MUSKEGON — Two of the region’s leading academic water research institutes have forged a partnership to share resources and work together on water-related issues.
Earlier this spring, Grand Valley State University’s Annis Water Resources Institute (AWRI) signed a memorandum of understanding with Michigan State University’s Institute of Water Research (IWR).
Dr. Alan Steinman, the Allen and Helen Hunting-endowed director of AWRI, said the partnership has loosely defined terms so the collaboration and educational exchanges can evolve as issues emerge.
The faculty of both institutes had an initial meeting at the Annis Institute in Muskegon last summer, and Steinman anticipates more meetings this summer and fall to start talking about tangible ways to move the partnership forward.
He foresees the two research institutes collaborating in a few key ways, including sharing resources such as equipment and instrumentation, student exchange opportunities, and working together on large-scale grants.
“We want to avoid redundancies, work in partnership and figure out ways to collaborate better, and water is certainly one resource that makes sense,” Steinman said.
For example, GVSU has a graduate program that could serve as a potential pipeline for MSU’s doctoral program. With the MOU, Steinman can share open postdoctoral research positions through MSU, possibly supervise graduate or Ph.D. students’ research activities or collaborate on summer internship opportunities. The details still need to be worked out, he said.
“By having more students, that’s great, the more the merrier,” Steinman said. “These graduate students are the lifeblood of the institute. We want them; we get more intellectual resources here in the community.”
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The partnership will allow the two institutes to develop joint proposals and apply for larger grants through the National Institutes of Health, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency and others, with the goal of conducting long-term, large-scale research studies.
The grants could help study PFAS, issues around groundwater contamination, water quality and quantity, harmful algal blooms and “things that are very important and near and dear to people in Michigan as well as surrounding states,” said Dr. Darrell Donahue, director of MSU’s Institute of Water Research.
The funding could range from $500,000 to upwards of $20 million. With the institutes’ combined and complementary capabilities, they will be well-positioned to be competitive and bring recognition to the state of Michigan, according to Donahue.
“It’s high time that the Great Lakes, in particular Michigan, get some of those globally recognized research opportunities,” Donahue said. “There are a lot of really good researchers there (at Annis), and we need to join them. We can be really competitive at a national level and international level for some of those dollars.”
Steinman said there are no constraints as to what the institutes might study as long as it deals with water resources. Being collaborative with other entities also makes it more appealing to the funding agencies, he added.
“You have to develop the relationship and trust and respect and then you start working together on these different ideas,” Steinman said.
The Annis Institute, located on Muskegon Lake, focuses on research, education and outreach to address water issues and protect the region’s freshwater resources. AWRI is part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at GVSU and conducts research on aquatic ecology, toxicology, fisheries ecology, climatology, ecosystem restoration and other water quality projects.
Its Muskegon Lake Observation Buoy collects data on current weather, water quality, food web resources, algal blooms, lake dead zones, changing regional climate and more.
The institute also maintains two research vessels on Muskegon Lake, allowing AWRI scientists and students hands-on educational opportunities. The institute’s outreach program gives K-12 and college students, policymakers, educators and community groups the chance to use scientific equipment to collect and analyze water quality data from area lakes.
With the new partnership, MSU’s institute now has access to those vessels for reduced or internal fees. As well, MSU has high-tech laboratories and instrumentation that GVSU faculty and researchers could use.
“Those are very tangible advantages of doing this,” Steinman said.
Both institutes also have the capability to do water testing when communities or concerned residents around the state reach out, Donahue said. They have discussed developing a website outlining each institute’s research capabilities and expertise to help educate community and faculty members about available resources.
“The simple realization that we have these complementary skill sets and lab facilities, it’s good, and, more broadly, what kind of research facilities they have and we have,” he said.
MSU’s Institute of Water Research is one of 54 federally designated water institutes created under the 1964 Water Resources Research Act. It partners with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to target local priorities and leverage federal and state funding.
The institute develops and uses science-based technology, research and education to help investigate and address important water issues and provide students with the skills to be effective watershed managers. MSU researchers and outreach specialists study water, fisheries and wildlife, biosystems and agricultural engineering, criminal justice, entomology and geography.
Donahue, a professor and chair of the MSU Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, became IWR director in 2017 and says he is excited to collaborate with GVSU.
“Alan’s been the person who has bridged over; we are trying to make it reach the other way,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity, and I am glad that Alan and Grand Valley State University were open to the opportunity.”