Great Lakes

Three Years Later: EPA Continues to Clean Up Kalamazoo Oil Spill

Three years ago today, EPA responded to one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history.  When we arrived on scene, oil from a ruptured pipeline was pouring into the Kalamazoo River – a Great Lakes tributary.

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Site of the 2010 Enbridge oil pipeline spill

At the time of the spill, it was raining hard and oil was carried quickly downstream in the fast-moving river – flowing over dams and flooding riverbanks.

Oil completely covered the surface of the river

Oil completely covered the surface of the river

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Taking Care of the Great Lakes is Like Taking Care of Ourselves

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By Cameron Davis

The day before Memorial Day, we’re visiting my friend Kathy Bero. As I wrote this looking out over south central Wisconsin’s hills, growing green with spring, I feel lucky she’s around.

Kathy and I met nearly 30 years ago when she was helping to save the Great Lakes in Milwaukee. She was outgoing, smart and dedicated to the public interest. It was more than seven years ago while we were catching up on the phone, when I heard those words you never want to hear from anyone you love: “I have cancer.”

Though she had two young kids with her husband, I was strangely unconcerned. “Don’t you worry,” I told her. “That cancer has no idea who it’s up against.”

I should have been concerned. She had infiltrating ductal carcinoma that morphed into stage four inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). IBC has an 11 percent survival rate after 10 years. As if that wasn’t enough, 11 months later, she was also diagnosed with a mucoepidermoid carcinoma. Today, after using conventional treatment and foods with disease-fighting properties, she shows no signs of cancer.

Always the advocate, Kathy’s experience led her to research and dig into causes and cures. What she came to realize was that food can be medicine. Kathy went on to establish NuGenesis, which serves as a community-based model for education, sustainable organic farming and research, integrating food with medicine.

Kathy’s experience reminds us that, just as clean water is a key to life, so is clean, healthy food.

About the author: Cameron Davis is Senior Advisor to EPA the Administrator. He provides counsel on Great Lakes matters, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Our World of Water

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By Cameron Davis

Spring time commemorates a number of environmental awareness days.

Held on March 22 every year, World Water Day is a product of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development that was held in Rio de Janeiro.

Then comes Earth Day every April 22, an idea sprung from the mind of the late U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson (hailing from one of our Great Lakes states!). The first Earth Day was in 1970, the same year that Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” surged in the music charts.

This month brings National Drinking Water Week, May 6-12, originated by the American Water Works Association some 30 years ago.

These global and national commemoratives are great reminders about why we need to care about H20. But we don’t really have a Great Lakes commemorative day.

So let’s make one up later this month. We have several opportunities. First, we have webinars and public meetings coming up for input on the next Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan.  For details about webinars and public meetings in Buffalo on May 28, Milwaukee on May 30, and Cleveland on June 5.

Second, we could target every Friday before Memorial Day; this year, on May 24. That’s when the official summer beach season opens at hundreds of these special, sandy places. What better way to celebrate the Lakes that we love than by providing your thoughts at one of these forums and toasting to the Lakes on the beach with drinking water from the Great Lakes? After all, we are what we drink.

What do you think about a Great Lakes Day?

About the author: Cameron Davis is Senior Advisor to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. He provides counsel on Great Lakes matters, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Career Advice from Amy

By: Kelly Siegel

I learned so much interviewing Marta about her position at the EPA, I decided to sit down with another EPA employee, Amy Mucha.

What is your position at the EPA?

I am an Environmental scientist and project manager in the Great Lakes National Program Office.  I get to use a variety of skills in my job which is developing, designing and managing projects to clean up the worst areas of the Great Lakes.   

What is a typical day like for you?

My day is usually a combination of reviewing data; meetings/conference calls to coordinate my projects and all the activities related to it; communicating with various stakeholders including members of the public, states, industries and academia; working on funding issues like contracts and interagency agreements.

What is the best part of your job?  

That my work has impact – I help clean up the Great Lakes!  Knowing I’m doing my part to aid in such a great effort is very satisfying.  In addition, there is often field work as well and our program has its own sampling vessel, called the Mudpuppy II, and I usually spend a week or two each year in the field taking samples.

Did you always have an interest in the environment?

Not always – I’ve always had an interest in science though.  My training was in basic science when I went to a Federal Government job fair and I applied to work at the EPA.  Being at EPA meant that I could apply that training to real world situations which I enjoy and that really developed my interest in the environment.  Now it’s hard to imagine working in another area, environmental work really involves so many disciplines and ‘puzzles’ to solve.

What classes did you take in school that you use on the job today?  

Besides my lab training in basic science I also have a PhD in environmental toxicology; so I’ve taken many classes over the years.  The most directly useful classes were my graduate levels statistics classes and organic chemistry – I still use a great deal of those skills now in analyzing data and assessing my sites.  However, the practical work that went into completing my theses – where I learned experimental design and how to address key research questions -was what gave me critical skill of building an analytical framework for problem solving.  That ability still helps me tremendously in how I do my job every day.

Do you have any advice for kids today who have an interest in protecting our environment?

Get involved in a project you care about, whether it’s recycling, environmental justice, urban gardens, climate change, or saving the Great Lakes.  The key is to grow your passion – from that it will be clear what training you need to take you where you want to go. 

Kelly Siegel is a student volunteer in the EPA’s Air and Radiation Division in Region 5, and is currently obtaining her Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She has a passion for sustainable development, running, and traveling with friends.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Breaking the Ice

By Cameron Davis

Midwesterners as a general rule are a friendly bunch. They don’t gripe much. Even harsh winters—for which the region is legendary—typically draw commentary, not complaints.

So while recent temperatures are eliciting lots of opinions on city streets and in offices, one thing that’s not drawing as many comments is Great Lakes water levels. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lakes Michigan and Huron (hydrologically counted as the same lake) reached record low levels in December, the lowest recorded levels since the previous record, in 1964.

Warmer air temps mean warmer water temperatures, both of which mean falling lake levels. Warmer water temperatures mean the Great Lakes don’t get as much ice in winter time. Ice seals in water and reduces evaporation.

‘So what?’ you might ask because most people don’t use their coasts in wintertime.

Though lower levels may mean wider beaches for summer recreating, there are many other impacts that hurt recreation. Warmer water temperatures can mean more swimming advisories as conditions improve for harmful pathogens. Boats can have a more difficult time getting in and out of their ports as lake levels drop, which means more sediment can be stirred up when dredging needs to happen so boats can move. The list of impacts goes on.

Check out the Corps’ forecasts for yourself.

And, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a new “dashboard” to help you understand water.

Find out more about our Great Lakes restoration efforts, or follow me on Twitter (@CameronDavisEPA). If you missed out on Great Lakes Week and still have questions, feel free to ask them in the comment box or send me a tweet.

About the author: Cameron Davis is Senior Advisor to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. He provides counsel on Great Lakes matters, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Lakefront Lunacy

By Cameron Davis

When my cousin/godson Jamie issued the challenge in late December to join him and about a dozen of his college friends to dive into the cold waters of Lake Michigan on January 1, I couldn’t resist. After nearly three decades of working on and recreating around the Great Lakes, this was something I’d never done before.

On January 1, the outside air temperature was 20 degrees. The water temperature along the lakefront: a mild 34 degrees.

As we sat in the parking lot at Evanston’s Lighthouse Beach waiting for everyone to arrive, my brother in law Charley wondered out loud: “do you think anyone else will show?”

A text from Jamie came in. Some of his friends “got the time mixed up” and—not surprisingly—would not be showing up. “Jamie will show,” I reassured Charley (and myself). “He’s got good mettle.”

A few minutes later, Jamie arrived, a single soldier among his battalion that was AWOL. We marched stolidly toward the icy water’s edge, peeled off layer after layer of clothing until we were only in our bathing suits, then plunged into the breaking whitecaps.

Actually, the dive wasn’t all that bad. The numbness took a bite out of whatever pain we would have normally felt. Still, I was happier after the fact, than during.

With all my instincts screaming, “don’t do it!” as I walked to the water, I still did it. But there was one thing I couldn’t bring myself to do: call this ritual the “polar bear plunge.” After all, we don’t have polar bears in the Great Lakes. If you ever contemplate doing something crazy like jumping into these frigid waters to celebrate a new year, we now have a more indigenous name for it: lakefront lunacy.

About the author: Cameron Davis is Senior Advisor to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. He provides counsel on Great Lakes matters, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Great Lakes Christmas Tree Ship

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By Cameron Davis

On November 22, the Rouse Simmons listed badly, caked in ice from water and snow during one of storms for which the Great Lakes are known this time of year. Its cargo: more than 5,000 Christmas trees bound from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Chicago.

Hermann Schuenemann had been part owner and captain of the Simmons for years. And he came from a sailing family. So it was still a surprise when the schooner went down off the coast of Two Rivers, Wisconsin, that fateful day, one hundred years ago.

Rallying, Herman’s wife Barbara and two daughters continued the business in Herman’s wake, bringing trees into the Chicago River for sale.

The tale is now legend in the Midwest, not only for the fate of Herman and his ship, but the tenacity of his wife and daughters. But today, the “Legend of the Christmas Tree Ship,” is more than an enthralling true story. It lives on in exhibits at the Rogers Street Fishing Village in Two Rivers.  It lives on through plays.  And it lives on through the U.S. Coast Guard’s cutter, Mackinac.

But most of all, it lives on through an appreciation of all the Great Lakes continue to deliver to us: water, jobs, recreation and an unparalleled quality of life.

Find out more about our Great Lakes restoration efforts at www.glri.us, or follow me on Twitter (@CameronDavisEPA). If you missed out on Great Lakes Week and still have questions, feel free to ask them in the comment box or send me a tweet.

About the author: Cameron Davis is Senior Advisor to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. He provides counsel on Great Lakes matters, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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From Igniting the Environmental Movement to Restoring the Great Lakes

By Peter Cassell

On June 22, 1969, oil and debris in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught fire. It wasn’t the first time this happened but it was an image that stuck with Americans, an image that helped us focus on threats to the environment. The formation of the Environmental Protection Agency the following year blazed a path for environmental legislation such as the Clean Water Act in 1972 and an environmental movement that is still going strong.

A few weeks ago, I helped represent EPA alongside the Canadian government, other federal agencies, non-profits, academic institutions, and businesses at Great Lakes Week 2012 in Cleveland. There were field trips, tours, and seminars about more than 700 projects going on around the basin to restore the Lakes, many funded by the President’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).

Attendees also recognized the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. It helped me appreciate that waters I use today were once so polluted I wouldn’t have been able to use them then. I wouldn’t be able to squeeze in trips to the beach, kayak, or fish in my spare time if these areas weren’t cleaned up.

When I moved to Chicago two years ago I fell in love with the Great Lakes and became one of 30 million Americans around the basin who depends on the Lakes in my everyday life. Thankfully, after 40 years of the Clean Water Act, 40 years of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, and three years of the GLRI, I can love the Great Lakes up close, not from afar.

Do you have a favorite memory from enjoying this beach season? Feel free to share it with me along with your thoughts on Great Lakes issues in the comment section.

To find out more about our Great Lakes restoration efforts, visit www.glri.us or follow us on Twitter (@EPAGreatLakes) or Facebook.  You can also watch clips from Great Lakes Week 2012.

About the author: Peter Cassell is a Press Officer in EPA’s Chicago office who focuses on water issues, the Great Lakes and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Coming Full Circle with the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

By Cameron Davis

Twenty-six years ago, I volunteered under the direction of the legendary Great Lakes advocate Lee Botts, to organize a public meeting at the Chicago Cultural Center. We wanted citizens to comment on what the U.S. and Canadian governments should include as they re-negotiated the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, a historic pact that commits the two countries to coordinate efforts to make these magnificent waterbodies healthier for everyone. The U.S. and Canada finalized the Agreement the next year, in 1987.

Today, I’m wrapping up my role as a lead negotiator on the U.S. negotiation team. On September 7, U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and her Canadian counterpart, Environment Minister Peter Kent, will sign a new version the Agreement. Among other things, the 2012 Agreement will:

  • Emphasize prevention of future harm, which is good for the environment, public health and makes better fiscal sense.
  • Contain major new Annexes (issue-specific sections) dedicated to invasive species prevention, habitat and native species restoration, and preparing coastal communities for climate change.
  • Reaffirm or strengthen the 1987 version’s efforts to fix past environmental problems, such as in Areas of Concern, contaminants, and nutrients.
  • Include more opportunities for public input.

    People can watch the live signing on Friday, September 7th. It will be an incredible way to kick off Great Lakes Week that Monday in Cleveland, where the region’s top leaders and citizens will come together to discuss the theme “Taking Action, Delivering Results.”

    You can be part of all of this by Tweeting at me (@CameronDavisEPA) or interacting with us on Facebook.  See you there!

    About the author: Cameron Davis is Senior Advisor to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. He provides counsel on Great Lakes matters, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

    Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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    The Milwaukee Model: An Intersection of Great Lakes Restoration and Workforce Development

    By Chris Litzau

    I attended several sessions at the Great Lakes Areas of Concern Conference in Milwaukee this year that generated spirited discussions about growing jobs with Great Lakes clean up and restoration funds.

    For example, in Milwaukee, an environmental engineering firm partnered with local brownfield remediation job training and certification programs for disadvantaged young adults, to place training participants at the Kinnickinnic (KK) River sediment dredging project. I was impressed with the commitment made by the U.S. EPA Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) and its contractor to permit trained and certified trainees to shadow and assist with the monitoring and oversight of the dredging project. The model was replicated at a subsequent PCB dredging project in Milwaukee’s Area of Concern, and led to the involvement and eventual hiring of dozens of training participants at water quality improvement, conservation and remediation projects throughout the region.

    During the dredging projects, training participants interned at the site with GLNPO’s contractor. All participants completed the EPA’s Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training (EWDJT) Program, which was funded with an EPA grant. By attending the training program, participants acquired the necessary Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 40-hour Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) certification. The certification was a prerequisite for the trainees to be able to participate in the project.

    It’s clear to me that the successes of the young adults – and the efforts of EPA and contractor staff – established a model for other clean up and restoration projects. Several workforce development programs such as the program that supported the Milwaukee Model are located within AOCs or near rivers, lakes, reservoirs and other bodies of water. I believe that these programs also offer a pipeline of young adults who can assist and learn at water quality treatment, improvement and remediation projects during future grants.

    I think that the Milwaukee dredging project clearly demonstrates that consultants and contractors are able to cultivate knowledge and technical skills among a population of disadvantaged young adults, and – through the process – grow the future workforce. The KK River project in Milwaukee is proof that the Great Lakes Legacy Act combined with the EWDJT Program can stimulate the economy with a ripple effect that makes a lasting impact on the physical landscape and social fabric of the community.

    About the author: Chris Litzau served as the Executive Director of the Milwaukee Community Service Corps for 12 years before recently leaving the organization to grow the Great Lakes Community Conservation Corps (Great Lakes CCC) into a regional job training and education program.  The mission of the Great Lakes CCC is to leverage resources among Great Lakes communities to train and educate disadvantaged populations for credentials that close the skills gap, improve water quality, build habitat, grow the legacy of the original Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s and make the region more competitive in the global economy.  In 1998, Mr. Litzau administered one of the first 10 grants awarded by the EPA through its nascent Brownfield Job Training Program.

    Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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