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MI CLEAR Partnership pooling talent on Lake Erie Basin water

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan officials announced last week the formation of a coalition to improve the quality of water in the Western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB).

The consortium, dubbed MI CLEAR Partnership, is the Michigan Cleaner Lake Erie through Action and Research Partnership. MI CLEAR is made up of farmers, agricultural and environmental leaders, universities, conservationists, landscape professionals, energy leaders, tourism and economic development interests, as well as others.

Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) Director Jamie Clover Adams said the group will be a new way to tackle the ongoing quality challenges affecting the basin.

“Our mission is to improve the water quality of the Western Lake Erie Basin through open discussion among regional leaders that brings a coordinated perspective to existing efforts,” Clover Adams said. “We will drive support for research that builds understanding of the science around water quality issues, and promote actions that bring long-term, meaningful change.”

Besides MDARD, groups involved in MI CLEAR include the Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB), University of Michigan Water Center, Ducks Unlimited, state Department of Environmental Quality, The Nature Conservancy-Michigan Chapter, Monroe County Drain Commission, Michigan Agri-Business Assoc. (MABA), DTE Energy and others.

“The present WLEB landscape is highly active, so this partnership will help improve how we share information and scientific findings, which will help us all find solutions to harmful algae blooms,” said Scott Piggott, MFB chief operating officer.

“The MI CLEAR Partnership is designed to bring nontraditional groups together, give everyone a voice to build shared understanding and offer everyone a stake in shared success. The goal is to develop a better picture of how algae blooms are fueled and identify what near- and long-term steps Michigan stakeholders could support for promoting water quality improvements.”

According to an Oct. 16 press release from MDARD, the group has met once already, in August. It was a telephone conference that consisted mostly of prepared statements, said Jennifer Read, director of the U of M’s Water Center. Although there is no money dedicated to this new group at this time, she reported that Clover Adams stipulated she would advocate for financial resources for the group as the need arises.

“I see the group as a collaborative or synergistic group,” Read said. “The main thing is to pool our knowledge. We want to help policymakers understand what’s out there in the way of research.”

Read added that is much of what the Water Center itself does, in that it seeks to connect researchers at the university with common or intersecting research interests that might not otherwise be aware of what the other researchers are doing.

She pointed out the Water Center is currently working with the MFB, MABA, Ohio Farm Bureau and other groups on the Detroit River Watershed Project. It is similar to the MI CLEAR Partnership in that it seeks to connect different groups and stakeholders with some common goals.

Chris Sebastian of Ducks Unlimited sees it in much the same way. He said the new group is “going to be a great way to get all these people together so we don’t duplicate efforts, and have a cleaner effect.

“Our mission is wetlands conservation work. We were founded by duck hunters, but we have scientists, engineers, biologists and GIS mapping people. We’re one of the few groups that has engineering services that provides services from the ground up. But we don’t do anything on our own; we always work with our partners,” he said.

“We think this is an exciting group because of all the other people that are involved in this effort.”

Sebastian pointed to one of the group’s projects – conservation work it has been doing on the Cedar Point Wildlife Refuge in Ohio. Wetlands are sort of like kidneys for the country’s waters, he said, in that they help to filter pollutants and keep the Great Lakes, as well as smaller lakes, clean.