Community Involvement in Milwaukee’s Freshwater Economy

By Eelisa Jones

The two HOPE High School students that took part in the first Freshwater Research Expedition to the Mississippi River earlier in the month are Michelle Cooper (left) and Sierrena Taylor (right).

The two HOPE High School students that took part in the first Freshwater Research Expedition to the Mississippi River earlier in the month are Michelle Cooper (left) and Sierrena Taylor (right).

As the world water crisis deepens, Milwaukee will continue to draw national and international.

Today, across Lake Michigan, tens of thousands of Detroit residents are fighting to access public water while their public utility buckles under economic pressure.

The effective maintenance and sustenance of our water economy may become a critical buffer between Milwaukee residents and the turbulence of our local economy.

Milwaukee’s community has the chance to support and benefit from current developments in our water economy.

As like most lasting social movements, one of the first steps of community engagement is familiarization with the basics elements of the situation.

We have learned that Milwaukee – and the vast majority of Wisconsin – residents currently have access to nationally-renown sources of fresh water via the involvement of several public and private agencies.

Moving forward, our communities can become directly involved with our own water infrastructure to not only ensure sustainability and lessen the financial burden on our public water-related utilities, but also to tune into the work-related opportunities this industry will most likely produce.

The non-profit organizations of the Harambee Great Neighborhood Initiative (HGNI) and Southeastern Wisconsin Watersheds Trust (Sweetwater) have each initiated projects to further advance our efforts to educate and integrate dedicated citizens into Milwaukee’s water industry.

HGNI conceived of the Harambee-UWM Freshwater Expedition Series last fall.

J. Allen Stokes and Lief Otteson – met with Jerry Kaster, UWM Freshwater School professor.

Kaster sought to interest more minority students in freshwater sciences.

The product of their collaboration was a program to adopt exceptional minority students from the Harambee neighborhood’s HOPE High-School.

With the assistant of the high school’s principle, Tom Schalmo, and science teacher, Molly Dixon, the HGNI-UWM expedition series selected four students to join a professional freshwater research team this summer.

Michelle Cooper and Sierrena Taylor traveled to the Mississippi River for soil and water testing early last June.

Jada Rogers and D’Morea Campbell visited the shores of Green Bay and Sturgeon Bay earlier this month for testing and ecological surveying.

Sweet Water, Inc. is a second Milwaukee-based organization that pursues sustained community involvement in the freshwater industry.

Sweet Water provides mini-grants and educational programming to encourage the growth of water-intuitive infrastructures such as rain gardens, shoreline filtration systems, and vegetated swales.

Sweet Water Project Specialist, Joan Herriges, says that expanding green infrastructure can not only lighten the costly burdens placed on our public infrastructure but it can also improve overall water quality.

When rainwater is collected on-site rather then allowed to run-off into streets and lawns, Herriges explains, it cannot directly enter our water bodies untreated.

The non-profit corporation offers mini-grants that range from $1 thousand to $5 thousand.

Grant recipients include parks, schools, churches other other associations. Sweet Water has assisted over 50 independent green infrastructure projects since 2010.

The missions of the HGNI-UWM’s expedition series and Sweet Water’s Mini-Grant program suggest a present need and desire for Milwaukee’s community to aggressively engage in water education and grassroots initiatives.