Clearing the Way for Watershed Progress

BY: JACOB FINCHER, SWEET WATER

Click through the above gallery to see pictures from the event.

Through a unique partnership between the private sector, local government, and Sweet Water, and its Respect Our Waters education campaign, 80+ volunteers recently rolled up their sleeves and waded into the water to remove log jams, woody debris, invasive species, and overgrowth on two creeks in Brown Deer. The sheer mass of obstructions removed from these waterways provides Brown Deer with additional momentum toward achieving its goals of “naturalizing” (removal of concrete and installation of natural plant and rock features) these waterways. And residents noticed the difference—neighbors stopped volunteers throughout the day to thank them, while volunteers shared information about the project, its benefits and how residents can help keep their waterway healthy.

This September 21st volunteer service day event was a product of MillerCoors’ leadership and the commitment of more than 70 of their employees to increase the company’s positive “Beer Print.” Between volunteer experiences, educational drives, and awareness-raising events, the Company’s annual “Our Beer Print Month” gives every Molson Coors employee a chance to support and improve the places where they live and work. In Milwaukee, this represents the tenth year MillerCoors employees worked to complete water stewardship activities in the community.

Last year, MillerCoors partnered with Sweet Water to stencil 500+ storm drains and distribute thousands of educational flyers about what residents can do to prevent stormwater pollution. After this successful partnership, an even more ambitious project was planned for 2018, aimed at cleaning up South Branch Creek and Beaver Creek, which are both tributaries to the Milwaukee River. Blockages from debris in these two creeks have impeded their flow and affected water quality. Impaired flow leads to increased threats of flooding and increased temperature in the water that pools behind blockages in the summer months. Higher water temperatures are detrimental to the health of aquatic species living in each creek, making it is imperative to remove blockages.

Brown Deer’s Director of Public Works, Matt Maederer, has long understood the importance of protecting local creeks, rivers, inland lakes, and Lake Michigan. The Village of Brown Deer’s commitment to freshwater stewardship is demonstrated by its participation in the Respect Our Waters educational campaign for more than six years. Respect Our Waters provides simple tips to prevent stormwater pollution--the number one source of water pollution. These educational messages are shared via public service announcements on TV, radio, local news channels, social media, and much more, including the newly created “Adopt-A-Storm Drain” program.

Information about the volunteer event, Adopt-A-Storm Drain and other stormwater facts were printed on educational door hangers which were then distributed to over 1,000 homes during the Brown Deer service day event. As a result of this project, not only was each creek cleared of debris and invasive species, residents of Brown Deer were provided information on how to prevent debris from getting into the creek in the first place.

As Sweet Water looks to the future, we will identify lessons learned from this event and work with our partners—water stewardship-oriented nonprofits, corporations, municipalities and others—to increase the number of these cross-sector collaboration efforts and generate momentum for more restoration projects, public support and investment in our waterways.

Be sure to check out some amazing before and after pictures of this great event!


Treasuring the "Wealth" of Milwaukee County Parks

 Photo by Eddee Daniel, Project Director of A Wealth of Nature

Photo by Eddee Daniel, Project Director of A Wealth of Nature

BY: KRISTIN SCHOENECKER, SWEET WATER

Known by names such as “emerald necklace” and “string of pearls,” Milwaukee County’s vast system of parks are considered one of the region’s most valuable amenities. However, there are some who believe that not enough is being done to protect this treasure - a sentiment reinforced by a newly released Delay of Game study on the state of our parks from the Wisconsin Policy Forum.

Preserve our Parks & A Wealth of Nature

In 1999, a group of citizens formed Preserve Our Parks (POP), an organization committed to preserving and sustaining Milwaukee County Parks. Since its inception POP has launched several initiatives to ensure accessibility, sustainability, and restoration of the parks. One of POP’s newest initiatives is called A Wealth of Nature. It is “a project to promote the enjoyment and preservation of nature in our region” and is designed to increase citizen appreciation of the amenities offered by our parks.

The Wealth of Nature website includes:

  • Information about southeastern Wisconsin’s natural areas and species

  • A “Share your Story or Photo” page for people to share their appreciation for the parks

  • A tool that helps users find parks suitable for their favorite outdoor activities such as swimming, birding, or even wild edible gathering.

  • Other components of this initiative include public and private presentations and a photo book exhibiting the natural beauty and wealth of the parks.

Another strategy POP is using to makes its voice heard is a petition entitled “Our Turn” that calls for more funding to be allocated to repairing and maintaining Milwaukee County parks and parkways. An article posted on the POP website evidences that although the county budget has doubled since 1986, the amount allocated to maintaining the parks has dropped from 29% to 4% of the budget. At a recent POP event at the Milwaukee Yacht Club, initiative leaders shared ideas to address this investment gap, including a proposal to transfer Miller Park sales tax revenue for use in the maintenance of parks.

After making the rounds at town hall meetings over the summer, and the petition continues to draw signatures on Change.org and is nearing its goal of 500 signatures. POP plans to present the petition to County officials this fall and State officials in January.

New “State of Milwaukee Parks” Report Released

The issue of how to best care for our parks has also been the focus of a recent report. According to Wisconsin Policy Forum’s September 2018 “Delay of Game” report,

“The list of park assets that the county must replace within the next 10 years includes 85% of parking lots and service yards, 75% of walkways, 73% of parkways, 54% of rated Oak Leaf Trails and of basketball courts, 48% of tennis courts, and (measured by replacement value) 47% of large buildings other than the Domes,”

The report highlights how funding has changed over time and the affects of decreased investment on natural areas, recreational spaces/facilities and cultural institutions. The report concludes that limited capital funding options make addressing infrastructure challenges more difficult which, in turn, threaten the quality of service offered to Milwaukee County residents.

Why Parks Matter for Improving Water Quality Outcomes

Milwaukee County Parks are of special interest to water stakeholders. The parks include and border many creeks, lakes, lagoons, and rivers and even brush upon 32 miles of Lake Michigan’s coast. The County Parks Department also teams up with UW Extension in an initiative called the Natural Areas Program, which helps to protect waterways by restoring eroded areas and wetlands within the parks. Having these green spaces scattered throughout our largely imperviously surfaced cities is also important for water quality and retention following heavy precipitation events. Parks with permeable landscaping help decrease flooding and improve water quality by retaining stormwater instead of allowing it to become runoff that picks up chemicals and sediments and introduces them to our waterways.

While addressing the financial situation of Milwaukee’s parks presents itself as a challenge, it can also be seen as an opportunity — careful investment would allow us to achieve environmental goals while preserving the social and economic benefits of these natural resources for decades to come.