Contact(s): Ken Johnson, DNR, 608-264-6278; Steve Galarneau, director, DNR Office of the Great Lakes, 608-266-1956
MILWAUKEE - Successful clean ups along the Sheboygan River and the Kinnickinnic River and Wisconsin's innovative phosphorus reduction strategy will be in the spotlight Sept. 9-12 as Milwaukee hosts Great Lakes Week.
Hundreds of government representatives, industry leaders, tribal members, academics, environmental consultants and activists will gather to take stock of the overall health of the Great Lakes, celebrate progress, and set priorities for action and scientific research on challenges ranging from low water levels and excessive phosphorus to invasive species and adapting to impacts from climate change.
"A lot of the players and movers and shakers in the Great Lakes are converging on Milwaukee," says Ken Johnson, who leads the Department of Natural Resources water programs and plays a leading role in Great Lakes Week.
Johnson chairs the Great Lakes Commission, the interstate compact agency that promotes the integrated and comprehensive development, use and conservation of water and related natural resources of the Great Lakes basin and St. Lawrence River.
"It's a chance to highlight the good things happening in Wisconsin and more broadly, to highlight the good things happening across the Great Lakes region."
Johnson says the participants in Great Lakes Week also will address the work that remains to help clean up and protect basin waters and habitat to the benefit of people, the environment and the economy in the region.
The Great Lakes Commission Johnson chairs is just one of the key regional or binational groups to meet during the week; the Great Lakes Commission International Joint Commission, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Areas of Concern Program, the Great Lakes Commission and The Healing Our WatersŪ - Great Lakes Coalition. Environment Canada, as well as the Council of Great Lakes Industries, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Cities Initiative and the newly organized Council of the Great Lakes Region, also have meetings scheduled.
DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp will speak Tuesday, Sept. 10, at 10 a.m. at the Healing Our WatersŪ- Great Lakes Coalition conference at the Hilton Milwaukee City Center.
To provide a guide to the week's activities and opportunities for the public to get involved, DNR has created a special feature page with key links and streaming video of the events provided through Detroit Public TV and Milwaukee Public TV starting Sept. 9.
Historic federal investment in region paying off
Much of the focus during Great Lakes Week will be on projects started or accelerated with the help of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the largest investment in the Great Lakes in two decades, Johnson says. Altogether, Congress allocated $475 million in the first year of GLRI and an additional $300 million in each of the following two years for projects addressing toxic substances; invasive species; nonpoint source pollution; habitat protection and restoration; or accountability, monitoring, evaluation, communication and partnership building.
"The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has allowed us to get things done that otherwise never would have happened," Johnson says.
In Wisconsin, local governments, nonprofit organizations, University of Wisconsin System researchers, DNR and others have received nearly $180 million in federal GLRI funds for more than 180 protection, restoration, and sediment cleanup projects.
In fact, Great Lakes Week begins with a Sept. 8 tour of the Sheboygan River Area of Concern, where GLRI funding enabled federal, state and local partners to accelerate work on cleaning up contaminated sediments from the lower Sheboygan River. The work removed more than 400,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the river, implemented habitat projects and assessed river conditions.
"We've applied to remove a Beneficial Use Impairment, getting us one step closer to removing Sheboygan from the list of waters with the most severe historic pollution problems," Johnson says.
Benefits expected from the cleanup include improved habitat for migrating birds and fish such as bass and northern pike, deeper channels for boats, and, over time, declining levels of environmental contaminants in the fish and other species. Fishing, boating and other recreation will benefit from these improvements, which in turn will help spur economic development along the area, Johnson says.
Other Wisconsin cleanup efforts that will be highlighted during Great Lakes Week include the successful contamination removal project on the Kinnickinnic River, which has helped spur local efforts to upgrade and redevelop adjacent buildings, and a variety of projects all along the Milwaukee River.
The state's phosphorus efforts will also be highlighted during Great Lakes, in sessions including a Sept. 9 presentation by DNR Deputy Water Division Administrator Russ Rasmussen to highlight some of the innovative approaches underway in Wisconsin to reduce the amount of phosphorus that enters lakes and rivers from wastewater treatment plants and from farms and urban areas.
Other sessions or tours during the conference will allow participants to see for themselves a cleaned up, economically and environmentally revitalized corridor along Milwaukee's Menomonee Valley and the DNR streamside sturgeon rearing facility where DNR and volunteers with the Riveredge Nature Center have successfully been raising and releasing lake sturgeon into the river.