Category Archives: Water Resources

Feds Give U-M $20M For Great Lakes Research Institute

ANN ARBOR — The University of Michigan has been awarded a five-year, $20 million grant from the federal government to form a research institute focused on sustainable management of the Great Lakes.

The Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research, which will be hosted by UM and funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, represents a partnership between nine universities across the Great Lakes region, as well as multiple nonprofits and businesses.

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Five Groups Get Grants for Water Quality Monitoring

LANSING — Volunteers across the state are receiving grant funding from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to perform water quality monitoring work at streams in their area.

The grants are awarded through the MDEQ’s Michigan Clean Water Corps Volunteer Stream Monitoring Program to provide training and support for volunteers. These grants support the DEQ’s work to collect data on the state’s water resources.

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Michigan Sea Grant, Wayne State Host Freshwater Research Conference

ANN ARBOR — Freshwater researchers from the Great Lakes region and around the world are gathering at Cobo Center this week for the 60th annual conference of the International Association for Great Lakes Research.

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New report calls for increased monitoring of U.S. drinking water

ANN ARBOR —  Monitoring of drinking water supplies in the United States for chemical and microbial contaminants should be increased, especially for vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, infants and young children, according to the final report from a panel of scientists and engineers that advises President Obama.

In response to concerns about the safety of the nation’s drinking water, underscored by the revelations about lead in tap water in Flint, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology was asked last spring to investigate how science and technology could help ensure the safety of the nation’s drinking water.

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Grants available for volunteer efforts to clean Michigan’s waters

LANSING — The Michigan Department of Enivronmental Quality (MDEQ) and Great Lakes Commission announced the availability of $25,000 for small grants to support local efforts to clean up Michigan rivers, streams, and creeks.

Michigan’s Volunteer River, Stream, and Creek Cleanup Program supports grants to local units of government to help clean Michigan waterways. Local units of government may partner with nonprofit organizations or other volunteer groups to carry out the work. A 25 percent minimum local match is required.

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Weather the Storm: Improving Great Lakes Modeling

By Allison Mills
Michigan Technological University

The Great Lakes are more like inland seas. From the cold depths of Lake Superior fisheries to the shallow algae blooms of Lake Erie, the bodies of water differ greatly from one another. Yet they are all part of one climate system.

Up until now, atmospheric models and hydrodynamic models have remained separate to a large extent in the region, with only a few attempts to loosely couple them. In a new study, published this week in the Journal of Climate (DOI: 10.1175/JCLI-D-16-0225.1), an integrated model brings together climate and water models.

The collaborative work brought together researchers from Michigan Technological University, Loyola Marymount University, LimnoTech and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. Pengfei Xue, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Michigan Tech, led the study through his work at the Great Lakes Research Center on campus.

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Michigan universities collaborate to examine water filters in Flint

EAST LANSING — Researchers from Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, and Wayne State University are conducting studies to determine the best ways to manage the type of point-of-use water filters being used by Flint residents.

The studies are supported by grants from the National Science Foundation.

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Stopping urban flooding and pollution: experts talk stormwater management at LTU

SOUTHFIELD – What does Michigan do with the extra water that comes from heavy rainfall events that now seem to flood the area every few years?

Nearly 300 government officials, engineers and infrastructure experts gathered Friday at Lawrence Technological University to continue the effort to figure that out.

The fourth annual Regional Stormwater Summit, presented by LTU, the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner’s Office and the nonprofit group Pure Oakland Water, had no easy answers, but speakers at the event said green infrastructure will be a key part of the solution.

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Women Scientists To Sample Plastics In All Five Great Lakes

ANN ARBOR — Female scientists from the United States and Canada will set sail Aug. 20 on all five Great Lakes and connecting waterways to sample plastic debris pollution and to raise public awareness about the issue.

Event organizers say eXXpedition Great Lakes 2016 will include the largest number of simultaneous samplings for aquatic plastic debris in history. The all-female crew members on the seven lead research vessels also aim to inspire young women to pursue careers in science and engineering.

Teams of researchers will collect plastic debris on the five Great Lakes, as well Lake St. Clair, the Detroit River and the Saint Lawrence River. Data collected will contribute to growing open-source databases documenting plastic and toxic pollution and their impacts on biodiversity and waterway health, according to event organizers.

Two University of Michigan faculty members, biologist Melissa Duhaime and Laura Alford of the Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, will lead the Lake St. Clair-Detroit River team, aboard a 30-foot sailboat.

The crew of up to eight people will include an Ann Arbor middle school teacher, an artist and student at the Great Lakes Boat Building School, and girls from Detroit-area schools. Onboard activities will include water sampling and trawling for plastic debris using protocols developed by the 5 Gyres Institute.

“There is a place for scientists in this type of public outreach, and it is a complement to the research that we do,” said Duhaime, an assistant research scientist in the UM Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. “In a single day through an event like this, we can potentially reach orders of magnitude more people than we do when we publish our scientific papers, which are read mainly by other scientists. And greater public awareness about this topic, rooted in rigorously collected and interpreted data, can certainly lead to changed behavior in our relationships with plastics.”

Duhaime’s lab studies the sources of Great Lakes plastics, as well as how they are transported within the lakes and where they end up. The work has involved a summer on three of the Great Lakes, trips to Detroit-area wastewater treatment plants, and the sampling of fish and mussels.

The group’s first Great Lakes project included multiple UM labs, one of which analyzed the stomach contents of fish and mussels, looking for tiny plastic beads, fibers and fragments. They found no plastic “microbeads” — spheres typically less than 1 millimeter in diameter, found in many cosmetic products — but did find plastic fibers in a third of the zebra and quagga mussels and at various levels in all the fish species they checked: 15 percent of emerald shiners and bloaters, 20 percent of round gobies, and 26 percent of rainbow smelt, according to Duhaime.

The stomach-content study, which will be submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, was based on work done in lakes Erie and Huron and was led by Larissa Sano, who is now at UM’s Sweetland Center for Writing.

For years, plastic microbeads were added as abrasives to beauty and health products like exfoliating facial scrubs and toothpaste. But the federal Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, signed into law by President Obama on Dec. 28, bans the manufacture of microbeads beginning next year.

Sources of tiny plastic fibers that make it into the Great Lakes include fleece jackets and other types of synthetic clothing. These microfibers are released during laundering, then slip through wastewater treatment plants and into waterways. Fibers found in common household textiles such as carpets, upholstered furniture and curtains also make their way into the environment and can end up in the lakes.

“Microbeads were just the tip of the iceberg,” Duhaime said. “I think fibers are the future of this research and a much more important issue than microbeads, because of the prevalence and the pervasiveness of these plastic textiles in our lives.”

Researchers like Duhaime are also investigating the possibility that tiny bits of Great Lakes plastics can transfer toxic pollutants from the water into fish and other aquatic organisms. It is unclear what level of human health risk, if any, these microplastics pose to people who eat Great Lakes fish; it is a topic of active research.

On Aug. 20, the team led by Duhaime and Alford will sail up the Detroit River to Lake St. Clair, sampling water and trawling for plastics along the way. Throughout the day at Detroit’s Belle Isle, members of their team will host a beach cleanup and data collection. In addition, a free public-awareness event will be held throughout the day outside Belle Isle Aquarium, followed by a plastic-free community picnic with live music.

Members of the general public are also encouraged to collect Great Lakes water samples and to participate in shoreline cleanup events on the 20th. To sign up, visit the event website at

The mission leaders for eXXpedition Great Lakes 2016 event are two women who met during an all-female voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in 2014. Jennifer Pate is a filmmaker, and Elaine McKinnon is a clinical neuropsychologist. Pate plans to use video footage and photographs gathered during the Aug. 20 event to create a film called “Love Your Greats.”

“In parts of the Great Lakes, we have a higher density of microplastics than in any of the ocean gyres,” Pate said. “So the problem isn’t just out there in the oceans. It’s right here in our backyard, in our lakes and on our dinner plates.  We are all a part of the problem, but that means we are also all part of the solution. That’s why we are holding this event, to give people an opportunity to change the story and create a healthier future.”

Partners in the eXXpedition Great Lakes 2016 event include Adventurers & Scientists for Conservation, the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup in Canada and the Alliance for the Great Lakes’ Adopt-a-Beach program in the United States.

More about the St. Clair-Detroit River team at

UM Researchers See Smaller Algae Bloom In Lake Erie For 2016

ANN ARBOR — Dry weather sometimes has a benefit. This year, for Michigan’s waterways, that includes a noticeable improvement in the appearance of Lake St. Clair due to fewer storm-related flows of raw sewage into the lake — and for Lake Erie, the University of Michigan and federal officials now predict a less severe algal bloom this summer.

The outlook reflects less discharge from the Maumee River thanks to a return of normal rainfall patterns in the spring and a dry June, creating a return to an average nutrient runoff into the lake.

The 2016 bloom is expected to measure 5.5 on the severity index, but could range anywhere between 3.0 and 7.0. The forecast is similar to conditions last seen from 2008 to 2010, although the bloom may be as small as that seen in the relatively mild year of 2004.

This year’s forecast was issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The severity index is based on a bloom’s biomass — the amount of its harmful algae. An index above 5.0 indicates blooms of concern. The extreme bloom of 2011 was a 10. Last year’s was 10.5, the greatest on record.

This year’s bloom is expected to first appear in late July and increase in August in the far western basin of Lake Erie. The location and effects will depend on prevailing winds. During calm winds, some areas may experience scums that contain substantial concentrations of algal toxins.

The seasonal outlook uses models that translate spring nutrient loading into predicted algal blooms. After three years with wet springs, this spring had more typical rainfall, leading to more normal discharge from the Maumee River. As a result, there is less phosphorus entering Lake Erie and fewer nutrients to fuel a bloom.

“With a return to average spring discharge, and much lower river flow in June than in the recent years, the western basin should look better. However, the phosphorus inputs to the lake are still high enough to support bloom development,” said Richard Stumpf, NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science’s lead for the Lake Erie bloom forecast.

The main driver of Lake Erie’s harmful algal blooms is elevated phosphorus from watersheds draining to the lake’s western basin, particularly from the heavily agricultural Maumee River watershed. About 85 percent of the phosphorus entering Lake Erie from the Maumee River comes from agricultural sources.

In February, the U.S. and Canadian governments called for a 40 percent reduction, from 2008 levels, in phosphorus runoff from farms and other sources into Lake Erie. A UM-led, multi-institution computer modeling study released in March said that meeting the 40-percent target would be challenging but achievable. A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture study reached similar conclusions.

“Recent studies led by the University of Michigan and USDA identified potential pathways for reducing phosphorus loads by the needed 40 percent,” said UM aquatic ecologist Don Scavia, a member of the Erie forecast team.

“But both studies conclude that it will take unprecedented implementation of conservation programs to reach that goal,” said Scavia, director of UM’s Graham Sustainability Institute and a member of the NOAA-funded teams that produce annual algal forecasts for the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay.

The seasonal outlook models use nutrient load data collected by Heidelberg University’s National Center for Water Quality Research and Maumee River discharge models from NOAA’s Ohio River Forecast Center. The models were developed by scientists at NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, the University of Michigan, and LimnoTech, an Ann Arbor-based environmental engineering firm that specializes in water quality.

“The need to reduce phosphorus and other nutrients from fertilizer, manure and sewage remains,” said Chris Winslow, interim director of the Ohio Sea Grant College Program. “This year’s forecast not only highlights NOAA’s forecast, but it will also focus attention on current efforts to assess bloom impacts on human health, to educate water treatment plant operators, to inform and implement landscape best management practices, and to determine the best way to track our progress toward a 40 percent reduction in phosphorous loading, the target set by Annex IV of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.”

NOAA will provide timely information via twice-weekly bulletins for western Lake Erie that can be received by subscription. Details on the forecasted movement of the bloom and its location and intensity in the water column can be found via NOAA’s experimental tracker.

Field observations on the bloom and nutrient loads are collected by NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) in Ann Arbor, NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Limnology and Ecosystems Research (CILER) at the University of Michigan, Ohio State University’s Sea Grant Program and Stone Laboratory, Heidelberg University, University of Toledo, Ohio EPA and LimnoTech, and made available for monitoring and model improvements.

“This year we’ve added a Maumee River flow forecast model that increases our confidence in the seasonal outlook and may allow us to produce a specific harmful algal bloom forecast even earlier in the season,” said Russell Callender, assistant NOAA administrator for the National Ocean Service.

In September 2016, GLERL, CILER and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute will deploy an Environmental Sample Processor in Lake Erie for the first time. The ESP “lab­in­a­can” will autonomously collect water samples and analyze them for algal toxins to provide drinking water managers with data on harmful algal toxicity in near real­time before the water reaches municipal water intakes. The deployment will mark the first use of the ESP technology in any freshwater system.

“The Environmental Sample Processor will enable us to more closely track changes in the toxicity of the blooms with one or two analyzed water tests each day to augment the current system of someone sampling twice a week from a boat and then taking those samples to be analyzed in a lab,” said Tim Davis, a GLERL research ecologist. “Our goal is to get more rapid detection of sudden changes in toxicity to improve the timeliness of NOAA’s harmful algal bloom forecasts and better protect communities.”

The Lake Erie forecast is part of a NOAA ecological forecasting initiative that aims to deliver accurate, relevant, timely and reliable ecological forecasts directly to coastal resource managers and the public. NOAA also provides, or is developing, HAB and hypoxia forecasts for the Gulf of Maine, Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Northwest.

Funding to support the NOAA forecast was provided by NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, the EPA­-administered Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Erb Family Foundation, and the University of Michigan’s Graham Sustainability Institute. The research programs supporting this work are authorized under the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act (HABHRCA 2016).

Visit the Graham Sustainability Institute’s harmful algal bloom and hypoxia forecast page at