Category: Great Lakes


English: Great Seal of the state of Wisconsin
English: Great Seal of the state of Wisconsin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The longterm goal is cleaner water, fewer algae blooms  and weeds to improve the habitat for fish and other freshwater aquatic life that live in lakes, streams and rivers in Wisconsin.

The idea is to allow wastewater treatment plants, paper mills or dairies with pollution discharge permits to avoid or reduce pollution control costs, in favor of  developing partnerships within watersheds that reduce the flow of phosphorous.  Partnerships may include grants for farmers to change their field and husbandry practices and help communities control runoff from streets.  Regulations also allow water pollution trading among the many watersheds in Wisconsin, which may provide more flexibility to address the pollution issue.

Phosphorous is a nutrient in fertilizer and can be found in suburban yards, automatic dishwasher detergents and manure from farm fields. It causes algae blooms and increases weeds in streams, lakes and rivers.

Algal bloom on the dam

Algal bloom on the dam (Photo credit: MCG Images 2)

The new program to reduce runoff  is another step in the effort to control phosphorous. Wisconsin restricted the sale of fertilizer containing phosphorous in April 2010 and limited the phosphorous level in dishwasher detergents.

In Wisconsin, 172 waterways are polluted due to high levels of phosphorous which reduces their value and recreational use, according to the Department of Natural Resources. The latest phosphorous regulations were approved by Gov. Jim Doyle before he left office but needed EPA approval to move ahead.  Governor Walker tried to shelve the regulation early in 2011, saying Wisconsin’s rule couldn’t be stricter than surrounding states. 

Environmentalists and pro-lakes advocates argued that states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota had a greater interest in controlling phosphorous then states such as Illinois and Indiana with fewer lakes. Toni Herkert, policy maker at the Wisconsin Lakes Association, said law makers in farming and lake areas saw the regulations as a chance to take on the problems of algae blooms and weedy lakes.  In spring of 2011, legislators allowed the regulations to pass.

 A state analysis is underway on the economic impact of phosphorous reduction in bodies of water. The DNR expects the report will show that the benefits of cleaner water on property values will out strip the capital costs of pollution control.

“Using this rule, communities and businesses can work together to make more meaningful phosphorous reduction,” said DNR secretary Cathy Stepp.


It’s nothing new; everyone knows that the Great Lakes are polluted. However, researchers have recently found pharmaceutical byproducts in Lake Michigan and Lake Erie which raise new concerns about the potential health risk for more than 40 million people who rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water.

The drugs are only a small part of the contaminants that make up the chemical soup stretching from Minnesota to New York. 

A new study by Alliance for the Great Lakes looks at existing data on chemicals and chemical byproducts in the lakes and the impact it may have on the Great Lakes.  “Exposure to some of these chemicals…is cause for consternation for people and concern over fish and wildlife impacts,” writes lead author Dr. Rebecca Klaper, Shaw Associate Professor at the Great Lakes WATER Institute in Milwaukee.

What’s in the chemical soup?

The study shows that there several emerging contaminants in the Great Lakes today including flame retardants, modern pesticides, pharmaceuticals, the antibacterial and antifungal agent Triclosan and the insect repellant DEET. The now famous bisphenol A (BPA)  used in a  large variety of plastics including baby bottles and food packaging, was found in more than half the water samples analyzed to date.

The conclusion

 There’s too little data  and not enough understanding about the emerging contaminants to know how they’ll affect the health of the Great Lakes organisms and the people who live around the lakes. Due to the flawed U.S. system for managing chemicals, exposure to some of these manmade and naturally occurring chemicals, in  water, land and air, is unavoidable. 

The Alliance is calling for a national comprehensive plan to address gaps in research regarding emerging contaminants’ potential harm to public health and the environment and to identify which chemicals may be the most damaging.

“Asian carp” refers to several species of related fish, the bighead and silver carp,  originating from Asia. The fish were originally imported in the southern United States to keep aquaculture facilities clean and  provide fresh fish for fish markets. Unfortunately, Bighead and silver carp escaped into the wild in the 1980s and have been swimming north ever since, taking over the Mississippi and Illinois River systems.


The Threat

Asian carp have been found in the Illinois River, which connects the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan. Due to their large size, aggressive nature and rapid rate of reproduction, these fish could significantly disrupt the Great Lakes ecosystem.  Scientists are concerned that the carp will force some native lake species into extinction, reduce the number of fish in the lakes as well as affect the economy of the Great Lakes.

To prevent the carp from entering the Great Lakes, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. EPA, the State of Illinois, the International Joint Commission,  Great Lakes Fishery Commission, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working together to install and maintain a permanent electric barrier between the fish and Lake Michigan.

Opponents of the project don’t want the Mississippi River and Great Lakes to be permanently and physically separated, but many researchers in the U.S. and Canada believe it’s the only solution.

Will Allen nets a Tilapia at the urban farm Gr...

Image via Wikipedia

Sweet Water Organics is an urban fish and vegetable farm with a big dream. In 2009 a couple of guys from Milwaukee leased a former crane factory, fixed it up, built tanks and planting beds and created an indoor wetland.

The sustainable aquaponics system was inspired by Will Allen, founder of Growing Power, a non-profit urban farming operation. In the re-circulating systems, fish waste acts as a  natural fertilizer for plant growth and plants act as a water filter. Sweet Water wants to expand Will’s vision, and prove this type of venture can be profitable.

The urban fish and vegetable farm currently sells lettuce, basil, peppers, watercress, chard, spinach and perch.  Local restaurants purchase the perch for their Friday fish fries, a long-standing Milwaukee tradition.

Co-founders Josh Fraundorf  and James Godsil have plans to expand this site, add two more sites in Milwaukee and sell 400,000 pounds of perch a year and 800 to 1,000 pounds of produce a week.

Sweet Water Organics is part of  Sweet Water Foundation which seeks to develop intergenerational and interdisciplinary educational programming for sustainability with a focus on the potential of urban agriculture and aquaculture in the 21st century setting.