Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is hiring a new outreach program leader to help connect our outreach specialists, scientists, and communities, with the goal of improving ecological, economic, and societal resilience in the two-state region.
IISG supports over 30 outreach specialists, communicators, educators, and administrators conducting environmental and natural resources outreach on a number of critical issues at local, regional, and national scales. The outreach program leader will be responsible for the coordination, development, expansion, and delivery of science-based programs that empower communities and people to make informed natural resource decisions.
This is a full-time academic position at the University of Illinois that will either be housed on campus in Urbana or in Chicago.
For more information about specific responsibilities, qualifications and the application process, visit the posting on the University of Illinois jobs board.
IISG pollution prevention outreach specialist Adrienne Gulley shared the Lawn to Lake program with dozens of Chicago residents gathered at the New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church last Saturday.
The attendees mostly, from the Chatham community on the south side of Chicago, were at the church as part of RainReady, an organization started in response to urban flooding.
Gulley used the Lawn to Lake program to help those in attendance learn the importance of maintaining a healthy lawn through natural techniques that don’t rely on applying phosphorous. To help control excess water from heavy rains, she talked about using rain gardens, cisterns, rain barrels, and permeable pavers.
“I was impressed by how many residents were interested in creating lawns using native plants and natural lawn care methods,” Gulley said. “They were really receptive to all the options out there.”
Enough rain fell in Texas over the past month to cover the entire state in more than eight inches of water. The Trinity River in Dallas has risen to levels not seen in over 25 years. Flooding has resulted in $45 million worth of damage in Houston alone, and at least 31 people have died, with 10 still missing. As recovery in the Lone Star State begins, it becomes clear just how important urban flood management is, not only for the safety of people, but for the health and well being of the environment. Next month, Chicago, no stranger to flooding itself, will be the host location to a workshop confronting these very issues.
On July 8, IISG climate specialist Molly Woloszyn will be overseeing the next Resilient Chicago workshop: Urban Flood Management through No Adverse Impact and Green Infrastructure.Following up on a workshop from last year, this free, one-day event offers local government staffers and other interested professionals the opportunity to learn how to prepare for flooding in a more efficient and ecologically-conscious way. City planners, engineers, and members of non-profit organizations are called to gather at Loyola University to hear presentations from the Association of State Floodplain Managers, the Metropolitan Planning Council, the City of Chicago, and many others.
The two primary foci of the workshop will be how to apply No Adverse Impact (NAI) floodplain management and integrating green infrastructure into comprehensive and capital improvement planning.By focusing on NAI floodplain management, the workshop will provide potential management solutions that can be applied from strictly flooding related problems to issues like water quality protection and stormwater management. And in showcasing the potential for green infrastructure, attendees will learn how to cope with the increased potential for soil saturation that comes with urban development. The workshop will be sponsored by ASFPM, and the NOAA Coastal Storms Program.
When municipalities consider how to set water rates, they often look to neighboring communities as reference points. This can involve a lot of digging for data, which takes lots of time, and in the end, may be comparing apples with oranges.
In the Chicago area, communities can now benchmark their water rates much more easily and can set comparisons to other communities that make sense. Northeast Illinois is now one of eleven locations that has a free water rates dashboard providing utilities with the ability to compare their residential water and wastewater rates against multiple characteristics, including utility finances, system size, customer demographics, and geography.
The Northeast Illinois Water and Wastewater Rates Dashboard was created by the University of North Carolina Environmental Science Center with support from the EPA Smart Management for Small Water Systems—a nationwide project of the Environmental Finance Center Network (EFCN).
The water rates data that brings this tool to life was compiled by Margaret Schneemann, IISG water resource economist and Jennifer Egert, IISG summer intern, in a survey of 224 municipalities in the greater Chicago region’s seven counties—Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, and Will.
Managing water supplies sustainably starts with getting the price right.
One of the larger goals of the water rate dashboard is for municipal utilities to make informed choices when setting water rates so that critical rate-setting factors get their proper due. “Rate comparisons taken out of context can lead to peer pressure to keep rates low while neglecting other objectives such as cost recovery and conservation,” explained Schneemann.
Complementing the dashboard is theFull-Cost Water Pricing Guidebook, which offers local decision makers basic “how tos” on implementing rates that encourage efficient water use and support investment in aging infrastructure.
The water rate dashboards include dials showing comparative measures of average monthly bills, affordability, how well rates cover operation and maintenance costs, and the level of conservation that is encouraged.
“The dashboard promotes resource sustainability while also supporting financial security for the utility and economic development for the community,” added David Tucker, EFCN project director.
For utilities that make the decision to raise water rates to more sustainable levels, the dashboard provides data to back up these proposals. In designing this resource, it was made user-friendly for a variety of possible audiences, including city officials, reporters, and customers.
Swimmers, boaters, and anglers visiting Indiana’s coastline can once again learn about conditions in southern Lake Michigan with real-time data collected by the Michigan City buoy. The buoy, launched for the first time in 2012, returned to its post four miles from shore today to collect data on wave height and direction, wind speed, and air and surface water temperatures.
The only one of its kind in the Indiana waters of the lake, the Michigan City buoy and its temperature chain helps anglers and boaters find fishing hot spots and identify the safest times to be out on the lake.
Scientists at the National Weather Service in northern Indiana will also use wave height and frequency data collected throughout the season to better anticipate the locations of strong waves and currents that cause dangerous swimming conditions. Real-time data on nearshore temperatures and wave characteristics is also vital for research on fisheries and nearshore hydrodynamics.
Data will be available on IISG’s websiteuntil the buoy is pulled out for the winter in mid-October. The site shows snapshots of lake conditions—updated every 10 minutes—as well as trends over 24-hour and 5-day periods. Buoy-watchers can also download raw historical data at NOAA’s National Data Buoy Center.
And starting later this season, our website will also relay data collected by a new environmental sensing buoy placed north of Chicago. In addition to allowing people to track waves and temperatures, the data collected by this buoy could also help officials warn beachgoers when contamination levels may make swimming unsafe.
Imagine a way of farming fish with plants that has little to no impact on the environment—no runoff, soil loss, no need to even develop land. That’s aquaponics. And while it seems ideal, there’s a reason why current operations are small, few, and far between.
As its name suggests, aquaponics is a a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics. Like with hydroponics, plants are grown with their roots directly in water. But where hydroponics introduces necessary nutrients artificially, aquaponics takes advantage of a symbiotic relationship between aquatic animals, bacteria, and plants. Normally aquaculture tanks need to be filtered to prevent waste byproducts from reaching harmful levels, but with aquaponics, bacteria convert these byproducts into the necessary nutrients for healthy plant growth. The plants are fed, and the water is filtered.
But there’s one important problem. For an aquaponics operation to be successful, it has to turn a profit. Most operations occupy a niche market in urban centers where fresh fish and veggies are either expensive or hard to come by—the Virgin Islands, Tucson, Chicago, and St. Paul to name a few. Tilapia and basil are a typical combination—tilapia because they’re hardy and easy to grow, and basil because of its high value. But as hardy as tilapia is, it’s still a tropical fish, meaning operations in colder climates have to cope with high energy costs to keep water temperatures warm. And while basil may be a high-value plant, the profit margin is still slim. Some operations have sought to circumvent these high energy costs by resorting to yellow perch and lettuce, but to little avail.
Operations in warmer climates like the ones in Tuscon and the Virgin Islands tend to see more success than those farther from the equator. Higher average temperatures help maintain stability in systems that are inherently unstable, giving operators more leeway as they try to balance the water chemistry. And its this stability that’s key for an operation to be economically viable.
The issue of stability is tricky enough to work out on a small scale. But to be profitable, producers must attempt larger operations, complicating something that was fragile and complex to begin with. That’s the catch-22 of aquaponics. Producers are faced with two options: either have a working system and watch the operation go bankrupt, or go bankrupt figuring out how to make the system work. And until this dilemma is resolved, aquaponics will continue to struggle to break into the mainstream.
For more information on aquaponics, contact Kwamena Quagrainie. Interested producers can also learn about practices that can improve the chance of success in this video created in partnership with Purdue Extension.
A closer look at web tools and sites that boost research and empower Great Lakes communities to secure a healthy environment and economy.
It’s getting a little chilly for a stroll in the Windy City, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying it’s beautiful downtown lakefront. With Chicago Water Walk, you can explore some of the city’s most celebrated sites—Navy Pier, the Chicago River, downtown marinas, Buckingham Fountain, and Museum Campus—from anywhere. The mobile-friendly website takes viewers on a journey through time to discover how Lake Michigan and the Chicago River transformed a small trading post into one of the economic and cultural hubs of the world—and the vital role these natural resources play in the city’s present and future.
Each stop in the virtual tour combines history, current events, and water sciences with fun facts to show the importance of aquatic ecosystems in the city’s past, present, and future. Stunning photos, historical images, and links to videos and other resources bring these issues to life and reveal a lakefront that will surprise even lifelong Chicagoans.
Visit the website and you’ll learn why the decision to reverse the Chicago River is still making waves more than a century later, how a city that sits along Lake Michigan can be concerned about having enough water in the future, and how native trees and plants are helping the city prepare for changing weather patterns. You’ll also hear about efforts to restore much-needed habitats for millions of birds, fish, and other wildlife. And for those willing to brave the cold, a mobile tour app is available for free on both Android and Apple devices. You can follow the suggested routes or visit the sites that most appeal to you using the app’s interactive map. The Chicago Water Walk website and app were developed by Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant with funding from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Coastal Management Program and technical support from the University of Illinois Administrative Information Technology Services.
Anjanette Riley was at last week’s Resilient Chicago workshop on climate trends and adaptive planning. She had this to say about the event:
Presentation after presentation, what struck me most is just how much climate change already is and will continue to impact our daily lives—and how interconnected those impacts are. Actually, a quick glance at the agenda was all it took to realize this workshop was going to be about much more than just predictions of yearly rainfall or average temperatures. The speakers were climatologists, public health experts, community planners, and policy specialists. And the participants were just as diverse—educators, urban planners, local officials, and private consultants.
Of course, we did talk about climate concepts and trends. IISG’s Molly Woloszyn kicked things off by making sure we were all on the same page about the difference between weather and climate—short-term changes vs. long-term averages. And throughout the day, Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel told us that temperatures have risen by roughly 1.5o F over the last century and that we can expect drier summers and more precipitation in winter, spring, and fall.
Much of the day, though, was dedicated to what these changes mean for the people and wildlife that call the Chicago area home. Some impacts are pretty straightforward—you have likely seen them already. Warmer temperatures mean greater strain on an aging energy infrastructure and higher rates of heatstroke. Wetter springs means more stormwater runoff and basement flooding. And summertime droughts could lower crop yields and increase food prices.
Many were hard to see at first glance. As nice as they sound to many of us, warmer winters could have serious repercussions for public health, infrastructure, and Great Lake ecosystems. For example, with less frequent deep freezes, some disease-carrying insects could persist throughout the year. Fluctuations between freezing and thawing will also create more potholes and cracks in building exteriors. And—most unexpected to me—warmer water temperatures could make Lake Michigan and surrounding waterways more welcoming to a whole new suite of invasive species that could never have lived there before.
Fortunately, presenters came armed with solutions as well. Most were adaptation strategies—steps to prepare for climate change impacts. Speakers from Chicago Wilderness, the Alliance for the Great Lakes, and Hey and Associates, for example, showed how planting native trees, building rain gardens, and restoring natural areas could simultaneously filter pollutants from stormwater, lower air temperatures, and reconnect habitats divided by urbanization. Samuel Dorevitch, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Dan Gabel from ComEd talked about the importance of early warning systems and emergency response plans. And the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s Harriet Festing introduced their Rain Readyprogram, which helps homeowners and communities understand flooding causes and prepare for future storms.
But don’t just take my word for it. All the presentations will soon be available on the Resilient Chicago website. In the meantime, peruse the many Midwestern Regional Climate Center resources on climate change predictions and adaptation planning.
We recently got some exciting news from former intern Ada Morgan, who in 2011 worked with Caitie McCoy on a study of community perceptions of sediment remediation in the Sheboygan River Area of Concern. We’ll let her tell you what she has been up to since.
“The Sheboygan study finished up just before I graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I studied economics and environmental geology there, and I knew I wanted to continue my studies in the environmental field. I was encouraged by Caitie and a few others I looked up to to look into graduate school. That fall, I began a master of urban planning and policy program at the University of Illinois Chicago, where I continued to learn about how humans interact with our environment and how to think holistically about the decisions we make.
My specialization was in environmental planning. I took some great courses, like an economic and environmental planning course and a course on residential sustainability policy. My final project centered on greywater reuse in a south suburb of Chicago.
I graduated this past May and am now the environmental and sustainability coordinator for a bread manufacturing company. I started just a few weeks ago. I am responsible for both environmental compliance (permits, etc.) and sustainability projects and initiatives. My main task so far has been re-developing an environmental management system for the entire company, which has four different facilities.
My experiences working with Caitie at IISG was the best preparation I could have had for both graduate school and my current job. I was able to participate in almost all aspects of the Sheboygan study. I helped with interviewing stakeholders, performed data analysis, and co-authored the final report with Caitie. You don’t often get this kind of hands-on experience with qualitative analysis and reporting in school.
I also learned a lot about environmental regulations since the project I worked on was under EPA’s Great Lakes Legacy Act. Understanding the regulatory structure helped tremendously while I was in the urban planning program (reading codes) and continues to help me navigate compliance issues at my company. Overall, the time I spent at IISG was one of my most valuable internships, and I am extremely thankful to have had the opportunity to work at such a fantastic organization.”