WUWM: Environmental Reporting

The environmental beat is massive -  from covering threats to air and water, to sharing scientific research, to uncovering the individuals and groups working to create sustainable communities.

Although I (WUWM's environmental reporter Susan Bence) have reported on a variety of stories, I continue to think 'I need to dig deeper.' So, I'm turning to you to help make that happen.

Wisconsinites, what have you been wondering about when it comes the environment? Questions about conservation? Climate change? You ask and I'll report.

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Ways to Connect

Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

Aldo Leopold’s 1949 book A Sand County Almanac fueled the conservation movement. Estella Leopold, a vibrant nearly nonagenarian, was the youngest of five Leopolds. She grew up happily oblivious of her father’s fame.

Aldo was teaching at UW-Madison in the 1930s, when he bought a shack – quite literally, a ramshackle small barn – fifty miles to the north on what was exhausted farmland.

Estella loved the land.

Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

Environmental issues were plentiful this year.  From Waukesha water to a retooled DNR, WUWM looks at a few that will continue to vertebrate in 2017.

Waukesha Water

Waukesha has to replace its well water because it’s tainted with radium. The city built its solution around a daily allotment of about ten million gallons of water from Lake Michigan, and that meant winning permission from the states that border the lake, because Waukesha sits outside its basin.

SIDDHARTHA ROY / FLINTWATERSTUDY.ORG

While the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan, got most of the headlines in the last year, other issues with lead contamination have beset other cities such as Washington, DC and Milwaukee.

The City of Milwaukee announced measures to replace pipe laterals in older homes and businesses in the coming year. And while some say the city’s response was late in coming, others believe Milwaukee’s approach has been - if not proactive, at least responsive.

Susan Bence

Dr. Yanna Lambrinidou’s has thrown herself into the middle of drinking water issues for years. This week, the Virginia Tech researcher shared her insight with a group of concerned citizens in Milwaukee.

Her involvement began in 2001 when Washington D.C. faced a massive water crisis. “This was the most severe lead in water crisis that our country had ever seen, and that’s the moment I decided I will never stop working on this issue until we solve it,” she says.

Susan Bence

The next time a City of Milwaukee water line bursts outside your home, expect crews to replace the lead pipes on your property and give you a bill. The Common Council approved the measure Tuesday.

It requires homeowners replace the lead pipes that deliver city water to the property - if a rupture occurs in the system outside.

The goal is to start replacing 70,000 potentially dangerous lead service lines installed before 1951 to protect children from lead exposure.

Susan Bence

UPDATE: The Council approved the lead pipe ordinance with a vote 12 to 3 Tuesday morning, with one amendment. That being the Department of Public Works will be required to provide quarterly progress reports. 

Amendment author Alderman Russell Stamper says as service lines are replaced, he wants to know who is able to pay and who is not.

Susan Bence

Milwaukee faces an uphill battle when it comes to replacing all the lead pipes that carry city water into residents’ homes. Last week, hundreds of families picked up free filters to tide them over.

The math is hard to dismiss – 70,000 properties are serviced by lead pipes, and the initial infusion of filters addresses only a small fraction, about three percent.

Koscuiszko Community Center was one of the distribution points. The facility on South 7th Street buzzed inside and out, as an overflow crowd spilled into the evening chill.

Susan Bence

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources provided a glimpse of its realignment this week.

The announcement did not come as a surprise, but surely is raising some eyebrows. Over a year ago, the agency set out to streamline the DNR and make it more customer-friendly.

Change has been afoot at the Wisconsin DNR, since Republicans took control of state government in 2011 and this is the latest iteration.

Last year the Legislature cut the agency’s research team by 31 percent.

Susan Bence

For many, Thanksgiving launches a season of holiday cheer and perhaps more eating than usual.

Water advocates are seizing the opportunity to try to turn people’s attention to our local watershed. How much of that Thanksgiving residue will wind up in local waterways?

Milwaukee Riverkeeper, Urban Ecology Center and Carroll University are partnering in the project, along with the UWM School of Freshwater Sciences.

Milwaukee Water Works

UPDATE: Eight alderpersons moved to delay a vote and instead take up the proposed mandate at the common council's December meeting.  The ordinance would require property owners to replace lead pipes on their property, when a leak occurs on either their side or the city part of the line.

The Edible Schoolyard Project, facebook

A trio of luminaries of the local, accessible for all, food movement are assembling in Milwaukee Friday evening as part of Growing Power’s Urban and Small Farms Conference.

Its founder Will Allen will take the stage with Ron Finley, who leads a urban garden and education movement in Los Angeles.

Susan Bence

Update: Monday afternoon, the Finance & Personnel Committee of the Milwaukee Common Council conferred over 40 minutes before advancing the proposed ordinance.  It proceeds to the full council for deliberation at its November 22 meeting. The plan would require Milwaukee property owners to pay for their lead laterals to be replaced.

Original story: City leaders continues to struggle with how to replace the lead pipes that provide water to 70,000 of the city’s older homes. Lead is toxic, and young children under age six are particularly vulnerable.

Susan Bence

Many Milwaukeeans now know that approximately 70,000 older homes in Milwaukee have lead service lines, meaning lead could be mixing with tap water.

Mayor Tom Barrett suggested a couple months ago that people living in homes built before 1951 filter their drinking water.

On Monday, local leaders announced the first steps in making Barrett’s suggestion a reality. The commissioner of the Milwaukee Health Department Bevan Baker made the announcement.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for breakwaters around the country, including the Great Lakes.  

The structures calm the waters within them to allow ships and smaller vessels to navigate safely, but take quite a beating, given shifting lake levels and seasonal storms.   

The usual "fix" is to install big boulders, 6 to 10-feet in size, to reinforce failing stretches of breakwater.

President Obama has called climate change a slow-moving catastrophe, yet we’ve heard little about the issue during this campaign season.

That goes for the U.S. Senate race pitting Democrat Russ Feingold and GOP incumbent Ron Johnson. Their campaigns have sizzled around their disparate views on just about everything else - from job creation to immigration.

Yet, they have said little about how they would approach the subject of climate change.

Dairy farmer Lloyd Holterman likes where Johnson stands on issues.

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