Solving Nutrient Loading in the Great Lakes: An Integrative, Interdisciplinary and Ambidextrous Approach

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 5:35 PM
Murrray Charles Borrello, Timothy Keeton, Tyler Foley, Allie Frost, Nicole Green and Jessica Isler, Alma College, Alma, MI, United States
Environmental impacts from industrialized agriculture have been studied extensively over the past two decades. Degradation of surface water occurs, primarily as a result of nutrient loading, causing algal blooms in streams and lakes. Discovery of the toxin microcystin in Lake Erie, a drinking water source for some municipalities, has been associated with agricultural runoff and created a new awareness in the general public. This study used data gathered over ten years by local residents, high school students and undergraduates on surface water around the Lower Peninsula of Michigan to test a simple correlation of nutrients (soluble reactive phosphorus and nitrogen ammonia) along with the presence of specific antibiotics and antibiotic resistance to identify dominant sources of nutrient loading in the Lake Huron Watershed. Data gathering came from multiple sources and were processed by faculty and students at an undergraduate, liberal arts institution. College students from various disciplines worked with community members and municipalities in an effort to describe the problem. Students proposed solutions which by-passed relatively inactive regulatory agencies to create an integrative, interactive resolution that involved a surprisingly wide extent of the community. Addressing cultural norms beginning with those most affected by a degraded environment has reaped some success in changing behavior and moving towards a sustainable solution. The research conducted and supervised by undergraduate students has significance in the broader, professional area of geochemistry, environmental health and sustainable agriculture. That fact plays an important role in how the students see themselves in the process and what motivated them to: 1. Choose to participate in the research in the first place, 2. Reach out to the broader community (scientific and regional) to carry out their research and 3. Pursue solutions beyond the classroom and summer research experience.