Environmental Stewardship: Water

by  John Berge

It is irrefutable that there are many people and villages in Sub-Saharan Africa, Central and South America that do not have clean, safe water available in anything like the quick trip to the kitchen sink that we have. It is also irrefutable that organizations like Lutheran World Relief and CARE are doing wonders with our donated dollars to relieve these horrible conditions. Picture a girl who had to walk up to six hours a day to fetch water that may be contaminated with disease-causing viruses and bacteria. Then, one of those organizations, working with local labor, drilled a well in her village and installed a rudimentary distribution system. She now has time to go to school and get an education to break the cycle of poverty.

Despite having Lake Michigan at our doorstep, there are local water issues that we should face. A number of residences and schools in and around Racine have lead in their water above the allowed limits. The home owners or landlords may not be able (or willing) to replace the lead pipes leading to their home. There was to be financial assistance from the federal and state governments, but it seems that will disappear along with the Great Lakes cleanup program and block grants to cities. Some would rather raise walls than lower lead.

The water diversion to Waukesha and the return of an equal volume of treated sewage to Lake Michigan through the Root River is a major concern to many. The sewage will be tertiary treated, and no overflows will go into the Root River. The Fox River, which has been the effluent site of both treated sewage and any overflows from Waukesha, will still be stuck with them.

The Root River currently does not have municipal sewage dumped into it, but 473 of the 503 waste water plants in Wisconsin do discharge into some river. The increased flow in the Root River is calculated to raise the River by 6.6 inches at low (8.2 MGPD) “baseflow” rate but less than 1/8 of an inch at high (3.12 BGPD) flow rate. (Those units are Million or Billion Gallons per Day.) While these changes will hardly be noticeable by the public, unwanted and excreted medicines and other biologically active materials, which are not removed even with tertiary treatment, may be noticeable to the creatures in the River.

A somewhat related item is the Horlick Dam. In the next few years a decision must be made to repair, remove or greatly alter this structure to be able to handle a 100-year flood. The addition of treated Waukesha wastewater will hardly be noticed with any of the alternatives. The biggest effect of removal will be on the landowners immediately up stream from the dam. They will suddenly have more land between their house and the River, which at first will be muddy and any piers or launch sites may be out of the water except at flood stage.

All alternatives may affect the temperature of the water and its oxygen and phosphate content. Removal of the dam will surely affect the fish in the Root River, allowing them to swim farther up stream and possibly to spawn. There will no longer be a concentration of fish (and fisherfolk) just below the dam. When we first moved to Racine and some repairs were made to the dam, a large number of trees were drowned in the backed up water. That area may once again become a wooded flood plain.

Finally, years ago the EPA succumbed to lobbyists and political pressure to exempt from the requirements of the Clean Water Act the bilge water from ocean-going vessels entering the Great Lakes. With that came all the invasive, alien species polluting and ever changing the waters of the Great Lakes. Extrapolating from what I read in an excerpt from a new book by Dan Egan, if Moses parted Lake Michigan like he did the Red Sea, he could walk almost all the way from Racine to Michigan on the shells of zebra (Dreissena polymorphs) and quagga mussels (Dreissena bugensis) without getting his sandals wet!

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