New website features Lake Michigan stories, education and activism

Visual notes, created in real-time by Ink Factory Studio, during a Great Lakes digital storytelling session held at The Freshwater Lab’s “Untrouble the Waters” summit.

Visual notes, created in real-time by Ink Factory Studio, during a Great Lakes digital storytelling session held at The Freshwater Lab’s “Untrouble the Waters” summit in May.

How well do you understand your water supply and your relationship to water?

Freshwater Stories, a forthcoming website produced by the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Freshwater Lab, is designed to be an educational and creative hub for learning about Lake Michigan and the challenges facing it and the Great Lakes water system.

The storytelling site, which is supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, will feature a dozen sections ranging from drinking water and fossil fuels to environmental justice and recreation. It will also include an activity guide, teaching kit and videos.

An event to celebrate the website’s launch will be held Nov. 15 from 4 – 6 p.m. at the Institute for the Humanities at UIC, Stevenson Hall, 701 S. Morgan St., lower level. The launch features a talk by Dan Egan, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and Great Lakes reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The future website will be available at

Inspired by a digital storytelling panel discussion during the lab’s summit in May, Rachel Havrelock, Freshwater Lab founder and UIC associate professor of English, traveled around Lake Michigan this summer and met with community members in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan to collect their stories and understand their water-related issues.

The goal of telling these stories is to educate the public, but also serve as a call for people to get involved, says Havrelock.

“It will provide pathways for people to claim their water, engage with its management, participate in its governance and make sure that this unbelievable gift of freshwater can maximize and enrich the lives of people that live here,” she said. “The storytelling hopefully brings people to the actions that are comfortable for them and are also recommended by grassroots organizations, companies, and the academic sector.”

In addition to Havrelock, story contributors include Dan Sloboda of Patagonia, Burton Warrington of the Menominee Tribe, Ken Freestone of Green Michigan, along with several researchers, graduate students, and community organization leaders.

The site’s “Source-Path-People” activities are part of a citizen science and humanities project where users learn about water quality and its social impacts. After researching answers to the questions in the activity guide, participants will be able to enter their results on the site.

Dan Egan

Dan Egan, award-winning author and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter.

“There are basic questions that can help people understand where their water is coming from, what the risks are, how it’s getting to them, and who is best – and least – served by our current water delivery systems,” Havrelock said. “The responses we get will be part of data visualization so that people can see how many people are concerned about pollution, privatization, or other issues.”

The kit for teaching Great Lakes issues from a humanities perspective in university classrooms will include materials produced by researchers from UIC, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and University of Toronto.

Egan, an award-winning author, will present “What Lurks in the Great Lakes? Pipelines, Invasive Species and Other Underwater Perils.” The talk is inspired by his critically-acclaimed 2017 book, “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes,” which examines the biological pollution and complex challenges facing the region’s most important water source.

More information about the Nov. 15 event, which is free and open to the public, is available at (312) 996-6352 or online.

Learn more about the Freshwater Lab online or watch this video from the think tank’s 2017 Great Lakes summit that convened government officials, researchers and community leaders from the U.S. and Canada.

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