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Oshkosh Gets $1.1 Million to Help Save Great Lakes

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has awarded UW Oshkosh four competitive peer grants totaling $1.1 million in an effort to help improve the quality of Wisconsin beaches along the Great Lakes shorelines. The projects are a collaborative partnership between UW Oshkosh, private business organizations, local municipalities and other educational institutions. The projects started this year and will continue for three years. Associate Dean for the College of Letters and Sciences and environmental microbiology professor Greg Kleinheinz is the principal investigator and will lead the projects, which will provide Oshkosh students with internship opportunities. The projects started this year and will continue for three years. Kleinheinz said three of the projects, which are sanitary survey projects, have the same scope of work while the fourth project is an establishment of quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction laboratories.

"The goal of the sanitary survey projects is to collect as much data on selected beaches in Wisconsin to look at what's causing microbial contamination," Kleinheinz said. "In order to do that staff, faculty and interns from UWO will be employed. Once we identify what the sources of microbial pollution are, some of those beaches will be chosen for beach redesign work. The ultimate goal is to prevent microbial contamination, and by doing that, we protect public health and make water quality better than it is today." Kleinheinz said the establishment of qPCR laboratories is an important step in reducing the time it takes to establish whether or not contamination is present in the water. "These are rapid tests to determine the microbial levels at the beach," Kleinheinz said. "Right now it takes 18 to 24 hours of lab time. The new methods that are coming out allow you to get results in two hours."

Traditional testing approved by the EPA takes place in several locations, including labs in Sturgeon Bay, Eagle River, Ashland and at UW-Manitowoc, according to Kleinheinz. "In a couple of years we'll move to those rapid test methods, so if you're in Wisconsin you'll be able to do a rapid test at your beach in a couple of hours which is really unprecedented," Kleinheinz said. Keeping the water safe at Wisconsin beaches is something Oshkosh student Linsi Whitman has hands-on knowledge of. Whitman, along with three other Oshkosh students, spent this past summer collecting water samples from 34 public beaches in Door and Kewaunee counties. Whitman said the work she and her fellow students did has had a great impact on the local communities. "This is a benefit to the community because, after the BEACH (Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health) Act, public beaches that surround the Great Lakes need to be monitored for acceptable water quality," Whitman said. "In addition, during the summer, families are able to check the status of the beaches online or by calling the health department of their county. This allows families to ensure that their loved ones are swimming in water with minimal contamination." Whitman said her internship has taught her that there is more to checking water for contamination than one might expect.

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