On The Lake: We’re 10 years old; that’s 1 million in Waterkeeper years

By Shannon Williamson
Reader Columnist

Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper turned 10 this past January and we didn’t even get to go to Triple Play. Instead, we’re going to memorialize this milestone like the data-driven grownups we are by hosting our first annual Water Summit on Friday, Sept. 20 at the Panida Theater. 

Shannon Williamson.

We’re excited to bring six dynamic speakers to Sandpoint that will discuss innovative technology and scientific breakthroughs that influence water quality. This event will be the first of its kind in North Idaho, and with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. serving as our keynote speaker, we can’t wait to inspire everyone that attends to help preserve and protect what we often take for granted: clean water.

The theme of our first Water Summit is “Discovering the Unseen — Exploring Our Waters’ Tiniest Organisms and Biggest Influencers.” In other words, our speakers are scientists that study the most abundant but invisible components of water: microbes. They will each give a short but engaging talk about how microbes impact ecosystem function in different ways. Here is a preview of our speaker lineup.

Jonathan Eisen, Ph.D., U.C Davis — Eisen is an expert microbiologist that has worked on a ton of environments and issues, from deep-sea volcanoes to ducks. Eisen will introduce the audience to the wonderful world of microbes — what they are, why they are important and how they are studied in the environment including examples from his own research. You might learn more about ducks than you bargained for.

Tom Zimmerman, IBM Research — Zimmerman is a “master inventor” that helped establish the field of virtual reality. His talk will focus on the importance of phytoplankton (floating photosynthetic microbes) to the aquatic food chain and global health. Zimmerman is currently developing an AI-powered microscope to monitor plankton in their natural environment and their response to pollution. He’ll include a live demo of phytoplankton behavior that will be projected on the big screen at the Panida.

Lisa Zeigler-Allen, Ph.D., J. Craig Venter Institute — Zeigler-Allen’s specialty is marine viruses, particularly those that infect other microbes. That’s really a thing. In fact, that’s what I used to do before joining LPOW. Zeigler-Allen studies how viruses influence everything from the evolution and adaptation of their hosts to nutrient cycling. She’ll share some of the lessons she’s learned from studying viruses at the single-cell/virus level, which is quite a challenge because they’re really small. 

Orianna Bretschger, Ph.D., CEO/Founder of AQUACYCL — Bretschger has spent a lot of time studying bacteria in aquatic environments that can do something pretty unique: produce electricity. She’s used what she’s learned through her research to develop practical bioelectrical systems including wastewater treatment. Bretschger will share a new technology developed by AQUACYCL that utilizes naturally existing bacteria to convert organic waste and sludge into direct electricity without any methane production. Truly cutting edge.

Johnny Mojica, Earth Economics — Mojica will help us shift gears before our keynote takes the stage. A specialist in holistic economic analyses of aquatic systems, Mojica will talk about how we can quantify the social, environmental and economic benefits of healthy ecosystems — as well as quantify the “feelings” we get when we recreate in healthy environments. His talk will be particularly relevant to the Sandpoint community from an economic perspective. 

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Waterkeeper Alliance — RFK Jr. will wrap up the Water Summit with his keynote speech. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know exactly what this will entail, but it’s sure to inspire. RFK Jr. is a passionate advocate for clean water around the world and the current president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, of which LPOW is a member organization.

We’re very excited to share this experience with you. Please visit lpow.org for additional information.

LPOW Water Summit • Friday, Sept. 20; 6-9 p.m.; $35. Panida Theater, 300 N. First Ave., 208-263-9191, panida.org. Get tickets online at lpow.org, panida.org or the LPOW office in the Cedar St. Bridge.

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