RISEUP: Research Internships for a Sustainable Environment with Undergraduate Participation

Summer 2014 Project Descriptions

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Project 1: Toxic Algal Blooms

Mentor: Sandy Bihn, Lake Erie Waterkeeper.

Background: From USA Today October 13, "TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Toxins from blobs of algae on western Lake Erie are infiltrating water treatment plants along the shoreline, forcing cities to spend a lot more money to make sure their drinking water is safe....The annual algae blooms have been concentrated around the western end of Lake Erie — though a few have spread to the Cleveland area — and have affected water treatment plants in Toledo and other cities that dot the water's edge in northern Ohio. The algae growth is fed by phosphorous from farm fertilizer runoff and other sources, leaving behind toxins that can kill animals and sicken humans. Tests on drinking water in Carroll Township, which is just west of Toledo, showed the amount of toxins had increased so much in early September that officials decided to order residents to stop using the water for two days until they could hook up to another water supply."

Project Description: Lake Erie Waterkeeper would like an intern to develop a chart detailing relevant statistics such as customer population, water levels, microcystin levels, and treatment type for all public drinking water intakes and wastewater outfalls in the Lake Erie watershed. The Lake Erie watershed includes Michigan, Ontario, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and New York. States have contact information and lists. Waterkeeper will advise and assist with this project. The collected information collected and the written summary will be used for coordination of public water intakes. Additionally, wastewater plant discharge and phosphorus levels would be charted to assess algae impacts and nutrient sources.

 

Project 2: Small Scale Variability of Metals in Urban Community Gardens

Mentor: Dr. Larry Lemke, Associate Professor of Geology and Director of the Environmental Science Program, Wayne State University. His research focuses on modeling the fate and transport of contaminants in groundwater, air, and soil in natural and urban environments.

Background: Soils of post-industrial urban areas possess varying pollution legacies and can place residents who come in contact with soil dust at higher risk for heavy metal poisoning. Detroit, which has gained the attention of developers and urban gardeners for its abundance of vacant lots, is marked by a high occurrence of elevated heavy metal blood levels in children. As public health officials, families and the urban gardening movement seek to limit heavy metal exposure, more information on the small-scale variability of heavy metals in soil is required for sampling procedures to accurately estimate an urban site's level of contamination.

Project Description: This project involves sampling, laboratory analysis, and mapping of metal concentrations in soils with potential legacy contamination in Detroit garden plots.  The student investigator will be responsible for collecting approximately 30 soil samples from a pre-identified garden.  Sample preparation will require drying and sieving using a standard protocol. Sample analysis will be conducted in the laboratory using x-ray fluorescence.   Geostatistical data analysis will be completed using SGeMS or SpaceStat software and mapping will be completed using Surfer or ArcGIS software.


 

Project 3: Historic Legacy of the Detroit River

Mentor: Karen Slaughter-DuPerry, The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy.

Background: The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy is a non-profit organization founded in 2003 by civic, community and public leaders who took the lead in putting together a plan to develop public space on Detroit’s historic and international riverfront.  The mission of the Conservancy is to develop public access to the riverfront and to have this development serve as an anchor for economic revitalization – all while working with others to create more thriving, walkable and connected communities within Detroit. The DRFC wants to educate and illuminate the general public on the riverfront’s history so that walls and barriers can be eliminated and stronger relationships can be built. Through the years, the many contributions of the area’s various ethnic groups helped shape the city in terms of arts, culture, industry, food, customs, etc. While the industrialization of the riverfront helped Detroit grow and become prosperous, a result of that evolution was the waterfront becoming less accessible, littered with unsightly structures that made it an unattractive place to visit and left environmental contaminants that polluted the waterway, though regulations and cleanup over time have improved the river.

Project Description: The DRFC needs a researcher to capture all the ethnic contributions, wildlife/ecosystem improvements and events in history that shaped Detroit’s riverfront. The  research should comprise two distinct, but overlapping components. The first will focus on the founding of Detroit more than 300 years ago and the many types of ethnic groups who came from all over the world to settle here and help give Detroit its unique cultural flavor. The second part of the research will focus on the evolution of the riverfront, from the early years as a trading outpost to being one of the busiest and most important riverfronts in the Great Lakes. This information will be used in developing historical materials, programs and educational experiences for visitors.

 

Project 4: Environmental Issues and Action Plans at the Belle Isle State Park

Mentor:  Michele Hodges, Belle Isle Conservancy

Background:  Belle Isle is a 982-acre island park in the Detroit River, between the United States mainland and Canada, and located about 2 km west of the source of the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair.  It is connected to the mainland of Detroit by the MacArthur Bridge. The island park design was originally created by Frederick Law Olmsted (designer of Central Park, New York) and features a range of habitats including parking lots, paved roads, groomed lawns and picnic areas, museums and other cultural features, managed lagoons, soft and hard engineered shorelines, beaches, and forested areas.  The island has a botanical garden, the Belle Isle Conservatory, the Belle Isle Aquarium, the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, two boat clubs, and the Belle Isle Nature Zoo (a natural history museum run by the Detroit Zoo).  The Conservatory and the Aquarium are historically significant buildings designed by Detroit architect Albert Kahn.  Belle Isle is the largest city-owned island park in the United States; however, due to financial difficulties of the City of Detroit, management of the park has been transferred to the State of Michigan State Park system by a lease that went into effect on November 12, 2013.  The park is a beautiful, family and nature oriented green area of the City but it also has a variety of environmental issues that are expected to be improved with the new State management.

Project Description:  The intern will investigate current environmental issues in this newest of Michigan state parks, and will recommend or help design action plans to remediate these environmental issues, taking into account various stakeholders concerns including cost, environmental impact, and recreational and other benefits.  Among the issues that are expected to be studied are invasive species (which ones, where located, remedies in progress or recommended), fish habitats (roles of island lagoons as fish nursery and spawning areas; fishing access, etc.), stormwater issues (effects of impervious surfaces; impacts on lagoons and Detroit River; relationships to City sewage treatment systems); human impacts on wildlife and vice versa; environmental impacts of the Grand Prix race and large outdoor concert events, etc.  The intern’s work will review previous master plans for Belle Isle, update previous analyses according to contemporary data; interact with State of Michigan park administrators to determine their plans; investigate how education activities and volunteers may be used to assist in island improvement; and develop recommendations based on this study for future improvements of the Park.

 

Project 5: Improving Water Management in the Great Lakes Basin: Environmental Benefits, Financial Implications & Effective Knowledge Transfer

Mentor(s): Jeffrey E. Edstrom and Jodi McCarthey, Environmental Consulting & Technology (ECT), Inc.

Background: Great Lakes United and its partners Alliance for Water Efficiency, Environmental Consulting & Technology Inc., and LIDmarsh obtained funding from the Great Lakes Protection Fund to explore and test environmental and financial rationales for municipalities to adopt water conservation and green infrastructure practices, and also test techniques and partnerships to encourage the adoption and implementation of such practices to secure the long-term sustainability of the waters of the Great Lakes basin.

Project Description: The outcomes of the project will center on findings on the following three hypotheses.

Hypothesis 1: Innovation in water management at the municipal level will contribute to ecological integrity at the watershed and Great Lakes basin scales.

Hypothesis 2: Quantifying financial implications and environmental outcomes for municipal and public stakeholders will help drive innovation in the development and adoption of municipal best management practices, including conservation and green infrastructure programs.

Hypothesis 3: Knowledge-transfer strategies will improve knowledge acquisition, helping to enable a greater degree of innovation in water management.

Work on this project will be focused on six municipalities, three in Canada and three in the U.S. and will further ground-truth the estimates of environmental and financial benefits to localities of adopting water-conserving practices. The long-term objective is to use the lessons learned in those six municipalities to affect behavior in municipalities throughout the Great Lakes basin in both Canada and the United States.

 

Project 6: Community Based Social Marketing for Nutrients in the Lake Erie Basin.

Mentor(s): Sanjiv Sinha, Ph.D, Environmental Consulting & Technology (ECT), Inc.

Background: The International Joint Commission (IJC) has taken a leadership role by embarking on a major bi-national behavior change research initiative to address the serious issue of nutrient runoff contamination in the Lake Erie basin. In 2012, the IJC Commissioners decided to make addressing algae a priority under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. As a result, the IJC’s Lake Erie Ecosystem Priority (LEEP) specifically targeted excessive algae growth in Lake Erie. The intent was to figure out what is causing increased algal blooms and what to do about it through the development of recommendations for Canada and the U.S. to measurably reduce dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP) loads and algae by the end of 2015. This project looks at behavioral aspects of both American and Canadian stakeholders that can be modified by effective stakeholder engagement and other efforts, to deal with the on-going contamination of Lake Erie.

Project Description: The final report will provide the IJC with a recommended community based social media (CBSM) strategy for moving to the next steps of the CBSM process. These next steps may include CBSM pilot project(s) in the Lake Erie basin and/or full scale implementation of a social marketing strategy, which situates the IJC’s upcoming study within the five step CBSM process.

 

Project 7: Assessing Great Lakes Areas of Concern and Beneficial Use Impairments

Mentor: Rose Ellison, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Background: The Detroit River, the St. Clair River and the Rouge River are designated as Area of Concern (AOC) following the U.S.- Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (Annex 2 of the 1987 Protocol). These rivers are characterized as such based on the extent of environmental degradation, as well bi-national significance and proximity to heavily populated areas. Remedial Action Plan (RAP) priorities have been developed for each river and may include control of combined sewer overflows and sanitary sewer overflows, control of nonpoint source pollution, restoration of habitat, remediation of contaminated sediments, and elimination of chemical spills.

Project Description: The intern would participate in the many projects underway in the St. Clair River, Rouge River and Detroit River Areas of Concern. This includes engaging with the St. Clair Bi-national Public Advisory Committee (BPAC), the Rouge River Public Advisory Committee (PAC) and the Detroit River PAC, in their efforts to restore impairments to beneficial uses in the Areas of Concern. For the St. Clair River, this work specifically involves restoration of the St. Clair River target habitat sites, and consensus building and technical support in justifying the removal of the remaining St. Clair River Beneficial Use Impairments. For the Rouge River this work involves defining the target habitat restoration sites, Remedial Design of the Lower Rouge River – Old Channel Great Lakes Legacy Act sediment site, and possible negotiations for Remedial Investigation of the Lower Rouge River – Main Stem. The Detroit River work mainly involves on-going characterization of contaminated sediment sites, and work on target habitat sites.

 

 

Project 8: The Environment of Post-Industrial Cities and the Well-being of their Inhabitants

Mentors: Joan Nassauer, School of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of Michigan & Natalie Sampson, School of Public Health, University of Michigan

Background: Post-industrial cities - sometimes referred to as ‘legacy’ or ‘shrinking’ cities - are those such as Detroit, Michigan; Flint, Michigan; Cleveland, Ohio; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania which have experienced mass suburbanization of jobs and residents since the mid-twentieth century. These cities are typically characterized by disinvestment, large numbers of abandoned homes and land, and areas of concentrated poverty. To inform program, policy, and land use interventions in post-industrial cities, our research team seeks an improved understanding of how neighborhood environments relate to residents’ quality of life. Towards this end, we are working to validate an observational scale that would allow us to measure features of the physical and social environment of the neighborhoods. As part of this process, we are conducting a Photovoice project with focus groups to gain the perspective of residents. Photovoice is a process where people visually capture aspects of their community as they see them through photos - often in response to negative or misconstrued depictions perpetuated by non-residents.

Project Description: A RISEUP intern would help to coordinate this Photovoice project in multiple Detroit neighborhoods. To assist with related focus groups, the intern would participate in tasks such as recruitment, note-taking, and transcription, as well as management and analysis of photo and qualitative data. We would invite the RISEUP intern to engage in community-academic meetings and other events related to housing, land use, environmental planning, and public health, as appropriate.


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