Great Lakes Now Presents

Episode 1020: Watching the Waters

Rising lake levels continue to challenge homeowners who, in protecting their property, may be threatening other shoreline sites. Scientists are watching wastewater at college campuses for clues to COVID-19, and two invasive species are helping re-weave the food web in the Great Lakes. 

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Watching the Waters- Episode 1020

Rising lake levels continue to challenge homeowners who, in protecting their property, may be threatening other shoreline sites. Scientists are watching wastewater at college campuses for clues to COVID-19, and two invasive species are helping re-weave the food web in the Great Lakes. 



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In the Month of November on Great Lakes Now

Click the tabs to read descriptions of each feature in Episode 1020.

(Great Lakes Now Episode 1020)

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Shoring Up

SEGMENT 1 | Port Austin, Michigan

Residents in communities along the Great Lakes have been battling water-level changes for generations. In 2019, new highs were recorded all along the Great Lakes, and water levels have remained at record levels throughout 2020.  

As these high waters threaten homes built along the lakes, many residents are armoring their properties with seawalls made of steel or stone. But seawalls prevent wave energy from depositing sand along the shore the way it would with a natural beach — so these structures can actually make erosion worse. 

Coastal communities along the Great Lakes are grappling with how to support local landowners wanting to protect their properties and, at the same time, sustain the beaches that are vital to tourism.

“The big debate right now is where do we draw that line?” said Dick Norton, professor of urban and regional planning at University of Michigan. “Do we decide we need to protect this natural shoreline for the public trust resource that it is even if that comes at the expense of property owners having to move back their homes or take them away?”

Port Austin Township, at the tip of Michigan’s thumb, is one of only a handful of coastal communities along the Great Lakes that is in the process of revising its master plans to deal with issues of erosion. The township is considering adopting new ordinances that would impact armoring along the shore and require homes to be built a certain distance from the water.

Visit this community in this Great Lakes Now segment that was produced in partnership with Bridge Michigan. 

Read the accompanying Bridge Michigan story here: As Great Lakes pummel Michigan, beach towns rush to set development rules

Here are some other Great Lakes Now stories about 2020’s water levels:

Pruthvi Kilaru, program manager in Syracuse University’s department of public health, taking a wastewater sample as part of the university’s efforts to track possible COVID-19 outbreaks. (Image from Syracuse University)

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Sewage Surveillance

SEGMENT 2 | Syracuse, New York

As students returned to campuses across the country this fall, colleges and universities struggled to reduce the potential for outbreaks of COVID-19.

Like dozens of other schools across the country, Syracuse University in New York, used a wastewater testing program to help early identification of infections. 

The university tests the wastewater from 19 residence halls that house more than 6,000 students to determine if it contains traces of the COVID-19 virus. Samples are automatically collected throughout the day and combined to form a single composite sample that is analyzed in a lab to determine if the virus is present.

The virus can show up in sewage up to 10 days before an infected student begins to show symptoms, so the university is hoping they can identify the location of the virus, test students in that dormitory, identify anyone who is infected and isolate them before they spread the virus to others.

For more, READ Sewage Check: Great Lakes researchers look to wastewater for data on COVID-19

Here are some other Great Lakes Now stories involving COVID-19’s impact on the region:

(Image from PolkaDot Perch)


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Invaders on the Menu

SEGMENT 3 | St. Clair River, Canadian-U.S. Border; Good Harbor Bay, Michigan; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Zebra mussels and round goby have been in the Great Lakes for more than 30 years. As invasives, their impact is most often considered detrimental if not hazardous to native wildlife and systems.

But now some scientists are finding indigenous Great Lakes species can sometimes benefit from the “invaders.”

While studying zebra and quagga mussels in Lake Michigan, a team of researchers made a surprising discovery about round goby: they’re keeping the invasive mussels in check.

“Ironically, an invasive species – the round goby – may be helping to control another invasive species – the quagga mussel – by feeding on them,” said Harvey Bootsma, a professor at the School of Freshwater Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. 

In 2016, with support from the National Park Service and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Bootsma’s team began removing zebra and quagga mussels from an area on the bottom of Lake Michigan. 

The researchers wanted to know how long it would take the mussels to reestablish themselves. Four years later, they’re still waiting as it appears, Bootsma said, the round goby is consuming the mollusks.

Meanwhile, David Jude, research scientist emeritus at the University of Michigan, said the invasive round goby has become a favorite food item for a wide variety of native species, from bass and burbot to water snakes.

Initially, native predators like smallmouth bass ignored the goby, Jude said, but in recent years a wide variety of native species have begun to eat gobies.

“Once (gobies) became abundant,” Jude said, “walleye, northern pike, and smallmouth bass, smallmouth bass particularly, really zeroed in on them.”

Smallmouth bass prefer to hunt for food on lake and river bottoms. Crayfish are one of their favorite things to catch and eat. But the bass also seek out small bottom-dwelling fish like mottled sculpin and river darters. Round goby have no swim bladder and live on the bottom so they are a natural target for the bass. 

However, when startled, round goby don’t react like native fish, so it took a couple generations of smallmouth bass to work it out. 

Today, round goby are a daily special on the Great Lakes native species menu.

Which invasive are YOU most like? Take our Great Lake Now quiz HERE.

Here is some other Great Lakes Now work on invasive species:

WATCH: Carp Advance

WATCH: Mussel Blasting

WATCH: Asian Carp and the Great Lakes


In her “previous life” as a writer at Detroit’s Metro Times newspaper, GLN Program Director Sandra Svoboda once ate some Asian carp. Read about that HERE.

Videos from Episode 1020

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