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The LimnoTech Story

When the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, caught fire in 1969, Time magazine described it as the river that “oozes rather than flows.” Around the same time, Lake Erie was declared “dead.” These and other events helped spur a U.S. national commitment to clean water. It was during this time that Paul Freedman and two other University of Michigan researchers formed a consulting company with the goal of becoming “players” in solving the nation's water quality problems. This was the beginning of LimnoTech in 1975.

Throughout the ensuing years, LimnoTech and its staff have been committed to helping clients make the best decisions for the protection and restoration of the water environment. Our history began built around employing new, cutting-edge computer models to analyze problems. Since this start as a company, we have remained focused on developing and employing state-of-the-art approaches to solve problems as they arise. Below is a brief history that shows how LimnoTech has progressed and evolved in tandem with the evolution of the field—often leading the way.

The 1970s: Using Computer Models for Decision Support

The 1970s in the U.S. brought a surge in environmental awareness and a flood of new environmental legislation, calling for more informed analysis to justify expensive control measures. At the same time, computers were becoming accessible tools for engineers and scientists. During this decade, LimnoTech was a pioneer in applying new models to help municipal utility managers make difficult and expensive decisions about combined sewer overflow (CSO) control and wastewater treatment requirements. To this day, LimnoTech continues to be viewed as a national leader on these and other water quality issues for utilities. Beginning in 1975, LimnoTech led the way in development and use of dissolved oxygen and eutrophication models to aid in defining necessary technology improvements for wastewater treatment plants and also developed among the first simple sewer overflow models to support strategies for the control of combined sewer overflows. We were recognized for helping communities create comprehensive plans to manage their wastewater. One of these communities was Washington, DC, a client we've served continuously for almost four decades, indicative of our high quality services and adaptability to emerging issues.

The 1980s: Toxics Concerns and New Technologies

In the 1980s our work and reputations addressing dissolved oxygen and eutrophication problems grew, but toxic chemical pollution quickly emerged as a significant concern. LimnoTech became a nationally recognized leader by addressing new issues in surface water and groundwater for both conventional and toxic pollutants. To this end, we expanded our client base to include industries and government agencies. Staff at LimnoTech developed some of the earliest models of the fate and transport of PCBs, DDT, and other chemical contaminants in the Great Lakes to evaluate problems and potential solutions in Saginaw Bay, Lake Michigan, and Lake Ontario, building on our prior work on Great Lakes eutrophication. Groundwater pollution from spills of toxic solvents was also a concern. Here too, LimnoTech applied innovative modeling and computer analysis to analyze problems at high-profile Superfund sites as well as to help assess and clean up smaller sites. These projects ran the range from localized spills of gasoline and solvents to large-scale contamination of river and lake sediments. In this latter area, LimnoTech emerged as a leading expert in developing assessments and strategies for high-profile mega-sites.

In parallel with this evolution in our services and clients during this decade, there was a growing use of personal desktop computers.  LimnoTech quickly became a leader in making the technology from computer simulation more accessible to decision-makers. We were pioneers in developing user-interactive PC models, graphic interfaces, GIS database management and display programs, probabilistic models, and other innovations addressing surface water and groundwater challenges. Computer modeling and analysis became standard tools for decision-making in our industry, and LimnoTech was a key player in that evolution.

The 1990s: Focus on Holistic Approaches

In the 1990s, attention turned from cleaning up individual sites and controlling point source pollution to more holistic approaches of prevention and restoration. This outcome-based focus moved us away from a programmatic/siloed outlook  to a holistic approach that focused on priority issues and solutions. The relatively new concept of watershed management received greater emphasis, along with its regulatory counterpart, Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs). Embracing a watershed approach, we expanded our interests from primarily urban-focused to also include rural and agricultural issues. Though our watershed practice, LimnoTech led local and national efforts to promote innovative scientific approaches for developing more effective priorities for water quality protection and restoration.

In addition to site-specific applications of watershed assessment tools, staff at LimnoTech promoted these concepts nationally.  Our staff organized several national conferences, contributed hundreds of presentations and papers, and developed numerous innovations in modeling. During this period, LimnoTech was also responsible for numerous government training workshops, new models, and technical guidance manuals, all focused on advancing the use of models to support effective watershed management.

Expanding our national reputation, LimnoTech was also at the forefront of large-scale ecosystem restoration strategies related to the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes, the Florida Everglades, and Chesapeake Bay. Our focus was no longer strictly limited to water quality; we broadened our services to address habitat loss, hydraulic/hydrologic modifications, and invasive species.  As an example, we developed the first models to consider the effects of invasive zebra mussels on everything from blue-green algae to hypoxia to PCB concentrations in fish. We also employed innovative advances in technology to reexamine dredging as a universal strategy for contaminated sediment sites, and considered the feasibility of targeted natural attenuation as an effective measure at Superfund sites, both for groundwater and contaminated sediments.

The 2000s and Beyond: Sustainability, Affordability and Globalization

In this new century, water pollution and water scarcity  take on an urgent and global perspective. Increasing populations, demand for resources, climate change, and a globalization of economies have manifested themselves in water issues that significantly impact businesses, people, and the environment in nearly every country on the planet. As a result, businesses, governments, and NGOs seek new tools to assess water-related risks, and to develop sustainable strategies to protect against these risks.

LimnoTech has contributed to sustainable solutions to these critical issues through our support to major global corporations and NGOs. This has included support to food and beverage companies, as well as to traditional industries such as cement, pulp and paper, oil refining, and energy. LimnoTech has  been instrumental in the development and application of new assessment tools from risk assessment models to water footprinting to water benefit credits. We have worked in partnership with global environmental nonprofits, international agencies and banks, as well as research organizations, to better develop and demonstrate the utility of these new approaches to benefit business, society, and the environment.

Over this same period, U.S. urban communities have wrestled with how to solve expensive CSO, sanitary sewer overflow (SSO), and wet weather pollution issues with sustainable approaches they can afford. Communities have been struggling to resolve issues with expensive compliance plans, permits, and consent decrees, looking for alternatives with affordable rate increases. LimnoTech has been at the forefront in developing and promoting approaches such as adaptive management, integrated planning, and green versus gray solutions as affordable but effective answers. We have used our high-level analytical tools to demonstrate that these innovative approaches are effective and represent more sustainable solutions. LimnoTech employees have helped advance this dialog not only through our project work, but also through numerous papers, presentations, and professional activities.

Now after more than 40 years of restoring and preserving our water environment, we are still excited about our role in helping to solve our clients’ problems and take on the global challenges that exist in the water field. We are passionate about contributing to effective solutions, and eager to help advance the technology to design these solutions. As new environmental challenges emerge during the next 40 years, we will continue to play a leadership role, helping our clients make informed decisions to protect our water environment.