ALMA — Alma College announced in April the formation of a water quality laboratory on campus that will connect students and faculty members with opportunities to serve watersheds and rural communities in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.

The Great Lakes Watershed Institute (GLWI), which was first introduced at last month’s Rural Michigan Initiative conference at Alma College, will open in fall 2023. When it does, it will serve as the first laboratory that is devoted specifically to the waterways that feed into the Great Lakes.

“For the past 40 years, Alma College has been a resource for the mid-Michigan region in using sound science to define environmental problems and develop collaborations with local communities and governmental agencies to address these problems,” Alma College President Jeff Abernathy said. “We are pleased for the opportunity to work with our collaborators and help lead the way through the Great Lakes Watershed Institute.”

Issues with water quality in the state of Michigan, specifically the mid-Michigan area, are long-lasting and well-documented. The city of Alma and Gratiot County are uniquely impacted by these issues, due to its confluent location on watersheds that meet Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, as well as the history of agriculture and industry in the area and other factors.

Climate change is only expected to exacerbate these issues. A study done by Alma College and the University of Edinburgh concluded that algal blooms and bacterial loading in the upper stretches of the Saginaw River Watershed have lasted longer and increased in intensity over the past 17 years due to general warming of the waters.

“The focus of the GLWI is to provide a sound science foundation to inform smart policy decisions,” said Murray Borrello, instructor of geology and environmental studies at Alma College and head of the GLWI. “This will allow us to not only define current problems, but also anticipate future problems.”

Through the GLWI, students at Alma College will work with professors and community members to define, address, and solve problems through multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary work. There are also opportunities to expand into engagement for K-12 students through the GLWI.

The GLWI also hopes to connect the work of disparate small villages, townships and cities in the region, in order to address the disproportionately high impacts of environmental issues on areas with lower socio-economic and minority populations, like Gratiot County.