The Alliance for the Great Lakes is an organization headquartered in Chicago, IL, with the stated goal ‘to protect the Great Lakes for today and tomorrow.’ They do this through advocacy, education, research, and organizing volunteers; the latter most notably for their ‘Adopt-a-Beach’ program, with an upcoming event on September 16th (opportunities still available). The 16th is a day of International Coastal Cleanup put on by the Ocean Conservancy. The Alliance is the official partner of the International Coastal Cleanup in Wisconsin, and are currently organizing for the big day, both along the Western Coast of Lake Michigan and the Southern Shore of Lake Superior.
The Alliance has field offices in Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Muskegon, and here in Milwaukee, where they have one part-time employee, Mike Schulz, whose primary responsibility is the Adopt-A-Beach event coordinating, and one full time employee, Todd Brennen, who actively works on a number of advocacy projects.
Naturally, the Alliance is largely focused on the issue of invasive Asian Carp and how to stop or mitigate the threat they pose should they reach the Great Lakes and its tributaries, in numbers; e.g. recently pushing back on the White House to allow publication of the Army Corp of Engineer’s Brandon Road Study (2014) on the feasibility and impact of blocking Asian Carp at the Lock and Dam in Joliet, IL, which has since been released. Geographically, however, this issue currently resides principally in Illinois, and Todd’s efforts have been focused on issues which can be addressed locally or statewide within Wisconsin.
Among recent important events, the Alliance was involved in providing information on the issues involved in the sharing of water from the Milwaukee basin with the city of Waukesha. Their position was neutral on decisions in the matter, but they were an open and authoritative source of information on the environmental impact of a practice which, when wide-spread, can lead to problems.
This open sharing of information with the community extends naturally to child education. Todd, a resident of the Racine area for the past twelve years, has helped develop a one-of-a-kind public educational program with 4th graders and 7th graders in the Racine Unified School District. In coordination with Hawthorne Hallow Nature Center, but made possible by a network of volunteers and educators, students are able to learn about (and literally wade in) the local watershed and discover its importance. It is part of the regular curriculum and runs both Spring and Fall, for a total of 2.5 months out of the school year. The program serves as a prototype which can be used at other locations, and has also been used, on demand, in Milwaukee and the Sheboygan area.
The focus of much of the Alliance’s current efforts is in the area of reduced nutrient run-off. Nutrient run-off can come from farming, industry, and even apparently innocuous urban and suburban activities like golf course maintenance. These nutrients can cause intense algae blooms, which have a host of negative effects on the ecosystem. For fish, these minimally include congested gill-breathing and feeding difficulties due to light reduction. At its worst, these can include anoxic regions (no oxygen), which can lead to die-offs and dead zones, as well as toxic microcystin, which can kill humans and animals which ingest it. The Alliance works with this problem in the Green Bay and Fox River region.
Specifically worrisome is phosphorous run-off. Industry – a point source polluter which dumps effluent directly from a pipe – has limitations on the dumping of this material. A Maximum Daily Load keeps Green Bay on a ‘diet’. More recently programs have been put in place, original to Wisconsin, whereby industry can earn dumping credit by contributing to the reduction of contamination upstream. Farming practices along the Fox River account for 50% of phosphorous runoff. The program allows industry to contribute to the education of these farmers on environmentally friendly farming practices for the credit, in what is seen as a gain in fighting the problem long term. Todd sees the same issues in the Fox River region being applicable to the Milwaukee watershed, where the practice of farming is a large part of the economy upstream, north and west.
The Alliance is largely concerned to ‘Build a Culture of Cleanwater.’ The cities, Todd says, are starting to ‘get it’ because they are continuously concerned to provide clean drinking water for large amounts of people. Milwaukee in particular, having lived through the Cryptosporidium scare of 1993, is vigilant. But more rural areas are becoming more aware of the impact they are having to the connectedness of our water sources and the problem of clean water.
Written by Casey S. Schroeder for the Milwaukee Area Science Advocates. Casey is a regular contributor to MASA. More of his work can be found at atheoryof.me.