Great Lakes

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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    The Day Science Saved the Great Lakes… and Possibly the Lake Erie Water Snake

    By Cameron Davis

    Ohio State University’s Center for Lake Erie Area Research (CLEAR) and Sea Grant’s Stone Lab—the oldest freshwater biological field station in the U.S.—is perched on Lake Erie’s Gibraltar Island and the northwestern tip of Lake Erie’s South Bass Island. They look over Put-in-Bay and an expanse of water where U.S., British and Canadian navies battled famously 200 years ago next September. In the 1970s, CLEAR and Stone Lab helped beat back Round One of Lake Erie’s eutrophication scourge. More recently, they have proven that rare species—this time the Lake Erie water snake—can be brought back from the brink of extinction.

    So, on August 2, I was excited to speak to this group at Director Jeff Reutter’s invitation about “The Day Science Saved the Great Lakes.” Of course, the title was figurative because scientific research alone can’t save the Great Lakes. And, because science is a process that unfolds over time; it can’t discover and help solve problems overnight, especially those of the magnitude we’re confronting in the region. The point of the talk was to show how science that better predicts incoming/oncoming threats to the Great Lakes gives policymakers and the public enough time to act.

    I relayed “The Sad Tale of Joe Schormann,” (thanks to Dave Dempsey’s book, On the Brink) where our hero (Schormann) commissioned a study warning about the introduction of zebra mussels. Unfortunately, some seven years after the study, zebra mussels showed up in Lake St. Clair. Today, we have excellent examples of work identifying possible pathways for invasive species to get into the Great Lakes and their risk levels. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s GLANSIS Watchlist funded in part by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is one example. Another is the Corps of Engineers’ GLMRIS Other Pathways Risk Assessment .

    Science has an important role to play in saving the Great Lakes. Its role becomes even more important if it’s predictive and supporting key outcomes.

    Has science influenced you recently in your everyday life, or made you want to change a behavior or attitude? Feel free to share it with me in the comment section. If you want to find out more about our Great Lakes restoration efforts, visit www.glri.us, or follow me on Twitter (@CameronDavisEPA).

    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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    TEAM ECK H20

    student

    The Great Lakes are a Midwest treasure, and the students at Harper Woods Middle School in Michigan know it.  That is why they were recently recognized in a national competition for their environmental stewardship of the Great Lakes.

    Team ECK H20 , as they’re called, wanted to research the unseen threats to human and environmental health in water sources, specifically the Milk River and the 10 Mile Drain which is in their community.  This team of 13 year old girls built and deployed water sampling buoys that contained plates designed to use a chemical called EVA (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate) to extract harmful chemicals that may be in the water.  They then collected the sample plates to measure the levels of pollution and toxic chemicals in each water location.  With the assistance of a lab team from University of Connecticut, the girls uncovered that there were lower levels of pollution in the 10 Mile Drain when compared to the Milk River location.  The girls’ think that the EPA’s recent clean up of the Ten Mile Drain is contributing to the lower pollution levels.

    When asked about their efforts, one team member, Emily, said, “It just tells us that we have to be more careful; with how we treat our lakes and water sources.” This project has opened up Emily’s eyes to a future in environmental law.  The girls hope that they can continue their research next year as 8th graders.  In the meantime, they have coordinated beach clean-up teams and have presented their project findings to local government agencies.

    Great things are happening in Michigan. Team ECK H20 is just one example.

    Yvonne Gonzalez is a SCEP intern with the Air and Radiation Division in Region 5.  She recently received her dual graduate degree from DePaul University.

    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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    Great Input Keeps the Great Lakes Great

    By Cameron Davis

    I am happy to share that on May 30, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who chairs the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force of 16 federal agencies coordinating to restore the Great Lakes, announced the formation of a committee to help make Great Lakes recovery even more effective.

    Stakeholder commitment is the backbone of the very programs, like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and U.S.-Canadian Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, which accelerate Great Lakes recovery. In announcing the new Great Lakes Advisory Board, Chair Jackson said, “it’s important that we hear from experts and stakeholders who can strengthen our efforts. By providing insight from those who know these waters best, the Great Lakes Advisory Board will ensure the continued success of the work already underway, and help move into the next phases of Great Lakes restoration and protection.”
    The Task Force, through EPA, will request nominations from leaders soon. In the meantime, you can find out more about the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative  or by following me on Twitter @CameronDavisEPA.

    To view the Federal Register notice announcing EPA’s intent to establish the advisory board, see

    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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    Tell Us Why “Water Is Worth It” To You

    By Travis Loop

    2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the nation’s law for protecting our most irreplaceable resource. As our team at EPA planned a variety of activities to mark the occasion, we settled on the tagline Water Is Worth It.
    I suppose that seems like a really broad, open-ended and ambiguous phrase, which also raises a number of questions. What is it worth? Why is it worth it? Worth it to who?

    But that was the point – to have a tagline for the 40th anniversary that reflects the diverse spectrum and incredible depth of water’s importance to people. And while there is much about water’s value to civilization that is universal, water is also extremely personal and subject to an individual’s experiences. Our society has collective uses for water, such as drinking, swimming and fishing. But water also has a special and unique place in our lives, whether rooted in memories of a childhood watering hole, a river that runs by the neighborhood or a career focused on protecting water. For me, surfing and diving in the ocean is virtually a spiritual experience and watching my children play in the water brings me tremendous joy.

    So when you hear Water Is Worth It, what does that mean to you?

    We really want to know. So to help commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, EPA is asking people to send in a 15-second video clip about the important role that water plays in their life. Each video should include the phrase “Water Is Worth It,” but the rest is up to you. EPA will post selected videos on its website and Facebook page.

    To learn more and register, visit

    Fill out a video entry form, and submit your entry as a video response to the promotional video on EPA’s YouTube page. Video submissions must be received by September 14, 2012.

    Grab your friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, classmates, and pets and let us know why Water is Worth It to you. We’re confident that the submissions are going to show that water means many different things to many people, but that it is critically important to everyone.

    About the author: Travis Loop is the communications director for the Office of Water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


    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 Badge of Honor

    By Cameron Davis

    I know phrases like “we need to save the Great Lakes for the next generation” are so often uttered that it can risk becoming a biological bromide (as opposed to a chemical one)…it can become as worn as an old pair of shoes.

    In the waning days of Earth Month, I had the chance to help the great staff of the National Park Service coach kids from kindergarten through 8th grade as part of the Great Lakes Junior Park Ranger Program at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Supported by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, with leadership from pros like NPS’s Carmen Chapin, Marcus Key, Phyllis Ellin and Wendy Smith, the program teaches future leaders the importance of native ecosystems using Adopt-a-Beach® and other initiatives. After completing the program, participants get a shiny new Great Lakes Junior Badge. Said one up-and-comer: he loved the Junior Park Ranger Program and helping to save Lake Michigan “because we need to drink water.” Kind of hard to argue with that.

    If the Great Lakes Junior Ranger program was any indication, yes, we need to save the Great Lakes for them. But, from what I saw, they’re starting to save the Lakes for themselves. Maybe we need to just get out of their way.

    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 Big Year Is Coming To A Region Near You

    By Cameron Davis

    No, not the movie, or the best-selling book on which it’s based about one man’s pursuit of breaking the record for most birds seen in one year. Rather, 2012 is The Big Year for the Great Lakes region.

    The U.S. and Canada completed the last round of formal negotiations to revise the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in Ottawa on January 20th. The revised agreement will incorporate recommendations from the public to tackle new threats to the Great Lakes: invasive species, climate change impacts and habitat protection. Another benefit of the revitalized Agreement that probably won’t make headlines, but is as important as anything else:  it will be more user-friendly than previous versions. During the coming weeks the U.S. and Canada will be putting the finishing touches on language to revise the Agreement, which has long been considered a model of binational environmental cooperation. More details to come…

    Then there’s the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. President Obama’s FY13 budget is due for release on Monday, February 13. Stay tuned to hear about FY13 GLRI funding. Administrator Jackson will be announcing the EPA’s budget, including the multi-agency GLRI numbers, upon the White House’s budget release. Follow me on Twitter for an up-to-the-minute up-date.

    To find out more about our Great Lakes restoration efforts, visit, or follow me on Twitter (CameronDavisEPA).

    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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    Results Energize Great Lakes Week

    By Cameron Davis

    If Earth Day should be celebrated every day, then Great Lakes Week should be every week. To the relief of the conference organizers, I’m not talking about a conference every week. However, I am talking about keeping alive the themes and energy that came from the first-ever Great Lakes Week.

    This mega event was hosted in Detroit, October 11-14, through the innovative partnership of several organizations including the U.S. EPA, the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force, Environment Canada, the International Joint Commission, the Healing Our Waters – Great Lakes Coalition, the Great Lakes Commission and Wayne State University. These organizations all work separately on Great Lakes Restoration, but Great Lakes Week gave us an opportunity to take action together, set priorities for the coming years, and, most importantly show results.

    Speaker after speaker echoed that the region needs to keep its focus on results – that is, work that shows direct ecological benefit to the health of the Great Lakes. Administrator Lisa Jackson highlighted work under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that is already beginning to show results:

    ·    Some 140 acres of wetlands restored at the Shiawassee Flats Wetland restoration area in Michigan’s Saginaw River basin is bringing back fish and wildlife habitat, improving water quality and reducing flooding.

    ·    Swimming bans and advisories at Chicago’s beaches are at a five-year low; other beaches are seeing decreases in beach closures.

    ·    Cleaning up toxic hotspot Areas of Concern, with dramatic progress at White Lake and River Raisin in Michigan, the Sheboygan River in Wisconsin, and the Ashtabula River in Ohio.

    Missed the conference and want to see highlights? Go to greatlakesnow.org to watch on-demand video footage of the week’s events. After all, it’s not that Great Lakes Weeks should be held every week, but we should make sure that we are achieving results every week of the year.

    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 in Greenversations 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.

    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.

    Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

    Great Lakes Restoration: Charting a Path Forward

    By Peter Cassell

    Growing up in New Jersey, I always had access to the beach, which every New Jersean knows as the Jersey Shore. Then I went off to college and didn’t get to enjoy ocean anymore. After accepting a job in EPA’s Chicago office, I got a pleasant surprise. There were beaches right near my apartment. Once again, I had access to the water. Lake Michigan does not have that same salty smell as the beaches of Long Beach Island, New Jersey, but going to the beach just has a way of reminding me of home.

    When I was not off enjoying and exploring what my new home had to offer, I was hard at work trying to learn about a central piece of my new job: the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. I received crash courses on emerging chemicals, invasive species and other issues affecting the lakes and soon realized that I had a precious resource right in my own backyard. Until I came here, I didn’t really grasp that millions of people rely on the lakes for everything from drinking water to their livelihoods to recreation with friends and family. I learned that the Great Lakes are more than just places on a map, they are a way of life.

    I fell in love with the Chicago waterfront and was ready to help make the lakes better so that everyone can enjoy them. When EPA’s Great Lakes Advisor Cameron Davis asked me to help organize Great Lakes Week, I jumped at the chance to do something tangible. We worked for months with nonprofits, businesses and Great Lakes organizations to put on the most wide-ranging Great Lakes summit in history. Hundreds of people will gather in Detroit from October 11-14 to be a part of this historic event. With speakers including Administrator Jackson and former Vice President Al Gore, the week is poised to chart a path forward as we address key issues and work together to achieve results.

    Even if you do not live in Metro Detroit, you can still participate by watching the events online at www.greatlakesnow.org or tweeting questions to @CameronDavisEPA with hashtag #AskGLW. We are even taking questions through Facebook at www.facebook.com/epagreatlakes.  Select questions will be featured at the Great Lakes Week Panel and Town Hall.

    Do you have a favorite memory about your beach or have you done something to help keep it clean? Feel free to share it with me along with your thoughts on the Great Lakes in the comment section. To find out more about our Great Lakes restoration efforts, visit

    About the author: Peter Cassell is a Press Officer in Region 5 who focuses on water issues, the Great Lakes and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

    Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

    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.

    Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.