Local experts gather for World Water Day event

2012-03-22T13:30:00Z 2012-03-23T14:00:30Z Local experts gather for World Water Day eventBy Lauri Harvey Keagle lauri.keagle@nwi.com, (219) 852-4311 nwitimes.com

HAMMOND | Emerging technologies, new federal programs and global volunteer efforts are aiding in cleaner water, but there still is work to be done.

That was the message presented to about 40 people gathered at Purdue University Calumet on Thursday morning for a World Water Day summit, the first time the university participated in the global event.

"I know we're all here for one purpose, because we care about the environment," said George Nnanna, director of the Purdue Water Institute. "We care about the water we drink."

Nnanna said Indiana withdraws 10 billion to 20 billion gallons of water from Lake Michigan daily, with industry representing 1.5 billion to 2.7 billion of those gallons. Indiana ranks second behind Louisiana in industrial water use, he said.

"If we apply appropriate technologies, we may become capable of reversing the waste water thereby minimizing the amount of water withdrawn," Nnanna said.

Scott Ireland, special assistant to the senior adviser to the administrator on the Great Lakes for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Region 5 Great Lakes National Program office in Chicago, said federal officials have a new approach to Great Lakes issues.

"The days of minimizing harm are over," Ireland said. "It is time to start proactively cleaning up the Great Lakes ... We are actively moving forward."

Ireland, who has been in his position for a year after working for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, said collaboration with the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative – the largest investment in the Great Lakes in decades – is "refreshing."

Ireland said the local matches for the federal funds for projects are decreasing due to increased competition.

"The non-federal match is key to us moving forward," he said. "We need to look toward innovative approaches to finding funds for the federal match."

Ireland touted the success of the dredging project on the Grand Calumet River in East Chicago and Hammond, which has removed 2 million pounds of contaminants from the ecosystem. The success of the project already is evident, he said.

He recalled taking some Indiana Department of Natural Resources staff members on a walk at the project site.

"They were stunned at the amount of bird species that were there," he said. "... It has increased habitat diversity for wading water fowl there we haven't seen in years."

Ireland said the work in the Roxanna Marsh portion of the project should be completed within the next couple of weeks and all of the restoration efforts should be done by summer.

Mandy Sharp, global citizenship fellow for the U.S. Fund for UNICEF's Midwest Region office in Chicago, said 900 million people globally don't have access to safe drinking water and 2.5 billion people live without adequate sanitation.

Globally, 4,100 children die daily due to water-borne illness.

"We believe that water, sanitation and hygiene can lead to all these goals we have for children," Sharp said.

In an effort to help, restaurants – including 75 in Chicago – are partnering through Sunday with UNICEF's Tap Project by donating $1 for each glass of tap water ordered by patrons to global clean water efforts.

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