Remove the Beads, Please!

Two of the first bills being introduced into the Wisconsin Legislature (SB 15 and AB 15) are aimed at phasing out the manufacture and sale of microbeads–tiny pieces of plastic that are used in many soaps, scrubs, and toothpastes for exfoliation. These microbeads are prolific in Lake Michigan (one study found 17,000 pieces of plastic per square km), and can be harmful to water quality and fish and other aquatic life. Fish ingest microbeads and they get lodged in their guts. Microbeads are made up of toxic chemicals, and can also attract toxins that can be carcinogenic, neurotoxic, or can affect endocrine/reproductive systems of fish and aquatic life. A recent study by Illinois/Indiana Seagrant found plastics in 17 different species of fish in Lake Michigan, and no species was found to be free of this contamination. Several hearings on these bills have occurred at the committee level already. Please contact your State Senators and Representatives and urge them to support SB 15 and AB 15.

Protect our Groundwater (and Surface Water)!

A new bill that is circulating for co-sponsorship (LRB 1446) would severely limit solutions for groundwater protection. LRB 1446 would limit DNR’s ability to regulate groundwater pumping in critical areas of the state by granting ‘forever” permits for high capacity wells. Regular review of permits as conditions change (e.g., due to climate or groundwater drops due to other wells) would be eliminated from DNR’s authority. This bill makes absolutely no sense. Our groundwater and surface water is inextricably connected, and over-pumping of groundwater is affecting our streams, fisheries, wells, and lakes. In addition, high volume water users such as farmers, municipalities, and other businesses also stand to pay the price for this short-sighted legislation because in the end they will lose their source of water for operations. This bill would also take away control from local municipalities that are trying to regulate or zone out water-intensive uses that are causing streams and lakes and water supplies to drop, especially in areas like the Central Sands. Please urge your State Legislators to vote against LRB 1446.

Protect Our Nation’s Wetlands and Headwater Streams

Thank you to everyone who reached out to Congress to ask them to support the Clean Water Protection Rule (also known as Waters of the US). This rule will help protect nearly 1 million acres of Wisconsin’s wetlands and thousands of miles of headwater streams by clarifying which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act! There was a great showing of Congressional support for the protection of clean water on February 4th at the joint House-Senate hearing. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army Corps of Engineers Ellen Darcy debunked myths related to the rulemaking. They reassured Congress that the final rule is based on current peer reviewed science and that public comments will be incorporated into a final rule that is clear. This rule still faces a long battle in Congress to be passed, so feel free to continue to contact your Federal Representative and Senators and express your support for clean water and for the Clean Water Protection Rule.

Stop the Asian Carp and Interbasin Transfer of Aquatic Invasive Species

Asian carp continue to knock on the door of the Great Lakes, based on eDNA sampling results released in January by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The sampling data, collected in October, show the

presence of bighead or silver carp DNA throughout the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS). Most alarming is detection of carp DNA very near the lock in downtown Chicago – less than one city block from Lake Michigan. Riverkeeper is working with a group of regional and national Great Lakes partners to pressure the Army Corps of Engineers and Congress to take action to reduce the risk of invasive species moving between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River systems. The long-term solution is a permanent, ecological separation of these waters. In the short term, however, a bill has been introduced by Rep. Miller and Senator Stabenow of Michigan called the “Defending Our Great Lakes Act (HR 1135 and S 589).” Senator Baldwin has co-sponsored this bill that focuses on short-term, risk-reduction steps, such as designing a channel to be constructed in the approach to the Brandon Road lock on the CAWS that would reduce one-way movement of invasive species such as Asian Carp towards the Great Lakes. We suggested improvements to this bill, as well as continue to advocate for advancing long-term solutions to this issue such as ecological separation. Approximately $500,000 was proposed in the FY16 Federal Budget to the Army Corps to continue work on the Interbasin Study (with several million in carryover from past years), and $29 million was allocated for construction on the Asian Carp dispersal barrier project (e.g., electric barriers).

Lincoln Park/Milwaukee River Dredging Update

Work to remove contaminated sediments from the Milwaukee River in Lincoln and Estabrook Parks is well underway! The sediment deposit just below the oxbows in Lincoln Park (deposit 3B-1 on attached figure) was completed at the end of January. Following the sediment removal, the wetland restoration and in water habitat (root wads and boulder clusters) were installed. Removal of the cofferdam surrounding this deposit downstream of the oxbows began February 6th. Work will start soon in the upstream most deposits (zone 7 on figure). Anyone skiing and skating on the river should avoid this area and proceed with caution.


We have heard that the draft Environmental Impact Statement and Technical Review of Waukesha’s proposed Great Lakes water diversion application could be released sometime this spring or summer. WDNR will be holding public hearings on these documents, prior to making a decision on whether to forward the diversion request to other states per the Great Lakes Compact. We will keep you updated on future developments via our Riverkeeper News and Facebook (please “like” us if you haven’t already).

The Doctor Recommends a Low Salt Diet for Our Rivers

We are pleased that the City of Milwaukee is minimizing salt use this year both for the sake of the environment and to save money–by an estimated 2/5ths! You may have noticed that salting has been reduced on residential streets, and that salt is being mixed with sand on main streets to reduce salt usage, which is estimated at 1,200 tons per snow event. According to a recent Smithsonian article, more than 22 million tons of salt are scattered on the roads of the U.S. annually—about 137 pounds of salt for every American. Past reports have shown that Milwaukee County uses 8 times more salt on average than the rest of the State. All that salt has to go somewhere, and that is generally into our waterways.

Chloride is toxic to aquatic life and impacts vegetation and wildlife. We find that many of our smaller creeks regularly exceed what are considered “safe” levels of chloride for fish and aquatic life.