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Photo by Shawn McAfee of UW Oshkosh Learning Technologies

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh a more than $1 million grant this week as part of an ongoing Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

The federal grant is the fourth in two years for UW Oshkosh, bringing the total grant money awarded to the University to more than $2.2 million to fund innovative studies that bring together academic institutions, private corporations and local municipalities to research and evaluate Wisconsin beaches. The new funding will help build a collaboration between UW Oshkosh and the City of Racine Health Department.

In Wisconsin, UW Oshkosh was one of eight organizations to receive funding and was awarded largest amount of grant dollars ― $1,073,630 ―toward the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

UW Oshkosh’s work on the initiative includes sanitary surveys along the entire Great Lakes shoreline of Wisconsin, multiple rapid testing facilities, beach re-engineering and site assessments to determine pollutant sources and mitigation measures. This project is expected to improve water quality and protect public health at Great Lakes beaches by quickly indentifying bacterial contamination and developing solutions to improve water quality.

UW Oshkosh student interns work at five laboratories and analyze water samples from dozens of sites in 10 different Wisconsin counties. Their findings are shared with EPA. The program began in 2003 with six students working in seven counties. Since then, the research program has grown to include more than 150 UW Oshkosh graduate and undergraduates gathering and analyzing water samples, conducting experiments and presenting findings at scientific gatherings and conferences.

While providing students with a first-hand experience to work in the field, the project will also provide beach engineering solutions to pollution problems, resulting in better water quality, a protection of public health and increased revenues for municipalities from increased beach usage.

“Students are able to apply classroom and laboratory concepts and techniques to real-world applications that have an economic and environmental impact on dozens of communities around Wisconsin,” said Greg Kleinheinz, associate dean for auxiliary programming in the College of Letters and Science and professor of environmental microbiology who is leading the initiative at UW Oshkosh. “This award is yet another accolade to the students, staff and faculty who have been working to improve the quality of Wisconsin’s beaches.”

The EPA has set aside nearly $4 million in awards this year, which will be awarded to state organizations and agencies. The initiative, which is part of a program campaign promise by President Barack Obama, is one of the largest investments in the Great Lakes in two decades.

In 2008, Kleinheinz said 13 percent of Great Lakes beaches exceeded health standards, 90 percent of which were attributed to unknown pollution sources.

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