U-M Water Center awards $2.9M for eight Great Lakes restoration projects

Author: Heather DeWitt

Sept. 11, 2013

ANN ARBOR — The University of Michigan Water Center today awarded eight research grants, totaling nearly $2.9 million, to support Great Lakes restoration and protection efforts.

Along with 12 smaller grants awarded in May, the Water Center has provided more than $3.4 million in research funds since it formed last October with an initial focus on the Great Lakes, working closely with academic colleagues and resource managers to improve restoration outcomes.

The latest two-year grants, which range in size from $155,358 to $458,290, were awarded to multidisciplinary teams led by researchers at universities in Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota and New York.  The eight winners were selected from 90 proposals submitted for the second round of U-M Water Center grants.

The projects will support efforts to: restore native fish migrations across the Great Lakes Basin, assess strategies to restore the health of the Green Bay ecosystem under a changing climate, improve water quality in the Western Lake Erie Basin, guide ecological restoration of Saginaw Bay, assess the effectiveness of wetlands restoration projects in the Lake Ontario/St. Lawrence River watershed, determine the relative contributions of agricultural runoff and sewage discharge in fecal pollution entering lakes Michigan and Erie, and map Great Lakes environmental stressors.

"These grants support restoration-focused research that will fill knowledge gaps and enhance decision making in the Great Lakes Basin," said Water Center Director Allen Burton. "They also connect researchers to end users, really enhancing our ability to answer local or regional questions that have basin-wide applications."

A center of U-M's Graham Sustainability Institute, the Water Center was made possible by a $4.5 million, three-year grant from the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation and additional funds from the university.

"We are very pleased with these new grants as well as the center's collaborative approach," said foundation President John Erb. "In addition to supporting critical research, the center is enhancing the dialogue among Great Lakes science leaders and between science leaders and policy leaders from government and nonprofit organizations."

The Water Center engages researchers, resource managers, policymakers and nonprofit groups to support, integrate and improve freshwater restoration and protection efforts. During its first three years, the Water Center is focusing on the Great Lakes, working to enhance regional dialogue and collaboration to identify and fill priority knowledge gaps.

In selecting the eight grants, special emphasis was given to proposals that integrated one or more focus areas of the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative — cleaning up toxics, combating invasive species, restoring habitat and ridding nearshore waters of polluted runoff — or that evaluated the potential effects of climate change on Great Lakes restoration efforts. In all cases, the U-M funding will be used to support existing restoration and protection efforts in the Great Lakes, not to establish new projects.

The eight grants, their principal investigators and the award amounts are:

·      "Restoring native fish migrations while controlling invasive species: an optimization approach to support decision making," Peter McIntyre, University of Wisconsin. $357,854. Dams and road crossings block native fish access to potentially productive spawning grounds in tributary rivers across the Great Lakes Basin. This project will further refine an existing computer model to identify cost-effective barrier removals that could boost fisheries without jeopardizing control of invasive species such as the sea lamprey and the round goby.

·      "Restoring the health of the Green Bay ecosystem under a changing climate: modeling land use, management and future outcomes," J. Val Klump, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. $434,768. For decades, algae-promoting nutrients flowing into the southern end of Wisconsin's Green Bay have resulted in oxygen-starved regions known as hypoxic zones. Climate models project warmer and wetter conditions for the region in coming decades, with shorter winters, reduced ice cover, increased runoff and an increased frequency of heavy rainstorms — all of which can exacerbate hypoxia. This project will integrate watershed and lake computer models to test how current restoration efforts will perform under climatic changes and to determine if additional actions are needed to achieve restoration goals for the bay.

·      "Urban pollution footprints in the Great Lakes," Sandra McLellan, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. $327,840. Fecal pollution from sewage discharges, agricultural runoff and wildlife continues to be a pervasive problem in the Great Lakes. This project will assess sewage and agricultural runoff entering lakes Michigan and Erie and determine the relative contributions of each source. The information will be used to refine a watershed assessment tool that can be used across the region as a simple and cost-effective detection method for sewage contamination.

·      "Environmental and socioeconomic factors associated with public-private partnership watershed restoration projects benefiting wildlife in the Great Lakes watershed," Tom Langen, Clarkson University. $390,100. This project will measure the ecological, social and economic impacts of 50 public-private wetland restoration projects on private property in the Lake Ontario/St. Lawrence River watershed in New York. The researchers will determine which environmental and socioeconomic factors are key indicators and drivers of success at maintaining biodiversity, and they will identify ways that landowner participation in such programs can be increased.

·      "Saginaw Bay optimization tool: linking management actions to multiple ecological benefits via integrated modeling," David Karpovich, Saginaw Valley State University. $413,234. The federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program have funded several projects aimed at reducing nutrient runoff from agricultural land into Michigan's Saginaw Bay, including efforts to encourage voluntary implementation of best management practices by farmers. This Water Center-funded study will include a retrospective assessment of GLRI and MAEAP projects within the Kawkawlin and Pigeon/Pinnebog river sub-watersheds, as well as development of priorities to guide future conservation efforts.

·      "Watershed-scale assessment of stacked drainage practices in the Western Lake Erie Basin to improve water quality," Sheila Christopher, University of Notre Dame. $155,358. The Western Lake Erie Basin is intensively farmed, and runoff from that land delivers nutrients and sediments into the lake, contributing to recurring algae blooms, subsequent hypoxia and associated ecological problems. This project will evaluate the effectiveness of two relatively new farmland-drainage practices — the two-stage ditch and tile drain management — that hold great promise for improving water quality. A computerized watershed model will be used to assess the two-stage ditch coupled with field-scale tile drain management on water quality in the Western Lake Erie Basin.

·      "Great Lakes Environmental Assessment and Mapping Project (GLEAM): Phase II," David Allan, University of Michigan. $338,037. The first phase of the GLEAM Project produced a Great Lakes map showing the combined effects of 34 environmental stressors, including coastal development, river-borne pollutants, fishing pressure, climate change, invasive species and toxic chemicals. It is the most comprehensive map to date of Great Lakes' stressors. The second phase of the project will include development of additional stressor datasets, new lake-scale analyses intended to help managers with decision making, and new investigations of stressor interactions to improve understanding of impacts.

·      "A comprehensive stressor-response model to inform ecosystem restorations across the Great Lakes Basin," Lucinda Johnson, University of Minnesota-Duluth, $458,290. The project will combine data from two recent studies that characterized the impacts of human activities across the Great Lakes Basin: the Great Lakes Environmental Assessment and Mapping Project (GLEAM) and the Great Lakes Environmental Indicators (GLEI) project. The new Water Center-funded effort will combine GLEI and GLEAM stressor maps into a single composite map spanning the entire basin. In addition, the researchers will identify and calibrate indicators of biological conditions for nearshore and offshore habitats using GLEAM/GLEI stressors.

The eight project teams include 73 researchers from 16 universities in the United States and Canada, nine agencies, two consulting firms, two non-governmental organizations and one tribe.

In May, the U-M Water Center awarded 12 smaller research grants, totaling nearly $570,000, to support diverse projects, including efforts to track the remediation of harmful algae blooms, assess the effectiveness of techniques to control non-native weedy plant invasions, study chromosomal damage in tree swallow nestlings, and monitor fish responses to restoration activities.

The Great Lakes hold 20 percent of the world's freshwater. The region includes more than 10,000 miles of coastline and numerous globally rare plant and animal species. In addition, the Great Lakes support a wide range of recreational and economic activities, including vibrant tourism and a sport fishing industry that contributes $4 billion to the economy.