This is a transcript of a conversation between Martha Allen, Communications Coordinator with Sweet Water, and Michael Hahn, Sweet Water board member and Deputy Director at the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC).
Allen: How did you originally get involved with Sweet Water?
Hahn: When SEWRPC was finishing up the regional water quality management plan for the greater Milwaukee watersheds, I was the project manager. Those plans were happening in parallel with the MMSD 2020 facilities plan and were being done with a watershed approach in mind. The initial idea for an organization like Sweet Water came out of that process, based on a suggestion from Kevin Schafer from MMSD. So from that standpoint I’ve pretty much been involved from the inception.
A: Besides your role on the Sweet Water board, what other projects are you working on right now?
H: My current position is mostly supervisory and I provide oversight of the Environmental Planning and Natural Areas Divisions at SEWRPC. SEWRPC is working on many different projects right now, many are related to restoration and management plans. About 2 years ago, SEWRPC completed the 9 key element watershed restoration plan for the Root River watershed, and we’re just in the early phases of starting a restoration plan for the Oak Creek watershed. We are also working on the MMSD 2050 facilities plan particularly as it relates to flood hazards and land use. We are also working on various other plans related to flood hazard mitigation and lake management. SEWRPC has been keeping an eye on Lake Michigan levels and coastal management bluff erosion issues as well. We’re always looking for opportunities to find new approaches that could be expanded to all of our coastal counties in the Region to protect those areas, due to the changing nature of Lake levels and bluff recession conditions.
A: With all of these projects, what are some things that you have noticed that make you proud to be working on water issues in Milwaukee?
H: First, I’m proud to be a part of an organization that is so well positioned to work on these dynamic issues. We’re really able to get involved in a broad range of issues at the regional level. I would also say that, since the completion of the regional water quality management plan update and the 2020 facilities plan in 2007, there has continued to be a lot of important work done and I’m happy to see the perspective that people are taking on these plans. The efforts of many people, including Sweet Water, has helped to keep a focus on water quality improvement and keep the momentum toward accomplishing these large efforts and collaborative plans.
A: How do you feel these larger issues and the collaborative progress shape daily life in Milwaukee for people who aren’t involved directly in the water sector?
H: I think that these plans and these partnerships with long-term missions and forethought have made it easier to think outside of the usual short term disaster cycles. For example, when we’ve gone through periods of large floods, (and there have been a large number of them in the last 30 years, probably more than there were proportionally in the previous 30 years) people are negatively affected and it gets a lot of attention during and shortly after the event. But memories tend to fade and things don’t continue to be accomplished. The same is true with changing Lake Michigan levels. During periods of low Lake levels, there is often a spike in environmental concerns associated with coastal wetlands issues and other related aspects, whereas during high levels the concerns are usually for the properties in danger along the Lake and especially near steep Lake bluffs. It’s very cyclical, each condition creates certain concerns but it’s always hard to encourage concern for one condition when public opinion is focused on the opposite issues and this makes it difficult to get support for comprehensive and long-term solutions. That is changing, even in the general public, and we’re seeing people’s interest in mitigation of flood damage and harmful Lake conditions extend past the short term immediate time frame. We’re seeing more and more collaborative programs that have long lasting impacts. I’m hopeful that when we join efforts and use creative approaches, we can break that cyclical problem and make life better for everyone.
A: What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not at work?
H: When I’m not thinking about work, I like to spend time with my family. My son just recently got married and I have a couple of grandchildren now. Being with my family is probably my favorite thing to do.