Three years ago, I arrived at Northland College’s campus, largely because Lake Superior’s magic had long attracted me to its shores. By my first week living along Chequamegon Bay, I realized how much the lake had not only drawn me in but how being a part of this community means having a connection to the water.
Now, later this month I will have the chance to speak as an advocate for the lake.
The Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation, where I work, will be hosting the International Joint Commission, or IJC, at Northland on September 25. They are coming to Ashland to learn more about the water quality issues important to us in Chequamegon Bay and the Great Lakes. This will be their third and final stop on Lake Superior.
The IJC is a binational group of commissioners from the United States and Canada focused on transnational boundary waters. They work to collect scientific data and public input on the health of the Great Lakes. They use this information to inform and advise governments and other parties on Great Lakes water quality.
I came to Northland to study water science, but what has always drawn me to this field was how people and water connect. I do not think I could have landed in a better place to explore this; the water weaves the community together. We celebrate the life it gives us, defend its health, grieve for the times it turns thick with red clay, and are awed again and again at its resilience.
I have had the opportunity to get to know the waters of this region intimately through my position as a student researcher for the Burke Center. Researchers at the Burke Center have been studying Chequamegon Bay for almost six years, building a database that will allow us to track changes and identify effects of storm events.
My coworker Andy Kasun has been researching the way currents move in the bay. With this information, we hope to predict how the large red sediment plumes travel. This summer, center staff expanded on the University of Minnesota-Duluth research on blue-green algae blooms. This experiment aims to understand what conditions could lead to potential blooms in the bay.
I have spent much of my time at the Burke Center researching inland lakes in the surrounding area–collecting water samples for phosphorus and nitrogen, collecting data on how the water changes at different depths, doing aquatic plant surveys, and collecting dragonfly larvae to monitor mercury levels.
I see this research as relationship-building; deepening my sense of place. Relationships are my motivators, and I have always taken a special interest in how we form and maintain our relationships with water. I’m excited to attend an event that will honor those connections. I hope you will all join me on September 25 for this incredible opportunity to stand before the IJC commissioners and speak for the water.
Emma Holtan is a senior at Northland College majoring in water science with minors in outdoor education and gender and women’s studies and is a research assistant at the Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation.