Editorial: Great lakes cleanup starts
with small steps
Published November 14, 2005
On Wednesday, a small group pf people will learn more
about the problem of E.coli bacteria that is believed
responsible for fouling beaches up and down the Lake Michigan
We've all seen the signs that are posted at swimming locations
— green is good, yellow is a warning and red means don't
swim at all. Unfortunately, we've had way too many days
with red signs in recent years.
That's one of the reasons the Sheboygan River Basin Partnership,
a group dedicated to cleaning up the river and protecting
it from pollution, is holding a public information meeting
from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Blue Harbor Resort and
Conference Center. They'll be hearing from the executive
director of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District
and a scientist from the Great Lakes WATER Institute in
Hearing what each has to say should prove interesting.
The sewerage district gets the lion's share of the blame
for E.coli problems because it is well documented that
it dumps raw sewage into the lake at times of heavy rain.
Recently, Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager
filed a civil environmental lawsuit against MMSD for releasing
a half-billion gallons of into Lake Michigan.
Yet, the study group, which is based at the University
of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, says it is still searching for
a definitive source for the pollution that closes beaches.
"I think the biggest thing is we don't really have
a good handle on Lake Michigan water quality," according
to Sandra McLellan, an assistant scientist with Great
That's one of the reasons why a $20 billion plan to study
dangers to the health of the Great Lakes, restore them
and protect them from future threats is so important.
The Bush administration pushed for the funding last year,
but the bill to move it ahead is stalled while Congress
decides how to fund the repair bill for the Gulf hurricanes
and fund the continuing war in Iraq.
E.coli contamination is just one of the threats to Lake
Michigan and the four other Great Lakes. There is also
mercury pollution that exists at elevated levels in Great
Lakes fish. PCBs, which have been linked to cancer in
lab tests, rest in sediments in the Fox and Sheboygan
rivers. Runoff from agriculture and urban sources send
nutrient-rich water into the lakes where it fosters foul-smelling
algae blooms. There are also the non-native invasive species,
such as zebra mussels and sea lamprey, that threaten water
quality and the Great Lakes sport fishing industry.
While it is easy to point the finger of blame at the large
polluters, such as MMSD, the reality is probably a lot
closer to the view of Shannon Haydin, the head of planning
and resources for Sheboygan County and president of the
river partnership group.
"Everything that we do, fertilize our yards, throw
our trash out the window, let our dog leave its doo in
the yard or whatever, all those things have an impact,"
With things stalled at the national level on a massive
project, perhaps the best way to begin tackling the problem
of Great Lakes pollution is at the base level of the individual
and the community from where the pollution comes.
This is why groups like the Sheboygan River Basin Partnership
are so important to attacking the problem. Rather than
wait for the big gears of government to move, starting
out by moving the little ones at the base level can get
keep the system moving ahead.