By Mrinal Gokhale
Pollution in Milwaukee rivers and lake harbors has been a concern for the past 33 years. On Tuesday, Jan. 28, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Mayor Tom Barrett announced a 29- million-dollar investment to help clean these bodies of water, also called the Milwaukee Estuary.
The Milwaukee Estuary, which includes the Kinnikinic River, Underwood Creek, Menomonee River, and the nearshore waters of Lake Michigan, is deemed one of five Areas of Concern (AOC) in Wisconsin for its pollution. The clean-up effort will be conducted over the next eight years to both identify and remove chemicals in the Milwaukee Estuary.
“It is time for us to take that next significant move and allow ourselves to get off that list, which is not a list you want to be on,” said Barrett. “We’ve been on that list for 33 years, but we’re making the commitment today to be all hands on deck to do what we can.”
The United States and Canada had deemed the Milwaukee Estuary one of the most contaminated Areas of Concern on the Great Lakes.
Preston Cole, secretary of the Wisconsin DNR, said that the Milwaukee Estuary is considered an AOC due to its high presence of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other similar toxins that have caused tumors in animals that consume it. He said that the Evers Administration and his team declared 2019 the “year of clean drinking water,” the notion will continue onward.
“Cities, towns and villages want clean water. They want the economic development, the boardwalks, the fishing opportunities, the piers,” Cole said. “This is what I call a very stellar project for folks that reside, play and live in this region.”
He stated that the pollution in the city’s waters are due to the city’s “manufacturing past.”
Guy Smith, chief of operations at Milwaukee County Parks, spoke at the press conference on behalf of County Executive Chris Abele and the DNR.
“Milwaukee County Parks is over 15,300 acres,” Smith said. “We have 157 parks. A hundred of those parks are in the city of Milwaukee or touch the city of Milwaukee.”
He emphasized the importance of clean water being vital in the park systems and in Lake Michigan.
“Over the next few years, we’ll make some great strides of improvements, but we’ve already made great improvements,” he said. “I’ll use the example of Lincoln Park where there is a massive removal of PCBs and other sediments, and there has been great habitat renewal and so much more work.”
This agreement was signed by the Environment Protection Agency and Wisconsin DNR in an effort to work with the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and other local organizations.