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.


Ways to Connect

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.

Susan Bence

Are Milwaukee area rail lines becoming safer? One of the potentially hazardous loads some people worry about is crude oil. Trains carry up to 14 loads a week through the heart of the city.

Although Milwaukee has been accident-free, other U.S. and Canadian cities have not. Some citizens fear it’s just a matter of time because Milwaukee’s rail lines and bridges are old.

Andy Cummings of Canadian Pacific says his rail company stands ready to assist communities. CP’s “dangerous goods” officers train local first responders.

Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

Trains rumble through downtown Milwaukee on a daily basis. Each week, up to 14 of them haul crude oil.

While the city has not experienced any accidents with those tankers, there have been disasters elsewhere, both in the U.S. and Canada.

We wondered, is Milwaukee making progress in protecting the area from a potential accident?

Ask Cheryl Nenn of the group Milwaukee Riverkeeper - her answer is an unequivocal no.

Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

Lake Michigan is experiencing high water levels. That phenomenon has turned the lives of some people living along its western shore upside down. Huge chunks are eroding, and dozens of homeowners are watching their property slip away at alarming rates.

Randy Vassh is working along a stretch of lakefront homes in the Village of Caledonia, maneuvering his excavator in tandem with his co-worker. The huge machines operate in three feet of water and stretch mechanical arms 30 feet out into Lake Michigan. They scoop up huge rocks and place them back along shore to slow erosion.

More than a century ago, the Boundary Waters Treaty established an advisory group made up of representatives from the United States and Canada. The International Joint Commission, it was tasked with preventing and resolving disputes over the use of the waters shared by the two countries.

Today, a primary function of the IJC is to report – to both the U.S. and Canada - how effectively the two countries are restoring and protecting the Great Lakes.

Susan Bence

This month, Boerner Botanical Gardens in Milwaukee’s Whitnall Park has taken on an exotic look. The visiting display called China Lights covers eight acres of the gardens. At night the display lights up.

The welcome gate pulls you through a world lined with peach trees. Just ahead flowers sparkle in a sunken garden. Turn your head to discover colorful lotus fairies, turn another direction and pandas at play appear.

And you’ve barely seen anything – including the 22-foot tall dragon.

Artist Ziming Luo created the show.