Waters of Wisconsin to host water quality event on campus

Associate Prof. Kevin Fermanich, Prof. Emeritus Bud Harris and UW Sea Grant specialist Victoria Harris are among the invited speakers for a daylong water quality event that will be held from 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday, May 7 in the Union’s Phoenix Room. Our Water World: The Nutrient Challenge is a Waters of Wisconsin public forum hosted by the Wisconsin Academy with support from the Joyce Foundation. The event will explore progress, challenges and opportunities for restoring water quality in the Fox and Green Bay watersheds. Scientists, community leaders and experts in phosphorus management strategies will share their insights and perspectives on ways to move forward. The event is free, but registration is required. To sign up, or for more info, click here.

Another environmental award for alumna Vicky Harris

Vicky Harris, recent recipient of the Earth Caretaker Award at this year’s EMBI conference at UW-Green Bay, has just won another award: the 2012 Jack R. Vallentyne Award for “important and sustained efforts to inform and educate the public and policymakers on Great Lakes issues.” She receives the award this week at the 55th Annual Conference on Great Lakes Research, May 13-17, in Cornwall, Ontario. Harris holds bachelor’s, 1974 and master’s 1998, degrees in environmental sciences from UW-Green Bay. The longtime water quality and habitat restoration specialist with the UW Sea Grant Institute on the UW-Green Bay campus has dedicated her life to clean water. We haven’t yet seen a news release from IAGLR, but we found more on the award.

Sea Grant’s Harris to receive alumni environmental award

A highlight of the 2012 Green Innovations conference April 18-20 on campus will be presentation of the Alumni Earth Caretaker Award, which recognizes graduates who have gone on to influential careers in sustainability and environmental fields. This year’s recipient is Victoria Harris, a longtime water quality and habitat restoration specialist with the UW Sea Grant Institute on campus. She holds bachelor’s (’74) and master’s (’98) in environmental sciences from UW-Green Bay. For a feature on Harris, click here.

Alumni Rising: EMBI Symposium honors Harris

Victoria HarrisIf you love to fish local rivers and streams, view wildlife in a nearby wetland or just sit on the bank of a waterway and enjoy the view, your gratitude should be extended, in part, to Victoria Harris.

The longtime water quality and habitat restoration specialist with the UW Sea Grant Institute on the UW-Green Bay campus has dedicated her life to clean water.

When her alma mater, UW-Green Bay, (she holds bachelor’s, 1974 and master’s 1998, degrees in environmental sciences) planned to honor an alumnus as part of its 2012 Green Innovations Conference during Earth Week, the Harris name rose to the top of the list.

Victoria Harris feature story

She will be presented the Alumni Earth Caretaker Award, which recognizes graduates who have gone on to influential careers in sustainability and environmental fields. Although the award recognizes a UWGB alumnus, Harris’s husband, and retired UW-Green Bay faculty member Bud Harris, will also be recognized. Much of their work was (and continues) in tandem.

Organizers of the Environmental Management and Business Institute (EMBI) set this year’s theme as “Water — past, present and future.” The three-day symposium (April 18-20) has breakout sessions on water-related businesses, regulations, economic development and groundwater, along with opportunities to tour Renard Island, water-recycling facilities at Green Bay Packaging, and Green Bay and Fox River cleanup sites. (Click here for more information on the 2012 Green Innovations Conference.)

When Harris retired from the Sea Grant Institute a year ago, media relations personnel captured the essence of her work and career. With permission, the feature follows:

June 23, 2011
By Aaron R. Conklin

She took a 17-year detour, but in the end, Vicky Harris simply couldn’t stay away from the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant.

It’s the organization that gave Harris one of her first jobs, and will now be the organization where she holds one of her last. After serving as UW Sea Grant’s water quality and habitat specialist for the last dozen years, Harris retires at the end of June.

She does so in the wake of a 37-year career devoted to protecting and restoring the environment in and around Green Bay. Those who worked with her — and given how many projects she helmed, we’re talking about a lot of people — knew her as a tireless dynamo, a coalition-builder who routinely had her firm hand steering multiple projects at once. Last year, the Nature Conservancy jointly honored Harris and her longtime collaborator, former UW Sea Grant sub-programmer, and husband Bud Harris with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

“Vicky is a part of that select group that works tirelessly and effectively to preserve and improve the environment in Wisconsin,” said Anders Andren, UW Sea Grant director. “She made it her personal and lifelong mission, and her tireless work ethic was a genuine inspiration to all of us.”

Harris has always loved the environment, and the waters of Lake Michigan. Harris remembers being a young girl, boating the stagnant and befouled waters of the Fox River with her family. While navigating the Fox River locks system, Harris’ mother had her children wear rubber gloves to keep them from touching the slime molds and bacteria coating the lock walls.

Still, Harris was an unlikely conservationist. She actually studied pre-med as an undergrad. In 1971, she transferred from UW-Madison, where riots and protests were rocking the campus, to UW-Green Bay. It was there that she took a job with John Pezetta, an oceanographer who was using UW Sea Grant funding to study sediments around nuclear and coal-fired power plants on Lake Michigan and Green Bay.

You could call it love at first sample.

“I was so enamored of working on lakes, and so interested in natural sciences,” recalled Harris. “That really turned my head.”

After spending a few years working as a student intern for the Brown County Planning Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Harris became UW Sea Grant’s first Green Bay-based agent. Two of her earliest endeavors eventually became transformational: working with scientists and stakeholders to develop the first-ever ecosystem research and outreach strategy for Green Bay, and an ecosystem rehabilitation plan for the bay. Eight years later, she would use this experience to coordinate the Green Bay and Fox River Remedial Action Plan (RAP) for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

“We were the first of 43 RAPs in the Great Lakes to be approved by the International Joint Commission,” said Harris. “We created a series of technical and stakeholder committees, and we engaged a lot of people. That approach was lauded by IJC and the Green Bay RAP became a model for others that followed. The RAP was also a launching pad for the largest PCB cleanup in U.S. history.”

Harris’s first stint with UW Sea Grant only lasted a brief two years; in early 1980, she left to take a job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Minnesota. When the Reagan administration swept into office in the early 1980s, Harris, like a lot of federal employees, was swept out of a job. She eventually landed back in Green Bay, where she would spend the next 17 years working for the Department of Natural Resources. Then, in 1999, she returned to UW Sea Grant.

She brought back with her the careful process of public engagement she’d used to accomplish projects throughout her career, including a decade of assistance to the port of Green Bay on plans to restore Green Bay’s Cat Island Chain, a habitat project that makes beneficial use of dredged material. For the past four years she has co-chaired the Lake Michigan LaMP Forum, a group of stakeholders helping U.S. EPA promote lakewide restoration. She also chaired an outreach team to involve the public in a total maximum daily load project for the Fox River, a DNR plan to curtail phosphorous and suspended solids levels in the waters where she’d boated as a child.

“Even then, people knew phosphorus was a major pollutant for the river and bay,” said Harris.

More recently, Harris, working in conjunction with the Wisconsin Marina Association, has spearheaded Wisconsin’s Clean Marina program, a statewide effort designed to promote environmentally responsible boating and marina management practices. In the first year and a half, a whopping 28 marinas have joined the program and 11 were certified as Clean Marinas by adopting the program-required practices. As many as six more are expected to receive certification during her final week with Sea Grant.

Harris’s Sea Grant work gave her opportunities to travel the world, visiting countries like Sweden, China, Trinidad-Tobago, Peru and Ecuador, where she discovered that human activity, no matter where it occurs, creates the same types of environmental and water resource issues.

Those who expect Harris to simply disappear from Green Bay’s environmental scene probably haven’t been paying attention.

“I enjoy working with people who care about the future of our planet and our environment,” said Harris. “I don’t expect I’ll ever give it up.”

UW Sea Grant seeks applications from grad students

The application deadline is 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17, as the UW Sea Grant Institute seeks applications from graduate students statewide for the national Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship Program. The program provides a unique educational experience to students who have an interest in ocean, coastal and Great Lakes resources and in the national policy decisions affecting those resources. The program matches highly qualified graduate students with “hosts” in the legislative and executive branch of government located in the Washington, D.C. area, for a one-year paid internship. The 2013 internships begin February 1, 2013. See complete information.

Campus will be site for multi-agency workshop on climate, planning

Not strictly a “UW-Green Bay event” but taking place here, nonetheless: The Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve along with the Ohio Coastal Training Program, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and numerous local and regional partners are collaborating to host a series of one-day workshops to build climate planning capacity in the Great Lakes region. One is set for UW-Green Bay on Tuesday, Sept. 13.

Content is targeted at planners and other professionals addressing land use, public health, stormwater, emergency preparedness, utilities, and natural resource management issues in Northeast Wisconsin. The workshop will include an interactive session that offers an introduction to assessing climate vulnerability for your community. The workshop has been planned in partnership with UW-Green Bay faculty and staff, including individuals from the Biodiversity Center and Sea Grant.

Questions? Contact  UW-Extension Specialist (and UW-Green Bay grad) Patrick Robinson at the Biodiversity Center, or visit the registration website: click here.

Harris, UW Sea Grant’s first Green Bay-based agent, calls it a career

A UW-Green Bay alumna and longtime clean water advocate is retiring from UW Sea Grant after nearly four decades of environmental service in and around Green Bay. Vicky Harris, who received her M.S. in Environmental Science and Policy at UWGB in 1998, was UW Sea Grant’s first Green Bay-based agent. She worked for the organization for two years before leaving in early 1980 to take a job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Minnesota. Harris soon returned to Green Bay, though, and worked for the Department of Natural Resources for 17 years before rejoining Sea Grant in 1999. For the last 12 years, Harris has served as the organization’s water quality and habitat specialist. More on Harris’ career.

UW-Green Bay part of grant studying hypoxia in bay

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has awarded a team of scientists from across the state a grant to study oxygen levels in the bay of Green Bay. The project team at UW-Green Bay includes Profs. Kevin Fermanich and Dave Dolan (Natural and Applied Sciences), watershed analyst Paul Baumgart, and Vicki Harris, a water quality specialist with the UW Sea Grant Institute. The team also includes John Kennedy and alumna Tracy Valenta ’02 from the Green Bay Metropolitan Sewerage District.  The $348,037 grant is the part of a four-year, $1.37 million dollar project to study hypoxia in the bay. Researchers say hypoxia, where oxygen levels are too low to support most life, is a growing problem often caused by runoffs. Here’s a link to the news release from NOAA.