Program People News

New Keillor Fellow to study movement of firefighting chemicals in watershed

Sarah Balgooyen completed her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison last spring and has moved right into a hot topic in water pollution. Firefighting chemicals, also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS, are estimated to contaminate the drinking water of 16.5 million people in the United States alone. One of those sites is the Tyco Fire Products facility in Marinette.

Sarah Balgooyen. Submitted photo.

Evidence of PFAS has been found in ditchwater near the company. “Mostly, people are concerned with private drinking water wells, but also there’s the potential for the contamination to get into Green Bay and eventually out into Lake Michigan,” Balgooyen said.

Balgooyen will use her two years of funding as a J. Philip Keillor Water Science Fellow to determine how much of the contamination is moving toward the bay and if it’s going to be an issue for Lake Michigan.

Step one is to clear her lab instruments of PFAS. “That’s tricky because scientists have been finding that PFAS are dangerous at really low levels, so at these low concentrations, they’re hard to measure,” Balgooyen said. “With the instruments we use in the lab, there’s often PFAS in our tubing and in the little components that are made of Teflon or other PFAS-containing materials.”

Step two is to obtain water samples. Balgooyen said she and the rest of the research team plan to sample tributaries around Marinette that lead into the Menominee River or directly into Green Bay. “We’ll see where we can find PFAS. Then, based on the flow of those surface waters, we can gauge how much PFAS might be reaching Green Bay.”

The final part of her experiment will involve lab work to investigate whether the PFAS remain in the water or are being absorbed into river or bay sediments. “This is a key factor in the way these chemicals move around the environment,” Balgooyen said.

The project fits with Balgooyen’s passion for water. “I grew up in Michigan, so I’m used to having a lot of clean, drinkable water around me, but not everyone has that. I think it’s really important for us to monitor that and make sure we all have access to clean water so our citizens’ health isn’t being put at risk,” she said.


New Coastal Management Fellow ready to seek out his niche

While fellowships can be a great stepping-stone for those with laser-focused career goals, they are also a great way for recent graduates to explore options and get a clearer sense of how they want to contribute to a particular field.

Adam Arend, a new J. Philip Keillor Fellow, falls into the latter camp. After high school, he considered entering the priesthood and began his academic journey in a seminary program in Minnesota. He shifted gears and completed his undergraduate education at Ave Maria University in Florida, where he majored in environmental science. His next stop was a master’s degree in environmental policy and planning from the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability.

Now, with his graduate degree in hand, Arend (pronounced like “errand”) is eager to gain additional experience, work with his fellowship mentors and refine his career path. He is based at the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program (WCMP) offices, part of the Wisconsin Department of Administration.

Arend works closely with Wisconsin Sea Grant Coastal Engineer Adam Bechle and WCMP Federal Consistency and Coastal Hazards Coordinator Kate Angel, who also serves on Sea Grant’s Committee on Outreach and Education.

“I’m excited for the opportunity to explore different aspects of coastal management and state government,” said Arend, who began the one-year fellowship in mid-August. “That aspect of the fellowship was really attractive to me. I’m ready to get a better idea of what exactly my next steps might look like, or what I might be doing in 15 years.”   

One of his main tasks is to help update the Coastal Processes Manual. Said Bechle, “In updating the manual, Adam has picked up right where our last fellow, Yi Liu, left off. He has jumped into writing about measures to mitigate coastal hazards and the impacts of a changing climate on the Great Lakes.”

Arend will build on experience from his master’s project at the University of Michigan. He worked with an environmental law firm in Traverse City on the Blue Communities Project. As part of a team of students working with the firm, he brought a social science perspective to the group’s work, which centered on getting municipal entities, environmental groups and private businesses to join forces on common steps they could take to protect local waters.

“Our goal, essentially, was to figure out how to connect people in Traverse City and support them in working together on a better water stewardship ethic,” said Arend. While that process was not without hurdles, he noted, “Sometimes people are surprised how many common interests they have.”

Arend hopes to learn more about how state government works and policy is crafted. He’s ready to take on the challenges of the Keillor Fellowship and continue carving out his professional path. Concluded Arend, “I want to be in the freshwater world, and I’ve found my broader niche within the Great Lakes. Now I’m ready to define that further.”


Voter returns as Water Resources Science-Policy Fellow to shed light on Central Sands lakes

As Yogi Berra famously said, it’s déjà vu all over again. Carolyn Voter, a familiar face around the Aquatic Sciences Center (ASC), is reprising her role as the Wisconsin Water Resources Science-Policy Fellow. The fellowship is jointly supported by the Water Resources Institute (part of the ASC) and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

It’s a role Voter first filled in 2015-16, when the fellowship was being piloted and designed for a graduate student. Voter was working on her Ph.D. in urban hydrology at the time. Now, with her doctorate freshly in hand, Voter is embarking on a new fellowship, which has been reconfigured for post-doctoral or post-master’s applicants.

“I’m doubly lucky to do this a second time,” said Voter.

Voter began her current tenure in September and works in downtown Madison at the DNR’s Drinking and Groundwater Bureau and Water Use Section.

For the next year, her task will be to shed light on a topic of great interest to residents and stakeholders in the Central Sands region. Along with a team of about 40 others, Voter is working on the Central Sands Lake Study, which focuses on the interactions between groundwater and three lakes in the region, and the impact of high-capacity wells on those lakes.

In 2017, the Wisconsin Legislature tasked the DNR with conducting this study as part of the passage of Act 10. In particular, the DNR was charged with looking at three Waushara County lakes — Pleasant, Long and Plainfield — and determining whether groundwater withdrawals are having a significant impact on them, or could have a significant impact in the future.

The study must be completed by June 2021, when the DNR will present its final report to the Legislature. In that report, the DNR may recommend special measures to prevent or remedy a significant reduction in lake levels, per the charge from the Legislature.

The study team spans multiple DNR units, the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, the United States Geological Survey, and academic researchers from UW-Madison, UW-Stevens Point and other schools.

For more information, see the expanded version on the WRI website:

The Aquatic Sciences Center is the administrative home of the
University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute & University of Wisconsin Water Resources Institute.

©2011 University of Wisconsin Board of Regents