I am the Dean of the School of Freshwater Sciences and also a professor here at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. I grew up in this region, so as a kid, my parents took us camping on the shores of the Lake Huron – that’s probably my earliest memory of the Great Lakes. My grandmother lived in Monroe, we used to go to the beach on Lake Erie. So those are my earliest memories, but I have a lot of memories of the Great Lakes since I’ve worked on the Great lakes for almost 40 years.
Having been on all the lakes I have a lot of favourite spots, but as a scientist I think my favourite place has been Green Bay, which I’ve worked on for many years now. Green Bay is interesting because it represents an environment which has the gradient of everything you see in the Great Lakes: everything from hypereutrophic conditions, to oligotrophic conditions in the northern part of the bay, and it’s heavily impacted by humans. It’s not only an important environment in the Great Lakes, but it’s also a great natural laboratory for studying processes, so it’s been attractive to me as a scientist. But it’s also just a beautiful place.
Someone once said: “the future has no constituency”. In other words, my great-great-grandchildren can’t come back to me and say, “Val, why didn’t you do X,Y, and Z to ensure that these lakes are still clean, valuable, and in good shape”. The other reason I care is because it’s really up to us. It’s not just me that needs to care; everybody needs to care. Those future generations are relying on us to make sure these lakes are going to be here 100 years from now, 500 years from now, and we need to take a long-range perspective I think.
As a kid, my parents had a small summer cottage on a small inland lake in Michigan. When I was 6, 7, 8 years old I had a little boat and I puttered around on my own on that lake. I also grew up during a time of Jacques Cousteau exploring the oceans and became very attracted to water. As a result, I actually went to graduate school in Oceanography and worked on the oceans for several years before coming back to the Great Lakes.
I guess sort of the classic definition of good water quality is whether it’s fishable, swimmable, and drinkable. One of the interesting reflections I’ve had as I set out – I went to school in Oceanography and worked on the oceans – (is that) when I came to Milwaukee, and I think the first time I went out on the Nosegay, we were doing some water sampling offshore in deep water. The release skipper Don asked me if I’m finished drawing water out of the Niskin bottle, which is a bottle you capture water in. I said sure, I’m done. He opens this bottle and starts drinking it. It struck me how odd that was because working on the oceans that’s not something you would do. That’s what's different about this system.
To call them lakes is really a misnomer; they’re really inland seas. They require oceanographic scale equipment and infrastructure to study them, but the major difference between the Great Lakes and Oceans is that we drink this water. That was kind of an ‘aha’ moment.
My Watermark is the Great Lakes, USA.