Northwestern Indiana is one of the most densely populated and heavily industrialized parts of the state, and its geology is highly conducive to the movement of bacterial and chemical contaminants into and through the surface-water and shallow ground-water system. Water wells and surface streams have long been impacted by such contamination, causing water and sediment quality in some areas to be very poor and dangerous to wildlife and human populations.
Despite the dense concentration of industrial facilities and urbanized areas, the region has several natural areas of great scenic and recreational value, including the Indiana Dunes State Park and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Throughout the summer, beaches along the Lake Michigan shoreline are visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists, not only from the region but from throughout the Midwest and the nation. Over the years however, it has been necessary for public health and park officials to periodically close the beaches because of high levels of E. coli bacteria. Also, state officials have issued fish consumption advisories due to high levels of PCBs and metals found in fish caught in the areas waters, with that contamination attributed to the area's riverine sediments.
For several years, personnel from a variety of agencies who are charged with protecting and managing the natural resources of the region have expressed the desirability of gathering all available environmentally related data into a single repository of information. Once such a repository -- which would be readily accessible to all interested parties -- is created, inconsistencies between datasets from various sources could be more easily recognized and corrected, and planners would have a common set of base information to work with.
In 1996, the Interagency Task Force on E. coli (ITF), which includes personnel from various local, state, and federal agencies, was formed to discuss the issues outlined above and to make recommendations regarding action steps. Out of the deliberations of the ITF, one of the priority items identified was the development of a geographic information system (GIS) that could be used as the foundation for a comprehensive analysis of the region's water-quality problems. This was the catalyst for initiation of an ongoing effort that has included the development of this LakeRim GIS website. Initial funding was provided by federal grants (NOAA, EPA) administered by state agencies (IDNR, IDEM) and the IGS was contracted to develop the site, maintaining it with no financial support since the initial funding in 1998.
In 2005 the Army Corps of Engineers, IDEM, IDNR, and USFW entered into an agreement to produce a Feasibility Study and Environmental Impact Statement (FS/EIS) to remediate contaminated sediments of the Grand Calumet River and non-federal portions of the Indiana Harbor ship Canal. During a public scoping meeting for this undertaking, it was asked of the agencies if information for the studies can be made available on the LakeRim IMS site. This request from the public demonstrated that the LakeRim is a useful and used resource, and justified for the agencies to fund remaking the site as a way to widely disseminate public project information.
Through the regional GIS users group the Northwest Indiana GIS Forum, the agencies worked with the GIS community and used locally developed data as their base layers for the FS/EIS. These data along with that developed to support the FS/EIS are provided on the site, as are many years of aerial photography, layers from other agencies and non-government organizations, and information of many environmental projects in the area. With coordination by the GIS Forum, data from the regions cites, counties, and non-government organizations are available, some of which may be downloaded, and all data is documented with compliant metadata.
This website is the product of a truly collaborative effort: federal, state, and local agencies working with the community to provide information needed to assist the public's involvement in local resource use and planning issues.