runoff drawing attention
Lake Michigan conference looks at PCBs, E. coli
By Paul Brinkmann
Green Bay Press Gazette
In 1994, research showed habitat loss and non-native species
- not PCBs - were the top problems in the bay of Green
Since then, the PCB problem has gained a lot of attention,
but issues like stormwater runoff and loss of natural
habitats may require far-reaching efforts in many regions
Working regionally was the focus of a water quality conference
Thursday at the KI Convention Center in downtown Green
Bay. The event was called the Northeast Wisconsin &
Lake Michigan Watershed Planning Conference.
"I think it was a surprise that PCBs were not the
top-ranking problem," said Victoria Harris, water
quality specialist with University of Wisconsin-Green
Bay. "The number one problems are worse than PCBs
because they are irreversible. When you eliminate habitat
or introduce a new species, it’s almost impossible to
Conference attendees included about 65 environmental
experts and local government officials from eight counties
in the Bay-Lake Regional Planning Commission’s territory,
including Brown, Door and Kewaunee. Many said they appreciated
the regional focus and learned from each other.
"It’s nice to see how the bigger communities are
tackling these issues," said Brennan Haworth, a specialist
with Oconto County’s Land Conservation Division.
The conference is part of growing efforts to foster cooperation
on regional water quality issues. The Bay-Lake region
was the first to hold a conference under the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency’s Lake Michigan Management Plan, a collaboration
of four states, 10 tribes and six federal agencies.
"We have some big problems confronting Lake Michigan,"
said Judy Beck, Lake Michigan manager with the U.S. EPA
Region 5 in Chicago. "We’re here to learn about each
other and copy from each other."
A flooded back yard drove Suamico village President Thomas
Lund into politics and onto the podium at Thursday’s convention.
Lund told the conference Suamico has struggled to identify
where its stormwater comes from and where it goes. The
former town - now a village - spent $100,000 over three
years on an engineering firm. One of its findings was
that U.S. 41 creates a backwash because it cuts across
the normal drainage pattern and has few culverts.
Lund said seeing how other cities have dealt with stormwater
issues was important to him, especially when Susan Olson,
Appleton Public Works Department, said she’s dealt with
Haworth said he also appreciated Olson’s comments, especially
learning that Appleton has considered controlling the
type of fertilizer used in the city to help lower phosphorus
contamination in lakes. Too much phosphorus can lead to
Beaches on center stage
Bacteria on local beaches was another top regional issue.
Especially interesting to many were Sandra McClellan’s
comments that high readings of E. coli bacteria, the best-known
indicator of contamination, doesn’t necessarily mean humans
will get sick. If the bacteria is coming from seagulls,
for example, human diseases may not be present.
McClellan, assistant scientist with the state’s Great
Lakes Water Institute in Milwaukee, is now trying to determine
if human disease germs linger in water after bacteria
die. She also said beach bacteria test results in Milwaukee
don’t reflect overall lake quality.
"I had no idea her research had gone that far,"
Door County Board Chairman Charlie Most Jr. said.
Three Door County officials, including Sturgeon Bay Mayor
Colleen Crocker-MacMillin, gave a summary of their experience
with beach-related illnesses last year, better monitoring
results this year, and ongoing efforts to identify the
sources of bacteria on 31 beaches on the peninsula.
Drinking water access
The level of Northeast Wisconsin’s aquifers - underground
water reserves - is dropping at a rate three feet per
year, Madeline Gotkowitz, hydrogeologist with Wisconsin
Geological and Natural History Survey, told the conference.
Aquifer depletion here is not as serious as in the Milwaukee
area, which is dropping at 7 feet per year, but Northeastern
Wisconsin could face serious problems if the levels continue
to drop, she said.
"If you continue to rely on groundwater, you’re
going to dry out your aquifer," Gotkowitz said.
Gotkowitz also mentioned the recent collapse of talks
between suburbs and Green Bay about regional cooperation.
She said waiting any longer to switch over to lake water
from well water could seriously damage the aquifer because
lower levels likely will speed up increases in contaminants
such as arsenic and radium.