August 28th, 2017 by Sea Grant
June 9th, 2016 by IISG
DECATUR, IL–As part of the state’s on-going commitment to reduce nutrient losses, the directors of the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today the release of the state’s Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy Biennial Report. This document, unveiled at the 2017 Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Illinois, describes actions taken in the state during the last two years to reduce nutrient losses and influence positive changes in nutrient loads over time.
The Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS) is one of many state strategies developed and implemented over the 31-state Mississippi River basin that are intended to improve water quality. Illinois’ strategy provides a framework for reducing both point and non-point nutrient losses to improve the state’s overall water quality, as well as that of water leaving Illinois and making its way down the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico.
“Illinois agriculture has a positive story to tell,” said IDOA Director Raymond Poe. “We have seen a significant increase in the adoption of various best management practices. Our partners and stakeholders have done a tremendous job getting the word out about what we are doing in Illinois with the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy. Farmers understand the consequences of nutrient loss, and they support our quest to minimize losses.”
“In just two years, we are already seeing the impacts of Illinois’ strategy on water quality,” said Illinois EPA Director Alec Messina. “The collaborative efforts of our stakeholders are resulting in real improvements in Illinois’ waters and we look forward to future improvements that will be gained as additional practices are implemented.”
The biennial report contains an update to the original science assessment including nutrient load data from 2011–2015 for both point and non-point sources as well as sector-by-sector reports on activities conducted during the last two years targeted at nutrient loss reduction.
The report also contains information from a recent survey conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service as well as data from other existing sources to serve as metrics to measure progress towards overall water quality improvements now and in the future.
The Agriculture Water Quality Partnership Forum (AWQPF) reports that the agricultural sector invested more than $54 million in nutrient loss reduction for research, outreach, implementation and monitoring. These contributions have come from AWQPF members and other organizations that are working towards reaching the goals set forth in Illinois NLRS. Because of the proactive measures of various agriculture groups, Illinois farmers have become broadly aware of a variety of strategies that mitigate nutrient loss through the adoption of best management practices. Highlights include a move toward split spring and fall nitrogen applications and an increase in the number of acres dedicated to conservation practices such as a use of cover crops.
Since the release of the strategy two years ago, significant strides have also been made in limiting the amount of phosphorus discharge from wastewater treatment plants in Illinois. In the last year, point source sector members targeted key decision makers and practitioners to spread the message of nutrient loss reduction through regulatory updates as part of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program. As of 2016, nearly 80 percent of all effluent from wastewater treatment plants in Illinois is regulated under a NPDES permit that includes a total phosphorus limit. This number will continue to grow as existing permits expire or come up for renewal. To demonstrate the commitment toward nutrient removal, wastewater treatment facilities report spending $144.96 million to fund feasibility studies, optimization studies and capital investment.
Illinois EPA, through its State Revolving Fund program, provides low interest rate loans to point-source projects addressing water quality issues, including nutrient pollution. Last year, Illinois EPA provided or granted $640,599,148 dollars to these projects. Illinois EPA also provides funding for nonpoint source projects designed to achieve nutrients reduction. Annually this program provides $3.5 million to nonpoint source projects.
“What’s made NLRS remarkable is that we had a broad suite of stakeholders that came together to work on the strategy, and they brought not only their ideas, but the support of their organizations. They all got behind it,” said Brian Miller, Illinois Water Resources Center (IWRC) and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) director. “It started with a science assessment from the university that identified problems and potential solutions. Working together we’re already starting to see some successes.”
This report, which was facilitated by IWRC and IISG, will be updated again in 2019. The science, monitoring and activity from each sector will be updated to demonstrate Illinois’ continued commitment to nutrient loss reduction.
“There is a lot more work that needs to be done,” said Warren Goetsch, IDOA deputy director. “However, in releasing this report at the Farm Progress Show, we are introducing these successes to farmers who may be somewhat apprehensive about trying new management practices. Increasing the exposure of our message will keep this effort in front of producers so we can continue to make progress in the years to come.”
This article is based on a press release from IDOA and Illinois EPA. Contacts are Rebecca Clark (217) 558-1546 and Kim Biggs (217) 558-1536.
June 6th, 2016 by IISG
IISG Associate Director of Research Tomas Höök has been elected president of the International Association for Great Lakes Research (IAGLR) for the 2016-2017 term. IAGLR, which got its start in the 1950s, is an organization made up of scientists conducting research of large lakes throughout the world.
Höök, currently the vice president, has been member of the organization since his days in graduate school at the University of Michigan.
“We try to keep IAGLR functioning smoothly and facilitating exchange of research information regarding large lakes of the world,” said Höök. That said, we are also exploring opportunities to grow IAGLR. Specifically, we are seeking to hold meetings in addition to the annual conference on Great Lakes research. Ultimately, we hope to better connect Great Lakes researchers with environmental managers, communicators, and educators.”
This year’s IAGLR conference was held in Guelph, Ontario from June 6-10 and several IISG researchers presented and chaired sessions.
Jay Beugly, aquaculture ecology specialist, presented on the usefulness real-time buoy data provides to a variety of stakeholders, ranging from recreational boaters to weather service professionals in the southern basin of Lake Michigan. Fellow IISG collaborators Carolyn Foley, Angela Archer, and Tomas Höök, along with Cary Troy of Purdue University, and Ed Verhamme, of LimnoTech were also part of the project.
A presentation by Community Outreach Specialist Kristin TePas shared best management practices for setting up and conducting science-based videocalls with K-12 classrooms. She also co-chaired a session on Great Lakes education and outreach.
Carolyn Foley, assistant research coordinator, shared her work on the contribution and effects of different terrestrial nutrient sources on the diets of small-bodied fishes in nearshore Lake Michigan.
Paris Collingsworth, Great Lakes ecosystem specialist, presented findings from research derived from two programs that monitor phosphorus and chlorophyll in Lake Erie. The goal was to paint a more complete picture of lower food web level dynamics. Collingsworth also co-chaired a session dedicated to ecological connections in Lake Michigan.
In addition to contributing to eight presented projects, Tomas Höök a co-chaired a session on the global stressors on large-lake ecosystems.
April 7th, 2015 by iisg_superadmin
IISG is excited to welcome four student interns this summer to help our specialists with everything from needs assessments, to outreach, to strategy facilitating, to economic valuations—and more. These four will spend 12 weeks working closely with a Sea Grant specialist on the issues affecting the Great Lakes.
Green Infrastructure Workforce Intern
Located at Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning
Jordan is a senior at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin majoring in geospacial science with a minor in geographic information systems.
He will be conducting a needs assessment and market analysis to ensure that training and workforce development efforts are in line with the Calumet region’s occupational and employment needs, leveraging the relationship gap between stakeholders and the community, and making sure all aspects (skill gaps, design standards, municipal regulations and the regional environment policies) are being looked at when achieving a Green Infrastructure program
Community Sustainability Intern
Located at Purdue University
Abigail graduated in May from the University of Illinois in natural resources and environmental sciences. She will be pursuing a Master’s degree in August 2016 in agriculture education at the University of Illinois.
During her summer internship, Abigail will collaboratively develop new extension education and training materials (case studies, fact sheets, excerpts of guide books) related to public spaces, rain gardens, and watershed management topics. She will also be help campus specialists deliver extension and training programs to communities across Indiana.
Abigail has hit the ground running in the two weeks since her internship began. She has attended the inaugural train the trainer program for the Enhancing the Value of Public Spaces program, supported the first meeting and launch of the advisory board and program development effort for the new Natural Resources Leadership Program, attended strategic planning meetings for IISG in Chicago, and helped to host a community meeting to start the Enhancing the Value of Public Spaces program in Columbus, Indiana.
Science Writer and Nutrient Strategy Facilitator Intern
Anjanette Riley, Eliana Brown, and Lisa Merrifield
Located at University of Illinois
Ashley comes to us from the agricultural communications program at Illinois State University, where she is about to start her senior year.
This summer, Ashley will wear two hats: a science writer and nutrient strategy facilitator. For her part in the communications team, Ashley oversees the Illinois Water blog, writing news and feature articles on IWRC research projects and important water issues facing the state.
She will also work closely with IWRC and IISG’s Eliana Brown to help facilitate Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy implementation and support Eliana’s other stormwater and water quality outreach efforts.
Water Pricing Intern
Located at Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning
Lauren is a recent graduate from Northern Michigan University with a major in environmental science, a concentration in natural resources and a minor in sustainability.
She will be working on the Ecosystem Services Project helping with organizing tables of articles and writing the literature reviews on their economic valuations.
Lauren will also be on the water rates database where she will be working with water rates and pricing ordinances.
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension.
December 19th, 2014 by iisg_superadmin
Residents across Illinois and Indiana are taking advantage of the warmer weather to plan garden and yard projects. Adrienne Gulley shares some with easy tips for keeping your lawn green and the water clean.
Nothing is more appealing than fresh flowers and green grass. But the chemicals we put on our lawns each year can end up in our lakes and rivers, where they lower water quality and harm aquatic ecosystems. Fortunately, you don’t have to give up your beautiful landscape to protect our waterways. This summer, take the Lawn to Lake pledge and adopt these natural lawn care practices:
- Mow at a 3” or higher. Longer grass shades out weeds and retains moisture better.
- Leave grass clippings on the lawn. They’re a natural fertilizer.
- Aerate soil to reduce compaction.
- Water deeply, slowly and infrequently to build healthy root systems.
- Test your soil to determine your fertilizer needs.
- Fertilize with a thin layer of compost in the spring and fall.
If you aren’t practicing these tips already, it may be a good idea to simply focus on one tip at a time. Understanding the impact of nutrients from our lawns is the key to keeping our waterways healthy.
I will be sharing these and similar tips with members of the Illinois Lake Management Association during their Point of Discussion educational series tonight in Springfield. Visit lawntolakemidwest.org for more information.
October 29th, 2014 by iisg_superadmin
2014 has been an exciting year for IISG. New partnerships were forged, major projects were launched, and existing programs continued to grow. As we head towards another new year, let’s take a look back at some of the highlights of the last 12 months.
–More than $300,000 was awarded to three research projects that will improve understanding of the Lake Michigan nearshore food web, uncover connections between sediment removal projects and a community’s ability to weather environmental hazards, and identify why people adopt stormwater management practices.
–The Great Lakes Social Science Network gave researchers, natural resource managers, weather forecasters, and educators the information they need to ensure safety and planning messages meet the needs of local communities.
–A mobile app offering a self-guided walking tour of Chicago’s historic and scenic downtown shoreline was released for Android and iOS.
–We said goodbye to several staff members and friends and welcomed 10 more to the team.
–The Illinois Clean Marina Program celebrated one year and six certifications.
–We got some help spreading the word about AIS prevention from celebrity newcomers Lady Quagga and Jumpin’ Jack.
–The Michigan City buoy returned to the nearshore waters of Lake Michigan with a new sensor chain that measures temperatures at different depths.
–Illinois Governor Pat Quinn announced a $1.1 million investment in Blue Island to expand and improve stormwater management efforts that began in partnership with IISG.
–Great Lakes Monitoring made it possible for researchers to analyze decades of high-quality monitoring data from across the region in minutes.
–Illinois EPA and the state Department of Agriculture released a plan to reduce the nutrient pollution behind the Gulf ‘Dead Zone.’
A big thanks to all of the partners and collaborates that made these and other 2014 successes possible!
September 26th, 2014 by iisg_superadmin
The Gulf of Mexico dead zone was the topic of discussion by government officials and non-profit organization representatives from across the Mississippi River Basin in Alton, IL last week. Our own Michael Brennan and Lisa Merrifield were among those in the room and wrote in to share their impressions of the meeting.
But first, Michael brings us up to speed on the reason for the meeting and the group behind it all.
“The hypoxic zone is a seasonal phenomenon in the Gulf region, where sudden outbreaks in algal communities spurred on by excess nitrogen and phosphorus lead to depleted oxygen levels in an area the size of New Jersey. Since it is rain events that wash excess nutrients into the Mississippi River and down to the Gulf, the size of the hypoxic zone varies year-to-year. However, the average annual size has remained unchanged for decades.
“State and federal agencies have been working towards a solution to the Gulf of Mexico dead zone for decades,” he added. “The Hypoxia Task Force, a group consisting of federal and state representatives, was established in 1997 to oversee a unified regional effort to reduce the size of the dead zone. Last week’s event was the group’s fall meeting.”
The day-long meeting touched on a variety of issues, including updates on ongoing efforts to understand the dynamics of the dead zone and to reduce the amount of nutrients carried from farm fields and city streets in stormwater runoff.
“The task force has been doing a lot of modeling exercises to determine the size and spread of the hypoxic zone,” said Lisa. “They are starting to think beyond the basics about how to more accurately characterize the impact of the zone, from biological to social and economic impacts. Many members expressed interest in engaging social scientists as they think about future strategies.”
“My main purpose for being there was to hear about the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy, which will be released this fall,” Lisa added. The strategy lays out a suite of best management practices for reducing nutrient losses from both point and non-point sources. It was developed by representatives from government agencies, agriculture, and non-profits as well as scientists and wastewater treatment professionals and represents the most comprehensive and integrated approach to date for tackling nutrients in Illinois. Along with the rest of the staff at the Illinois Water Resources Center, Lisa has spent the last year facilitating the development of the state’s nutrient strategy.
As a water quality specialist focused on nutrients in the Mississippi River, the meeting was particularly interesting for Michael.
“The most encouraging part was a hearing from a new organization that has thrown their hat into the ring: the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative. The group consists of 65 mayors of riverfront communities from Minnesota to New Orleans who came together to preserve the local economies that depend on the Mississippi River and improve the integrity and sustainability of the river. They have already begun implementing practices that protect and restore water quality. The city of Grafton, IL, for example, restored a wetland in their community. Wetlands are natural landscape features that facilitate flood water storage, foster native vegetation, and provide valuable habitat for a wide variety of birds and other wildlife.”
To learn more about hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico, visit the task force website.
August 13th, 2014 by iisg_superadmin
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.
April 16th, 2014 by iisg_superadmin
The recent contamination of drinking water in Toledo, Ohio brought the risks of algal blooms center stage and raised serious concerns for the future. Questions on everybody’s mind are what are toxic algal blooms, what causes them, and what can we do? Michael Brennan, IISG’s water quality outreach specialist, has some answers:
Regional scientists have been concerned about algal blooms like the one we saw a few weeks ago for some time. Its unique conditions make western Lake Erie particularly susceptible to algae blooms, both toxic and non-toxic. Warm temperatures, shallow, slow-moving water, and excessive nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations create optimal conditions for algae to thrive during summer months.
Let’s step back a bit. Algal blooms are essentially overgrowths of algae triggered by excess concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus carried in stormwater runoff from lawns, leaky septic systems, golf courses, and agricultural fields to nearby waterbodies. The severity of a seasonal algal bloom is directly related to annual rainfall accumulation and the number of severe rainfall events
Non-toxic blooms occur all over the Great Lakes. Occasionally, the algae associated with blooms—a cyanobacteria—releases a toxin known as microcystin. This is the toxin responsible for contaminating the drinking water of over 500,000 people in the Toledo area.
But even non-toxic algal blooms are harmful. When rapid algal growth dies off, decomposition sucks oxygen out of the water, depriving freshwater organisms of the oxygen needed to survive. Decomposition also slowly releases nitrogen and phosphorus back to the water column, setting the stage for the cycle to start again next season.
There are no quick fixes in Lake Erie or any of the other lakes. But there are things we can do. Better stormwater management through green infrastructure is key. Unlike impervious surfaces, the plants and trees used in green infrastructure can absorb water and filter out pollutants before it reaches a waterbody.
Individuals can help prevent algal blooms as well. Homeowners and gardeners can adopt natural lawn and landscaping practices that conserve water and reduce stormwater runoff. Most of these practices are simple and cost-effective, like applying nitrogen fertilizer only in fall, removing weeds by pulling and hoeing, and limiting watering to the mornings and evenings.
**Photo courtesy of Ohio Department of Natural Resources
Lake Erie is one of the Great Lakes that is most affected by toxic algal blooms, and finding the cause for them is the first step in reducing or preventing them. Scientists may be closer to understanding just what causes these harmful blooms.
“Algal blooms and dead zones in Lake Erie were severe during the 1960s, caused primarily by large releases of phosphorus from sewage and industrial plants. The 1972 federal Clean Water Act and the 1978 bi-national Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement led to dramatic reductions in phosphorus from these sources and a rapid improvement in water quality.
Lake Erie, however, saw a reemergence of the algal blooms and the growth of the dead zone in the mid-1990s, and the problems are worsening. In 2011, for example, Lake Erie experienced its most severe bloom of toxic algae on record. Last fall a toxic algal bloom in the lake forced officials to shut off a public water supply system in Ohio.
The new studies, part of the Ecological Forecasting (EcoFore) Lake Erie project led by researchers at the University of Michigan, found that the current targets to reduce phosphorus to alleviate algal blooms in Lake Erie may not be low enough to revive the dead zone. That conclusion informed the International Joint Commission’s recommendations in February for improving Lake Erie’s water quality.
The findings, and those of other studies from across the Great Lakes region, are delivering an ever clearer picture of the specific causes of nonpoint phosphorus runoff, algal blooms, and dead zones. The basic drivers of these problems are no longer unknown. The new research fills a critical void in information that has been often cited as a reason that strict regulations on nonpoint pollution sources, including agriculture, were not regulated under the 1972 federal Clean Water Act.”
Read the complete article and findings at the link above.