Lessons Learned from Restoring Great Lakes Areas of Concern

By John H. Hartig, International Association for Great Lakes Research

river raisin monroe
River Raisin in Monroe, Michigan. Credit: City of Monroe

The cleanup of Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOC) has proven difficult and spanned more than three decades.

Recent experience is showing that restoration work is helping reconnect people to their waterfronts in ways that enhance community well-being and return economic benefits.

One example is the River Raisin off western Lake Erie in Monroe, Michigan.

Nearly $100 million has been spent on remediation and restoration in the River Raisin. This cleanup has been an essential building block in the revitalization of Monroe.

The city is now rebranding itself as a vibrant urban center with an ecologically significant river, historical assets, a new national park, a state park, and an international wildlife refuge within its city limits – all connected by greenway trails.

The River Raisin National Battlefield Park already has more than 230,000 annual visitors and park attendance is projected to increase to 635,000, improving the local and state economies by more than $53 million annually.

Such economic benefits assessments are proving to be important tools to sustain long-term momentum in this restoration work and help with transition to community revitalization, manifest return on investment, and attract champions for sustained funding to finish the job of restoring all AOCs and reaping the many benefits of healthy waters.

river raisin habitat restoration
River Raisin habitat restoration. Credit: Melanie Foose

Remedial action plans, or RAPs, to restore Areas of Concern date back to 1985. In response to a recommendation from the International Joint Commission’s Great Lakes Water Quality Board, the Great Lakes states, province of Ontario, and the Canadian and US federal governments committed to developing and implementing RAPs to restore impaired “beneficial uses” in each Great Lakes Area of Concern (AOC) within their political boundaries. This commitment was codified in the 1987 Protocol to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

Each RAP was to identify impaired uses and causes, actions needed to restore these impairments, the agencies or organizations responsible for implementing the actions, and the timeframe for implementation to increase accountability. Further, RAPs were to adopt an ecosystem approach that accounts for the interrelationships among air, water, land and all living things including humans, and involves all user groups in management.

Key lessons learned from recent research on the cleanup of these toxic “hot spots” include:

  • Adopt an ecosystem approach to build capacity for use restoration and create a sense of local ownership
  • Ensure meaningful public participation toward a viable desired future state
  • Engage local leaders and recruit a high-profile champion
  • Establish a compelling vision with clear goals
  • Establish measurable targets for use restoration and delisting as an AOC
  • Practice adaptive management and involve research scientists
  • Build partnerships
  • Pursue collaborative and creative financing
  • Build a record of success and celebrate it frequently
  • Quantify benefits.

As of 2017, seven AOCs have been delisted, two have been designated as Areas of Concern in Recovery, 67 of 146 known use impairments have been restored in Canadian AOCs, and 73 of 255 known use impairments have been restored in U.S. AOCs.

In 2017, on the 32nd anniversary of the commitments to RAPs and the 30th anniversary of inclusion in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, a two-day symposium titled “Restoring Great Lakes Areas of Concern” was convened at the 60th annual meeting of the International Association for Great Lakes Research.

Sponsors included the IJC and the Aquatic Ecosystem Health and Management Society, International Association for Great Lakes Research, Great Lakes Commission, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.

The purpose was to review what has been achieved and learned since the onset of RAPs to restore AOCs. In total, 27 papers and five posters were presented. Selected papers from this symposium will soon be published in a special issue of the Journal of Aquatic Ecosystem Health and Management (AEHMS). In addition, an AOC book is being written that will be published as part of AEHMS’s Ecovision World Monograph Series.

John Hartig recently completed an appointment as a Fulbright Scholar at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Ontario, where he performed interdisciplinary research on AOCs.  He is the Great Lakes Science-Policy director of the International Association for Great Lakes Research.

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River Raisin contaminated sediment remediation. Credit: Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant

 

The IJC at International Association of Great Lakes Research Conference

By IJC staff

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The Lake Guardian research vessel was anchored on the Detroit River during the International Association of Great Lakes Research conference, which took place in downtown Detroit from May 15-19. Credit: IJC

More than 1,000 scientists, educators, policymakers, academics, engineers and others descended upon Detroit, Michigan, from May 15-19 for the 60th annual International Association of Great Lakes Research (IAGLR) conference to discuss their latest findings and discoveries.

Attendees gave 20-minute presentations ranging from discussions on Lake Erie algal blooms and invasive species to updates on habitat restoration efforts and new technologies for management and research. IJC staff members were among those who participated.

matthew child
IJC Physical Scientist Matthew Child. Credit: IJC

Dr. Glenn Benoy, senior water quality and ecosystem adviser, spoke on the implications of Red-Assiniboine River basin nutrient models – created using a US Geological Survey modeling program – on Lake Winnipeg in Alberta. Physical Scientist Matthew Child presented an evaluation of the status of cleanup efforts in binational Areas of Concern.

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Michigan Sea Grant Fellow Allison Voglesong. Credit: IJC

Allison Voglesong, who has spent the last year at the IJC as a Michigan Sea Grant Fellow, gave a presentation on how to effectively connect with and identify audiences for science communications on social media.

Two keynote speakers presented before wide audiences in plenary sessions. Dr. Joan Rose, a member of the IJC’s Health Professionals Advisory Board and chair of Michigan State University’s water research program, talked about the science of water quality and how it relates to public health through contaminants, bacteria and viruses. Cameron Davis, vice president of GEI Consultants and former US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adviser on the Great Lakes, talked about the “ecosystem” connections to the economy, politics, institutions and technology that all play a part in the health of the Great Lakes.

“We need to be a strong voice here for what we do with water,” Rose said in her remarks. “The water quality compact (between Canada and the United States) is among the strongest in the world – other places deal with water quantity but not quality, and we have a tremendous problem with waterborne diseases in the rest of the world.”

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Tad Slawecki, a senior engineer with Limnotech, demonstrates the concept of an ecological “point of no return” using a ball and a two-section bowl during a talk on Great Lakes early warning systems. Credit: IJC

IJC staff members from its Windsor, Ottawa and Washington offices attended sessions throughout the week, and will provide highlights in coming issues of Great Lakes Connection.

The meeting took place at Cobo Hall next to the Detroit River, so attendees also had the chance to tour the EPA’s Lake Guardian, one of the largest research vessels dedicated to the Great Lakes. The ship travels across all five lakes for eight months each year, collecting water and plankton samples, and helping scientists with their research. The crew focuses on a different lake each year for the bulk of the ship’s time in the water, and Lake Huron is in the spotlight this year. (See also: “Lake Guardian Research Vessel Completes Summer Survey”)

IAGLR’s 61st annual conference will be held in Toronto, Ontario, in 2018.

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A tank of invasive sea lampreys found at one of the booths in a common area, where companies, government agencies and academic programs set up shop for attendees. Credit: IJC

Watermarks: A Cherished Commissioner and Award-Winning Professor

By IJC staff

This month’s Watermarks come from two special people.

The first is from US Commissioner Dereth Glance, who ended her tenure last week and penned a farewell column reflecting on her time with the IJC.

The second is from Michael Twiss, who has served on the IJC’s Great Lakes Science Advisory Board and its Research Coordination Committee since 2014. Twiss is a professor of limnology, botany and microbiology at Clarkson University in New York, and was recently given the Anderson-Everett Award from the International Association for Great Lakes Research.

The IJC’s Great Lakes Watermark Project includes these and other watermarks in partnership with Lake Ontario Waterkeeper. Visit the site to see several wonderful stories posted in video and written formats by others, and submit yours today. You’ll see this project mentioned throughout the Great Lakes Public Forum next month in October.  If you’re there, visit our Watermark booth to join in the fun. Everyone has a Great Lakes story – what’s yours?

IJC Staff, Board Members Present at Great Lakes Research Conference

By IJC staff

iaglr 2016 great lakes connection
The theme for the 2016 conference was “Great Lakes Solutions: Integrating Across Disciplines & Scales.” Credit: IAGLR

Every year, hundreds of the Great Lakes region’s scientists and educators present their latest research findings at the annual conference of the International Association for Great Lakes Research (IAGLR).

The University of Guelph in Ontario hosted this year’s meeting from June 6-10, where more than 700 attendees listened to 400 presentations that spanned the gamut of Great Lakes science and management – from fisheries management and food chain dynamics to watershed case studies and remote sensing.

IJC staff attended numerous sessions and will bring the latest findings on these and other topics in upcoming issues of Great Lakes Connection.

Major topics covered at the conference included harmful algal blooms, which have plagued Lake Erie and other parts of the Great Lakes for years, as well as adapting a U.S. Geological Survey modeling program called “SPAtially Referenced Regressions On Watershed attributes,” or SPARROW, to the binational Great Lakes basin.

This is the first time SPARROW has been used internationally on a scale as large as the Great Lakes basin, said co-SPARROW presenter Dr. Glenn Benoy, IJC senior water quality and ecosystem adviser.

The project will factor in data from tributaries and waterways connecting to the lakes to paint a complete picture of the basin. Once the finalized data is released in about six months, researchers, policymakers and the public will be able to use it identify pollution sources and causes for substances like nitrogen and phosphorus – helpful for getting issues like algal blooms under control.

“It’s important to the lakes because it would be one of the first opportunities we’ve had to bring our data and our scientific understanding together into a solution that gives us a complete picture of nutrient loading in to the entire basin,” said co-presenter and IJC senior engineering adviser Dr. Wayne Jenkinson.

Other topics discussed by IJC staff and board members at the IAGLR conference included new technologies to help monitor the health in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River water systems, a proposed new framework for reviewing Great Lakes water level regulations, and the results of a recently released Great Lakes basinwide survey.

The IJC’s Great Lakes Regional Office in Windsor was a sponsor and conference exhibitor, and IJC staff also participated in a session on providing the link between Great Lakes science and the public.

IAGLR 2016