISG table in Conservation World!

8/20/15

Indiana school adopts Great Lakes Literacy Principles

“This is awesome! You guys are going to be the pedestal by which we hold everybody else up,” IISG environmental educator Kirsten Hope Walker proclaimed to a roomful of teachers last week at the Discovery Charter School in Porter, Ind.

What was so “awesome” is the school’s adoption and focus on the Great Lakes Literacy Principles for the upcoming year.  

Discovery Charter School, a public school of about 500 students from grades kindergarten through eighth, was founded six years ago with an emphasis on place-based education.

So what better place to learn about the Great Lakes when the Indiana Dunes and Lake Michigan are right within sight?

Last year Sarah Pavlovic, the school naturalist, and her colleagues began brainstorming ways to introduce the principles.

“When we put together the standards, we tried to tailor it to what we knew grade levels were already doing and already focusing on, so hopefully it would make it easy for them to expand upon it a little bit and think about it in terms of Great Lakes literacy,” Pavlovic said.

Allison Defrain, who has been teaching second grade for 10 years, is looking forward to the new approach to a well-worn topic.

"We've always taught weather, but never incorporated it with Great Lakes weather," Defrain said. "This year we're going to have to focus it more on our region and the Great Lakes and how it impacts this." 

That mindset is exactly what Pavlovic is aiming for.

“Even if they were doing the same things, if you could think about it in a different framework and you might draw in broader ideas," Pavlovic said. "I’m hoping that it will take off."

To learn more, check out the Great Lakes Literacy Principles website

8/17/15

IISG at Illinois State Fair impresses with Norbert the Nutria

Is that a muskrat? A beaver? A squirrel on steroids?

Nope. That’s Norbert the Nutria.

Norbert helped man the IISG table at this year’s Illinois State Fair in Springfield and his taxidermied presence drew stares.

Nutria, also known as river rats, are considered an invasive species, and were brought by fur ranchers to the United States from their native habitat in South America. 

Their aggressive burrowing and ravenous appetite near marshes and wetlands have caused extensive damage and displaced indigenous animals.

Louisiana, where they were introduced in the 1930s, had even tried to enact legislation to stem their population.

So, while some fairgoers thought his toothy face cute, his brown fur soft, his furless tail cool, most had no idea what a menace he and his family have become throughout not only parts of the United States, but Europe and Asia as well.

If you think you've spotted a nutria, you can report your sighting to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Be sure to stop by the IISG table in Conservation World at the fair. Norbert and IISG will be there through Friday.

8/14/15

Friday Foto: Lovin' the lake

Come celebrate the 2nd Annual Lake Michigan Day on Chicago's lakefront today and share your love of the lake!

Activities are being held in cities around the lake through August 
20. Check out the schedule

Photo by Irene Miles

8/10/15

Checking in with Knauss Fellow Alyssa Hausman

Taking an airboat tour of Blackwater National Wildlife
Refuge in Maryland to learn about efforts to eradicate
invasive nutria.
Alyssa Hausman, a master's student in environmental science at Indiana University, shares her experiences as a Knauss Fellow at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

I have had great experiences working with the Knauss fellows in the past, so when I started graduate school in 2012, I knew that this fellowship was an opportunity that I couldn’t afford to not pursue.

After an extensive application process, I found out last June that I was a finalist for the 2015 fellowship class as an executive fellow. As one of 40 executive fellows, I had a wide-range of offices and positions that I could potentially be placed in. Executive fellows placements span a range of departments: Commerce, Interior, Navy, Energy, and independent agencies such as the EPA and National Science Foundation.

After a daunting placement week, complete with 15 back-to-back interviews, I was placed with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — an agency dedicated to conserving fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats. My fellowship with the Service’s Division of Congressional and Legislative Affairs provides me the opportunity to engage the legislative branch on important wildlife issues, and even work alongside Knauss fellows in the legislative branch. My work so far has focused on the Endangered Species Act, coastal resources, and wildlife, and sport fish restoration.

Throughout the course of the fellowship, I have been able to visit various Service assets, including Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and the National Wildlife Repository. I recently spent a month in the Service’s regional office outside of Denver, Colo., which included a short trip to view conservation efforts in the Dakotas. These opportunities have taught me so much about the Service’s efforts on important issues that I do not work on directly, such as invasive species control, wildlife trafficking, and habitat conversion.

The National Wildlife Repository is responsible for 
receiving wildlife items that have been forfeited or
abandoned to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Now that I am half-way through my fellowship year and the next cohort of fellows has been selected, it is time for me to consider my next steps seriously.  I have greatly enjoyed my time so far working with the Service and hope that I will have the opportunity to continue working with the agency, whether it be within the agency or outside as a partner.

Regardless of where I end up in February, I am looking forward to being a part of the Knauss alumni network and maintaining the personal and professional relationships that I’ve developed with my peers in the fellowship.


8/7/15

Friday Foto: Good morning from Lake Michigan

This week's photo was taken by the newest member of our IISG team: Wilmette Buoy. She captured this sunrise at 6:01 this morning and will be photographing every hour throughout the day -- every day -- until 8:01 this evening.

You can find the rest of Wilmette Buoy's photos in the LimnoTech Webcam gallery. By the way, she also does video!

8/6/15

New buoy offers real-time Lake Michigan data

Boaters and beachgoers visiting the Chicago area this summer will have access to even more real-time data on lake conditions with a second nearshore environmental-sensing buoy that was launched in Lake Michigan on Tuesday, August 4, 2015.

The new buoy, located roughly four miles off the coast of Wilmette, Ill., relays information on wind speed, air and water temperature, wave height and direction, and other environmental characteristics from May to October each year.

Tom Palmisano, an owner of Henry’s Sports and Bait shop in Chicago, volunteered his boat and time to take out the anchor portion of the buoy.

“The buoy will be useful for anybody who does anything on the water,” said Palmisano, a longtime commercial and recreational diver. 

The Sheridan Shore Yacht Club in Wilmette donated use of their crane to lift the hulking sections — totaling over 600 pounds — into the water.

The TIDAS 900 Wilmette buoy is a joint project between Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) and LimnoTech to help advance understanding of nearshore waters, alert the public to hazardous conditions in real time, and improve weather forecasts. Staff from Purdue University Civil Engineering also assisted on the project. This one is also equipped with a webcam enabling people to actually see the conditions on the lake.

“This is a tremendous leap forward,” said Ed Fenelon, a National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist with the Chicago office. “Before this buoy, there was a data void in almost all of the nearshore area.” 

Data from the first buoy launched in 2012 off the coast of Michigan City, Ind., has already led to adjustments in wave forecast models and boosted understanding of fisheries and nearshore dynamics. 

Data from the Wilmette buoy will also be used to improve predictions of hazardous weather conditions and issue swim and small water craft advisories.

“To accurately forecast the future, you have to have a detailed measurement of current conditions,” Fenelon added. “This buoy will give us just that.”

Current lake conditions will be updated every 10 minutes and be available at the IISG Wilmette Buoy page. Photos and video footage is available at the LimnoTech Webcam gallery. The mobile-friendly sites highlight conditions of particular interest to recreational users, such as wave height, wind speed, and surface water temperature.

Along with graphs showing trends over recent time periods, this information will tell boaters and kayakers when it’s safe to be on the water and help anglers target specific species.

“We have talked with many different groups in the area, from anglers and boaters to scientists, and the response to the buoy has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Jay Beugly, IISG aquatic ecology specialist. “People are excited that this information is so easily accessible.” 

The Wilmette buoy was funded through the Great Lakes Observing System (www.glos.us), which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) greater Integrated Oceanic Observing System network (http://www.ioos.noaa.gov/).

Information collected from the buoys is also fed into the National Data Buoy Center (http://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/) operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the more localized http://greatlakesbuoys.org/Forecasters, researchers, and others can download raw historical data for Michigan City buoy ID 45170 or Wilmette buoy ID 45174 from any of these websites.


8/3/15

Rain Gardens: More than just pretty flowers


The first thing I noticed when walking toward Bob and Nancy Larson’s house is the beautifully manicured centerpiece in his perfectly trimmed lawn. It’s hard to miss. The tall plants grab your attention long enough to realize that not everything is green. A closer look and little spots of color start to stand out. There is purple from the Joe Pye Weeds, yellow from the black-eyed Susan and light blue from the wild prairie petunias. The garden shines.

But this garden is more than a centerpiece. It is a tool.

When the Larson's moved into their Champaign, Ill. home in 2009, they were excited to settle into their new neighborhood. However, just three days after they moved in, their basement flooded from the sanitary sewer backing up. It was then when Larson was made aware of the stormwater issues in his neighborhood. It also did not help that 2009 was the fifth wettest year on record since 1889. Seeing how having a flooded basement could become a continuous problem in the future, he decided to research ways he could prevent the buildup of water. That was when he discovered rain gardens. In conducting his research he became more and more interested in installing one of his own.

With the help of The Blue Thumb Guide, he started to design his own garden. He drew inspiration from designs he found in other books, online, and from visiting other gardens. When it was time to pick plants to place in his garden, he was drawn to native plants and made a conscious effort to seek those out. He visited nurseries to find the best plants for his garden, as well as using the book Native Plants in the Home Landscape for the Upper Midwest to organize his choices.

When it came time to start digging in his yard, Larson was optimistic, that is until he discovered there were layers of rocks under his soil. Even though this was an inconvenience for him, he patiently relocated the rocks and continued to carefully dig.

He placed the garden in the center of his front yard, to draw water away from his home. Blooming flowers on the outer part of the garden act almost as a lining. When in full bloom, there are many colors jumping out--they are very pronounced against the white of his house and really do act as a centerpiece in his lawn. In the center of the garden are plants with thicker stems as well as grass-like plants, such as purple coneflowers, sideoats grama, little bluestem, and big bluestem. This creates a very full yet manicured garden, yet the chaos that could happen with such a large array plants is contained.

Larson advises people to not over plant their garden as it can become more difficult to maintain a clean look, if that is what they want. He also stresses the importance of knowing the soil type. He has very fertile soil that drains well, so he chose not to add sand.

“I think it would have helped if I would have added sand to cut down on the fertility so stuff wouldn’t grow so big,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to do that afterwards.”

When installing a rain garden it is important to know what kind of garden your want, so even if you choose to do it on your own like Larson, it is still very manageable and attainable. 

-Victoria Figueroa 

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