By Jim Erickson and Jennifer Read

The University of Michigan Water Center in the most recent academic year has awarded nine major research grants totaling more than $3 million to support Great Lakes restoration and protection efforts.
The Water Center has provided more than $3.6 million in research funds since it formed in October 2012 with an initial focus on the Great Lakes, working closely with academic colleagues and resource managers to improve restoration outcomes.

Lake Michigan at Grand Haven
Lake Michigan at Grand Haven, Michigan. Image credit: Michigan Sea Grant

The most recent grant, handed out this spring, awards $214,600 to support the development of new, web-based, ecosystem management tools for the Great Lakes region. Great Lakes resource managers commonly express a need for publicly accessible habitat data and decision support tools that can be applied to a multitude of issues throughout the Great Lakes basin. The project team has been developing the Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Framework (GLAHF), a geo-referenced, spatial, framework for aquatic habitat data for the Great Lakes.

Two-year grants, which range in size from $155,358 to $458,290, were awarded last fall to multidisciplinary teams led by researchers at universities in Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota and New York. The eight winners were selected from 90 proposals submitted for the second round of U-M Water Center grants.

The projects are supporting efforts to restore native fish migrations across the Great Lakes Basin, assess strategies to restore the health of the Green Bay ecosystem under a changing climate, improve water quality in the Western Lake Erie Basin, guide ecological restoration of Saginaw Bay, assess the effectiveness of wetlands restoration projects in the Lake Ontario/St. Lawrence River watershed, determine the relative contributions of agricultural runoff and sewage discharge in fecal pollution entering lakes Michigan and Erie, and map Great Lakes environmental stressors.

“These grants support restoration-focused research that will fill knowledge gaps and enhance decision making in the Great Lakes Basin,” said Water Center Director Allen Burton. “They also connect researchers to end users, really enhancing our ability to answer local or regional questions that have basin-wide applications.”

A center of U-M’s Graham Sustainability Institute, the Water Center was made possible by a $4.5 million, three-year grant from the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation and additional funds from the university.

“We are very pleased with these new grants as well as the center’s collaborative approach,” said foundation President John Erb. “In addition to supporting critical research, the center is enhancing the dialogue among Great Lakes science leaders and between science leaders and policy leaders from government and nonprofit organizations.”

Rocks National Lakeshore
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Lake Superior. Image credit: Michigan Sea Grant

The Water Center engages researchers, resource managers, policymakers and nonprofit groups to support, integrate and improve freshwater restoration and protection efforts. During its first three years, the Water Center is focusing on the Great Lakes, working to enhance regional dialogue and collaboration to identify and fill priority knowledge gaps.

In selecting the eight grants, special emphasis was given to proposals that integrated one or more focus areas of the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative—cleaning up toxics, combating invasive species, restoring habitat and ridding nearshore waters of polluted runoff—or that evaluated the potential effects of climate change on Great Lakes restoration efforts. In all cases, the U-M funding will be used to support existing restoration and protection efforts in the Great Lakes, not to establish new projects.

The eight project teams include 73 researchers from 16 universities in the United States and Canada, nine agencies, two consulting firms, two nongovernmental organizations and one tribe.

In May 2013, the U-M Water Center awarded 12 smaller research grants, totaling nearly $570,000, to support diverse projects, including efforts to track the remediation of harmful algae blooms, assess the effectiveness of techniques to control non-native weedy plant invasions, study chromosomal damage in tree swallow nestlings and monitor fish responses to restoration activities.

The Great Lakes hold 20 percent of the world’s fresh water. The region includes more than 10,000 miles of coastline and numerous globally rare plant and animal species. In addition, the Great Lakes support a wide range of recreational and economic activities, including vibrant tourism and a sport fishing industry that contributes $4 billion to the economy.