Approximately 100 students and faculty attended the first session of the LSA 2020 Great Lakes Theme Semester speaker series on Monday evening. The event was hosted by the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan Museum of Art auditorium. 

The session addressed key issues dealing with the rising water levels in the Great Lakes and their consequences. The panel consisted of four speaker presentations followed by a question and answer panel moderated by Richard Norton, professor of Urban and Regional Planning and Program in the Environment. 

Addressing the critical nature of studying the Great Lakes’ water levels, Leland Township Supervisor Susan Och shared an experience from her work when she was at a beach on Lake Michigan discussing rip currents. 

“A gentleman came out of his house, swaying with his cocktail, and gave me the best piece of advice I could ever use: ‘You folks should do all your messing around with the lake in the wintertime because that’s when I’m in Florida,’” Och said. “It gives you an idea of the information we are learning tonight and the general public’s idea of what’s going on.”

Guy Meadows, director of the Marine Engineering Laboratory at Michigan Technological University, discussed recent news about houses on Michigan shorelines being engulfed by the Great Lakes and the trends in precipitation and evaporation levels over the last 30 years. 

“The highs and the lows in the Great Lakes water levels indicate that we are seeing more extremes in both the upward and downward direction,” Meadows said. 

James Clift, deputy director at the Michigan Department of Environment, addressed the specific solutions the program is implementing. The solutions include infrastructure planning, reviewing shoreline protection permits and planning an upcoming High Water Summit to educate the community about rising water levels. 

LSA sophomore Janel LaPalm said the event reminded her of how important it is to keep in mind the impacts humans have on the environment. 

“Environmental issues are very complex in that we have to find ways as humans who want to interact with nature to adapt to the constant change of nature, especially climate change,” LaPalm said. 

Engineering sophomore Zuly Tahiz Pasillas-Riquelme said she thinks water levels in the Great Lakes are an issue of concern and something people should be educated about.

“One of the main takeaways was that the truth of climate change doesn’t typically hit the Midwest but the rising water level is a real problem for people living along the shoreline,” Pasillas-Riquelme said.

Och concluded the evening by connecting the concerns with the Great Lakes to the larger, global issue of climate change. 

“I come across people who think climate change is going to happen to somebody else, far in the future and that it’s not a Midwest problem,” Och said. “And this might be a wake-up call.”


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