Sunday, March 11, 2007

UW-M Continues to Pinpoint How Municipalities Foul Lake Michigan

Talk radio has for years bashed the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage Commission as the villain for polluting Lake Michigan, when, in fact, the MMSD has been working with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to identify and fix the multiple ways that pollutants find their way into the lake.

More than two years ago, I wrote an op-ed piece for about UW-M testing having shown that storm water pipe outlets placed on Bradford Beach by Milwaukee County government was pouring water contaminated with e. Coli bacteria right across the sandy beaches and into the water.

But those findings were not widely reported in a timely way by the traditional news media because opinion makers and news editors were still more interested in hammering MMSD than looking at all the potential sources of lake pollution and fixing them.

And that meant that the world-class resources at the UW-M WATER Institute were not fully realized and appreciated as problem-solvers by media, governments and taxpayers.

That seems to be changing: A front-page story in Sunday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel shows that UW-M scientists have found that fecal pollutants are in dozens of non-MMSD municipal pipes across the region..

And those pipes are contributing to contamination at beaches, in streams and other popular recreational sites at or close to the lake.

In the past, there was sensational finger-pointing at the MMSD, and, in fairness, the MMSD often fought its critics with a getting-nowhere-fast/tit-for-tat.

Now the focus seems to be on problem-solving, with the necessary first steps taken: better identifying just what the problems are, who the contributors are, and finally, getting to solutions.

The same science-based approach needs to be taken also when it comes to getting chemical and other non-organic pollutants out of the lake - - like metals and other contaminants that wash off streets and parking lots.

And, of course, science needs to drive the decision-making about who gets to take water out of the lake and return it - - but that has been and will be grist for other commentaries.

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