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
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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 Spangler walks us through the precautions charter boats are taking to help reduce the spread of the virus.
Videos from Episode 1015Subscribe on YouTube
Produced fully during the COVID-19 pandemic, this episode checks in with people, businesses and institutions from previous episodes to see how work has changed during the public health emergency. But while social distancing keeps people inside, it lets the residents of some Great Lakes aquariums get out.
Rebuilding Chicago’s iconic lakefront, managing Buffalo’s rainwater and sewage, and tracking the annual algal blooms in Lake Erie are all part of the Great Lakes region’s effort to manage the impacts of climate change. This month, Great Lakes Now takes you to meet the citizens, city leaders and scientists who are working on these issues.
This year’s warm winter boosted ice-fishing tourism in one part of the Great Lakes while potentially spelling disaster for businesses depending on colder weather. Catch up with the communities in our documentary “The Forever Chemicals,”…
Winter doesn’t stop work around the Great Lakes. See what happens at the Soo Locks when they close for maintenance, and drop into the chilly water with commercial divers who battle the zebra and quagga mussel invasions in the lakes. In a warmer setting, join us in the Mackinac Island school gym for a tournament just for island school teams.
Travel with Great Lakes Now to the remote Canadian research station where scientists are working to understand – and protect – freshwater. Go deep into Lake Huron to see mysterious sinkholes, and watch as some homeowners try to save their Lake…
Search for a meteorite on the bottom of Lake Michigan, learn how a little striped fish might help us understand the health impacts of industrial chemicals on people, and see how a Milwaukee community is…
Go underwater with a group of women who dove all five lakes in 24 hours, and learn more about the controversy about controlling water levels in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence. Get aboard a…
Household waste, lead and agricultural runoff are byproducts of modern life. In this episode of Great Lakes Now, get the down-and-dirty reality of what can happen when these substances get into the region’s water systems.
Floating islands on the Chicago River are creating habitats for fish, turtles and birds inside the city waterway, while up north in Lake Superior, scientists are working to protect a rocky reef from legacy mining…
Travel aboard one of the growing number of cruise ships as passengers visit First Nation communities on a Canadian island in Lake Huron. See who is winning and losing from the record-high water levels around…
The fight over an oil-and-gas pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac went to the courts, and microplastics were detected in waters around the region. The newest U.S. National Park on Lake Michigan’s shoreline means increased…
See how Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River has been cleaned up since it famously caught fire 50 years ago. Go fishing for Asian carp and learn to identify all four species in or near the Great Lakes, then find out how hydroponic farming is creating connections between sustainability, technology, water conservation and food.
Come aboard a boat that delivers mail to ships on the Great Lakes. Learn about life on a Great Lakes freighter, and dive into some incredible shipwrecks in the Great Lakes’ only national marine sanctuary.
Catch the latest in Great Lakes energy news in Great Lakes Now’s fortnightly headline roundup.
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The Great Lakes Now Series is produced by Rob Green and Sandra Svoboda.