WMU News

Conference focuses on St. Joseph River watershed

June 4, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- With more than 3,700 river miles stretching over 14 counties in Michigan and Indiana, the St. Joseph River watershed is a pivotal natural resource that presents a variety of management challenges. Those challenges will be discussed in a bistate conference on the watershed to be held Monday and Tuesday, June 10-11, in South Bend, Ind.

Western Michigan University's Environmental Institute is convening the "State of the St. Joseph River Watershed Conference" at the Century Center Convention Complex, 120 South St. Joseph St. in South Bend. The conference will provide a forum to exchange information on the watershed; discuss issues from pollution and economics to public health and geology; and review programs, policies and institutions responsible for managing the basin.

Participants are expected from federal, state and local organizations, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, Michigan and Indiana environmental management agencies, and nongovernmental groups concerned with the watershed's health.

Located in a highly agricultural area, the St. Joseph River watershed is one of the chief sources of Atrazine and other pesticide pollution of Lake Michigan. A host of other waterways contribute to the river basin, including the Portage River in Kalamazoo County and the Paw Paw, Dowagiac, Elkhart and Prairie Rivers. The watershed extends from Hillsdale County, where several of the headwaters for other large rivers are located, west to Berrien and VanBuren counties in Michigan and south to Indiana's Noble and Kosciusko counties.

WMU's Environmental Institute was approached last year by officials from the EPA Region 5 and the Great Lakes Commission to convene the conference. The Environmental Institute has been instrumental in the study of and clean-up efforts of the Kalamazoo River, which is the nation's largest Superfund site.

Dave Dempsey, policy advisor for the Michigan Environmental Council and author of the book "Ruin and Recovery: Michigan's Rise as a Conservation Leader," will be the conference's keynote speaker at a dinner at 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 10. Among the topics Dempsey, a WMU alumnus, will address will be the St. Joseph River watershed as a test case of shared ecosystem management by different political factions in the Great Lakes Basin.

Other conference highlights will be:

An overview of the watershed by Lori Kaplan, Indiana Department of Environmental Management commissioner; Chris Cooper, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality environmental quality analyst; and representatives from the St. Joseph River Basin Commission and the Friends of the St. Joe River, from 1 to 2:30 p.m., Monday, June 10;

An introduction to the Lake Michigan Watershed Academy, which encompasses free online EPA courses on watershed management and ecology, by Judy Beck, Lake Michigan manager for EPA Region 5, at 8:30 a.m., Tuesday, June 11;

A discussion of Atrazine and other agricultural pesticides and their impact on the watershed by Dr. Jay Means, chairperson of the WMU Department of Chemistry, and representatives from Syngenta Crop Protection Inc., a manufacturer of Atrazine, at 9:15 a.m., Tuesday, June 11;

An explanation of the use of new molecular technologies for determining environmental health risks in contaminated watersheds by Dr. Charles Ide, director of WMU's Environmental Institute, at 10:15 a.m., Tuesday, June 11; and

A wrap-up session to plan follow-up steps in coordinating management and policy of the watershed at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, June 11.

A complete schedule of the two-day program is available online at <www.wmich.edu/watershedinfo>. Those interested may also register online at that site. The fee to attend the conference is $50 and the deadline to register is Monday, June 3.

The conference is sponsored by WMU, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, the MDEQ, IDEM, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Michigan Geological Survey, Friends of the St. Joe River, the St. Joseph River Basin Commission, Michiana Watershed Inc., the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Resources Conservation Service, the Great Lakes Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

For more information, contact Barb Wygant, the conference coordinator, at (269) 387-5870 or <barbara.wygant@wmich.edu>.

Media contact: Marie Lee, 269 387-8400, marie.lee@wmich.edu

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