An Update on the Milwaukee River Basin from Milwaukee Riverkeepers
With Immense Gratitude……we present Milwaukee Riverkeeper’s 2018 Milwaukee River Basin Report Card! We are continually humbled by dedication of our volunteers and the community partners that make this report possible. Our volunteer Water Quality Monitoring program has grown into one of the largest people powered monitoring initiatives in the region. Without their time and talent, our work would not be possible.
TOP TAKEAWAYS: Historic rainfall levels in 2018, land-use practices, failing infrastructure and other human activities in both urban and rural parts of the Milwaukee River Basin, ultimately led to a decline in grade.
Milwaukee River Basin Grade drops from C- in 2017, to D.
Chloride persists as a growing issue throughout the Basin dropping in grade from an A- to B-.
Bacteria also continues to be an issue, with the grade dropping 12.51% since 2017.
All three watersheds failed to meet phosphorus standards for the 3rd year in a row.
In 2018 the Milwaukee River Basin received record rainfall totals
Although a slight decline in grade, we remain optimistic about the policy and restoration work happening to making a real difference in our watersheds. We are dedicated to the vision of a swimmable, fishable, future for our waterways. Improvements in water quality take time to see. It took many decades for our rivers to become polluted, and it’s going to take many decades to bring them back to a healthy state.
Melissa Tashijan, founder and president of The Compost Crusader, made a dynamic and impactful presentation at our October general membership meeting. Below are a couple of the basic composting resources she provided.
Compost Crusaders is a Milwaukee organization that helps individuals and organizations to divert organic material from the landfill, in an economically and environmentally sustainable way. For additional information about composting and recycling in our area, click on the links below:
Our May 7, 2019 meeting featured an interesting update of the Harbor District, Inc (HDI) and specifically of Harbor View Plaza presented by Dan Adams, Planning Director for HDI. Dan began by giving us an overview of the how the land use has changed in this area over the last 150 years. Even life long residents of Milwaukee welcomed the geography lesson on the various rivers, canals and land masses that are the focus of this revitalization project. Since GTGC’s mission includes providing education and activities in the areas of conservation, horticulture, and civic improvement, $8000 was approved to develop the green spaces of Harbor View Plaza and Mary presented a check in this amount. GTGC members enjoyed a private boat tour of the Harbor District in August.
The Garden Club of America National Affairs and Legislation Conference February 24-27, 2019 Washington, DC
The GCA hosts its annual National Affairs and Legislation Conference in Washington, D.C. every February. Over a period of two days, delegates — who are members of GCA clubs — hear compelling speakers from conservation nonprofits, scientists and writers to congressmen and women from both sides of aisle. A day is also dedicated to visits to Congressional offices on Capitol Hill. Presentations focus on important topics from the GCA's Position Papers as they pertain to relevant legislation and federal administrative actions.
by Anne Noyes
I was honored to be the Green Tree Garden Club delegate at the NAL Conference this year and was joined in representing Wisconsin by Tami Pringle, President of the Lake Geneva Garden Club and Peggy Heili, with Town & Country Garden Club of Sheboygan. There were over 300 GCA members who attended this event and we learned that through education and advocacy, the GCA has made and will continue to make a powerful impact on national and local conservation and environmental initiatives. The Conference officially began on Monday, with a day of instruction, focusing on the importance and relevance of GCA’s ten policy position papers. (See https://www.gcamerica.org/publications/details/id/27) Our speakers included scientists, researchers, writers and politicians. They addressed agriculture and food, birds, forest, oceans, botany, plant science and the use of native plants. We learned that if our plants are healthy and biodiversity thrives, that will be a good indicator of the vitality of our planet. ( attached is a news article about the NAL which lists the speakers ) Even though we live in politically divisive times, it was stressed that conservation can find common grounds through bipartisan efforts for improving the quality of our land, water, and natural resources. So on Tuesday, we visited the Congress and listened to speakers from both parties who are conservation advocates and were reminded repeatedly about the clout of the GCA on Capitol Hill. This is a very intelligent, powerful and well connected group in the eyes of our legislators! That afternoon, we visited our own Senators and Congressman to present the GCA’s position on pending and future legislation. We were well trained and equipped with the GCA’s “Legislative Talking Points” when meeting with the Legislative Aids of our Senators and Congressmen. (See also the “Talking Points” below.) I would be remiss in not emphasizing how stimulating it was meeting so many interesting, friendly and fun GCA members! I formed quite a bond with the two other WI delegates and we are already brainstorming on collaborative activities among our clubs to further local conservation education and advocacy. I would be happy to discuss this further either by telephone, email or at our next meeting. Thank you for this tremendous opportunity!
THE GLORIOUS GREAT LAKES
Some facts of interest:
The Great Lakes were first known by Europeans as the “Sweet Water Seas.”
The lakes are four in number, not five. Michigan and Huron are one and the same.
They cover an expanse equal in size to Great Britain.
A Great Lakes wave can reach a height of 25 feet.
Lake Superior holds enough water to submerge both North and South America with a foot of water.
Dressed in Mandarin robes. Jean Nicolet arrived in Green Bay in 1634, expecting to find himself in China.
The annual historic yield of fish from the Great Lakes was 40 million pounds.
The unintended consequences of our co-existence with the Great Lakes:
From the East
1825: Erie Canal, in 1829 Canada’s Welland Canal. River herring, (later known as alewives) are the first non-native species to be introduced to the lakes. First identified in 1931.
1835: Probable date the Sea Lamprey arrived in Lake Ontario. First discovered in Lake Michigan in 1936.
1940’s – 1950’s: Colossal commercial overfishing decimates the Lake Trout population and leads to a massive infestation of Sea Lampreys.
Late 1950’s: Near total eradication of Sea Lampreys with “lampricide”.
1966: The first bucket of Coho Salmon eggs is emptied into Lake Michigan. They were imported from Oregon with the hope that they would thrive and, feed on, and diminish the alewife infestation. The Coho’s exceeded all ex pectations and within just a few years the Great Lakes become known as “The World’s Greatest Fishing Hole” attracting individuals and charter boats from everywhere.
1970's: Almost all of the Alewife population has been devoured by the Chinooks, leading to starvation of the salmon for lack of food and devastation of the sport fishing industry.
1957: Opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, creating a “Man Made Mediterranean” in North America.
Sea going vessels are able to unload ballast water into the lakes; each ship carrying the equivalent of 10 Olympic size pools. Water carrying exotic species from as far away as the Black and Caspian Seas is now introduced to the Great Lakes. Ecologically naïve in origin, the lakes have no predators to defend against the newcomers.
1972: Public outrage over the Cuyahoga River fire in Ohio leads to the passage of the Clean Water Act. New standards for water cleanliness are imposed; nevertheless, the act exempts the ballast water from all vessels sailing within U.S. waters, therefore allowing the befouling of the Great Lakes to continue.
1988: The first Zebra Mussel is discovered in Lake St. Clair. By 2005, the lake beds are covered with Zebra and Quagga Mussels, municipal water intake pipes are encrusted and clogged. Mussels devour phytoplankton, the base of the food chain upon which prey fish, and in turn, larger fish depend. The glassy clear water of Lake Michigan is the sign of a lake that is sick.
The sun's rays that penetrate to the lake's bottom operate in tandem with the mussels excrement to create the perfect ecosystem for cladophora (algae) to thrive and form the odorous green mats that line Lake Michigan’s shores. Related botulism has killed over 100,000 eagles, loons and other shore birds.
1993: Clean Water Act is amended to require mid-ocean ballast exchange. This accomplishes little since sludge is retained in ships’ holds and is stirred up and mixed with new ballast water.
2011: Further legislation is finally introduced requiring chlorine sterilization of the holds of all ships. However, the requirement will not become mandatory for all ships until 2021.
In sum: The tonnage of overseas cargo represents 5% or less of all Great Lakes shipping each year. In 1915, the total number overseas vessels was 455, a little more than one per day. The annual cost of invasive species to municipalities is $200 mm annually.
From the other direction
1836: Opening of the Chicago Shipping and Sanitary Canal, reversing the flow of the Chicago River from east to west, carrying with it the sewage from the city of Chicago. (Ultimately widened and completed in 1900.)
1849: Drinking water contaminated by Chicago’s sewage causes St. Louis typhoid epidemic, killing 11% of the population. With strict oversight, quality of municipal drinking water eventually meets safety standards. However, 39 invasive species are now able on a permanent basis to migrate freely between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi Basin.
1963: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service imports grass carp from Asia to begin cleanup of contaminated rivers and ponds in Arkansas. In subsequent years, catfish farmers continue the imports; Silver and Bighead, and Black carp are added to the population. By 1974, the Arkansas Fish and Wildlife Commission has permanently stocked the lakes with carp. Floods allow the carp to escape the lakes and travel north.
Early 1990’s: Carp are firmly established in Illinois and Missouri Rivers. In 1996, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is directed to build an electrical barrier 25 miles downstream from Chicago; It becomes operational in 2002. Insufficient power to repel large fish and vulnerability to electrical outages have called into question the effectiveness of the project.
2010: A carp is caught in Lake Calumet, 6 miles from Lake Michigan. That same year, the U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear a request to permanently separate the Great Lakes from the Mississippi Basin to prevent the further migration of invasive species.
2017: In June, an Asian Carp is netted above the electrical barrier, 9 miles from Lake Michigan.
In sum: Along with the imminent threat of a Carp invasion, there are other risks yet to be addressed. One is future infestation of one or more still undiscovered exotic species already present in the lakes. Another is represented by the changes in water temperature and evaporation of the lakes in response to climate change. And still another will be the continuing demand for the diversion of Great Lakes water to other communities. Acceding to Waukesha’s request could be the equivalent of letting the horse out of the barn.
This report is adapted from The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan, reporter for the Journal Sentinel. Dan has been twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting. There is no greater advocate for the lakes, and for those of us who care, his book is mandatory reading. This piece is written with gratitude for what I have learned. Mary Walker
Why take the time to pull or cut invasives?
Wendy W. took out all the buckthorn along the road in front of George and her home three years ago. The seeded in the following fall. Take a look at the pictures that show the magnificent results below!!
On January 12, the Conservation Committee hosted the movie "Green Fire" at the Town Club. The film was about Aldo Leopold, a Wisconsin man often referred to as the father of modern conservation. Leopold is known for his concept of the "land ethic," which he explained in his book, "A Sand County Almanac." We received many positive comments about the movie, and several members asked if they could borrow the DVD to show spouses and friends. It is now loaned out, but if you would like to be put on the waiting list to borrow the DVD, please contact Buffy Duback.
The Driftless Region comes alive with the colors of fall. Photo By Terry McNeill
So what is the Driftless? Last Thursday members learned about a really special area of Wisconsin that for most of us has been unknown. This treasure of ours is a region noted mainly for its deeply carved river valleys. Primarily in Wisconsin, it includes areas of southeastern Minnesota, northeastern Iowa and extreme northwestern Illinois.
The region includes elevations ranging from 603 to 1,719 feet (did you know anything in WI was that high?) and covers an area of 16,203 square miles. Without going into all the scientific information on the Driftless, what you really need to know is that the region’s peculiar terrain is the result of its having escaped glaciation in the last glacial period (about 500,000 years ago). Adjacent glaciated regions were covered with glacial drift, which buried all former topographical features.
Left behind for visitors today to enjoy are gorgeous rivers and streams with cliffs covered with little found and endangered flora, caves and cave systems, blind valleys, underground streams, and sinkholes. There are many small towns, especially in river valleys, at or upstream from the Mississippi River. A particularly noteworthy annual event is the rising of fishflies, a kind of mayfly endemic to the Mississippi valley. If you’re so inclined to witness this event, these aquatic insects are attracted to light, which rise by the millions as adults to mate, only to die within hours. Otherwise, you might enjoy the wildlife, which is abundant with opportunities for hunting whitetail deer and wild turkey, fishing, particularly for brown trout in tributaries and species such as channel catfish in the Mississippi.
Around 85% of the Driftless Area lies in Wisconsin. For bird lovers the area is part of the Mississippi Flyway. For cavers, the Viroqua City Cave and Cave of the Mounds are well known Karsts. For those who want to hike or canoe or kayak, the Chippewa, Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers, as well as small streams offer great opportunities. And, if you want to just meander through the area in your car, U.S. Highway 20 is a twisty highway taking you over the switchback up stream valleys or over the ridge tops. Sound interesting? Maybe it’s time to get to know Wisconsin! (Click the link below to be taken to Wisconsin Trails website.)