Water and Wonder: Great Lakes Now producer talks the lakes and his work covering them

Water and Wonder: Great Lakes Now producer talks the lakes and his work covering them
July 23, 2020 GLN Editor

With two segments in the latest episode of the Great Lakes Now monthly program, producer David Ruck is bringing audiences insight about two major issues in the Great Lakes region: how pollution from farmland impacts water quality and what financial cost current high water levels are having for communities around the region.

Click HERE for more about Episode 1016 – Water Damage.

Ruck, who operates Great Lakes Outreach Media, is based in Muskegon, Michigan, and has traveled around the region working on video production for various clients, speaking at conferences and events, and pursuing a documentary film about harmful algal blooms on Lake Erie.

Producer David Ruck at Hammon Organic Dairy Farm outside Defiance, Ohio. (Photo courtesy of David Ruck)

His latest work for Great Lakes Now includes “Feeding the Blooms,” which looks at large-scale animal and dairy farms in the Maumee River watershed, what research shows about their impact on Lake Erie water quality, and how farmers are often voluntarily working to mitigate the impact. Ruck also filmed “High Costs of High Water,” which takes viewers to the Lake Michigan shore to see the financial costs of the high water levels on municipal marinas, parks and water treatment plants.

Watch the preview of the full show here:

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Ruck chatted with Great Lakes Now about his work. The transcript has been slightly edited for clarity and length.

Producer David Ruck at Hammon Organic Dairy Farm outside Defiance, Ohio. (Photo courtesy of David Ruck)

Great Lakes Now: The “Feeding the Blooms” segment is about large-scale factory farms and how they affect water quality in Lake Erie. How did you get interested in this topic?

David Ruck: I came across the topic when my now-great friend Eddie Verhamme, who is currently the president of the International Association of Great Lakes Research, kept buzzing in my ear about work he was involved in monitoring harmful algal blooms with environmental buoys in Lake Erie. Eddie kept talking about blooms and layer by layer gently pushed me in every direction – from nutrient loading in the Maumee Rive to farming practices to state and federal regulations regarding clean water.

And so the complexity of “The Erie Situation,” which is the title for an upcoming long-form documentary I’ve been working on, became this six-month-long quest to really wrap my head around the dynamics of the problem with CAFOs being one of the major under-researched phosphorus contributors in the watershed. Other work from what will eventually be the full-length documentary was another Great Lakes Now segment: “Toxic Algae and the Climate Conundrum.”

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GLN: So is your production company, Great Lakes Outreach Media, primarily interested in environmental issues? What other topics have you covered?

DR: We do a lot of work with both government and government-funded organizations. Really where we’ve positioned ourselves is between two pillars: one being a goal to help explain the benefits of projects largely funded through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and related programs; the second being a focus on working with the scientific community in the region, both public and private, to help explore through storytelling how research projects and exploration as well as collaboration is bringing new understanding or quality of life to Great Lakes communities.

We think it’s our mission to help citizens understand how their tax dollars are used to benefit the Great Lakes and in that, hopefully we are helping make the case for their continued support.

Watch more programs about the Great Lakes from Great Lakes Outreach Media:

NOAA B-WET Education in the Great Lakes: Inland Seas


SMART BUOYS: Preventing a Great Lakes Drinking Water Crisis


NOAA: 50 Years of Science, Service and Stewardship

GLN: In addition to the CAFOs segment, you also helped produce “High Cost of High Water,” a second segment in the current Great Lakes Now episode. What will people see and learn about high water levels in that segment?

DR:  Yes, that’s an issue that really ties the whole Great Lakes region, both the United States and Canada, together. What’s clear is that lake levels are causing a lot of pain for coastal residents and communities, and we aren’t out of the woods yet. In fact, a lot of scientists say we can likely expect accelerated lake fluctuations due to climate change in the region – the high levels will be higher, the lows lower and the cycles compressed so not as many years between extremes.

This is an important issue on many levels: the obvious cost to respond to it from an infrastructure standpoint, but also in that this temporary situation is giving rise to conversations about water diversion again. A path we probably don’t want to head down in either the short or long term. That’s a slippery slope.

GLN: What is it about telling stories around water, specifically the Great Lakes, that keeps you doing this work?

DR: Great question. I grew up on Lake Michigan and loved it, respected it and felt like I had a personal connection to it. As I became aware of how fragile the Great Lakes actually are, in spite of their powerful history and presence, I think I became captivated by how much influence human activity actually has on all of the Great Lakes.

The word “stewards” gets thrown around a lot. I think it’s sometimes hard to understand when you live miles away from them, but these are globally significant bodies of water and wonder. I feel like it’s my job – or my calling, maybe – to continually remind folks of their importance. Seriously, this is already a battleground in the global fight for clean water. They will become more valuable as time goes on. We need to circle the wagons and treat them like the Mandalorian protects baby Yoda!

Read more on toxic algae and high water on Great Lakes Now:

Toxic Algae 2020: Moderate bloom forecasted for Lake Erie

Climate change threatens drinking water quality across the Great Lakes

Millions needed to fix Michigan roads damaged by high water

High water wreaks havoc on Great Lakes, swamping communities

Featured image: Producer David Ruck (left) with Kellen Smith and Eddie Verhamme of Limnotech and cameraman Ryan Busch. (Photo courtesy of David Ruck)


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