Discussion on issues with Great Lakes

Richard Back speaks to an audience in Campus Center room 114 on the sustainability of the Great Lakes as a part of the Sustainability Series.  (Chloé Larsen | The Oswegonian)
Richard Back speaks to an audience in Campus Center room 114 on the sustainability of the Great Lakes as a part of the Sustainability Series. (Chloé Larsen | The Oswegonian)

Oswego State’s Spring 2014 Sustainability Series started off with success as Richard Back, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, led a talk about the “Issues Confronting the Sustainability of the North American Great Lakes.”

At 1 p.m. on Feb. 18, students and faculty alike were able to learn about our actions that have negative effects on North America’s largest bodies of water, the Great Lakes.

The Sustainability Series, put together by the Climate Academic Steering Committee, seeks to inform students about issues that will have profound negative impacts on the Earth’s many environments. The focus of the series for this semester is the sustainability of water.

Lisa Glidden, the chair of the Climate Academic Steering Committee, said that she chose Back to speak at this event because he “specializes in limnology, which is the study of the Great Lakes and other inland waters.”

As Back is now interim dean, he explained that “[he] is now unable to teach the general education courses in the Biological Sciences department that [he] previously taught, so it was interesting to be able to teach again.” He also said that he has “studied and witnessed many environmental problems that students have yet to go through,” and believes that youth should be “aware of how the abuse of water sources will personally affect them.”

Currently, the major usage of water in the United States is not for drinking or cooking, but for bathing and flushing the toilet. This is a huge issue that is rapidly depleting our water sources. Back showed several visuals of lakes, such as Owens Lake in California and the Aral Sea between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which are almost completely dried out. He said this is due to several reasons, including overuse of water and water diversion.

“Water from the Great Lakes is a great resource for the continent, so it is very important that we learn ways to conserve our water,” Back said.

In his speech, Back also explained that in studying the sustainability of water, you must think of it “politically, economically and morally.”  Because the Great Lakes region has access to so much water, many residents of the West Coast and Midwest are seeking to move for a more reliable water source.

Several students who were interested in sustainability and the environment attended the talk.

“I am an environmental earth science major with a minor in sustainability, and I hope to study water issues in the future, so this talk is really interesting to me,” Oswego State student Kate Riley said.

Nikki Root and Nick Fargosa, also students at Oswego State, said they came to the talk because they found the topic interesting, and it would further [their] studies in a Great Lakes Environmental Issues class.

The audience was not entirely made up of students though. There were several Oswego State professors in attendance as well.  Katie Stout, an adjunct professor at Oswego State who teaches an English 102 class attended the event because she “thought it would be really interesting, as a lot of us do not pay attention to our water usage.”  She also said that it was “interesting to see a new perspective of how we live.”

Stout has a special interest in sustainability, and is currently working on a related project with some of her colleagues.  This project, called the Permaculture Living Lab, is currently in the development stage.  Permaculture, in essence, guides us to follow the patterns and relationships that we can see in nature, and apply them to all aspects of human habitation to preserve the environment.

“The Permaculture Committee is working to solidify a location for the garden, which we’re calling a living lab, since its entirety would offer space for learning and experimentation with ecological processes,” Stout said.

Right now, the committee is aiming to have the garden placed in the space between the Richard S. Shineman Center and Lee Hall.

“The goal is to make a beautiful, functional, self-regenerative place for students to learn in and enjoy in perpetuity,” Stout said.

Stout and the Permaculture Committee are also working with departments across campus to develop curriculum for this Living Lab space, and hope to create a replicable model—reaching beyond the idea of mere sustainability—by adding value and production to an unproductive stretch of dirt using permaculture design principles. This garden will serve as a model, with “the rest of SUNY Oswego and beyond as their canvas, so students can not only observe and interact with the campus Living Lab, but apply beyond-sustainable principles to all aspects of their lives through these regenerative design techniques,” Stout explained.

“One permaculture principle is to catch and store energy, replenishing and adding to a system, rather than creating waste within a system, which is essential when looking at water management,” Stout said.

Permaculture is “all about the regenerative design in which we look at water usage in a system, we figure out where water is coming from, where it is going, and we determine how to catch it and feed it back into the system, hopefully in a more usable form than when it entered in the first place,” Stout said.  These techniques will “help mitigate storm runoff, prevent contamination of drinking water, and create water reserves where they are lacking, among other benefits,” Stout explained.

To learn about sustainability, ways to help preserve the environment and the coming Permaculture Living Lab, stop into the Sustainability Series’ next event, a film screening of and discussion about “Even the Rain.”