Milwaukee River Rat Chat and City Lights Brewing visit
On July 20, we gathered in Milwaukee for a River Rat Chat at City Lights Brewing Company just a few feet from the banks of the Milwaukee River. Around 15 of us gathered representing local members and groups that have worked within the Milwaukee River watershed for decades.
The River Rat Chat was a listening session and check-in to hear about the big issues facing our members and how River Alliance of Wisconsin might support their effort. We shared recent developments for River Alliance programs including the Wisconsin Water Agenda and our agricultural agenda, and also learned a bit about the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District’s programs for protecting floodplains with the help of farmers, municipalities, land trusts, and nonprofits working upstream of Milwaukee.
It’s striking how different people’s top concerns and needs are in different areas of our state. Wisconsin’s waterways are diverse and their unique needs and issues are reflected in their local guardians. Many of the key challenges our members discussed had to do with the nature of managing rivers in an urban built environment. These included controlling pollutants like mercury from power plants, stormwater runoff and salt from streets and highways, and helping urban rivers flow more naturally and reconnect with their floodplains. Legacy phosphorus and other contaminants in river sediment continue to be a hazard.
Challenges identified by attendees weren’t merely technical. We know lots about the sort of green infrastructure we need – but people are concerned we don’t have the coordinated action needed to build it. They identified a focus on short-term solutions over longer term ones, like creating structural changes to the way we fund public goods like water infrastructure and park space. The groups represented at the Chat have all been critical actors in the Milwaukee River watershed and have logged some major successes. The Milwaukee watershed is much healthier than it once was. But there’s a long way to go and they said there was a need for more leadership, a community of practice, capacity building efforts, and getting smaller communities to have a voice in prioritizing water protection.
We’re so grateful for the outstanding groups and individuals within the Milwaukee River watershed who have already done so much to improve the prospects for that storied river. There’s still a lot to do, and climate change poses new and deepening challenges, but there’s no question that the energy invested in river protection has paid off.
If you live in the greater Madison area and are interested in getting to know farmers invested in water protection, we invite you to our next River Rat Chat at the Schoepp Farm near Lodi on August 16. Sauk County Soil and Water Improvement Group is a local farmer watershed organization and will be there along with their rainfall simulator. We’ll have snacks and drinks and a gorgeous sunset view of Lake Wisconsin. The event is free, but please register in advance. Event updates will be sent to registrants via email.
– Mike Tiboris, Clear Water Farms Director
This message is made possible by generous donors who believe people have the power to protect and restore water. Become a member of River Alliance of Wisconsin today.