Improving, yes, but waters far from
Conference considers health
of lake, bay
By Mike Hoeft
Green Bay Press Gazette
Published November 3, 2005
Can you drink it? Can you swim in it? Can you eat fish
caught from it?
Despite signs of improvements in water quality, it still
can be unsafe to do any of them in Green Bay and Lake
Michigan, researchers said Wednesday.
That was the pollution bottom line that was shared with
about 150 people who gathered at the KI Convention Center
in Green Bay for a three-day State of Lake Michigan and
the Great Lakes Beach conferences.
The conferences coincided with the International Joint
Commission’s public meeting Tuesday on the review of the
Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the United
States and Canada.
Michigan toxicologist Shannon Briggs, president of the
Great Lakes Beach Association, said that because of more
monitoring and research, scientists have a better understanding
of bacteria sources, runoff pollution and management strategies.
Yet it’s a fairly depressing picture, said Judy Beck
of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The State of Lake Michigan is a mix of positive and negative
changes, with new challenges developing, she said.
The lake is “an outstanding natural resource of global
significance under stress and in need of special attention,”
While water quality has improved, the watershed is in
trouble for various reasons. The Fox River is one of 10
areas of concern to the EPA, largely because of a legacy
of PCB contamination.
Victoria Harris of the Sea Grant Institute at the University
of Wisconsin-Green Bay said PCBs in sediment pose the
greatest risk to human health and wildlife.
The Fox River in Brown County contains 7.5 million cubic
yards of PCB-contaminated sediments, far more than estimated
by regulators in 2003 when several paper companies were
given a cleanup mandate.
Polychlorinated biphenyls were released into the river
by seven area paper mills from about 1954 to 1971. PCBs
are implicated in a range of health problems in humans.
Cleanup of the Fox River will include dredging the sediment,
as well as capping PCB hot spots.
Wisconsin has a fish-consumption advisory on every lake
and stream in the state due to elevated levels of mercury
in all fish and more restrictive advice on 84 lakes for
even higher levels of mercury.
Other threats stem from nutrient-rich runoff that flows
into the bay to produce the micro-algae cladophora, making
beaches unsightly and smelly. Beaches are closed when
E. coli levels are large enough to make people seriously
Lower Green Bay water has been unsuitable as a drinking-water
source for decades. While Marinette draws drinking water
from the bay, the city of Green Bay has piped Lake Michigan
water since 1957.
Surrounding communities have seriously drawn down the
groundwater and are now building a lake pipeline to Manitowoc.
John Paul, Brown County Health Department environmental
and laboratory manager, said water quality often is taken
“We should be more aware of efforts to protect the resource,”