John Tucci couldn’t wait to take his daughter for her first swim, but after just a few minutes in the water of Sherman Lake, her swimsuit was blackened. What had once been clear water rippling over a gravel-bottom shoreline was now murky and hiding a foot of black, greasy muck.
Eurasian watermilfoil, an invasive submerged aquatic plant, had taken over Sherman Lake in Kalamazoo County, and well-intentioned lake leaders used chemicals in an attempt to get rid of it, ultimately making the problem worse. “It was the speed at which I saw this lake going down that motivated me to try to do something else,” says Tucci, who was also serving as president of the lake association at the time. He began looking for a better solution.
He observed that Mother Nature had her own process for cleaning up environmental messes: by circulating the water and sending bacteria to break it down. He reasoned humans could develop the technology to mimic this process, so in 2007, he started a company to test his theories.
Today, EverBlue Lakes is the realization of Tucci’s vision. Using natural, sustainable technologies to clean lakes of the pollutants that cause weed, algae and muck problems, EverBlue Lakes has rehabilitated more than 40 lakes nationwide. A patented aeration technology resupplies oxygen to the bottom of the lake continuously. BioBlast, a proprietary approach to biologics to reduce sediment, increases the number of good bacteria in the lake that can chew up the compost pile at the bottom, Tucci says.
Through smart watershed management, Tucci also looks for cost-effective ways to filter sediments and fertilizers to keep them from getting into the lake in the first place. He says these tools were born from his company’s work on Indian Lake in Cass County. “That lake was greatly impaired when we first got involved, but has become our greatest success story in Michigan,” he says.
Too much phosphorus in a lake can then lead to algal blooms that produce toxins. A phosphorus harvester, currently in field testing, could be a game changer in lake restoration, Tucci says. “We see phosphorus-harvesting technology as the potential breakthrough tool where we could remove phosphorus from the water in just a few days and ultimately deliver it back to farmland,” he says.
Such technology excites Laura Campbell, agricultural ecology department manager of the Michigan Farm Bureau. “I’m interested in anything that helps farmers be part of the solution in improving and retaining water quality,” she says.
She says water quality is a top issue for Michigan farmers. “Every farmer I know wants to make sure his fertilizer usage is responsible and doesn’t result in excessive runoff into the watershed and ultimately into the Great Lakes,” she says. “They believe it’s the right thing to do.”
Tucci agrees. Everyone shares responsibility to maintain and improve water quality, he says.
“The opportunity for innovation and looking for ways to deliver less fertilizer into our waters, but at the same time potentially harvest the phosphorus and deliver it back into farmland that can fertilize our crops, is exciting.”