The pandemic raises questions: As stay-at-home orders end around the Great Lakes, does Wisconsin’s experience opening businesses predict anything for other communities that depend on tourism? How are researchers, reef restorers and hydroponic farms reacting to the pandemic? What has the pandemic done to charter fishing for walleye on Lake Erie? Plus, with an increase in use of personal wipes — four times as many in one Michigan community — will there be more fatbergs growing in our sewer systems?
WHERE WE TAKE YOU IN JUNE
Have a question about the Great Lakes or life in the region?
Ask Great Lakes Now, and if we can answer it, we might loop it into our coverage so others can learn too.Submit Your Question
Premieres on DPTV
Tuesday, June 30 at 7:30 PM
STATIONS CARRYING THE SERIES
Bad Axe, Michigan
Bay County, Michigan
Bowling Green, Ohio
Buffalo, New York
East Lansing, Michigan
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Mount Pleasant Michigan
South Bend, Indiana
Syracuse, New York
University Center, Michigan
Watertown, New York for Ontario signal
Watertown, New York for U.S. signal
SEGMENT 1 | Macomb County, Michigan
In 2019, a 19-ton glob of garbage and waste clogged a southeast Michigan sewer.
Called a “fatberg,” the blockage was made of fats, oils and greases bound together mainly by disposable wipes. Great Lakes Now introduced you to the Macomb County fatberg in our “Waters Infected” episode last year. Here’s what we said:
It’s a congealed mess of things people have put down their toilets, sinks and drains that should go in the garbage — think wipes, paper towels and hygiene products. … What makes fatbergs such a problem is that if they get big enough, they clog the sewer linked, which can mean raw sewage backing up into basements or leaking into rivers or lakes.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a four-fold increase in the number of wipes appearing in the Macomb County system, according to Candice Miller, public works commissioner. Some of those wipes are labeled “flushable,” but research suggests they can cause big problems in sewers.
Wipe-makers disagree, and Miller is suing to keep the word “flushable” off of wipe labels.
The county has filed a lawsuit against wipe manufacturers, as researchers try to determine what’s really “flushable.”
Great Lakes Now Correspondent Will Glover takes you in the sewers, to the research labs and into the dispute that seeks to answer the question, “Can I flush this?”
Here is other Great Lakes Now work about fatbergs:
- Slow Legislation: Flushable wipes become an issue in court and in law
- Epidemic of wipes and masks plagues sewers, storm drains
- COVID-19 Caution: Water Resources Commissioner asks people not to flush cleaning products
- Don’t Feed the Fatberg: Michigan Science Center launches its fatberg exhibit
- Take the Great Lakes Now quiz to find out which city’s fatberg you have the most in common with.
Help your kids build a fatberg at home — SAFELY — in this Great Lakes Learning activity.
Wisconsin Doors Open
SEGMENT 2 | Wisconsin
After the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned the governor’s safer-at-home orders, the state’s businesses were the first to re-open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But owners confronted a dilemma: keeping staff and customers safe while trying to make a living.
Some stir-crazy Illinois residents began bouncing up to the Badger State for a sit-down brat and brew, and one of the closest places to do that is Kenosha. The community is just north of the border along Lake Michigan where Brat Stop owner Debbie Glembocki felt a responsibility to reopen her restaurant and cheese mart.
“It’s my family business. My dad passed away last year. I don’t want to lose something that’s been here forever,” she says.
Even though tourism is a key sector in the state, the Department of Tourism is cautious. They’ve adopted the slogan: dream now, travel later. Without a statewide executive order, counties can still decide when and how to open for business.
“In Illinois, the number of coronavirus cases is significantly higher than in Wisconsin,” says Wisconsin Public Radio journalist Corrinne Hess. “So I think some of these border businesses, border cities are worried about the people coming up here and going to the restaurants, going to their stores.”
Further north in Door County, doors are wide open.
“We certainly have different messaging this summer than we initially had planned to when we put our plan together late last year,” said Jon Jarosh, director of communications for Door County. “But, you know, I think our tourism industry here and our economy is resilient.”
However, local distillery Hatch Distilling Co, has eased into re-opening. For now, staff is investing in a side hustle: hand-sanitizer production.
“Everyone comments that it smells so good and that it smells like bourbon,” says owner Christ Roedl.
Here is other Great Lakes Now work about travel and tourism in the region:
- Big Five Dive
- Growing Pains: Big crowds on a little island can bring out the darker side of Great Lakes tourism
- Hope and Resilience: Great Lakes islanders continue to adapt to COVID-19 conditions
- Missing Opportunity: States, industry work together to promote outdoor recreation
- Cruises Continue Amid COVID-19: Uncertainty mars but doesn’t stop Great Lakes cruises
- Cruising the Lakes: Port stops for cruise lines all around the Great Lakes
SEGMENT 3 | Detroit, Keweenaw Peninsula, and Lake Erie
The global pandemic has changed how hydroponic farmers, lakes researchers and fishing charters are operating this summer.
In this segment, we first revisit PlanTed a hydroponic farm in Detroit to find out how urban growers are shifting their businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. HERE is the first segment about this business.
Researchers on Lake Erie shared how the health crisis is impacting their harmful algal monitoring programs. We first met them in “Toxic Algae and the Climate Conundrum.”
We also check in with scientists at Buffalo Reef, an important fish spawning site off the Keweenaw Peninsula where restoration efforts are underway. The EPA’s Chris Korleski gives an update on what will happen this summer – HERE is what we reported last year.
Finally, on Lake Erie, Captain Dave Spangler walks us through the precautions charter boats are taking to help reduce the spread of the virus. Spangler, who has been a source in numerous Great Lakes Now stories, died in October.
Videos from Episode 1015Subscribe on YouTube
Rock hunting along Great Lakes shorelines and Niagara farmers adapt to water scarcity.
An encore presentation of stories about eFoiling, water infrastructure, and The Catch.
A community fights for a cleaner future, creatively tackling food waste, and The Catch.
Breaking down an old Great Lakes freighter and feeding a giant freighter’s crew.
Climate change impacts maple syrup and a Toronto company’s push toward renewable power.
Citizen scientists chart the night sky, measure the health of a river and The Catch.
Ice climbing in northern Michigan and a controversial wind energy project on Lake Erie.
A high-tech solution for sewage and recovering WWII aircraft from Lake Michigan.
The science of shrinking ice coverage, Great Lakes ice fishing and skating on wild ice.
Seeking a small, venomous catfish, highlighting a Great Lakes docuseries and “The Catch.”
Exploring a debate over Great Lakes land use, eFoiling on Lake Huron, and The Catch.
Scanning the bottom of the Great Lakes, a giant library of preserved fish, and The Catch.
How coal ash is threatening Lake Michigan, ideas for beneficial coal ash reuse and The Catch.
A decision is needed soon for funds to remove toxic chemicals from drinking water.
Catch the latest updates on what’s happening with PFAS in this biweekly headline roundup.
Language revitalization efforts, both in Canada and the U.S., are opportunities for Indigenous peoples to reclaim their cultural ties. Strategies for revitalizing languages range from language documentation to immersion language schools.
The study used environmental DNA, a revolutionary way to assist in studying life on earth. It allows scientists to uncover hidden aspects of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems by analyzing genetic material in the environment.
The Great Lakes Now Series is produced by Rob Green and Sandra Svoboda.