Freshwater Lab Events

The Freshwater Lab is a research and educational initiative based at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Seeking to address freshwater issues from a humanities and social sciences perspective, the Lab represents an unprecedented effort to engage new voices in humanistic solutions to issues facing the Great Lakes region.

Driven by current and historical problems and triumphs, the Freshwater Lab convenes conferences, working groups, and academic courses that explore solutions and creative approaches to pressing natural resource issues. The Freshwater Lab promotes innovative research on the history, policy, and politics of resource distribution and prepares students in the Humanities for work in public policy and public life.

Freshwater Lab support includes awards from the Humanities Without Walls consortium based at the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  It is additionally supported by awards from the McDougal Family Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and the Alliance for the Great Lakes.


February 13, 2018: Lies and Lead in Water: Poisonous Pipes in Midwest Cities

RSVP and Details at:

March 22, 2018: The State of Our Water
8:00 AM – 1:00 PM (drop in anytime)
UIC Student Center East
750 S. Halsted
Chicago, IL 60607


January 26th, 2016 “The Map is Not the Territory”

Ann Chen – Fulbright National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellow
Visiting Research Fellow, English and Film Studies, University of Alberta

Ann Chen presented work from this ongoing project and spoke about participatory mapping, civic science, and collective storytelling as tools to understand the potential and current impacts of energy infrastructure projects on communities and geographies in the North.



March 1st, 2016, “Pipeline Politics: Oil, Borders, and Energy Futures”

Imre Szeman – Canada Research Chair in Cultural Studies and Professor of English, Film Studies and Sociology at the University of Alberta

The decision by President Obama in November 2015 to kill the Keystone XL pipeline project was followed a week later by new Prime Minister Trudeau’s implementation of a moratorium on oil tanker traffic on British Columbia’s coast, effectively killing the Northern Gateway pipeline project. The block on these two pipeline projects has left oil from the Alberta oil landlocked and with limited ways to get oil to markets. Does this mean that the environmental threat of large cross-country, cross-border pipeline projects is over? This paper will provide an overview of the politics of pipelines in North America. What does the present and future of pipelines in Canada and the US mean for the environments they traverse and criss-cross? Even if new projects are halted, what of the threat of more than 250,000 miles of large-diameter transmission lines (and far greater scale of gathering, feeder, and transmission pipelines) that are already in use in North America today?


April 14th, 2016, Research Forum with Freshwater Lab Students

Students enrolled in the UIC Freshwater Lab Spring 2016 presented individual and group research projects to academic professionals working in the water sector.


October 4th, 2017, “Condos, Controversy, and Culture”

Panel Discussion Waterfront Development in Chicago

UIC Latino Cultural Center
East side of Lecture Center B (LCB2) on the UIC East Campus between Harrison and Taylor, Morgan and Halsted


April 19th, 2016, “The Refined State: Tar Sands, Pet Coke, and the Front Lines of Great Lakes Oil Cities”

Noah Hall – Wayne State University
Thomas Frank – Southeast Environmental Task Force
Dr. Cecilia Martinez – Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy

Before tar sands reach consumers as usable energy, they undergo extensive refining. Refineries like the BP Whiting Indiana plant or the Marathon Detroit plant are long-standing institutions that have recently been retrofitted to accommodate the shift of energy source.  They sit directly on Great Lakes waterfronts. Despite a  lawsuit by The Natural Resources  Defense Council (NRDC) and the Legal Environmental Aid Foundation (LEAF) of Indiana with help from the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) against the BP Refinery and a United Steelworkers (USWA) strike in winter 2015, few residents or consumers of Tar Sands energy know how refineries operate or relate to their host communities.  Since the host communities tend to be disproportionately poor and underserved, questions of causality immediately arise. Do refineries make communities poor or do they develop largely in poor communities? How do refineries impact the economic and political status of their neighbors and how can the neighbors’ concerns be heard by energy executives or, for that matter, by the consumers of oil?  Tar Sands come with their own byproduct, Pet Coke, a kind of coal produced by refining oil sands.  Pet Coke sits in exposed piles on the southeast side of Chicago and in Detroit, generating dust with deleterious health effects on those who breathe it.



August 31st, 2016, 7 pm – 8:30 pm: Tour the Chicago River with Chicago River Stories.  

Spring 2016 Freshwater Lab students created ChicagoRiverStories to showcase the history and cultures of the Chicago River.  Join us as they lead a tour from Michigan Ave to Ping Tom Park.


October 18th, 2016, 2 pm – 3:30 pm (UIC Latino Cultural Center): “Indigenous Water Governance” 

Frank Ettawageshik – Chair of the Governing Board of the United League of Indigenous Nations, Anishinaabe Water Activist, Former Chairman of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. Co-sponsored by UIC Native American Support Program and UIC Latino Cultural Center.


November 1st, 2017, “Indigenous Water Sovereignty”

Frank Ettawageshik, Chair of the Governing Board of the United League of Indigenous Nations, Anishinaabe Water Activist, Former Chairman of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians

Institute for the Humanities, 701 South Morgan


October 27th, 2016,  Environmental Economy Panel 

Featuring: Daniel Sloboda from Patagonia; Ian Hughes from Goose Island Brewery; Josh Ellis from the Metropolitan Planning Council and more.


November 8th, 2016Water Is Life: Standing Firm at Standing Rock 

Al Eastman, Janie Pochel, Howard Ehrman


December 3rd, 2016, “Is there Lead in Our Water?”

Humbolt Park Community Forum
Clora Aikens, RN, MN, PHN IV, Lead Program
Rachel Havelock: UIC Freshwater Lab Professor
Jessica Fujan: Food & Water Watch Midwest


Freshwater Lab Summit 2017 “Untrouble the Waters”

May 10-11, 2017
9 AM – 5 PM
SCE 750 South Halsted, The University of Illinois at Chicago

Untrouble the Waters is a summit dedicated to bringing mayors, local leaders, and researchers together to envision and launch projects that benefit communities and watersheds alike.

Amidst questions of federal intentions about the Clean Water Act and Clean Water Rule; aging infrastructure; and water crises such as algae blooms, lead poisoning, and water shutoffs; the UIC Freshwater Lab invites government officials, academic researchers and community leaders to Untrouble the Waters.

For more information contact:
Dr. Rachel Havrelock or Mila Kay Marshall


“A Comparative Study of the Great Lakes and the Jordan Valley: Articulating Water Needs, the Right to Water, and Water Sovereignty in the Quest for Water Justice”

Summer 2017 Workshop at University of Wisconsin Madison

Rachel Havrelock, University of Illinois at Chicago (PI)
Samer Alatout, University of Wisconsin Madison
Stephen Gasteyer, Michigan State University


November 15th, 2017, “What Lurks in the Great Lakes? Pipelines, Invasive Species and Other Underwater Perils”

Dan Egan – Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Institute for the Humanities, 701 South Morgan