Sweet Water Announces 2017 Mini-Grant Program Winners

Sweet Water’s annual Water Quality Mini-Grant Program distributes grants between $1,000 and $5,000 to non-profit organizations, community, and civic groups for projects or activities that improve water quality, enhance conservation, restore habitat, and educate people about ways to protect and restore our watersheds.  Every spring, Sweet Water is proud to honor these winners at our annual Clean Rivers, Clean Lake Conference.

Sweet Water distributes a request for Mini-Grant proposals each fall.  We receive an average of 25 to 35 project proposals from which to select those most likely to succeed and meet our goals of protecting and preserving our shared water resources.  The number of grants awarded each year averages between 12 and 15, and depends on the amount of funding we have available to distribute.   

The proposals submitted throughout the years have represented a variety of types of organizations, falling into some of the following categories:  schools; community initiatives; parks; non-profits; conservancies; volunteer; religiously-based; land trusts; and nature centers.  The pool of proposals received for the 2017 program again reflected that variety.

In January of this year, Sweet Water’s judging panel selected the projects that will be funded in 2017.  We congratulate the organizations that are listed below on their project planning success.  They will commit to implementing their projects this spring, summer, and fall.  Sweet Water is also committed to their success, and we are excited to see the fruits of their labor in the coming months.  

Nine Key Element Planning

Non-point pollution, or runoff from rural and urban areas, is increasingly polluting our water resources. The EPA estimates non-point pollution is the leading cause for the 40% of our nation’s streams and rivers that do not meet water quality standards.

To better address the issues of non-point pollution, the US EPA developed guidance for Nine Minimum (Key) Elements of watershed planning that allow watershed planners to evaluate non-point pollution control in a long term and adaptive manner, unlike more traditional “end-of-pipe” technology upgrades that may achieve faster results, but at a much higher economic cost. The Nine Element framework spans ten years and encourages collaboration among numerous stakeholders, including property owners, farmers, permitted point source, and NGOs, among others. When collaborating, resources can be pooled and progress can be made in a much more cost effective manner. In addition to guiding the next ten years of watershed restoration for a region, approved Nine Key Element plans will ensure its eligibility for a variety of funding sources including several non-point pollution runoff grants and water related Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding.

Over the last year Sweet Water and partners have begun developing Nine Key Element plans for several watersheds in the Greater Milwaukee Area. While Nine Key Element Plans are typically focused on only water quality improvement, Sweet Water recognized that true watershed restoration requires a plan that moves the needle on multiple fronts including improvements in water quality, managing water quantity, addressing aquatic and terrestrial habitat, and creating new opportunities for recreation and access to our shared water resources. A final draft has been completed for the Kinnickinnic Watershed and a final draft for the Menomonee Watershed will be completed early this year. These plans compile and combine the decades of past watershed planning and modeling in the region with newer plans still under development, into one overarching report that is complaint with EPA’s Nine Elements.

While not identical to the TMDL implementation plans, the Nine Key Element Plans do include TMDL pollutant targets and priority projects that can be used by point sources to achieve compliance with their allocations. Essentially, Sweet Water intends for the Nine Key Element plans to supplement and support any TMDL implementation work in the region.

To learn more about Nine Key Element Plans or the progress of the Kinnickinnic and Menomonee plans, contact Kaity Taylor at taylor@swwtwater.org.

Partnering Perspective

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Over the years, Sweet Water has partnered with many different types of organizations throughout Southeastern Wisconsin. This collaborative role is an increasingly important part of Sweet Water's mission. One of Sweet Water's long term collaborative partners is CH2M, with whom Sweet Water has worked closely for many years. As environmental and engineering consultants, CH2M understands the importance of water quality and environmental resource management.

Sweet Water recently sat down with Mark Mittag from CH2M to learn more about what kinds of benefits CH2M sees in these types of partnerships and how, in his perspective, they can benefit the community at large.


What types of partnerships and sponsorships has CH2M entered into with Sweet Water?

CH2M is proud to have sponsored many Sweet Water events over the past 6 years. We’ve taken the most active role in the Mini-Grant program as a sponsor of that program each year since 2011. Our sponsorship of the Mini-Grants has involved financial contributions, but more importantly has included an active role reviewing the grant applications and seeing first-hand the commitment to improving our watersheds that so many share in the region. We are excited about our Mini-Grant involvement as a way of giving back to the community.

CH2M has also sponsored the Clean Rivers, Clean Lake Conference for many years. In 2016, we were also a sponsor of the inaugural Sweet Water Soirée. Being involved in many different ways supports the CH2M mission of helping with the most complex water challenges with exceptional service and integrated, sustainable solutions.


As an organization, how does CH2M decide what groups or projects to support?

Our support of the Mini-Grant program is part of the CH2M Milwaukee office’s community giving. Our community giving focuses on organizations that engage the public, promote environmental stewardship, and relate to what we do every day for a living – deliver projects that make water cleaner and the environment better. This means we look for organizations that have a large, local impact and that share our mission and interest in water and improving the environment. Sweet Water is a great partner providing connections to the community and environmental benefits throughout Milwaukee-area watersheds.


How is this kind of partnership beneficial to CH2M as a company?


What’s great about this partnership is that it first ties back to what both CH2M and Sweet Water are passionate about. For example, presenting at and supporting the Clean Rivers, Clean Lake Conference is an opportunity to share stories about the unique projects we’re working on to improve our watersheds, and to share that excitement with students and other professionals. Secondly, we are able to showcase the value CH2M professionals bring to current and future clients and how we advance the industry and technical issues they find important. We appreciate the benefit of participating in these programs and events in order for others to learn about CH2M through our presence, and to strengthen personal connections. 


Why do you think forming these kinds of partnerships is beneficial to the larger business community?

Anytime a business chooses to support change in its community through not just writing a check, but working together for a common goal, it makes the largest impact. Partnerships like the one CH2M shares with Sweet Water demonstrates it is possible for businesses and nonprofit interests to both be a part of a conversation on environmental topics and to really hear each other and make progress. In that way, Sweet Water provides leadership to facilitate these connections between community organizations and businesses, for the greater good.


What do you see as CH2M’s role in watershed health?

CH2M offers innovation. We’ve been in the community for nearly 40 years, and we have deep community roots -- but we also have a national and global perspective with offices around the country and the world. This means we’re able to connect all types of water-related innovations to our community and provide cutting-edge technology to water management. It makes sense to leverage the best innovations, technology and expertise, and, through partnerships like the one CH2M shares with Sweet Water, to apply the best of the best to improve our community.


Personally, how has your perspective of water quality management shifted since you have begun partnering more and having a more active role in Sweet Water?

Sweet Water’s role has been maturing in the watershed and today, Sweet Water is a true leader in the water community. Professionally, it always helps to know more about what’s happening in the community and working with Sweet Water has helped me, and CH2M, understand the needs in our Milwaukee-area watersheds. Personally, collaborating with Sweet Water has taught me a lot about the kind of leadership needed to tackle our watershed challenges. I look forward to staying involved in the coming years.

The Milwaukee River - A Watershed of Opportunity

The Milwaukee River Watershed, the largest in Sweet Water's region, poses unique challenges that must be addressed with a broad range of solutions and partnerships. Jen Linse of River Revitalization Foundation will be working with Sweet Water to coordinate these efforts and ensure that the opinions of all communities, organizations, and stakeholders are heard. The following is a conversation between Linse and Martha Allen of Sweet Water


Allen: First of all, what experiences lead you to your position at River Revitalization Foundation (RRF)?

Linse: I have a B.S in Geography with an Urban Planning emphasis and a master’s in Public Administration and Policy. I also incorporated environmental policy courses throughout my graduate degree program. Over the last 15 years, I’ve worked largely with small nonprofits whose missions have centered around water quality in both rural and urban communities. The range of my responsibilities has included everything from membership development, event planning, and fundraising, to community outreach, policy and non-profit management and organizational development.


A: With your diverse work background and RRF's wide scope of work, what do you see as your role in the greater Milwaukee area?

L: For over two decades, River Revitalization Foundation has been working with partners to protect water quality and public green space by purchasing land, creating easements, completing restoration projects, and shaping policy regarding riparian lands along the Milwaukee River.  These efforts compliment Sweet Water’s work to improve water quality in the Milwaukee River Basin, and we are currently working together to determine specific initiatives that we can partner on together because of the new TMDLs.


A: Besides these projects and initiatives, what community partnerships and collaborations will be important to RRF’s work as a Key Initiative Coordinator?

L: It will be important for me to work with as many stakeholder groups in the Milwaukee Basin as I can. These groups include municipalities, engineering firms, land conservation departments, UW-Extension, the DNR, nonprofits, farmers, rural professional organizations, and many more.


A: What makes this kind of collaboration in the Milwaukee river watershed different from efforts in other watersheds?

L: The Milwaukee River Watershed is comprised of several watersheds, both urban and rural, making it unique from the Menominee and the KK. The Milwaukee River Watershed comprises a much larger land area which equates to a bigger, more diverse group of stakeholders, whose impact on water quality is also more complex. However, most everyone I’ve worked with so far is enthusiastic and passionate about helping to improve water quality. There’s already a lot of wonderful activities happening within the watershed.  My work will include providing support for what’s currently being done and identify any gaps in work that can be implemented to improve water quality.


A: What do some of these current projects look like?

L: Washington and Ozaukee Counties are piloting a farmer-led coalition group with the goal of implementing farming practices that can help improve water quality.  Most of these farming practices will focus on healthy soils and keeping soil where it lies...on farm fields.  Keeping soil and nutrients on farm fields helps improve water quality and puts more money in farmers’ pockets because it reduces the amount of fertilizer needed.

A: To you, what does success look like at the watershed level? What kinds of goals do you think are important in water quality for the Milwaukee river watershed?

L: Long-term success will be the de-listing of our impaired waters from the impaired waters list; for our waterways to meet their designated uses.  To make that happen, there needs to be a paradigm shift in how we approach working towards clean water; a shift away from working within municipal and private property to a collaborative one that encompasses watershed boundaries.  We are fortunate, in that, this crucial shift is happening amongst the dedicated and engaged stakeholders with the Milwaukee River Watershed.  We all play a part when it comes to clean water.  Patience and passion combined with small efforts from everyone will ultimately make long-lasting positive impacts towards clean water in the future.