Water quality key to community health

Organizations are working to reclaim local waterways

May 4, 2013
As a major draw to the community, the Fox River is at the heart of local efforts to improve water quality. / Press-Gazette Media file photo
Small changes like recycling rain water can go a long way toward protecting our water sources, local conservation advocates say. / AP

Learn more

You can learn more about restoring the health of Green Bay and find more water-friendly tips at RenewOurWaters.org, a website made available by the Northeast Wisconsin Stormwater Consortium.


Many Northeastern Wisconsin residents drive north on weekends for swimming, fishing and other water-related activities. Others head to swimming pools to cool off or the local supermarket to shop for their fish dinner. All the while, we are surrounded by water. The Lower Fox River stretches 39 miles from Lake Winnebago before entering into Green Bay — the largest bay of Lake Michigan and the largest freshwater estuary in the world.

It was these waters that drew people to our region. The waters provided opportunity for industrial growth, irrigation for agriculture, freshwater for drinking, an abundant source of fish, habitat for wildlife and recreational activities.

We still rely on these same waters for those reasons. After over a century of working for us, the waters that we rely on are in jeopardy. While significant improvements have been made in recent years, the health of Green Bay’s waters is still at risk due to urban and agricultural runoff, wetland loss and shoreland development.

Developing a financially, physically, socially and environmentally healthy community is a goal of Brown County 20/20. Improving the health of the river and bay is essential to improving the overall health of our community.

It is not too late to reclaim our waterways.

Together, many organizations are working to achieve the vision of a healthy Fox River and Green Bay.

The Fox-Wolf Watershed Alliance (fwwa.org) is working with wastewater, agricultural and stormwater stakeholders to investigate cost effective options to protect, restore and sustain the water resources of Wisconsin’s Fox-Wolf River Basin. This year, the Alliance is coordinating a River Clean Up in the Fox River Valley which will be expanded into Green Bay in 2014.

The Nature Conservancy (nature.org/wisconsingreenbay) and its partners are protecting and restoring important coastal wetlands that benefit nature and people. These wetlands clean polluted water, intercept waste, protect our shorelines from erosion, provide food and shelter for migratory birds and serve as nurseries for fish and other aquatic life.

The Lower Fox River Watershed Monitoring Program (uwgb.edu/watershed) is a watershed education and stream-monitoring program. Through a school-based program, teams of area high school students and teachers gain hands-on experience assessing the health of aquatic ecosystems.

While the actions of these organizations and others like them are vital to improving water quality, each of us can make a difference. Water that runs off your property flows overland or underground through the storm-drain system until it ultimately flows into the bay. This water picks up pollution, including soil and nutrients, along the way.

Small changes can make a big difference.

• We can keep leaves and grass clippings out of the streets so they don’t end up fertilizing the bay.

• We can recycle rain water by using rain barrels or plant rain gardens to help absorb water that would normally run off our property.

• We can plant winter cover crops on our farm fields to reduce the amount of sediment that runs off into local waterways.

• We can minimize the amount of fertilizer that we use.

• We can reconnect with our waters by taking a hike near a river or the bay — or better yet, get in or on the water!

Restoring the health of Green Bay’s waters starts with each of us.

Jessica Schultz is director of the Fox-Wolf Watershed Alliance and Northeast Wisconsin Stormwater Consortium. Nicole Van Helden directs The Nature Conservancy’s work in the Green Bay watershed where the Conservancy is working with partners to improve water quality in Green Bay.

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