Great Lakes Environmental Center: Fervently guarding our region’s fluid assets

TRAVERSE CITY – In 1989, the Water Quality Division of Battelle Memorial Institute, a global science and technology enterprise, headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, established their Water Quality Division in Traverse City. Its purpose was to serve the expanding environmental needs in the Great Lakes region, as well as the rest of the United States.

In 1992 the Water Quality Division employees, led by its Director, Mick DeGraeve, purchased the company from Battelle and formed the Great Lakes Environmental Center (GLEC). They continue to operate as a private research, development and environmental problem-solving corporation.

There are two locations, one in Traverse City, now GLEC corporate headquarters, and another in Columbus, Ohio. In January of 2003, GLEC acquired Meridian Geographics, a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) consulting company, now providing firms, governments, telecommunications and other industry segments with total GIS support for environmental studies and analysis capabilities.

Currently, GLEC provides environmental services to both industrial and government clients; industrial companies that are concerned with compliance to government programs as well as government regulatory agencies that need support and testing for these programs. GLEC acts as the middle ground between the public, the business community and the regulatory agencies, offering environmental realities instead of untested perceptions.

Bill Arnold, GLEC's coordinator of GIS and Business Development, explained, "Given two beakers to compare, one with clear water and another with muddy brown sediment water, and asked which one is cleaner, most people would pick the clear beaker. However, the testing facts may show that the clear water has toxic contaminates invisible to the naked eye while the one with the muddy look is completely harmless."

GLEC is now the prime contractor on three major United States EPA task order contracts. In Michigan, they also are the prime contractor for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality's "Strategic Water Quality Monitoring Program." For the past 15 years they have worked with the MDEQ on several other major water quality assessment projects.

Both locations in Traverse City and Ohio underwent major renovations and equipment upgrades in 2002-2003. The Traverse City facility has a toxicology lab, a chemistry lab, a microbiology lab, warehouse space and the corporate offices. According to Arnold, GLEC's Traverse City operation enjoys the reputation of being probably the best toxicology lab in Michigan. During the renovation in Traverse City, green building technology was used with special lighting, bamboo flooring (a renewable resource), solar panels and grounds with natural wildflower plantings. They use a hybrid vehicle for a company car. "We practice what we preach," stated Arnold.

GLEC, representing a capital investment of approximately $4 million, employs about 55, 15 of whom have PhDs, many more at the master's level and all staff in the research labs having at least a bachelor's degree. GLEC, along with their lab staff, has very specialized field crews who collect samples from all over the United States for their clients. One crew just got back from Pennsylvania on a contract for the EPA. The contract is for assessing the health of wadeable streams, which entails measuring the variety and quantity of macro invertebrates (bugs) in stream sediments.

GLEC's core business is aquatic toxicology; water quality research and testing to determine whether there are contaminates in lakes, rivers or streams, mostly dealing in fresh water analysis. Approximately half of their business activity is focused on the Great Lakes region.

In testing water for toxicity waste in ground water, sediments, lake and stream water, live organisms, which are cultured in GLEC's lab, are exposed to the water samples. The effects on the organisms determine the water's toxicity and by extension potential risk to human and ecological health. GLEC will design controls, but usually leaves control or remediation of a problem to other firms.

The EPA is also concerned with unregulated contaminants, ones that haven't been listed yet. GLEC is part of an ongoing EPA national study that measures and analyzes these unregulated contaminants, thereby obtaining research facts that assist public water systems with identifying new threats to drinking water.

Another research field prominent in GLEC's business is the GIS department. It has been instrumental in conducting ecological watershed studies in the local area, in addition to other studies throughout the United States and abroad.

One local study was the watershed mapping for Boardman Lake Watershed Management Plan. Another study in this area was the mapped terrain of the Platte River watershed in Benzie County.

An example where GLEC linked earth-reference features field data to database queries was a study for Long Lake, seven miles southwest of Traverse City, for the Grand Traverse County drain commissioner.

"A boat survey and aerial interpretation linked to color aerial photography gives the client base line data for comparison in the future to determine if the Eurasian Milfoil weeds have receded or spread into more lake areas," Arnold pointed out.

Recently, the Michigan State Police wanted to put up radio towers in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but needed a permit under the nation's Environmental Protection Act. GLEC did the GIS mapping, looking at bird and wildlife habitat to support erecting the towers, allowing the State Police to obtain their permit.

For more information, visit or call Bill Arnold at 231-941-2230.