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Editorial: Great lakes cleanup starts with small steps
Sheboygan Press
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 shoreline.

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 Milwaukee.

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 Lakes WATER.

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," Haydin said.

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.

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