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Friday, August 11, 2017

Great Lakes Great Communities: Blog Post #2

Ryan Anderson and Marvin Bell were Doris Duke Conservation Scholars at the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor interning with the Sierra Club as Great Lakes Water Protection and Conservation Interns during Summer 2017. Ryan is from Salt Lake City, Utah, and will be a senior at Brown University. Marvin is from Bridgeport, Conn., and will be a senior at Amherst College. Below is the second post of their two-part series about their experience with the Sierra Club. To read their first post, click here.

As Great Lakes Water Protection and Conservation interns at the Sierra Club this summer, we worked on a variety of water related projects, interacted with the Detroit community, and continued to forward the Club’s mission through various online platforms. With the guidance of Erma Leaphart, Gail Philbin and Dorthea Thomas we were able to develop a greater understanding of the environmental concerns most pressing to Detroit, such as storm water management, combined sewer overflows, flooding, and pollution of the Great Lakes. Other water issues include water affordability, access to clean water, and the economic burden posed by its aging water and wastewater infrastructure.

Outside of our academic introduction to these environmental and environmental justice issues, we were encouraged to supplement our research through community engagement efforts. From rain garden workshops, green infrastructure tours and  several Detroit City Council Green Task Force meetings, we were able to garner a diverse understanding of the ways that different green groups are working toward Detroit’s goal of becoming one of the greenest cities in the country.  Also, we had the opportunity to attend several Detroit City Council meetings where we were able to witness the political process first hand. At these meetings, Detroit residents have the opportunity to speak before the Council, express their grievances, and request the support of their elected official. We were also able to see how grassroots organizers utilize the political process to promote their organizational goals.

A seminal part of our internship was the chance to witness a significant portion of a green infrastructure implementation process, specifically through the ‘Rain Gardens to the Rescue’ program in which rain gardens are awarded to applicants that express interest and are also community leaders willing to share their knowledge with others. The program is a collaboration between Sierra Club, Friends of the Rouge and Keep Growing Detroit. 

Our internship kicked off with a bus tour of previously planted rain gardens in Detroit. The tour gave this year’s rain garden recipients an opportunity to see how successful rain gardens operate. The next step of the process consisted of site visits where we helped residents estimate the size and location of their future garden. At this stage, we also walked recipients through the planting process including what to expect on planting day. The rest of the process included attending a series of workshops that guided recipients through native plant selection, garden design, and rain barrel construction. We regret that we will not be present for the planting and garden installations as our fellowship concludes at the end of July. We are grateful, however, for our opportunity to learn from our mentors at the Sierra Club and all the community members we met along the way.

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