Interviewee Biography:Julie Sims is the Regional Coordinator for NOAA Restoration Center and is located in Ann Arbor, MI, at the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. In the Great Lakes Region, the Restoration Center has responsibilities for the protection and restoration of Great Lakes coastal habitats through recovery of damages from natural resource damage claims and through community-based restoration efforts. Prior to joining NOAA’s Restoration Center, Julie had considerable experience working on Great Lakes issues, initially as an intern with the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes National Program Office developing Great Lakes ecosystem indicators, after which she joined the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality as a Great Lakes Areas of Concern and Lakewide Management Plan coordinator. Julie has a B.S. in Environmental Biology/Zoology and a M.S. in Natural Resource and Environmental Management from Michigan State University.
You can see the second entry in this series from May of 2012 by reading the blog post.
What are “Areas of Concern?”
If you Google “Great Lakes” and “environment” one of the first terms you’ll come across is “Area of Concern” (AOC). Many of these areas were so severely degraded and/or contaminated that at one point, they barely (if at all) supported aquatic life.
Since 2010, President Obama’s budget has set aside funds for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, designed to attack the biggest environmental problems facing the Great Lakes including contamination, aquatic debris, and invasive species.
With a portion of these funds, NOAA has embarked on a systematic plan to restore AOCs to the vibrant, productive places they once were. We’re in the process of removing over 200,000 metric tons of waste and demolition material, restoring 1300 acres of habitat for fish and wildlife, and opening 300 miles of river habitat for fish.
So what, exactly, do these funds pay for? In order to get any of these projects off the ground, we need three things:
- Baseline data and monitoring.
Where are the most contaminated areas? What are they contaminated with? In order to transform AOCs back into healthy habitat, we’ve got to know what we’re dealing with. This is where science and monitoring come in. By testing water quality, sediment levels, etc., we can evaluate where we need to focus our attention, how best to restore the habitat, and how well our efforts are working.
- Access to the affected area.
One of the challenges we’ve faced in trying to restore the AOCs to health is getting permission to work in some areas. In many cases, landowners are happy to work with us to restore their property. Some are more reticent. In those cases, we can sometimes create a “win” for all parties by negotiating to acquire the land or put it under easement.
- Engineering and design.
Restoring wetlands or other aquatic habitat is a feat of hydrological engineering. You’ve got to figure out how the water will behave in relationship to the land, how different plants and animals will respond to different water levels, etc. Twenty years ago, there weren’t nearly as many engineering firms who could handle the work. But over the decades, federal investment in restoration has spurred the development of the field. NOAA now works with many NGOs and private sector companies who help us accomplish more and do so better, faster, and cheaper.
NOAA is dedicated to working towards the restoration of Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes. For more information on specific projects in this area and across the country, go to www.restoration.noaa.gov and click on the link to our “Restoration Atlas.”