Project Milwaukee: Great Lakes, Troubled Waters

With our proximity to Lake Michigan and world-class water research, why don't we have clean water?

In May of 2019, WUWM's Project Milwaukee series dove in to the topic of clean water, or the lack thereof, in southeastern Wisconsin.

WUWM reporters and Lake Effect producers worked together to examine the many issues surrounding clean water — from the health of our drinking water, emerging threats to our waterways, the impact unclean water has on our communities, and possible solutions.

» Overall Health Of Our Water
» Emerging Threats To Wisconsin's Water
» Solutions To Our Water Challenges

Ways to Connect

Susan Bence

A group of Wisconsin legislators spent more than five hours Thursday listening to experts, advocates and residents who gathered in Racine. The topic was water quality and how to improve it.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Milwaukee experienced the largest outbreak of cryptosporidium in the spring of 1993.

The outbreak made 400,000 sick. Over 4,000 were hospitalized. And 104 deaths were recorded. It made a lasting impression for many who got sick or simply lived through it.

Lauren Sigfusson

WUWM has been diving into the topic of clean water, or the lack thereof, in southeastern Wisconsin for our Project Milwaukee Series: Great Lakes, Troubled Waters.

Problems like runoff, lead, and even the policies created around water can seem too big to tackle. But work is being done to make an impact to ensure a future with clean water.

Susan Bence

Some people are concerned about the many lead pipes that deliver water into older Milwaukee homes. Others applaud the city for tackling stormwater management through green infrastructure. But how is Milwaukee doing at creating a comprehensive water management plan?

Chuck Quirmbach

Wisconsin scientists are working on new ways to protect drinking and surface water from pollutants. They’re also investigating better methods of cleaning water that's already contaminated. But researchers say success may cost taxpayers more money.

Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Secretary Preston Cole has been promising to place a higher priority on good science when crafting policy. For example, he hopes better research will lead to cleaner drinking water. 

Audrey Nowakowski

WUWM's Project Milwaukee series Great Lakes, Troubled Waters is examining the topic of clean water, or the lack thereof, in southeastern Wisconsin — particularly in a place like Milwaukee that considers itself to be a "water hub."

Water hubs are places where industry, research, and academia converge in their efforts to create sustainable efforts or create new technology utilizing one of our most precious resources.

alexandrink1966 / stock.adobe.com

Quality is perhaps the most important part of any water distribution system. Water utilities process every drop that makes it into our plumbing, which takes a lot of time and energy. One way to keep from overburdening the system is by reducing our consumption — what we know as "water conservation."

Bill Graffin works for the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, which works in wastewater treatment and conservation efforts in the Milwaukee area. Here are some helpful tips from Graffin on how you can conserve water at home.

Teran Powell

In discussions about the health and safety of water, it’s typical to hear from experts, public health officials and government leaders. But you don't often get the opinions of younger people who are just beginning to learn and care about natural resources.

Young people working with Cream City Conservation Corps are having some real conversations about the environment. August Ball leads the discussion at the group’s regular Tuesday night meeting in the Silver City neighborhood on Milwaukee's south side.

Maayan Silver

Rainstorms are a challenge to clean water. They can cause flooding and potentially damaging runoff. But utilities, landscape architects and others are finding solutions — visible everywhere from the county grounds to your neighborhood ice cream shop.

milwaukee-cryptosporidium-outbreak-lead-water
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Both cryptosporidium and lead have threatened Milwaukee’s clean drinking water. While there are stark differences in the two water contaminants, what can we learn from how the city dealt with both?

First, it’s important to state that cryptosporidium and lead are completely different.

Crypto is a bacteria. Lead is a metal. Crypto has one parasitic source, while lead has many (paint, dust, dirt, pipes). Crypto makes people visibly sick, but lead can be in the body for a long time without showing any side effects.

Roman_23203 / stock.adobe.com

When the Lead and Copper Rule was first issued in 1991, it put federal limits on the acceptable amount of these metals found in drinking water. Cities started testing their water. Researchers experimented with chemicals that could inhibit the corrosion of pipes — the main source of contamination.

But for some cities, like Madison, Wis., that simply wasn’t enough.

Lauren Sigfusson

WUWM is diving into the topic of clean water, or the lack thereof, in southeastern Wisconsin for our Project Milwaukee Series: Great Lakes, Troubled Waters.

Tuesday’s live Lake Effect examines some of the main threats to our waterways. Here's an overview of those threats, in no particular order, along with links to some of our in-depth reporting for the Project Milwaukee series. Plus, you'll find some examples of what's being done to address them.

Emily Files

In Milwaukee, more than 10% of children test positive for dangerous lead levels in their blood.

Health experts say the most common culprit is lead paint in old homes. But water that travels through lead pipes also poses some risk. Lead lateral pipes connect at least 70,000 older homes in Milwaukee to the city's water mains.

Marti Mikkelson

In older cities like Milwaukee, lead pipes are a potential threat. But there are different problems in rural areas.

Ulao Creek is a tiny stream tucked into a quiet neighborhood in Mequon. On a recent afternoon, the water was high due to heavy rains the night before. And members of environmental group Milwaukee Riverkeeper are testing the water.

rh2010 / stock.adobe.com

The issue of lead in drinking water isn’t limited to low-income neighborhoods around Milwaukee. The housing stock and the water infrastructure in many city and suburban neighborhoods are old — and lead laterals serve modest houses and sprawling mansions alike.  

Pages