Central Michigan University will be one of nine research institutions participating in a new effort to head off crises on the Great Lakes.
It's quite a feather in CMU's cap, according to Donald Uzarski, a biology professor and director of the CMU Institute for Great Lakes Research. The university currently is a Level 2 research school — rankings are similar to divisions in college sports — but Uzarski says this proves CMU can hold its own with anyone.
"This establishes, with respect to Great Lakes research, that we are certainly a Research 1 Level university," said Uzarski, who also directs the CMU Biological Station on Beaver Island.
The new Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research will receive $20 million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to manage sustainability issues such as weather, climate, algae blooms, pollutants and invasive species.
In 2014, a massive algae bloom led to a three-day, do-not-drink advisory in Toledo, Ohio. Bottled water had to be brought in.
The University of Michigan will administer the money. Other participating schools will be Cornell University, Grand Valley State University, Michigan State University, the University of Minnesota Duluth, Ohio State University, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the University of Windsor in Ontario.
NOAA has a total of 16 cooperative institutes across the the country, consisting of 42 research institutions in 23 states and the District of Columbia.
Uzarski said the Great Lakes group will replace a cooperative institute that focused more on basic research. This one will focus more on solving problems.
The group plans to form a board of directors in the next two months, he said.
CMU's continuing impact
CMU is a proven leader in Great Lakes research. In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded CMU a $10 million grant to spearhead efforts to protect and restore Great Lakes coastal wetlands. The grant was renewed in October 2015 for another $10 million.
Last month Uzarski, biology professor Andrew Mahon and CMU Government Relations Director Toby Roth traveled to Washington, D.C., to brief lawmakers on a number of Great Lakes issues.
Their chief concern was President Donald Trump's proposed $50 million cut from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for fiscal year 2017 and zeroing it out in 2018. Congress already had budgeted $300 million.
The move would have shut down the EPA's office in Chicago, essentially ending the agency's Great Lakes efforts. Congress later voted to leave the $300 million budget intact for 2017.
"Now we have to worry about fiscal year 2018," Uzarski said.