Maria Lemke began as a student with a passion for biology and zoology. After years of dedicated study, she is today an aquatic ecologist for The Nature Conservancy in Illinois and part of a team helping provide cleaner drinking water to the City of Bloomington’s 80,000 residents.
Since the two-year drought in 1988, Bloomington’s water supply-- Lake Bloomington and Lake Evergreen-- has faced challenges with high nitrates. At times the nitrate levels exceed 10 mg/L, the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard for safe drinking water.
High amounts of nitrate in water can lead to taste and odor problems and even “blue baby syndrome,” which causes a baby’s skin to appear blue-gray in color due to a lack of oxygen in the blood. Nitrogen-laden waters also contribute to gulf hypoxia, or the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.
With Maria Lemke as the lead, The Nature Conservancy is working with the City of Bloomington and Environmental Defense Fund to clean the nitrates from Lake Bloomington and Lake Evergreen.
This team is working with farmers and other landowners to implement constructed wetlands as a method of removing nitrates before they enter the water supply.
Constructed wetlands are placed in 3 to 9% of a farm field. This small addition has been proven to remove 46-90% of nitrates from underground tiles that drain into nearby rivers and streams and ultimately the drinking water supply.
“Effective watershed management will require farmer engagement, broad outreach within the agricultural community and collaboration with state agricultural agencies, private organizations and research universities.” --Maria Lemke, Aquatic Ecologist for the Conservancy in Illinois
With the City of Bloomington and Environmental Defense Fund, Maria is working hard to engage farmers and other landowners with this project. Cleaner water for Bloomington and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico hinges on their support.
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