Protecting Lake Michigan Through Hands-On Homeowner Assistance
Jennifer Birchfield believes that a clean and healthy Lake Michigan is vital to the quality of life in northwest Indiana. It’s this commitment to creating vibrant and healthy communities that has guided Jennifer throughout her environmental career and her time as Water Program Director for Save the Dunes. At Save the Dunes, Jennifer works with diverse partners throughout northwestern Indiana to implement programs that protect Lake Michigan. Her work includes collaborative planning, on-the-ground restoration, advocacy for protective policies, and education to protect Lake Michigan. Many of the Water Program's activities involve watershed management, an effective way to cross traditional boundaries and bring people in a region together to make responsible land use choices that protect water quality. Because of her work, Save the Dunes is widely considered a statewide leader in watershed management.
Despite these inroads, protecting Lake Michigan isn’t an easy process. Save the Dunes and partners have conducted extensive public education and outreach in recent years. Educational programs have focused on helping residents to understand nonpoint source pollution and the steps they can take to do their part to protect Lake Michigan. Save the Dunes has seen great interest in the public in simple residential best practices to reduce pollution, such as rain gardens and rain barrels; however homeowners are often uncertain of how to actually implement these practices on their property. Many Northwest Indiana residents may be ready to become stewards of Lake Michigan, but unsure of how to take action.
Jennifer used her Toyota TogetherGreen fellowship to organize workshops and field days to provide residents with hands-on assistance to make their homes and yards more water-friendly. Workshops walked participants through the process of retrofitting their yard and adopting common best practices, such as rain gardens, rain barrels, and phosphorus-free fertilizer. After the workshops, follow up field days were held to demonstrate practices, such as rain garden and barrel installation and soil testing.
Jennifer’s goal is to more effectively and comprehensively manage northwestern Indiana’s Lake Michigan watershed by addressing point source pollution and engaging residents throughout the entire region. By empowering residents to do their part for water quality one by one, we can have a large and lasting impact on Lake Michigan and its tributaries.