A major environmental improvement effort being proposed and coordinated by the NEW Wilderness Alliance could clean up the Fox River and Bay of Green Bay Watershed, possibly even reopening Bay Beach to swimming – thus building on the region’s environmental and economic health.
“Often our discussion is jobs or the environment, and it really should be jobs and the environment,” says Paul Linzmeyer, president of ISO International and board chair of the alliance. “We need a new kind of conversation about water with business, not-for-profit organizations, and government.”
And that’s why Linzmeyer spearheaded a mid-October interactive workshop called “Water is Our Oil: Adapting to Climate Change” at St. Norbert College. The workshop, a joint effort between the NEW Wilderness Alliance and the Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership in Sturgeon Bay, attracted some 50 representatives of business, industry, and government agencies. The event was designed to explore strategies to adapt to, prepare for and mitigate the impacts for a changing climate in greater Brown County.
Water resources were a focal point of the climate change conference. Presenter Todd Ambs, president of the River Network, a national river and watershed protection organization, pointed out that Wisconsin has 15,000 lakes – some 12,000 of which are natural. In contrast, Ohio only has three natural lakes. In addition, Wisconsin has 84,000 miles of rivers, 5.3 million acres of wetlands and 1,000 miles of shoreline.
“In Wisconsin, we are woven from a fabric that is drenched in water,” Linzmeyer says. “So whether you are looking at it, paddling on it, fishing in it, or drinking from it, you can do something about it.”
Abigail Derby Lewis, conservation ecologist at The Field Museum, discussed how Chicago Wilderness is addressing four key areas of climate change that are affecting the Great Lakes area: differing precipitation patterns (such as wetter winters and springs and drier summers), the increase in extreme storm events, an increasing number of extreme summer heat days, and milder winters.
Organizers of the climate change conference knew that a massive effort would take support and involvement from a wide range of sources. So they organized conference breakout sessions around four key audiences: municipalities, business and industry, agriculture, and public health. “We know there’s a role for business in adapting to climate change, and we wanted to focus on a metrics-driven process to get to triple-bottom-line outcomes,” added Linzmeyer.
Bill Hafs, county conservationist at the Brown County Land and Water Conservation Department, emphasized the importance of balancing the impact of agriculture on land and water use. Agriculture is now a $6 billion per year industry in Brown County. While cropland has been reduced from 300,000 acres in 1954 to 160,000 acres, livestock numbers have risen to new levels. “Do we have enough land to feed our livestock?” asks Hafs, who is treasurer of the NEW Wilderness Alliance. “What if we had drought?”
The agriculture section was co-chaired by Kenn Buelow, partner in Holsum Dairies, LLC of Hilbert. “We had a variety of people representing different aspects of agriculture – grazing, large dairy, crop production and sediment run-off,” says Buelow. “We’ve already had a follow-up phone conference to gather and review data for decision-makers. Facilitating phosphorus management may be our biggest bang for the buck.” Buelow believes the group’s work will be complementary to what Brown County is already doing on agricultural issues.
George Kerwin, president and CEO of Bellin Health, co-chaired the public health break-out discussions. “People in traditional health care are beginning to understand that health is determined by a number of dimensions – one of which is climate and the environment,” says Kerwin. He said there was mutual interest in environmental and health issues among participants. Kerwin expects that some of the people in his subgroup will continue to work together to figure out ways to address environmental issues.
Bay Beach – the actual body of water, not the amusement park – is a classic example of the need for change. Though its history as a beach resort dates back to 1892, the beach area itself has been closed for swimming since 1933 due to pollution from raw sewage, oil slicks and waste from canning factories, cheese factories and paper mills. And now the alliance poses the question: “What if Bay Beach were really a beach again?”
The Bay-Lake Regional Planning Commission, along with the NEW Wilderness Alliance and the City of Green Bay, recently was awarded a $70,000 U.S. EPA Urban Waters Grant to monitor the water quality at Bay Beach over a two-year period. That will help identify sources of pollution and develop a restoration action plan.
“People seemed interested in making a difference,” Linzmeyer said. “We know we can’t keep doing things the same way and expect different results. If we do this right, the aesthetic, health and financial impact could be incredible.”
ON THE WEB
» NEW Wilderness Alliance: www.newwildernessalliance.org
» Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership: www.lnrp.org