Enhanced coordination will strengthen environmental monitoring programs

Ann Arbor, Mich. — Lake St. Clair benefits from an array of programs that monitor various aspects of its environmental health. These programs often collaborate with each other, but enhanced regional coordination will help eliminate gaps and redundancies in coverage, and maximize their effectiveness.

That is a key finding of a new study of Lake St. Clair monitoring programs sponsored by the Macomb/St. Clair Inter-County Watershed Advisory Group, a consortium of local government officials. Such programs, conducted by a wide variety of federal, state, local and nonprofit entities, play a critical role in efforts to understand and address environmental problems affecting the lake and its surrounding watershed.

“Monitoring programs are among the most useful tools we have for managing natural resources, protecting the environment and safeguarding public health,” said Gary White, associate environmental health director of the Macomb County Health Department and a technical adviser to the study. “Monitoring helps us identify problems, decide where to focus our resources, and assess how effective we are in preventing or minimizing environmental impacts.”

The study, conducted by the Great Lakes Commission, involved a comprehensive inventory and assessment of monitoring programs in the Lake St. Clair watershed. Noting that there is no single mechanism to integrate monitoring programs across jurisdictions and purposes, the study concludes that additional coordination is necessary to ensure that efforts are comprehensive, address gaps in coverage, focus on priorities and maximize use of resources.

“Many agencies and organizations are monitoring different aspects of Lake St. Clair’s health, but there’s little overall, regional coordination,” said Linda Schweitzer, assistant professor of environmental chemistry at Oakland University and another technical adviser to the study. “As a result, there’s some duplication of effort, as well as areas that simply aren’t being tracked the way they should be.”

The inventory assessed Lake St. Clair monitoring efforts in 20 categories of environmental indicators, including water quality, pollutants, fish contamination, wildlife populations, beach safety, water flows, air quality, weather, sediment loads, and land-use impacts. Taken together, these environmental “indicators” paint a picture of the overall health of the lake and its surrounding watershed.

As part of the project, an Internet-based, searchable database was developed to enhance access to monitoring data. The database includes profiles of existing monitoring programs, along with contacts and links for obtaining data. Resource managers are expected to be the primary users, but the database is also available to all interested parties at no cost.

Inventory results were used in developing a strategic plan for Lake St. Clair and its watershed which, among other recommendations, offers suggestions for enhancing monitoring programs. These include specific actions to address gaps in current monitoring coverage; the formation of a regional body to coordinate monitoring efforts; the establishment of an overall monitoring framework and shared monitoring standards; and a shift in emphasis from local to basinwide monitoring needs.

The inventory was developed by the Great Lakes Commission with expert guidance from a technical advisory committee drawn from a variety of public agencies, universities and citizen organizations. Funding was provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District; Macomb and St. Clair counties; the offices of the Oakland County Drain Commissioner and the Macomb County Public Works Commissioner; and the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments.

The Lake St. Clair monitoring inventory and associated products are available online at www.glc.org/monitoring/stclair

For immediate release: June 1, 2004
Contact: Ric Lawson, rlawson@glc.org, office: 734-971-9135

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The Great Lakes Commission, chaired by Samuel W. Speck (Ohio), is a nonpartisan, binational compact agency created by state and U.S. federal law and dedicated to promoting a strong economy, healthy environment and high quality of life for the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence region and its residents. The Commission consists of state legislators, agency officials, and governors’ appointees from its eight member states. Associate membership for Ontario and Québec was established through the signing of a “Declaration of Partnership.” The Commission maintains a formal Observer program involving U.S. and Canadian federal agencies, tribal authorities, binational agencies and other regional interests. The Commission offices are located in Ann Arbor, Michigan.