Water Quality & Levels

Developing a strategy for tracing septic field contamination in the Saginaw Bay watershed

Aging septic systems in the Saginaw Bay watershed can leak into groundwater and surface waters, contributing to issues like beach closures and algae blooms in Saginaw Bay. Matthew Schrenk, an assistant professor at Michigan State University will partner with state and local agencies to develop a system of microbial and geochemical tracking strategies that could identify septic system leaks. This could be instrumental in helping local and state agencies restore the water quality and ecosystem health of the Saginaw Bay watershed.

Lead principal investigator: Matthew Schrenk, Michigan State University

Project overview (PDF)

Final Report TBA (PDF)

Cladophora, mussels, and the nearshore phosphorus shunt in Lake Michigan


Pengfei Xue, Michigan Technological University

Since invading the Great Lakes, filter-feeding zebra and quagga mussels have increased water clarity in Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Lake Ontario. This has boosted the growth of bottom-dwelling filamentous algae like Cladophora, which washes ashore in stringy green mats to foul beaches and harbor harmful bacteria. The invading mussels also recycle phosphorus — a nutrient that feeds algal growth — through their feces. Pengfei Xue, an assistant professor in the Michigan Technological University Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, will lead a team applying mathematical models to untangle the web of processes supplying nutrition to Cladophora at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Project overview (PDF)

Final report (PDF)

Characterizing black tern nesting response to changing water levels in Lake St. Clair


Jennifer Fuller, Graduate student fellow, University of Michigan

Black terns, a threatened species in Michigan, nest in places vulnerable to flooding and water level fluctuations. Graduate Fellow Jennifer Fuller from the University of Michigan will work with the Audubon Society to study how water levels affect black tern colonies in the St. Clair Flats near Lake St. Clair, home of one of the largest black tern colonies in the Great Lakes region. This research will inform conservation management strategies for these vulnerable bird populations.

Project overview (PDF)

Final report (PDF)

Studying potential risks of airborne algal toxins


Nicole Olson, Graduate student fellow, University of Michigan

As harmful algal blooms become an annual fixture in Lake Erie’s western basin, it’s more vital than ever to understand the full effects of algal toxins on human and environmental health. A still-murky question is whether toxin molecules can become aerosolized, or airborne, in droplets of water kicked up by waves, strong winds, and watercraft. To test this, University of Michigan doctoral student Nicole Olson and staff from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality will run water samples from Lake Erie and Lake Huron through a wave simulator to determine whether algal toxins and other organic material become airborne along with water droplets.

Project overview (PDF)

Final Report (PDF)

Economic effects of Area of Concern remediation


Michael Moore, Lead principal investigator, University of Michigan

Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCs) are locations within the Great Lakes Basin where a water body has experienced severe environmental degradation and has been designated for clean-up by the U.S. EPA. Initially designated in 1987, many AOCs have undergone extensive remediation efforts. Little is known about the potential relationships between remediation activities and neighborhood factors such as housing prices, population density, residents’ income, and educational characteristics. The project team will investigate how restoration activities at AOCs have affected the composition and economic well-being of surrounding neighborhoods.

Project overview (PDF)

Final Report (PDF)

Tracking harmful algal blooms in western Lake Erie


Angela Yu, Michigan Technological University, MISG graduate research fellow

In recent years, the western basin of Lake Erie has experienced a rising number of severe algal blooms. These blooms can bring serious consequences for human and environmental health, as well as economic activity in nearby communities. The research team will use satellite imagery, buoys, field data, weather conditions, and river flow patterns to characterize the effects of the Detroit River on the optimal conditions for bloom formation. This information can give managers an advantage in predicting when and where future algal blooms may appear.

Project overview (PDF)

Final Report (PDF)

Green infrastructure implementation: Planning for a sustainable future

Don Carpenter, Lawrence Technological University

Green infrastructure uses plants, soils, and natural processes to manage rain and snowmelt wherever it flows. Many Michigan communities are interested in using green infrastructure to supplement traditional grey infrastructure components such as storm drains, sewer pipes, and wastewater treatment plants. However, there are many barriers to the large-scale adoption of green infrastructure projects. Individuals, organizations, and communities across the state face regulatory red tape, lack of funding, lack of quantifiable incentives, and other challenges. The research team will identify and address these challenges and develop strategies for easing the transition toward green infrastructure in Michigan.

Project overview (PDF)

Developing stable open channel design

Carol J. Miller, Wayne State University

The conventional trapezoidal drain is the main type of drainage ditch in use throughout Michigan. Trapezoidal drains are highly efficient at providing drainage and moving flood flows, but also have a high risk of failure, require more maintenance, and contribute to several other problems related to water quality. In contrast, channel design that mimics self-sustaining, natural systems has been shown to improve long-term drain stability and water quality.

The research team will explore if and how the principles of open channel design — a more resilient, natural approach to drainage — can be successfully integrated into existing county drain programs and policies.

Project: R/CCD-30
Project overview (PDF)

Where people meet the muck: Muck in Saginaw Bay

Donna Kashian, Wayne State University

In several regions of the Great Lakes, including Saginaw Bay, muck is a problem. It has been blamed for poor water quality and economic losses — and it’s not a new issue. Records of muck in Saginaw Bay go back to the 1960s, but other accounts mention problem muck as far back as the 1920s. The muck in Saginaw Bay is thought to be the result of excess nutrients in the system (for example, phosphorous from fertilizers or sewage from combined sewer overflows), though changes in the food web, particularly those caused by invasive mussels, likely add to the problem.

The research team will explore the causes, consequences, and possible ways to address the muck problem at the Bay City State Recreation Area in Saginaw Bay, as well as the public perception of the issue.

Project: R/SS-2


Assessing the Torch Lake Area of Concern

Noel R. Urban, Michigan Technological University

Torch Lake, located in the Keweenaw of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, was impacted by copper mining from the mid-1800s to the late 1960s. Because of several environmental issues such as fish tumors, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listed Torch Lake as an Area of Concern (AOC) in 1987. After some clean up, the EPA recently reported that there was not enough information available in order to accomplish rapid remediation of the site. The research team will combine existing information with previously untapped information in order to provide a comprehensive picture of the mining and environmental history of the area, to educate and engage stakeholders, and to supply material that can be used to help remediate the site where needed.

Project: R/WQ-4
Project website

Green marina education and outreach

Clean Marina programs in Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin are focusing on a plan to reduce pollution from boating and marina activities throughout the region. The project partners are working to establish uniform certification standards that can be applied to marinas throughout the Great Lakes and beyond.

Restoring natural flows in the Clinton River watershed

Don Carpenter, Lawrence Technological University

The 80-mile-long Clinton River has its headwaters in rural and developing areas, and then flows through heavily urbanized sections of southern Oakland and Macomb counties before eventually draining into Lake St. Clair in southeast Michigan. Although water quality in the Clinton River has improved over the past 30 years, the river faces a number of environmental challenges, including extreme fluctuation of water flow.

Project: R/CGLH-3
Project overview (PDF)

Project report (PDF)

Watershed flow diagrams (PDF)

Rein in the runoff

Alan Steinman and Elaine Sterrett-Isely, Grand Valley State University

Researchers worked closely with town managers, planning commission members, stormwater managers, and residents to evaluate stormwater run-off issues in the Spring Lake watershed in West Michigan. The research team developed a variety of tools to help community leaders select and implement strategies for reducing run off and improving water quality, including computer models of runoff in the watershed, a range of maps, a detailed comparison of stormwater management techniques, and several example ordinances. Ultimately, Spring Lake watershed can serve as model for communities around the Great Lakes that struggle with stormwater runoff issues.

Projects: R/WQ-1
Project overview (PDF)

Project report (PDF)

Citizens Guide to Stormwater (PDF)

New techniques shed light on genetic pollution at coastal beaches

Elizabeth Wheeler Alm, Central Michigan University

Full title: Genetic Pollution: Coastal Beaches as Environmental Reservoirs of Virulence and Antibiotic Resistance Genes

Sea Grant-funded researchers at Central Michigan University studied the genetics of bacteria found in beaches along Lakes Huron, Michigan, Superior, and St. Clair. They found that E. coli, a bacteria that usually lives in the digestive track of mammals, is nearly ubiquitous in sandy beaches of the Great Lakes. Although E. coli is usually harmless to people, a few strains can cause illness. Researchers also assessed whether beach bacteria contain three specific genes that would make them resistant to antibiotics. In tests conducted in 2005, they found that while two of the genes are rare, one of the genes was detected in 80 percent of beach sand samples analyzed. If this gene is transferred into disease-causing bacteria, potential infections would be harder to treat with traditional antibiotics. Research about the public health implications is on-going.

Project: R/PSC-5

Water quality and public health risks in the Great Lakes

Joan Rose, Michigan State University

Project: M/PD-10

An evaluation of seasonal and temporal variability in potential trace metal remobilization in coastal wetlands sediments using voltametric microelectrode technology and solid phase extraction techniques

Brent Lewis, Kettering University

Project: R/ES-20

Prevalence of Mycobacterium spp. in Michigan Great Lakes fish and water

Mohamed Faisal, Michigan State University

Project: M/PD-2

An environmental monitoring network for Lake St. Clair

Guy Meadows, University of Michigan

Elevated bacteria levels in Lake St. Clair have led to frequent closings of popular beaches in southeast Michigan. With assistance from NOAA-GLERL, researchers developed a way to predict water quality conditions in Lake St. Clair and to aid local officials in predicting beach closures. Using advanced data collection and remote sensing technology, the system provided timely and accurate predictions of nearshore water quality conditions and potential threats to human health. The system was used as a management tool by local agencies, and automated buoy data was made available to the general public via web site. The methods, approach, and monitoring network used in Lake St. Clair are transferrable to other areas in the Great Lakes affected by beach closures.

Project: R/EM-7

Bioregulation of trace metals in the Great Lakes

Jerome Nriagu, University of Michigan

Project: R/ES-17