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GLIN==> New report finds gaps in environmental data collection in the Lake

New report finds gaps in environmental data collection in the Lake Michigan

Contact: Ric Lawson
Phone: 734-665-9135
Fax: 734-665-4370
Email: rlawson@glc.org

Ann Arbor, Mich.– Environmental monitoring – the collection of data
continuously over time – is lacking in several key areas in the Lake
Michigan basin, according to a newly released report from the Great Lakes
Commission.  While report findings reveal extensive monitoring in categories
such as drinking water quality, surface water contaminants, bottom
sediments, stream characteristics and some aquatic nuisance species,
monitoring is less extensive for other parameters such as terrestrial and
aquatic habitat changes, amphibian diversity and abundance, and deposition
of air toxins.  Monitoring for many other indicators is unknown.  The report
comments on the need for coordination among organizations collecting this
important environmental data.  “Organizations make most, if not all,
decisions about their monitoring programs based on goals for their local
coverage area,” states the report.  “Rarely does this area cover the entire
Lake Michigan basin.”

Monitoring is important to environmental managers because it provides
baseline information on the overall health of the ecosystem.  Managers often
rely on specific “indicators” — such as bacteria levels or changes in
wildlife populations — to help them develop a picture of the health of a
given ecosystem.  It is much like a medical doctor relying on a set of
indicators, such as cholesterol and
blood sugar levels, to provide a snapshot of a person’s health.

The report is based on findings from the Lake Michigan Tributary Monitoring
project, which was conducted through a unique collaboration between the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), Great Lakes Commission and local
representatives from 14 tributary watersheds.  The project also produced an
inventory of monitoring programs in the basin.

The report evaluates monitoring programs conducted by a variety of federal,
state, local and nongovernmental entities and summarizes these efforts
geographically and by program focus.  This information is presented across
14 tributary watersheds, as well as for the open waters of Lake Michigan.
The monitoring coverage is further assessed for its ability to address
environmental indicators developed for the Lake Michigan Lakewide Management
Plan (LaMP).

A number of general findings are discussed.  These findings include the
limited use of monitoring information collected by local agencies and
volunteers, the lack of a centralized location to connect monitoring
information, and an overall lack of coordination between monitoring programs
in the basin.  The report recommends actions to address these and other
important shortfalls in the collective monitoring regime for Lake Michigan.
Specific chapters are included that analyze the monitoring coverage within
14 key tributary watersheds.  Much of the information in these chapters was
collected from local sources with the help of local project participants.
This aspect allowed local participants to establish better linkages to
organizations monitoring environmental quality in their watersheds.  Kathy
Evans, Water Quality Coordinator with the Muskegon Conservation District,
says “the project allowed us to establish better connections with local
monitoring agencies and also to work on filling in data gaps with volunteer

The project is the first of its kind to focus on the Lake Michigan basin as
a whole, as opposed to individual political jurisdictions.  Information from
the monitoring inventory has been compiled into a database used to support
local and
lakewide planning efforts, including cleanups in the 10 toxic “hot spots”
along Lake Michigan.  “The Lake Michigan LaMP process is committed to
choosing indicators that will keep the public informed on the status of Lake
Michigan,” says Judy Beck, Lake Michigan Team manager with the U.S. EPA.
“Choosing these and developing a coordinated monitoring plan has been helped
immensely by the work of the Tributary Monitoring Project.”  Phase two of
this project, now underway,
will make the monitoring inventory available on the Internet in a
geographically searchable database.

The overall goal of the inventory project is to consolidate information on
environmental monitoring efforts in the Lake Michigan basin so that
environmental managers, as well as the general public, will be able to
quickly find the information needed to make sound decisions.  “Accurate
information is critical to making wise decisions on how to protect and
manage the vast natural resources in the Lake Michigan basin,” says Beck,
“Monitoring helps decisionmakers understand the problems facing the
environment, what causes them and the effectiveness of efforts to address

The final report from the Lake Michigan Tributary Monitoring Project is
available online at www.glc.org/monitoring, or by contacting Ric Lawson at
734-665-9135, rlawson@glc.org.

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