Senior Meals at Beulah Brinton Center

July 2, 2015

By Jill Rothenbueler Maher

How does beef stroganoff for lunch sound? Or how about baked fish with potato casserole, vegetable blend, roll, and dessert? Hearty lunches like these are available to residents over age 60 and to their spouse, of any age, at Beulah Brinton Community Center, 2555 S. Bay St.

These catered hot meals, provided through the Senior Meal Program, are served weekdays in Bay View (except holidays) at 11:30am for a suggested fee of $2.50. Payment is encouraged but not required. Between 18 and 30 seniors attend and some gather early to socialize or arrive early via a transportation service.

Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin is contracted to run the Beulah Brinton site and nine other sites under the auspices of the Milwaukee County Department on Aging. The program is funded from a variety of sources including participants’ contributions, the federal government through Title III-C of the Federal Older Americans Act, and some from the State of Wisconsin, and donations to the Milwaukee County Department on Aging. Volunteers—120 spread over 10 meal sites—help serve the meals.

Marie Polaski likes to get out and socialize at the Senior Meals luncheons at the Beulah Brinton Community Center. She was born in 1914 and says her favorite music era was the 1930s and 1940s, especially bands like Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and other Swing orchestras.  —Photo Katherine Keller

Marie Polaski likes to get out and socialize at the Senior Meals luncheons at the Beulah Brinton Community Center. She was born in 1914 and says her favorite music era was the 1930s and 1940s, especially bands like Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and other Swing orchestras. —Photo Katherine Keller

The oldest regular attendee is 101-year-old Marie Polaski, who lives near Immaculate Conception church and enjoys the social aspect. “I have to get out, I can’t stay in the apartment building. I’ve been around people my whole life, you know what I mean? I enjoy the people down here,” she said.

Polaski said she is able to use a transit van to get groceries and does some of her own cooking, though it’s getting harder due to eyesight difficulties. She has no children and no nearby relatives.

Nancy Torres is the site supervisor for the Senior Meal Program. Seated next to her are diners Robert Meizin (middle) and Bill Kroening. —Photo Katherine Keller

Nancy Torres is the site supervisor for the Senior Meal Program. Seated next to her are diners Robert Meizin (middle) and Bill Kroening. —Photo Katherine Keller

Bob Miezin has attended the meal program for about a year and a half, since his retirement from Wells Fargo as a mortgage banker. “I used to eat my main meal at night, but now that I’m not working, I don’t need all that food in the evening. It’s nice to have a hot meal in the middle of the day. And if you live alone, you’re not always eating alone,” he said.

Miezin describes himself as very active and is able to walk to stores and prepare food but said, “Who really wants to cook all the time and then eat only the food you cooked?”

From left: Volunteers Wally Pfaff, William Tank, Daniel Stasiewicz, and Mary Tatera. Site Supervisor Nancy Torres praised these volunteers and said the program would not be possible without their fine work.  —Photo Katherine Keller

From left: Volunteers Wally Pfaff, William Tank, Daniel Stasiewicz, and Mary Tatera. Site Supervisor Nancy Torres praised these volunteers and said the program would not be possible without their fine work.
—Photo Katherine Keller

Some attendees preview the menu and choose which days they will attend accordingly.

Some sites in the county offer specialty meals like kosher, Hispanic-style, or southeast Asian-style. Diabetic or sugar free desserts are available at all locations, and all locations are handicap accessible. Diners can bring their own containers for leftovers.

Menus are available in the Journal Sentinel food section on Wednesday or online at

First-time diners are advised to call ahead to find out more and to learn about registering. The Beulah Brinton phone number is 414-750-7273. The phone number for the county-wide Senior Meals program is 414-289-6995.

Ed Rucinski, Sr. lives in St. Francis now but he lived in Bay View until he sold his house several years ago. He is a regular at the Beulah Brinton luncheons, sharing his lively spirit with other diners. —Photo Katherine Keller

Ed Rucinski, Sr. lives in St. Francis now but he lived in Bay View until he sold his house several years ago. He is a regular at the Beulah Brinton luncheons, sharing his lively spirit with other diners. —Photo Katherine Keller

Kara Grennier, director of community services for Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin, said that attendance at the Beulah Brinton center has dwindled and hopes that more people will participate. She encourages people to try out the program, even if they are capable of cooking and can afford groceries. “Anyone is welcome to dine. There are no waiting lists or eligibility factors, such as income, to participate in the program. It is open to anyone over the age of 60,” she said.

Eligible homebound seniors can get home-delivered meals through a similar program. To learn about eligibility for this service, call 414-289-6874.

The Senior Meal Program is also available at the Warnimont-Kelly Center in Cudahy, 6100 S. Lake Drive 414-483-3532 and the Wilson Park Senior Center, 2601 W. Howard Ave. 414-282-3284.

Root River planning meeting Oct. 30 to focus on lessons learned from local river watershed plans

October 21, 2013

October 30 Root River Planning Meeting to Focus on Lessons Learned in Implementing the Kinnickinnic and Menomonee Watershed Plans

Lessons learned in Milwaukee from implementing the Kinnickinnic and Menomonee watershed restoration plans will be the featured presentation at the October 30, 2013 (5:30-8pm) meeting held at Boerner Botanical Gardens in Whitnall Park at 9400 Boerner Drive, Hales Corners, WI 53130.

The presenters include Cheryl Nenn of Milwaukee Riverkeeper and Ben Gramling of the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center, Environmental Health Department.

In addition, staff from the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, Mike Hahn, Joe Boxhorn and Tom Slawski, will report on Chapters IV and V updates of the draft plan: biological conditions, streambank and channel conditions and habitat conditions, with a focus on Hoods Creek, a Root River tributary in Racine County.  An additional alternative for Horlick dam will also be presented by SEWRPC staff.

The public is encouraged to attend the meeting and provide comments.  A light supper will be served and people who plan to attend are asked to RSVP to 262-898-2055 or

Planning for the Root River watershed began in May 2010.  At that time, representatives from the Root-Pike-Watershed Initiative Network, Sweet Water (Southeastern Wisconsin Watersheds Trust, Inc.), the municipalities of the watershed, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, SEWRPC, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Clean Wisconsin, the River Alliance of Wisconsin, UW-Cooperative Extension and others came together to discuss the feasibility of initiating a plan.

Subsequent meetings have been held in Franklin, Hales Corners, Racine, Oak Creek, Mount Pleasant, and Greenfield where interested citizens, government officials, drainage commissioners, environmental groups and others met to learn about the Root River watershed, set priorities for the plan, got updates on the plan’s development and reviewed chapters of the written plan.

Root-Pike WIN and Sweet Water are leading the planning effort.  The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission was selected to prepare the plan and is focusing on four areas selected by a planning group of citizens and public officials: 1) water quality; 2) recreational access and use; 3) habitat conditions; and 4) flooding within Racine County.  The plan will build from SEWRPC’s2007 Regional Water Quality Management Plan Update and will include recommendations to be implemented over a five-year period following the completion of the plan.  The Plan will be completed in July 2014.

The Root River watershed encompasses about 198 square miles in parts of Waukesha, Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties, with its headwaters in City of New Berlin and its discharge to Lake Michigan in the City of Racine.  Funding for the Root River planning effort is being provided by Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, the Fund for Lake Michigan, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration through the Wisconsin Coastal Management Grant Program, and Racine County.

For more information about the meeting, please contact Susan Greenfield, Root-Pike WIN, 262-898-2055; or Jeff Martinka, Sweet Water, 414-382-1766,



It’s not rocket science, it’s fluvial geomorphology

February 1, 2012

By Craig Helker

How many bridges have you driven over, and never noticed the river beneath? Most people give rivers little thought. That is, until the river floods. Then, the angry outcry, “Fix the flooding!” rings through the meeting halls of local governments. Do something. Anything! Fix the river! It’s broken!

In the past, fixing a “broken” river meant dredging, deepening, straightening, or lining it with concrete. Those fixes usually meant biological Armageddon for river life, massive infrastructure costs, and ironically, continued flooding. This, of course, was due to the failure to see the river for what it is.

Marty Melchior sees rivers for what they are. That’s his job. Melchior is a river ecologist with Inter-Fluve, Inc., a Madison firm that has done over a thousand river restoration projects, both nationally and internationally.

“The first thing to do when looking at a river,” said Melchior, “is to recognize that every river is different. Never put blinders on, and avoid assumptions.”

“We in the United States have acquiesced to the destruction and degradation of our rivers, in part because we have insufficient knowledge of the characteristics of rivers and the effects of our actions that alter their form and process.”
—Luna Leopold, fluvial geomorphologist and son of Aldo Leopold, in A View of the River, 1994.

The KK is not the Root; the Milwaukee is not the Menomonee. Avoiding assumptions is best done by collecting data. Lots of data.

In the Field

In 2003, Milwaukee County hired Melchior and Inter-Fluve to conduct fluvial geomorphology (the study of river processes and how rivers interact with the landforms they create) assessments on the rivers of Milwaukee County. In the process, Melchior conducted reconnaissance, stream classification, channel geometry surveys, and infrastructure surveys on 34 streams in the county.

Glacial till. Source: USGS, 1899

Glacial till. Source: USGS, 1899

This work even got down to determining the size of sediment in the streams. At certain locations in each surveyed stream, Melchior would randomly pick 100 particles from the stream bed and carefully measure the axis length of each one. This method, called the Wolman Pebble Count, allowed Melchior to determine the percentage and size of material making up the stream bottom. For instance, the bottom of the upper portion of the Root River in West Allis is primarily sand and small gravel, whereas Whitnall Park Creek, a tributary to the Root River, has a bottom ranging from boulders in some areas to sand or sand/gravel in others. This indicates a lot of energy is in Whitnall Park Creek, enough to strip the finer silts away.

Rivers are constantly changing and adjusting, seeking what’s called dynamic equilibrium—a state where erosion and the deposition of eroded material are balanced. Rivers naturally remove material from the outside of bends and deposit it on inside bends. Silts are suspended by flow, while sand and gravels migrate downstream. Even boulders move—when flows are high. The beds of rivers aggrade up, filling with sediment from upstream, or they downcut as their sediment is winnowed away. Aggradation can mean the now shallower stream channel can’t convey as much water, so there is more frequent out-of-bank flooding. Conversely, downcutting means the bed is lower, the banks now higher and less stable, and so are more subject to collapse or catastrophic erosion.

A 2007 study by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD), the Root River Sediment-transport Planning Study, identified the uppermost portions of the Root River, historically ditched near 124th Street, as having downcut about five feet since the ’60s. Similarly, Melchior said, “The KK in Bay View has downcut 10 to 15 feet in places.” Artificially containing a river in its channel concentrates its flow energy, taking more of the bottom material away.

Geomorphic Problems

For an urban river, Melchior said, “Without a lot of experience, it is extremely difficult to correctly identify geomorphic problems.” Ditching and floodplain filling push streams into various states of instability, and the result is either erosion or deposition out of balance with natural processes. The streams will then adjust, sometimes vehemently. Infrastructure that was planned and built with the assumption that the stream would stay where it was put can be undermined or destroyed.

Road crossings and culverts, common in urban areas, are another problem. They act like handcuffs, locking a river in place, keeping it from meandering. Naturally, rivers meander back and forth across their floodplains like squiggling rope. But, gripping a squiggling rope changes the squiggles. The squiggles occur, but somewhere else. It’s the same with a river. The sediment-transport study suggests that the Root River’s meander pattern upstream of Rawson Avenue is due to river bank armoring and dolomite bedrock exposure at Rawson Avenue. Further, look at aerial photos of almost any river, and you’ll see the meander pattern change near narrow bridges, typically on the immediate upstream section. A bend will form, threatening to cut into the foundation of the very road the bridge serves.

Surficial Geologic Map of the Root River Watershed. In particular note that the Root River itself runs essentially north to south, but its tributaries run mainly east-west, adding unconsolidated sediment eroded from terminal moraines to the mainstem. Source: USGS Click map to enlarge.

Glacial Landscape

The MMSD Root River Sediment-transport Planning Study contains a surficial geologic map, prepared by the U.S. Geologic Survey, that shows the glacial deposits (moraines) of Milwaukee County. This map is an important reminder that the Root River—and all Milwaukee rivers for that matter—are moving over landscapes left behind by the retreating Laurentide glacier.

“The Milwaukee, Menomonee, KK, and Root rivers are young,” said Faith Fitzpatrick, fluvial geomorphologist with the USGS. They’ve only been around for 11,000 years or so, and are busy working down into the glacial leavings.

In the case of the Root River, the MMSD study summarizes that the Root River flows north-south on consolidated, erosion-resistant valley bottom called ground moraine. The tributaries to the Root, however, are generally oriented east-west, flowing down ridges called terminal moraines. This means they flow with more energy, cutting into the unconsolidated ridge material, delivering this coarse material to the Root River.

Melchior’s pebble-counts from the Whitnall Park, Dale, Wildcat, and Hale creek tributaries bear this out. The bed of the Root River where these tributaries enter is actually stabilized by the new larger-grained material, which acts as a sort of armor on the bottom.


Over the years, a number of people have scoured over the rivers of Milwaukee County, taking pebble counts, measuring stream bank heights, and calculating access to floodplain. All this information is contained in the final reports for Milwaukee County and MMSD. These reports go on to give recommendations. For the Root River, the main recommendation is to encourage open lands around the river. That’s it in a nutshell. Encourage the river to act like a river, don’t build right up to it and constrain it. Don’t lock it in place with culverts. Give it the ability to flow out of its banks into floodplain when it needs to. See the river for what it is, not what we want it to be.

Whitefish Bay, looking south, October 1899. Source: USGS

Craig Helker is a water resources biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Citizens monitor Milwaukee’s rivers

December 1, 2011

By Craig Helker

Drive over the Chase Avenue bridge and you’re more likely to notice the giant red Klement’s sausage sign than the Kinnickinnic River the bridge was built to span. It’s easy to overlook. But Christa Marlowe knows it’s there. She’s spent some quality time with the river this past year.

“Eight years ago, I never even knew this river existed,” admitted Marlowe. “Then a friend drafted me to come to a river clean-up event.”

That event, staged by the then-Friends of Milwaukee’s Rivers (now Milwaukee Riverkeeper) and the Bay View Neighborhood Association, inspired her. Ultimately, it’s the reason Marlowe recently climbed down from that Chase Avenue bridge, waded into the Kinnickinnic River, and dipped a sample bottle beneath its surface.

Christa Marlowe holds a dissolved oxygen sample from the KK River. —photo Craig Helker

By day, Marlowe is a science teacher at Milwaukee College Prep School. She’s also a BVNA volunteer who’s been monitoring river water quality for the past year. Once a month, she meets up with her monitoring partner Rick Hancock, and together they walk the trail down to the river, lugging sampling equipment. At the water’s edge, they take turns wading into the water for the various water tests, such as temperature, transparency (a measure of how much material is suspended in the water), and dissolved oxygen (how much oxygen is available to the aquatic life in the river).

Marlowe and Hancock are part of the Milwaukee Riverkeeper network of stream volunteers, over a hundred people strong. Milwaukee Riverkeeper’s Cheryl Nenn coordinates the local program.

“We have seven sites on the Kinnickinnic River, monitored by 12 volunteers,” Nenn said. “The KK is a challenge, with concrete portions not safe to wade into, so we’re constrained to [sample at] certain locations.”

Non-experienced citizen monitors start with Level 1 monitoring, designed to introduce volunteers to the basics, educate them about the waterbody type they are monitoring, and help them to understand the connection between land use and the resulting effects on water quality. “After a year of experience,” said Nenn, “interested volunteers can bump up to Level 2 monitoring.”

Volunteers like Marlowe and Hancock are considered Level 2 monitors. This level is more intense, with volunteers expected to sample at specific locations and follow more advanced sampling protocols.

Level 3 volunteers work on projects that are specifically focused. “Two citizen monitors helped out on a Level 3 project doing targeted monitoring on the Menomonee and KK, monitoring for E. coli and Bacteroides [bacteria that can serve as an indicator of human fecal material],” Nenn said. “Four pipes came back positive for human sewage.”

Local organizations like Riverkeeper conduct their volunteer monitoring programs under the umbrella of Wisconsin’s Citizen-Based Water Monitoring Network. Operated jointly by the Department of Natural Resources and the UW-Extension, the network provides training, support, and grant money to local volunteer groups. Kris Stepenuck coordinates the state program.

“Wisconsin is blessed with people who care, with strong support from local groups,” Stepenuck said. “Volunteers can be high school students looking for experience, all the way up to retirees who have a passion for the environment and take on monitoring as a second career.”

But make no mistake: the citizen volunteer networks are providing hard data for real science. Stepenuck said the state’s role is to facilitate monitoring that is consistent and quality-controlled, so that the public, DNR, and other agencies can use that data and know it is valid.

For example, the United States Geological Survey and trained Riverkeeper volunteers are conducting a Level 3 road salt monitoring project that expands upon monitoring done by USGS itself. The Kinnickinnic River is one of the rivers being monitored, with students in the environmental health program at MATC Mequon helping out. Last year’s monitoring revealed that six out of 18 monitored sites in the Milwaukee area, including the KK, had chloride concentrations exceeding EPA standards for acute toxicity.

It was getting dark when Marlowe and Hancock finished their assigned monitoring and packed up the sampling equipment. Marlowe looked upstream. “This part of the KK has gotten some love,” she said. “It needs some more.”

Craig Helker is a water resources biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Wisconsin Citizen-Based Water Monitoring Network –

Milwaukee Riverkeeper –

Bay View Neighborhood Association –

To get involved with Citizen Stream Monitoring on the KK, or other Milwaukee-area rivers, contact Cheryl Nenn with Milwaukee Riverkeeper at (414) 287-0207.


New scientists at Freshwater Sciences at UWM

November 1, 2011

By Michael Timm

Todd Miller samples Wisconsin’s Lake Koshkonong for toxic blue-green algae. ~photo Siddhartha Miller

UWM’s School of Freshwater Sciences attracted new faculty for the start of its fall semester, including Laura Grant and Itziar Lazkano, two young economists specializing in natural resources; Todd Miller, a human health scientist studying toxins in water; and Matt Smith, an aquatic microbiologist developing new DNA sensing technology. The research of Lazkano and Miller is profiled below.

Todd Miller: Studying Algal Toxins

Todd Miller speaks softly, wears horn-rimmed glasses, and doesn’t use antibacterial soap.

He’s unaware of any research to suggest antibacterial soaps remove more bacteria from skin than regular soap, but he is aware of research that their estrogenic compounds, once rinsed down our drains, fester in the environment and can degrade into carcinogens. “So I think those things are going to come back to bite us,” he said.

But his latest research isn’t about soap. It’s about other fickle contaminants in water, toxins from “harmful algal blooms” of cyanobacteria, better known as blue-green algae. Miller hopes his research can improve the forecasting of harmful algal blooms and the dispersal of their toxins.

The two major toxins are microcystin, a liver toxin, and anatoxin-a, a neurotoxin. Microcystin causes nausea, joint pain, and headache. Anatoxin-a causes dizziness, shortness of breath, and numbness in limbs. It’s also been implicated in at least one Wisconsin death after a teenager consumed water from a algal-covered golf course pond in 2002.

In addition to noting recreational exposures, Miller is researching the presence of these toxins in drinking water. Lake Michigan is generally too cold to support blue-green algae, but shallower inland waterways like Lake Winnebago are warmer and provide drinking water to surrounding cities.

“There has been some research done to show that the chlorination process and ozonation process [drinking water treatment] is good enough to destroy the toxins; however, other research has shown that at times when organic carbon loading is high, that can inhibit the ozonation and chlorination. People haven’t looked at it over a time series, which is what we’re doing,” Miller said.

He’s also investigating the toxins that bioaccumulate in Wisconsin fish, including walleye. Some levels of toxin are expected. “What we don’t know is what concentrations they’ll be at in the fish relative to background levels in the lake,” he said. Initial results are expected in January.

Miller also wants to better understand what constrains the dynamic algae, which can control their own buoyancy, from forming blooms.

“We want to also monitor the lake conditions. When there’s a bloom of algae we want to know what was the water temperature, wind speeds…what sort of lake characteristics would lead to these organisms forming a bloom?”

His team is deploying buoys in several Wisconsin lakes to gather real-time data and monitor blue-green algae using fluorometric sensors, which measure the amount of blue and green algal pigments in water samples.

Two problems with the fluorometric data, however, are that the algae can clump together and that their pigments get “bleached out” over time. So, with UW-Madison engineers, Miller developed the “Water Guy,” a shoebox-sized device “that sucks up water, blends the sample, and holds it in the dark for about 20 minutes, thereby normalizing the previous light history between samples to some extent.”

In the lab, Miller uses a tandem mass spectrometer, an instrument sensitive enough to detect chemicals even at the very low concentrations at which the toxins occur in water samples.

He’s also part of a team led by John Berry at Florida International University and scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory designing a device to apply a “pregnancy test” that detects specific algal toxins. It’s a tool that one day could do chemical testing on Mars.

Long-term, Miller hopes to chronicle human exposure rates to algal toxins and perhaps develop a human blood test.

Last fall Miller joined UWM’s School of Public Health as an assistant professor; as one of several interdisciplinary faculty, he obtained adjunct status at the School of Freshwater Sciences this fall.

Itziar Lazkano

Itzi Lazkano: Economics of Altruism

Itziar—call-her-Itzi—Lazkano talks like a tornado.

The self-described “hard-core economist” hails from the Basque Country of Spain, where she earned an undergraduate degree in economics and then worked for AZTI Marine Science Technological Institute, analyzing data sets to determine the effect of European Union policies on the fishing industry. She considered the efficiency of fishing boats, the capacity of fisheries, and the amount of EU subsidies paid to the industry. “I found that they were getting too much money,” she said.

Earlier this year she earned her doctorate in economics from the University of Calgary, writing on the theoretical relationship between environmental quality and economic growth.

“Environmental quality and economic growth are tied together, so that if one is bad the other will be bad as well,” she said. “And this is something that economists didn’t know before because we always thought that if we have technology, that will fix everything and we shouldn’t worry about anything else.”

But Lazkano looked at the conflicting economic incentives across different generations, which she said prevent widespread implementation of clean technologies.

“At the end of the day, firms are providing the technologies, but we are the ones who have to implement them,” she said. “So policies should not be directed only to firms and production, but also to individuals like us.”

Lazkano said she enjoys solving complex problems and hopes to apply her economic theory in three possible arenas: incentivizing more efficient water supply technology, predicting the efficiency of stricter minimum standards for water quality, and exploring whether and how climate change limits economic growth by looking at global water quality data.

Lazkano’s assistant professorship is joined between UWM’s Department of Economics and the School of Freshwater Sciences.

“In theory we know that when we all behave well, things go well,” Lazkano said. “But that coordination doesn’t happen in the public nature of things. And that’s sort of like an ironical thing, because we know what we should do, but we don’t do it. And natural resources are a clear example of that. Even if we know, we always end up in a situation where we don’t coordinate.”

Could self-healing pipes help solve sewer problems?

August 10, 2011

By Michael Timm

When you cut your arm, it bleeds, clots, scabs, scars, and eventually heals. But when a sewer pipe cracks, we don’t expect the pipe to heal itself—at least not yet.

A team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is investigating “self-healing” materials that one day could—emphasis on could—do just that.

Self-healing is one goal of the nascent field of biomimetics, where engineers mimic biology in creating synthetic materials. Bones fuse, skin scabs, blood clots, the reasoning goes. Why not I-beams, aircraft fuselages, and water pipes?

“Can we teach these kinds of tricks to synthetic materials?” asks Pradeep Rohatgi, director of UWM’s Center for Composite Materials. “In fact there is some work with polymers and we’re trying to do it with metals.”

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Significant amounts of water leak into cracked pipes on private property. Also, thousands of homes built before 1954 have foundation drains connected to the private lateral (sanitary sewer line), which sends excess water from under the home to the sanitary sewer system instead of a sump pump. ~imagery courtesy MMSD

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Cracked laterals pose a significant challenge for the sewer system.  ~images courtesy MMSD

Rohatgi makes no promises about success. And the applications for so-called autonomous materials range far beyond crafting a more resilient pipe—the military wants superior armor, doctors want biomedical implants that don’t require multiple surgeries to replace failing parts, electric companies want turbines that never have to shut down for maintenance. But UWM’s Rohatgi, whose house has been flooded five times, most recently in May, believes that self-healing sewer systems are also a worthy pursuit.

“[Ten] years ago if you had talked of self-healing polymer or metal or ceramic, people would have thought you’re out of your mind,” said Rohatgi, who is prepared for failure but unashamed to aim high. “You saw the movie Terminator? I mean that’s the ideal. You are hit by a laser, your metal armor melts, but it remembers its shape so it grows back.”

Self-Healing Strategies

Rohatgi and his colleagues outlined several self-healing strategies for composite cast metals in a recent American Foundry Society paper. One strategy is injecting hollow microtubule balloons into a material’s matrix. The balloons contain a healing agent. If a pipe made of the composite cracks, the balloons rupture, the healing agent escapes, interacts with a catalyst, and seals the crack like glue. This has been demonstrated in polymers, but metal poses a challenge.

Another self-healing strategy involves “shape memory alloys.” These are micro-wires of a special alloy embedded in the composite matrix that “remember their shape.” After a pipe made of the composite is cracked, the wires become stretched. If heat is applied, however, the wires return to their original shape, pulling the crack closed. In the presence of sufficient heat, the matrix partially melts and welds back together.

Rohatgi said another self-healing strategy is being researched by Princeton University’s Illhan Aksay where leaks are sealed by applying electric current that affects nanoparticles dispersed in the liquid inside a pipe. The nanoparticles collect in the crack and electric current triggers metal deposition.

Other self-healing strategies mimic the vascular network or platelets in blood. But it’s a new field and each of the strategies has drawbacks. Rohatgi emphasizes that there are no off-the-shelf answers. UWM is not explicitly working on self-healing sewer pipes.

“At our university we want to build a knowledge base in self-healing systems. And we’ll be very happy to make this knowledge base available to the water industry in Wisconsin, to MMSD.”

Reducing Pipe Infiltration

Pipes that seal their own leaks sound about as ambitious as the Terminator’s self-healing armor, but they could help solve a big problem already costing billions in flood damage, preventative infrastructure, and environmental harm.

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Inside a leaking lateral, as gallons of water pour in, overwhelming conveyance systems. ~photo courtesy MMSD

Water in the ground gets into leaky laterals, the pipes that connect homes and businesses to the sewer. Especially during heavy rains, the system is quickly overwhelmed, which can lead to basement backups or sewer overflows.

It’s a problem the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District is addressing through a $151 million program through 2020 to reduce “infiltration and inflow” on private property across the 28 municipalities it serves.

MMSD itself maintains 300 miles of sewers. It estimates that Milwaukee-area municipalities maintain about 3,000 miles of sewers; there are another 3,000 miles of privately-owned laterals.

“If we want to address basement backups, we need to address the private-property owners. We really can’t put in the world’s largest pipe and convey it down to MMSD. That’s not the solution,” said Bill Wehrley, city of Wauwatosa engineer, in a July 11 MMSD online video. “The solution is to keep the clear water out of the pipe—the water that doesn’t need to be treated.”

Through 2011, MMSD has allocated $9 million to reduce inflow and infiltration, providing funding that municipalities decide how to use. The city of Milwaukee is the largest recipient so far, with over $3 million allocated.

The city is targeting 562 properties in the area between N. 82nd and N. 92nd streets from W. Center to W. Burleigh streets, according to Cecilia Gilbert, Department of Public Works permits and communications manager. She said MMSD flow monitoring identified that area as having high levels of inflow and infiltration.

“The proposed work consists of sanitary lateral inspection, cured in-place lining (trenchless) of the sanitary sewer lateral, and possible foundation drain disconnections,” according to Gilbert. The program is voluntary and totally funded by the city and MMSD.

A Brief History of Our Sewers

In 1869 engineer E.S. Chesborough designed the city’s combined sewer system, which conveyed both wastewater and stormwater into Milwaukee’s rivers.

Ten years later, a commission formed to address the nuisance that the sewage-laden rivers had become. Through the late 1800s and early 1900s, city engineers built intercepting sewers to convey sewage to Jones Island and flushing tunnels that pumped lake water into the rivers to dilute them.

It’s been a century since the 1911 report that sketched out Milwaukee’s current sewer system, a vast network of intercepting sewers leading to a central treatment plant at Jones Island, whose construction began in 1919. With population growth and urbanization came the need for greater capacity, and in 1968 the South Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant in Oak Creek went online to complement Jones Island.

In 1993 MMSD completed its almost 20-mile, 405-gallon-capacity Deep Tunnel, which provides temporary storage for wastewater prior to treatment, dramatically reducing the volume of sewage dumped untreated into local waterways but not eliminating all overflows.

Storms in 2008 and 2010 led to devastating flooding throughout the area, underscoring the need for a decentralized approach to manage stormwater.

Watershed in rehab

June 30, 2011

By Kate Morgan

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Along 15th Street, neighbors are working in their yards. A few are disconnecting gutter downspouts and installing rain barrels to collect the rainwater. Others are walking around their homes looking for the best place for a rain garden or discussing what to plant in the new swales between the sidewalk and the street. At the end of their block, the Kinnickinnic River rushes along its concrete stream bank.

This targeted group of homeowners is participating in the Kinnickinnic River Residential Stormwater Project, organized by the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center in hopes of catalyzing other similar projects throughout the 25-square-mile watershed.

“My property will be a demonstration site for my neighbors, and I hope they become interested in having rain gardens, rain barrels, and swale gardens in their properties as well, to help reduce pollution that enters the river,” said Mayra Romo, a participating homeowner.

Groundwork Milwaukee designed and is installing the residential green infrastructure. Milwaukee Riverkeeper will collect river data to gauge the project’s effectiveness.

What are BMPs?

Green infrastructure practices, also referred to as BMPs or best management practices, reduce the flow of stormwater by mimicking processes in nature that slow, store, or spread rainfall. The practices include the use of rain gardens, rain barrels and cisterns, green roofs, stormwater trees, bioswales, and porous pavements to reduce the flow of stormwater from a site.

“Stormwater control measures, such as bioswales, porous pavement, and rain gardens, not only effectively reduce the volume of runoff, but also trap the pollutants,” said Roger Bannerman, environmental specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “Designs of these controls have been tested and the designs have been found to be compatible with the urban environment.”

This pilot project will be replicated in three additional target areas thanks to a $216,000 grant from the Fund for Lake Michigan, established in 2008 as part of a resolution to a dispute between environmental groups and We Energies over how its expanded Oak Creek Power Plant would affect Lake Michigan. Over the next two decades, the fund will award $4 million annually to projects that restore habitat and reduce water pollution in order to enhance the health of Lake Michigan, its shoreline, and tributary river systems.

Fund for Lake Michigan will also provide $188,000 to the conservation nonprofit American Rivers to support another initiative in the Kinnickinnic watershed—expanding the installation of BMPs on properties of businesses owners in a targeted area of the Wilson Park Creek sub-watershed.

Green infrastructure will be installed to permeate two acres of impervious surface at General Mills, 4625 S. Sixth St., and 10 acres at The Islamic Society of Milwaukee’s Salam School, 815 W. Layton Ave. Impervious parking lots will be replaced with porous pavement strips that allow stormwater to infiltrate on site. Rooftop downspouts will be disconnected from the storm sewers, and roof flow will be redirected into bioswales for better infiltration.

The combined impact of these practices is anticipated to reduce the amount of stormwater runoff by 391,000 gallons per one-inch rainstorm to the Wilson Park Creek tributary of the KK, according to calculations regarding storage capacities of the systems to be implemented. The projects are also expected to reduce phosphorus, bacteria, and total suspended solid loadings carried by stormwater.

“These projects will help us monitor the overall performance and effectiveness of a variety of stormwater BMPs to control water quantity and treat water quality on large-scale commercial properties,” said Sean Foltz, associate director of American Rivers’ Clean Waters program.

Where is Wilson Park Creek?

By Michael Timm

If you thought the much-maligned Kinnickinnic River was out-of-sight and out-of-mind, you probably never even heard of its primary tributary, Wilson Park Creek.

It drains 2.25 square miles and has an average flow of about 28 gallons per second, but, like so many things, Wilson Park Creek hides in the negative spaces of our society.

Believe it or not, the water feeding this creek actually stems from Cudahy—in the wetland tucked between Whitnall Avenue, the Patrick Cudahy meat packing plant, and the Ladish foundry. Though you might not expect that water flowing to the lake would head away from it, the water doesn’t care what you think. Following the law of gravity, a small creek flows westward from a Patrick Cudahy wetland by the Cudahy Car Shop at 5000 S. Whitnall Ave., parallel to Edgerton Avenue to its north, then underneath Pennsylvania Avenue, where it’s somewhat rudely routed into a channel draining most of the airport’s 2,180 acres.

Now underground, the “creek” is hard to spy until it re-emerges a mile to the west. Motorists on Howell Avenue stopped at Layton might just glimpse the concrete moat, beneath the airport’s welcome sign, where the creek’s two subterranean forks combine.

From the airport, the creek flows northwest. Mostly channelized by concrete, it flows under Sixth Street near Armor Avenue, then slogs underneath the freeway near 13th Street before running through the south part of Wilson Park, hence the name.

But its journey doesn’t stop there. Wilson Park Creek soldiers on to the north, behind the strip mall on S. 27th Street, then made almost invisible by urban planners who routed it underneath the bustling 27th-and-Morgan intersection. Not to be denied, the creek emerges north of Morgan behind Walmart, still bound by concrete slabs, angles its way behind the Southgate movie theater and then, underground once more along 30th Street, finally, a traumatized lover seeking confluence, merges with another waterway behind St. Luke’s Hospital. Some six miles from that Cudahy wetland, the creek has now joined a river: the Kinnickinnic.


Kate Morgan is water policy director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, working in support of the Southeastern Wisconsin Watersheds Trust.


Paradise Lost, phosphorous contributes to ecological perfect storm

May 29, 2011

By Nancy Turyk & Chris Arnold

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Sediment flowing directly into Park Lake after heavy rain in June 2008. Manicured lawns engird much of the lake. Stormwater runoff carries eroded sediment, as well as lawn-care fertilizer and chemicals, directly into the water, where each contribute to algal growth. ~photo Chris Arnold

Bob Lambert still remembers when Park Lake in Wisconsin’s Columbia County was known for its healthy fishery. When he was a kid in the ’60s, Park Lake was a hot spot for fishing. Lambert can remember going with his dad and grandfather and always catching a lot of fish. People would even come for bluegills, he said. “There was plenty of action from crappie, perch, once in a while northern, and the elusive walleye.”

But in the 1970s, the 312-acre lake started to change.

Aquatic plant growth that clogged boat motors made fishing difficult. By the mid ’80s, the proliferation of aquatic plants united a group of property and business owners and the nearby city of Pardeeville, who started to fight back. They formed the Park Lake Management District and attempted to curb the nuisance growth through harvesting and herbicides.

It shouldn’t have been surprising that Park Lake—a flowage created by humans in 1856 by the damming of the Fox River—would promote aquatic plant growth. It’s shallow and its rich sediments provide a perfect aquatic plant environment. The real surprise came around the turn of this century when the aquatic plants disappeared—replaced by algae.

By 2001, the algae grew so thick that light no longer penetrated into the water, killing more aquatic plants, whose detritus provided more nutrients for algal growth. A vicious cycle of ecological transformation had begun. Over time, even the more sensitive aquatic insects, such as mayflies and caddis flies, were replaced by pollution-tolerant lake flies and sludge worms.

Scientists and resource managers suspected that the algae proliferated due to a “perfect storm” of factors affecting Park Lake: the aquatic plant manipulation by humans, the unintentional introduction of bottom-disturbing fish like shad and carp, and a significant inflow of nutrients and sediments which enter the lake from the Fox River.

One of those nutrients is phosphorous.

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Eerily reminiscent of clogged arteries prior to a heart attack, this map shows the 172 lakes and streams in Wisconsin that are on the Impaired Waters list as of 2010. Test results from these waterways exceeded the state standards for phosphorous and have led to biological problems. Once a waterway gets on this list, the state is required to develop a strategy for improvement. Park Lake and its tributaries are shown in the inset. ~maps courtesy the Center for Watershed Science and Education, UW-Stevens Point
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Water Quality Follows Land Use

Most of the phosphorus entering the lake runs off the land. In the Park Lake watershed, 78 percent of the land is agricultural cropland or pasture. Across the 34,432 acres that drain into the lake, there are 26 farms raising 1,920 dairy cattle and 21 with 1,612 beef cattle—not to mention 401 hogs and 181 sheep. This livestock generates an estimated 5,780,245 gallons of manure annually.

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At this farm in the Park Lake watershed, manure was being stacked in a hole in the ground that had a spring in it. Runoff travels into the road ditch, then into a culvert and straight to the tributary. ~photo Chris Arnold

While farmers stockpile manure for use as fertilizer, it doesn’t all stay piled up. When it rains or if not adequately contained, manure can—and does—run off into streams that feed Park Lake. The accumulation of manure in the watershed has actually overwhelmed the ability of the wetlands to soak up the phosphorus.

Another source of phosphorus was lawn fertilizer. Although only 1.2 percent of the Park Lake watershed is developed, much of this property is close to its shore. Removing shoreline vegetation buffers and chemically treating green lawns has translated to lots of fertilizer flowing directly into the lake.

Based on decades of research that recognized its harmful effect on aquatic communities, the state of Wisconsin in 2010 enacted a statewide ban on fertilizers containing phosphorous. However, Governor Walker’s proposed state budget would change these phosphorus rules, which could jeopardize the future of lakes like Park Lake, which, for its high concentrations of phosphorus and suspended solids, was added to Wisconsin’s list of Impaired Waters in 2006.

Education & Action

The Park Lake Management District realized their lake’s problem was getting too big to solve by citizen action alone. So in 2001, the district contacted Kurt R. Calkins, director of Columbia County’s Land and Water Conservation Department.

“Early on it became evident we had to bring in experts to help people understand the current state of the system,” Calkins recalled. A collaborative process emerged that led to water-quality monitoring, a watershed inventory of land management practices, and the development of a citizen-based plan for the lake.

In 2007, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources conducted a fish-netting survey. They quantified what fishermen like Bob Lambert had already noticed. Between 1996 and 2007 bluegill numbers dropped from 458 per net-day to 62, crappie from 340 to 26, and largemouth bass from 23 per mile of shocking to seven.

“When the good diversity and density of aquatic plants disappeared… so did the desirable fish species,” explained Tim Larson, retired DNR fisheries biologist who conducted the study. “A good fishery and aquatic plants coexist.”

By the Numbers

In the Park Lake Watershed

34,432 acres

1,920 dairy cattle

1,612 beef cattle

401 hogs

181 sheep

5,780,245 gallons of manure annually

In 2009, Columbia County and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point began a two-year study to understand where the sediment and phosphorus was highest in the watershed. Sampling sites were established in streams in four locations above Park Lake and one downstream.

The study revealed that high levels of phosphorus routinely moved through the streams. All but one stream site showed median concentrations well above Wisconsin’s phosphorus criteria level for streams (75 parts per billion), and during 2010, samples from the three had double this value.

Until this recent study, many landowners wouldn’t accept the relationship between their land use and nearby water quality. Some still don’t.

Harold McElroy, a farmer in the watershed, was initially skeptical but he’s been persuaded by the evidence.

“I was surprised by how quickly sediment [in the stream] that was washed out by the flooding filled in again. Within a year, areas that had water depth of three to four feet were filled in, only to be six to eight inches deep,” said McElroy, now also a conservation technician with Columbia County.

Resource managers say changes in land use are the only way to address the lake’s phosphorus and sediment levels, but they acknowledge that landowners face financial challenges—concrete bunker-like storage facilities for manure that could make a difference are not cheap, and erosion-control efforts require technical expertise.

Everyone acknowledges there’s a lot of work ahead.

“Park Lake has great potential,” said Bruce J. Rashke, Park Lake Management District chair. “With community support, that potential can be realized in the form of clearer water and a better fishery while maintaining areas for other recreation. The challenge is finding the community energy to realize that potential.”

Nancy Turyk is a water resource scientist for the Center for Watershed Science and Education at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Chris Arnold is a water resource specialist for Columbia County and is working on his master’s degree with this project.


Are we drinking the pesticides sprayed on Wisconsin’s crops?

April 1, 2011

By Lynn Markham

Special Report: Pesticides in Wisconsin  food and water, part 2

Chris Malek grew up on an industrial potato farm, earned agricultural degrees from UW-Madison and UW-River Falls, and then worked as a potato agronomist for McCain Foods, the largest frozen potato manufacturer in Wisconsin.

Today, Malek runs a certified organic Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm in tiny Rosholt, Wis., which provides weekly boxes of fresh vegetables to 50 families throughout the growing season. He grows 30-40 varieties of potatoes plus other vegetables, herbs, and flowers for restaurants and a year-round farmers market. Why the big change from industrial ag to organic?

potato picking - Matthew, Chris and Max

From left: Matthew Duffy (nephew of Chris Malek), Chris Malek, and his his son, Max Malek, who were phototgraphed digging potatoes in a field on the Malek Family Stewardship Farm located in Rosholt, Wisconsin.

In 2001 one of Malek’s cousins grew a small patch of potatoes organically—without synthetic pesticides. “Back in 2001 it looked like there was potential that you could make some money growing organic potatoes and other crops,” Malek said. “The next year I had an organic garden and went to the organic conference in La Crosse. What they said made a lot of sense to me. ‘Healthy soil means healthy food means healthy people.’ When you’re not applying all those synthetic chemicals you have less potential for contamination of groundwater and surface waters.”

Malek is one of a growing number of organic farmers in Wisconsin. Over the last decade, the number of organic farms roughly doubled to over 1,200. Yet they constitute only 1 percent of the state’s total farms and acreage.

Many farmers are reducing agricultural pesticide use through longer crop rotations, planting diverse and resistant crop varieties, cultivation, scouting, and other methods. But even so, in 2005 Wisconsin’s farmers reported using 13 million pounds of pesticides each year—a little over two pounds of pesticides for each man, woman, and child in the state.

Once a pesticide is applied, it will ideally only harm the target pest and then break down through natural processes into harmless substances. However, pesticides may also be absorbed by plants to become part of food, come into direct contact with humans during application, attach to soil particles that get tracked into homes, evaporate right into the air, run off into lakes and streams, or seep into groundwater.

A 2007 study estimated that one out of every three private wells in Wisconsin contains detectable levels of agricultural pesticides and their metabolites. Wells in areas with more cropland were more likely to contain pesticides, and often contained a mixture of multiple pesticides.


Based on data from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, and from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Only 16 of the 90 pesticides farmers reported using in Wisconsin are regulated in drinking water.

One of the better studied pesticides is atrazine, which is estimated to be in 12 percent of Wisconsin’s private wells. Atrazine has been linked to cardiovascular damage and reproductive difficulties in some people when consumed at levels over the drinking water limit for many years. At environmental levels, atrazine disrupts reproduction and reproductive development in wildlife. Male frogs exposed as tadpoles to atrazine at one-thirtieth of the safe drinking water standard develop both male and female sex organs. The U.S. Geological Survey announced in 2010 that fish exposed to concentrations of atrazine at levels found in streams near farmland had reduced reproduction and spawning.

In 2005, atrazine was found in 90 percent of the 53 Wisconsin lakes tested. A 10-year study of the Midwest corn-belt, including Wisconsin, found 11 pesticides consistently present in streams.

There’s an undeniable correlation between agricultural application and pesticides found in surface waters. When the amount of a pesticide applied to the land was reduced, the concentration of that pesticide in streams also decreased.

Eliminating their own use of synthetic pesticides is the solution organic farmers like Malek have embraced.

“It’s very simple,” he said. “You can vote with your dollars and support farms like ours that protect the soil and the water and bring healthy food to the table. Beyond voting with your purchasing dollars at a farmers market or joining a CSA, we’re also starting to think about how people can invest in local sustainable farms, rather than putting their money in a 401(k) where the money leaves your community.”

organic farms

Created by Lisa Morrison, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Pesticide Use
Created by Dan McFarlane from the Center for Land Use Education. 2005 CropScape data from USDA was multiplied by the 2005 Wisconsin average pesticide use per acre for each crop from the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Pesticide-Well 3-10-2011 map

Created by Dan McFarlane from the Center for Land Use Education. 2005 CropScape data from USDA was multiplied by the 2005 Wisconsin average pesticide use per acre for each crop from the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Lynn Markham focuses on how land uses affect water quality as a statewide specialist with the Center for Land Use Education at UW-Stevens Point, For the resources used to compile this story, see

Female mice disabled by parents’ pesticide intake

February 27, 2011

By Lynn Markham

Special Report: Pesticides in Wisconsin food and water, part 1

Mouse maze_Dan

Dan Butz, an associate scientist in Warren Porter’s UW-Madison lab, is about to lift the center hollow cylinder lid and put a mouse inside, and then release the mouse to find its breakfast. ~photo courtesy Warren Porter

A white mouse is placed in the center of a maze. She is hungry because she hasn’t eaten all night. As soon as the gate is raised she takes off in search of her breakfast, scurrying down the channels. She quickly realizes that turning left at every point in the maze gets her food.

A few minutes later, a second mouse is set down in the center of the maze. She looks the same as the first mouse, but when the gate is raised she just sits there and seems afraid to move. Slowly and hesitantly she starts moving and eventually finds a piece of food. She continues slowly down the maze but doesn’t seem to have learned or remember that taking left turns leads to food. You might call her a slow learner.

Why is it hard for the second mouse to learn? Three months earlier when she was growing in her mother’s womb, her mother was exposed to a pesticide called chlorpyrifos at levels comparable to what humans encounter in the environment. These two mice were among three groups of 64 tested in the maze at Dr. Warren Porter’s UW-Madison lab in one of a growing number of experiments considering the links between pesticide exposure and the ability to learn.

Porter and his researchers found that female mice whose mothers were exposed to chlorpyrifos during pregnancy were slow learners. Male mice from the same mothers were unaffected, possibly because they have different levels of liver-detoxifying enzymes.

“I really got into the issue of children’s pesticide exposure after reading an article in 1997 that looked at student disabilities in the Madison Metropolitan School District,” Porter explained in his 2004 article, “Do Pesticides Affect Learning and Behavior?”

“The data showed that the number of children in Madison [who] were emotionally disturbed increased 87 percent, children with learning disabilities increased 70 percent, and children with birth defects increased 83 percent [from 1990 to 1995],” Porter wrote. “This is a serious epidemic and yet no one really knows exactly how or why this is happening… It seems to be a global phenomenon and the question is why and how is this happening and what can we do about it.”

Toxins in Food and Water

If you’ve never heard of chlorpyrifos, you’re not alone. The array of synthetic pesticides is growing, making it hard to keep track of them. Pesticides include chemicals used to kill or repel weeds, insects, fungi, or rodents, respectively known as herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and rodenticides. In 2005, Wisconsin farmers alone reported applying 90 distinct pesticides.

Chlorpyrifos is part of a family of pesticides called organophosphates, which are applied to fields to kill insects by disrupting their nerve impulses. Over 90,000 pounds of organophosphates were applied to apples, potatoes, green beans, tart cherries, soybeans, and field corn in Wisconsin in 2005. Forty foods at grocery stores were found to sometimes contain chlorpyrifos, based on occasional testing by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Looking beyond chlorpyrifos and considering pesticides more generally, of the 12,000 samples of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains that USDA analyzed in 2008, 70 percent of the samples contained at least one pesticide residue.

Given that pesticides are used extensively in Wisconsin agriculture, it’s sobering but probably not surprising that they’re also found in our state’s groundwater, lakes, and streams.

A 2007 study estimated that one out of every three private drinking water wells in Wisconsin contains detectable levels of agricultural pesticides or pesticide metabolites. Metabolites are breakdown products which may be more or less toxic than the pesticides themselves. Most frequently detected in drinking water were metabolites of pesticides used on field corn, which was planted on 40 percent of the state’s cropland in 2007. From the 398 wells sampled in this study, a pattern emerged: wells in areas with more cropland were more likely to contain pesticides.

94% of the U.S. population has measurable pesticide metabolites in their urine.

90,000+ lbs of organophosphate pesticides were applied to apples, potatoes, green beans, tart cherries, soybeans, and field corn in Wisconsin in 2005.

1 in 3 private Wisconsin wells contain detectable levels of agricultural pesticides or pesticide metabolites.

Health Impacts

A national study of 1,949 people in 1999 and 2000 underscores the scale of human exposure: 94 percent of the U.S. population has measurable organophosphate pesticide metabolites in their urine.

“EPA cannot protect you,” Porter said, adding that he and his colleagues have been attacked by the pesticide industry—to the point where he does not feel comfortable discussing his upcoming research until it’s published.

atrazine birth defects graph
U.S. birth defect rates by month of last menstrual period versus atrazine concentrations. Source: “Agrichemicals in surface water and birth defects in the United States,” by Paul D. Winchester, Jordan Huskins, and Jun Ying published 2009 in Acta Pædiatrica.

But many studies in the last few years already shed light on how pesticide exposure through food and water affects our children’s health. A national study in 2009 found that higher levels of pesticides in lakes and streams in April to July coincided with higher risk of birth defects in children conceived in April to July (see atrazine graph). Two studies published in 2010 found that children with higher levels of organophosphate metabolites were more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, which impedes learning.

“Babies and children do not have the defensive enzymes at levels present in sexually mature adults,” Porter explained in his 2004 article. Consequently, children are less able to detoxify the pesticides to which they are exposed.

“We’re dosing our kids with neurotoxins like chlorpyrifos, and then we wonder why they’re having trouble learning and concentrating,” Porter told the Compass. “We wonder why we have to medicate them all the time.”


Above graph generated by Lynn Markham. Souce: Wisconsin Agricultural Statistics Service, 2005.

Take-Home Message

Fortunately, a recent study of 23 Seattle elementary-school-age students points the way toward solutions.

When parents in the study fed their children an organic diet—organic foods are those grown without synthetic pesticides—for as little as one week, the levels of chlorpyrifos metabolites in their urine dropped more than four-fold to undetectable levels. This study demonstrated that an organic diet provides a dramatic and immediate protection against exposures to organophosphate pesticides commonly used in agricultural production.

So what lessons do Porter’s mice teach?

Porter advises parents or parents-to-be to do the same things he has done with his own children to reduce their risks from pesticides.

“It’s very simple,” he said. “Don’t buy pesticides. Don’t buy non-organic foods. Pack organic lunches, and get a really good water filter.”

kids drawings

A 1998 study compared 4- and 5-year-old Yaqui children living in the foothills and valley near Sonora, Mexico. In the foothills pesticide use was avoided; in the valley, agricultural pesticides have been frequently used since the late 1940s on fruits and vegetables that are largely exported to the United States. No differences were found in children’s growth patterns, but the exposed valley children demonstrated decreases in stamina, gross and fine eye-hand coordination, 30-minute memory, and the ability to draw a person. Valley mothers experienced a higher overall rate of problem pregnancies, which included spontaneous abortion rates, prematurity, and birth defects. Source: “An Anthropological Approach to the Evaluation of Preschool Children Exposed to Pesticides in Mexico” originally published in Environmental Health Perspectives by Elizabeth A. Guillette, Maria Mercedes Meza, Maria Guadalupe Aquilar, Alma Delia Soto, and Idalia Enedina Garcia.

Lynn Markham focuses on how land uses affect water quality as a statewide specialist with the Center for Land Use Education at UW-Stevens Point, This is the first of a two-part series on pesticides and Wisconsin groundwater. Next month Markham will consider which pesticides are and are not regulated in Wisconsin drinking water, how these pesticides affect farm worker health, and how organic farmers in Wisconsin manage their crops without synthetic pesticides.

% of Food Samples with Chlorpyrifos

Domestic                Imported

Apples – single servings                31%                81%

Sweet bell peppers                            2%                57%

Peaches                                               2%                51%

Almonds                                            39%                0%

Plums                                                   6%                36%

Catfish                                                 1%                31%

Nectarines                                          1%                30%

Cranberries                                      24%                0%

Grapes                                                  2%                23%

Spinach                                               3%                19%

Field corn                                          18%                no data

Soybeans                                           14%                no data

Pears                                                     1%                14%

Tomato paste                                      9%                0%

Broccoli                                                9%                0%

Green onions                                      5%                0%

Spinach, frozen                                  7%                0%

Pears – single serving                        1%                3%

Cucumbers                                           0%                5%

Cantaloupe                                          7%                1%

Oranges                                               4%                3%

Tomatoes                                            0%                3%

Lettuce                                                  3%                0%

Asparagus, canned                            2%                0%

Green beans                                        0%                4%

Winter squash                                    1%                3%

Kale                                                       2%                0%

Asparagus                                           0%                3%

Collard greens                                     4%                0%

These food sampling results reflect varying decisions by farmers and the companies that purchase their crops about whether to apply pesticides, and what types and quantities to apply. For most crops, a larger percentage of imported samples contained chlorpyrifos; the exceptions were cranberries and almonds. Source: USDA.

Learn More:
• Learning effects of chlorpyrifos on mice
Haviland JA, et al. 2009. Long-term sex selective hormonal and behavior alterations in mice exposed to low doses of chlorpyrifos in utero. Reproductive Toxicology

• Wisconsin register of water treatment devices approved to remove specific contaminants

• Wisconsin pesticide use, National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2006.

• Pesticides found by USDA on food from grocery stores, based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program

•USDA Pesticide Data Program Progress Report 2008-2010

• Wisconsin Groundwater Quality: Agricultural Chemicals in Wisconsin Groundwater, April 2008. WI Dept of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Not available on the web. National study of Metabolites of Organophosphorus Pesticides in the U.S. Population
Barr, Dana B et al. Concentrations of Dialkyl Phosphate Metabolites of Organophosphorus Pesticides in the U.S. Population. Environmental Health Perspectives 112:186–200 (2004).

•  Acreage of Wisconsin crops, USDA 2007 Agricultural Census of Agriculture – Wisconsin, Tables 8 and 33.,_Chapter_1_State_Level/Wisconsin/index.asp

•Agrichemicals in surface water and birth defects in the U.S.

Paul D Winchester, Jordan Huskins, and Jun Ying. Agrichemicals in surface water and birth defects in the United States, Acta Pædiatrica 2009 April; 98(4): 664–669.

• Organic diets lower children’s dietary exposure to pesticides.
Lu C, et al. 2006. Organic diets significantly lower children’s dietary exposure to organophosphorus pesticides. Environmental Health Perspectives, 114(2): 260–3.

• Drawings from children exposed and unexposed to agricultural pesticides in Mexico

Guillette, Elizabeth A., et al. 1998. An Anthropological Approach to the Evaluation of Preschool Children Exposed to Pesticides in Mexico. Environmental Health Perspectives, 106 (6): 347-353.

Lake Michigan coastal erosion and bluff failures

January 30, 2011

By Carolyn Rumery Betz

In 2008, heavy rain triggered mudslides in Grant Park—with trees and chunks of land literally skidding down bluffs, across the beach, and into the lake—a sober reminder that coastal erosion poses a real threat along Lake Michigan.

Concordia University in Mequon knows all too well how important it is to protect against bluff failure. For more than 20 years, the 130-foot-high bluff that stood between the campus and the lake eroded about a foot per year. It took eight years to plan, design, and execute a bluff stabilization project to prevent more valuable property from tumbling into Lake Michigan.

The $10 million project, completed in 2007, “de-watered” a 2,800-foot-long section of bluff by building in drains to collect water and thus reduce saturated soil pressure. Contractors re-graded the slope, built a series of switchbacks down to the beach, created an artificial wetland, and added shoreline revetments to protect the base of the bluff from wave action. What was once a liability is now an attractive amenity providing students with safer access to the lake.

Not every shoreline property owner along Lake Michigan has the means to reconstruct their land as dramatically as Concordia—and even their reengineered bluff continues to erode—but each shares a common challenge in coastal erosion.

mudslides 021

Mudslides defaced the bluffs of Grant Park after heavy rains in June 2008. ~photo Michael Timm

There are two major types: shoreline erosion and coastal bluff failures due to instability. Both types of erosion can lead to loss of property, dwellings, and personal injury, but bluff erosion is particularly problematic on the western shore of Lake Michigan.

“Most of Lake Michigan bluffs are marginally stable at best,” said Gene Clark, a coastal engineer with the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute. “Some are still responding to high water of the 1980s, eroding at the bottom.” The mixture of sandy and clay soils, rain, melting snow and groundwater flow, and the freezing and thawing cycles of ice during the winter months create instability. Bluff erosion may happen abruptly with landowners losing as much as 50 feet of their backyard in a single landslide, as happened in one weekend storm in 1985.

In the tug-of-war between the force of gravity on soil masses and the resistance against it, gravity will always win, pulling a slope to a new equilibrium. The resistance occurs between tiny soil particles or along large soil surfaces called potential failure planes. When the particles or planes can no longer resist because of inflow of water or freezing or thawing of ice, they give way. The particle-scale movement may not be noticed, but movement along planes is what causes landslides, such as what occurred at Grant Park in 2008.

“It’s like a teeter-totter where it doesn’t take much to turn from stable to unstable,” Clark explained. “All it takes is a severe storm, someone watering, someone cutting vegetation that was providing some stability, someone putting dead vegetation on the bluff front face—it just makes it worse.”

Controlling Coastal Erosion

Property owners should get the advice of a coastal engineer or professional landscape architect to help stabilize coastal shorelines and bluffs, according to Clark, because not every beneficial approach is intuitive. Planting vegetation can stabilize the shore or the front of the bluff, but it can sometimes backfire. Planting grass or sod requires watering, and adding water may activate soil movement.

Bushes, on the other hand, have a deeper root structure, Clark said. Dogwoods and willows can add greater stability because they send out suckers and put down more roots when pruned.

Clark said stability is not acquired by adding things like old Christmas trees, dead leaves, or tree branches to the bluff face or an eroding path. These objects can actually make things worse by blocking sunlight from promoting natural live vegetation, channelizing flow around the objects when it does rain, or allowing water to pool or pond instead of infiltrating into the ground.

Since Mother Nature will always win in the end, coastal experts recommend placing structures far from the shoreline. Clark warns that even septic systems, especially mound systems, should also be sited far from the shore. Mound septic systems are continually dosing the ground with water, which can make the ground and bluff unstable and prone to erosion.

concordia 1956-2000A

From 1956 to 2000, the Concordia University bluff top (red zone) receded 14 feet and the bluff toe (blue zone) receded 106 feet. The bluff angle also got steeper, from 17 degrees to 24 degrees. ~image courtesy UW Sea Grant

(See for the 3D animation of over 40 years of Concordia bluff erosion.)concordia 1956-2000B
Most coastal communities use shoreline zoning as a proactive development tool, according to David Hart, a geographic information specialist at the University of Wisconsin. Hart is developing an electronic toolbox full of aids to be used by coastal managers, including historical databases showing erosion over time (site in development at “If people are fighting setback limits, you can show them how the shoreline has changed over time,” said Kate Barrett with Wisconsin DNR’s Office of the Great Lakes. “The regulations are in place to protect people and their property.”

The delineation of building setbacks is traditionally based on the location of the Ordinary High Water Mark (OHWM), the place where the regular action of water against the bank leaves a distinct mark. That may not be easily seen, particularly on the Great Lakes. Currently, Lake Michigan is at a prolonged low, making the OHWM seem extremely far from the shore, tempting placement of dwellings much closer to the shoreline than would be allowed during a high-water period.

Effects of Climate Change

The Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts predicts that increased storm events, with more precipitation, increased wind velocities, reduced ice cover, and increased nearshore wave height will occur as part of our changing climate. Dramatic events like the 2008 Grant Park mudslides are sure to continue, so coastal experts say we must be proactive in setting back our dwellings to accommodate coastal erosion, not only on the bluffs, but on the shoreline as well.

Carolyn Rumery Betz is a science writer for the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute, which supports research, education, and outreach dedicated to the stewardship and sustainable use of the nation’s Great Lakes and ocean resources (

Where our well gets its water

January 2, 2011

By Jennifer Yauck


The Pryor Avenue Iron Well has been has been providing cool, bubbling water to both the curious and dedicated aficionados in Bay View for decades. ~photo Jennifer Yauck

So where does that water come from, anyway? It’s not from Lake Michigan, though the big pond is just blocks away. Nor is it from Lake Superior, despite local stories that the well and the largest of the Great Lakes are connected.

The short answer is it comes from a regional aquifer, an underground layer of rock that holds water in its pores like a sponge. The long—and perhaps more interesting—answer requires understanding a bit of geology and Bay View history.

Two Aquifers Below Bay View

Imagine the ground below southeastern Wisconsin, including Bay View, as a giant cake. If you looked at a slice of that cake, you’d find it has several major layers (see diagram inside). The two uppermost layers are glacial sediments and dolomite, respectively—materials that water can permeate with relative ease. The next layer is Maquoketa shale, a low-permeability rock that restricts water flow.

When rain falls or snow melts in southeastern Wisconsin, water seeps downward and collects in the permeable layers above the Maquoketa shale. These water-holding layers are known as the shallow aquifer.

Go farther down, and there’s a second aquifer. Known as the deep aquifer, it occurs in a layer of permeable sandstone that’s sandwiched between the Maquoketa shale and a deeper layer of impermeable granite. Rain and snowmelt can only enter this aquifer by seeping through ground that lies beyond the shale layer’s edge. From Bay View, the closest such area is some 20 to 30 miles west, in Waukesha County.

A Tale of Two Wells

The original Pryor Avenue well was completed in 1883 and reached 1,500 feet into the ground, according to a Milwaukee Sentinel article from the time. At that depth, the well was definitely drawing water from the deep aquifer, said Doug Cherkauer, a retired hydrogeologist from UW-Milwaukee (UWM).

However, a subsequent article notes the well shaft was lined with pipe only to a depth of 270 feet. If that’s true, then the pipe ended somewhere above the Maquoketa shale, in the dolomite layer, Cherkauer said. As a result, at least a portion of the well shaft would have been open to the shallow aquifer—which suggests the well was drawing shallow water, too.


Two aquifers lie beneath southeastern Wisconsin. The shallow aquifer (located in the glacial sediments and dolomite layers) is separated from the deep aquifer (located in the sandstone layer) by the low-permeability Maquoketa shale layer. Rain and snowmelt trickle into the shallow aquifer from directly above, but enter the deep aquifer only by seeping through the ground west of the shale layer’s edge and then flowing eastward.  Adapted from K. Bradbury, Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, UW-Extension.

Cherkauer estimates the mixture was roughly 80 percent deep water and 20 percent shallow water, based on a regional aquifer model developed by hydrogeologists at the U.S. Geological Survey.

The same model suggests the deep aquifer was pressurized enough to keep the well artesian, or free flowing, until sometime around the 1930s or 1940s. After that, Cherkauer said, a pump would have been necessary to bring water to the surface. The drop in the deep aquifer’s pressure was likely due to Milwaukee’s heavy groundwater use in the preceding decades, said Tim Grundl, a UWM hydrogeologist.

In 1988, the original well was closed and a new one drilled nearby. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) records say the reason for the closure was that the 105-year-old well’s lining had deteriorated. But some anecdotal accounts say the closure occurred because construction of the Deep Tunnel in the shallow aquifer caused the area’s water level to decline. Cherkauer and Grundl think this is very unlikely, however. If any decline affected the well, they said, it was much more likely the decline in the deep aquifer—a result of the historic pumping in Milwaukee and newer pumping in Waukesha.

The new Pryor Avenue well—the one we see today—is drilled and lined to a depth of 118 feet, according to DNR records. That places it above the Maquoketa shale, and means it draws its water from the shallow aquifer.

Differences in Water Age, Quality

Water in the shallow aquifer is considerably younger (has spent less time underground) than water in the deep aquifer, due to the fact that it is not “trapped” by the Maquoketa shale the way deep-aquifer water is. Grundl recently analyzed a sample of the well’s water and found it to be about 3,600 years old; deep-aquifer water at this location is typically tens of thousands of years old.

Because it is closer to the surface and unprotected by the shale layer, the shallow aquifer is more susceptible than the deep aquifer to contaminants like road salt, lawn chemicals, or sewage. “There’s always a chance something from the surface could get in,” Grundl said.

However, when he recently analyzed the well water’s chloride content, it was within acceptable limits, suggesting road salt is not currently an issue for the well. In addition, as required by DNR, Milwaukee Water Works regularly monitors the well for nitrate, a compound from fertilizers and other sources, and coliform bacteria, which can indicate the presence of disease-causing organisms in the water system. The 2010 monitoring detected no bacteria and less than one part per million of nitrate, which is below the 10 parts per million maximum allowed in public drinking water by state and federal laws.

How does Pryor Avenue well water compare to Milwaukee’s treated lake water?

(parts per million)
Well Lake
Calcium 52.5 35
Magnesium 33.9 12
Sodium 26.2 9.27
Potassium 1.4 1.4
Bicarbonate 268.4 122
Chloride 13 13.5
Sulfate 120 28.3
pH 7.4 7.6

The well water has higher levels of calcium and magnesium, making it harder than Milwaukee’s treated water. While the well water is only tested for nitrate and coliform bacteria, Milwaukee’s treated water is subjected to over 500 water quality tests.
Sources: Well data are courtesy Tim Grundl, 2010; lake data are from Milwaukee Water Works’ 2009 Annual Water Quality Report.

Bay View’s Water Cooler

Jennifer Yauck is a science writer at UWM’s School of Freshwater Sciences and Great Lakes WATER Institute.

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