Greater Lakes: Reconnecting the Great Lakes Water Cycle: Project Archive

Dec 2016 | Archived Projects, Library, Water Infrastructure, Water Quality

This project has ended. Archived project materials are available below.

Traditional water supply, sewage, and stormwater management systems create physical and institutional barriers that fracture the natural water cycle. This approach has negative environmental impacts and creates financial burdens for governments, taxpayers, and utility users. Many municipalities are taking steps to repair the fractured water system and these experiences provide a basis for sharing the knowledge learned with others.

Between 2013-2016, the Greater Lakes project worked with six pilot communities across the Great Lakes to share lessons learned and develop tools to help address financial and ecological challenges of managing water services. The lessons and the stories are featured below through a variety of products:

The products were developed as part of a 3-year initiative to examine the ecological and financial costs and benefits for pursuing water conservation and green infrastructure practices. The Greater Lakes project was led by the Great Lakes Commission with funding from the Great Lakes Protection Fund in partnership with the Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE), Environmental Consulting & Technology Inc. (ECT), and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative (GLSLCI).

About Greater Lakes

A team led by the Great Lakes Commission worked with communities in the United States and Canada to identify and test the ecological and financial rationales for pursuing water conservation and green infrastructure practices, and pilot how this information can drive better water management throughout the Great Lakes region.

The team approached this work from the viewpoint that water conservation, to be effective in the Great Lakes region, must include municipal supply, storm- and wastewater, and engage a different set of stakeholders than traditional water conservation strategies.

The team piloted these approaches in six communities (three in the U.S., and three in Ontario): the Regional Municipality of Waterloo, Ontario; the City of Waterloo, Ontario; the City of Guelph, Ontario; the Township of Lyon, Michigan; the Township of Commerce, Michigan; and Southwest Oakland County, Michigan. These communities extract water from a variety of ground and surface water sources and face challenges (such as the overuse of groundwater supplies, stream impacts from water withdrawal and discharge, and impacts related to stormwater runoff) that are common throughout the basin.

A detailed impact and infrastructure assessment was conducted in each of the six pilot communities. This included developing a set of management actions for each community that will reduce environmental impacts and decrease costs; tracking the rate at which the pilot communities implement the recommended actions and calculating the environmental and financial impacts; and creating and testing a series of knowledge transfer strategies that will help communities teach other communities.

The team transfered the tools created in the pilots to communities throughout the basin. New communities of practice were created around the most promising techniques that have ecological importance and basinwide applicability.

About Integrated Water Management

Fact sheets

Healing Fractured Water Systems Fact Sheet


Great Lakes Commission Annual Meeting:
Healing the Fractured Water in Our Urban Environments Session
September 29, 2015 – Chicago, Illinois
Water Symposium: Conserve and Protect
June 8, 2013 – Cambridge, Ontario

The Water Symposium: Conserve and Protect at the rare ECO Centre on Saturday, June 08, 2013 was hosted by: rare, Grand River Environmental Network, and Great Lakes United. The symposium was sponsored by the Great Lakes Protection Fund and the Ontario Trillium Foundation.


Introduction to Integrated Water Management
Wednesday, March 18, 2015 | 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM EDT
Benefits of Integrated Water Management

Environmental benefits of integrated water management

Oakland County Stormwater Summit
October 3, 2014 – Oakland County, Michigan

Economic benefits of integrated water management

Making Cents from Integrated Water Management: Financial Considerations for Municipalities Related to Water Conservation and Green Infrastructure – May 2016  (PDF)
Financial Arguments for Water Conservation & Green Infrastructure Session
September 29, 2015 – Healing Our Waters Conference
Water Management Innovations Workshop to Green the Bottom Line
July 23, 2014 – Oakland County, Michigan

Nearly a dozen water management practitioners from Oakland County attended this half-day workshop. Jeff Edstrom and Bill Christiansen presented their analyses of the communities in Oakland County. Project advisors Wayne Galliher of Guelph and Steve Gombos of Waterloo Region shared their experience in water conservation, with a particular focus on the actions they took to reduce summer-time outdoor water use.

Resources for Municipalities

Fact sheets, reports and case studies

Making Cents from Integrated Water Management: Financial Considerations for Municipalities Related to Water Conservation and Green Infrastructure – May 2016

Fact sheet on municipal planning for integrated water managementJune 2015
This fact sheet provides an overview of key lessons learned throughout the Greater Lakes project.

Case Studies: Improving Water Conservation & Efficiency in Six Great Lakes Communities – Alliance for Water Efficiency, April 2016
This report outlines the process of modeling water savings, costs and benefits, impact to water utility sales revenue, and energy and greenhouse gas reductions resulting from adopting an integrated water management approach. It also includes lessons learned from evaluating IWM in six communities in the Great Lakes basin.

Environmental Impacts of Water Withdrawals & Discharges in Six Great Lakes Communities: A Role for Green Infrastructure – May 2016
Transferring lessons learned from six Great Lakes communities, this report helps municipal decision-makers understand the environmental and financial costs and benefits of green infrastructure. It also summarizes the potential environmental benefits of scaling-up green infrastructure across the region.

Where do you get your water management information? September 2014
This knowledge transfer survey illustrates where diverse water management stakeholders in the Great Lakes region acquire information to help them in their work.


A Practical Guide to Implementing Integrated Water Resources Management & the Role of Green InfrastructureMay 2016
This guide gives the municipal civil servant an understanding of what they can gain from carrying out IWM and a good sense of the process and effort involved. This can help a municipality determine whether they wish to create an IWM plan.

Municipal Guide To Organizing an Inter-Departmental Workshop on IWM: Breaking Down the Silos – March 2016
This guide outlines the steps in designing a workshop that will help begin breaking down municipal departmental silos – an important first step in integrating water supply, wastewater and stormwater under an IWM approach.

The Greater Lakes Green Infrastructure Optimization Tool can give you a preliminary assessment of green infrastructure options for your community and the effects they will have. This can be helpful in demonstrating to stakeholders which options are worth pursing with more in-depth analyses.


Exploring Green Infrastructure and Integrated Water Management Workshop
March 6, 2015 – Guelph, Ontario

The purpose of this inter-departmental workshop was to explore implementation of IWM in the municipality. The attendees came up with recommendations on how to further IWM in a municipality.

Water Management Innovations Workshop to Green the Bottom Line
July 23, 2014 – Oakland County, Michigan

Nearly a dozen water management practitioners from Oakland County attended this half-day workshop. Jeff Edstrom and Bill Christiansen presented their analyses of the communities in Oakland County, Mich. Project advisors Wayne Galliher of Guelph, Ont., and Steve Gombos of Waterloo Region shared their experience in water conservation, with a particular focus on the actions they took to reduce summer-time outdoor water use.

Financial Arguments for Water Conservation & Green Infrastructure Session 
September 29, 2015 – Healing Our Waters Conference

Oakland County Stormwater Summit
October 3, 2014 – Oakland County, Michigan

Environmental Impacts of Water Use, Water Conservation and Storm Water Management – Jeff Edstrom & Sanjiv Sinha, Ph.D., Environmental Consulting & Technology, Inc.


Extreme Makeover: How Six Model Municipalities Are Greening Their Water Management Program and Their Bottom Line
Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Advancing Integrated Water Management
Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Related Links and Resources

Managing Rain Where it Falls – Municipal World Magazine – March 2015
Financing Sustainable Water. Rates. Revenue. Resources, Alliance for Water Efficiency

Media Coverage

Across the Great Lakes, water resource systems in urban areas have been heavily altered by human development. Traditional engineering methods use pipes and concrete to separate and manage stormwater, wastewater, and drinking water, leaving ecosystems disconnected and fragmented in the process.

But forward-thinking citizen advocates, conservationists and government officials are blazing a new path—one that is turning the dominant water management paradigm on its head. A new vision is emerging; one in which cities move from fragmentation to integration, treating water as a single, holistic resource. This approach can restore urban ecosystems while also saving money for cash-strapped municipalities. The Greater Lakes initiative is leading that effort to being municipalities together to manage water resources in a holistic manner that benefits everyone. The following media resources help tell the story.

Video: Healing Roadways in the Great Lakes with Green Infrastructure – December 2015

Healing fractured water: How Michigan’s roadways impact our waterway – November 12, 2015

Healing fractured water: Great Lakes cities look to reintegrate the urban water cycle – April 28, 2015

Fractured Water: Can urban Ontario reconnect its watersheds? – March 11, 2015

Fractured Water: Can metro Detroit reconnect its watersheds? – December 2, 2014

Related Media Coverage

Lessons Learned from the Credit River: Reconnecting the Water Cycle for our Great Lakes – International Joint Commission blog post – November 10, 2015

Current State interview featuring John Jackson (12 minute interview, starting 19 minutes into the program) – WKAR – East Lansing, MI – December 16, 2014

Detroit Public TV broadcast – Great Lakes Commission Annual Meeting – Healing the Fractured Water in Our Urban Environments Session  –September 29, 2015

Advisory Committee and Project Team

Advisory Committee Members

Dendra J. Best, Executive Director, Wastewater Education 501(c) 3
Dendra Best’s organization’s helps communities make wise choices for appropriately sized wastewater systems that are cost effective to construct, operate and maintain while minimizing environmental footprint and sprawl. Dendra also served as past chair on Michigan’s Water Environment Federation Decentralized Wastewater Committee, is a past chair of the Michigan Environmental Health Association Public Education Committee, and is a member of the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks. Dendra lives in Traverse City, Michigan.

James Etienne, Senior Water Resources Engineer, Grand River Conservation Authority
James Etienne is the lead for water quantity issues for the Grand River Conservation Authority. He assisted the Conservation Authority and water use stakeholders in developing a long-term sustainable water use strategy for the Grand River watershed. James previously worked in Guelph to help refocus their approach to water supply and to provide leadership through the Demand Management Objectives and Drought Contingency Plan projects. He is located in Cambridge, Ontario.

Wayne Galliher, Water Conservation Project Manager, City of Guelph
Wayne Galliher is Project Manager of the City of Guelph’s Water Conservation Program, an award winning multi-sector community water sustainability initiative. Wayne also serves as a member of the Council of the Federation’s Water Partner Advisory Committee, the Canadian Municipal Water Efficiency Network and is past-chair of the Ontario Water Works Association’s Water Efficiency Committee. Wayne lives in Guelph, Ontario.

Steve Gombos, Manager Water Efficiency, Region of Waterloo
Steve Gombos has been Manager of Water Efficiency with Waterloo Region for the past 11 years. He is a past chair of the Ontario Water Works Association Water Efficiency Committee and remains active in peer committees associated with the Canadian Water and Wastewater Association and the Canadian Municipal Water Efficiency Committee. Steve lives in Kitchener, Ontario.

Clifford Maynes, Executive Director, Green Communities Canada
Clifford Maynes is founding Executive Director of Green Communities Canada (est. 1995), a national association of community organizations helping people go green. Their programs include RAIN, a community program that engages property owners in taking action to reduce stormwater run-off volumes and contaminants, and Depave Paradise. Clifford lives in Peterborough, Ontario.

Julia Parzen, Coordinator, Urban Sustainability Directors Network
Julia Parzen is founder of this two-year-old network of 90 North American municipal sustainability leaders, with working/learning groups for professional development, innovation, policy, sustainable economic development, field development, and fostering behavior change. Since 1996, Julia has worked to build networks of experts for collective learning and information sharing around urban sustainability. Julia lives in Chicago, Illinois.

Connie Sims, Environmental Planner, County of Oakland 
Connie has worked for the last twenty-one years for the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner. She is a certified operator in drinking water distribution and limited treatment and municipal wastewater treatment. She has been involved in Wellhead Protection Programs (WHPP) and is currently a member of the Lyon Township WHPP. She is also a member of the Oakland County Local Emergency Planning Committee. Connie lives in Oakland County, Michigan.

Melissa Soline, Program Manager, Great Lakes & St. Lawrence Cities Initiative
Melissa Soline’s responsibilities include working with U.S. and Canadian mayors from across the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Basin to advance the restoration and protection of the resource, particularly on issues related to water conservation, climate adaptation and resiliency, and beach management. The Cities Initiative shares best practices among cities, towns, and counties so that all have the benefits of the successful efforts of each other. Melissa lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Christine Zimmer, Manager, Credit Valley Conservation Authority
Christine Zimmer is the Manager, Water Protection and Restoration for the Credit Valley Conservation Authority. With a team of 15 staff, Christine is responsible for developing tools, guidance documents and providing assistance to stakeholders implementing Low Impact Development practices in both new and existing urban areas. Christine and her team are also responsible for in-stream real-time water quality and quantity monitoring and monitoring of innovative stormwater technologies. Christine lives in Toronto, Ontario

Alternate to Christine Zimmer
Cassie Corrigan, Water Resources Specialist, Credit Valley Conservation
For the past 5-years, Cassie has worked closely with municipal, industry and community partners to coordinate the development of a number of subwatershed studies. She also helps implement policies, programs, guidance material and demonstration sites to promote the development and adoption of low impact development practices. Cassie lives in Caledon, Ontario.

Project Team Members

John Jackson, Greater Lakes Project Manager
John Jackson developed this project and now coordinates it. For thirty years, John worked bi-nationally with Great Lakes United first as a board member and later as staff on a wide range of environmental issues throughout the Great Lakes region. The foci of his work have included water quality issues, water quantity issues, and water levels and flows issues. He is an expert on the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and played the lead role in coordinating citizen input into the renegotiation of that Agreement in 1987 and 2012. John lives in Kitchener, Ontario.

Victoria Pebbles, Program Director, Great Lakes Commission
Victoria Pebbles leads the co-branding aspect of the project and provides overall guidance. Victoria is a program director at the Great Lakes Commission where she manages and facilitates multi-disciplinary project teams to analyze information, build consensus and develop policy solutions to address complex ecological and related socio-economic issues, including clean energy, climate change, water resource management, habitat conservation, land use, and coastal management.

James W. Ridgway, PE, Vice President, Environmental Consulting & Technology, Inc. 
James W. Ridgway is analyzing the environmental impacts of water management for this project. He has worked on Great Lakes issues for his entire working career.  He is a registered professional engineer with three engineering degrees from the University of Michigan. He has provided technical guidance to both the Great Lakes Commission and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative in their efforts to protect the Great Lakes from Asian Carp.  Mr. Ridgway was named as the only private sector appointee to the US EPA Great Lakes Advisory Board, which provides guidance for 11 federal agencies in their management of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

William Christiansen, Program Planner, Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE)
William (Bill) Christiansen operates the AWE financial analysis tools and analyzes the results for this project. In addition to providing technical assistance on the AWE Water Tracking Tool, Bill staffs AWE’s Water Efficiency Research Committee, which is focused on cutting edge water efficiency programs. Prior to working at AWE, Bill was involved in the analysis of a potential water conservation program for New York City, and in developing the urban water management plan for the Rancho California Water District. He also has developed water demand forecasts for several municipalities or water districts, including San Diego, Puerto Rico, Colorado, and Portland, Oregon. Bill lives in Chicago.

Melissa Soline, Program Manager, Great Lakes & St. Lawrence Cities Initiative 
Melissa Soline is organizing a series of webinars targeted at member cities of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative. Additionally, she  assists in the development of project fact sheets.