Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Real Water Park!

Sweet Water, the Southeastern Wisconsin Watersheds Trust, kicked off its new public awareness campaign yesterday - with a splash!

 Milwaukee alderman Nic Kovac gets wet in a dunk tank specially decorated for the occasion.
With Greenfield Park's Cool Waters for a backdrop, a boatload of officials announced the campaign slogan, "The Real Water Park." It's a fantastic idea. The real water park is not a fenced pool with water slides and jets of spray. The real water parks are our natural waterways, lakes and ponds - an idea that comes quite naturally to Urban Wilderness!

Sweet Water's Jeff Martinka, surrounded by bags of fertilizer and facsimilies of dog poop, led off the program.

The simulated poop and fertilizer were there to represent two of the most common concerns for our natural water parks, pollution from "non-point sources," including you and me. A major feature of the campaign is to bring the public up to date on the main causes of water pollution, which has changed over the years from clearly identifiable industrial "point sources" to more widespread run off from streets, lawns, and farms.

The next speaker, Tom Grisa, the Brookfield Director of Public Works, dramatized the issue by wearing a pair of swim goggles as he suggested that no one would swim in Cool Waters if they knew there was dog poop floating around in the pool. It isn't a giant leap of logic to observe that we should all be just as intolerant of common pollutants like dog poop and fertilizer getting into our rivers and lakes.

Wisconsin, which invented the idea, has led the nation when it comes to water parks. Here is an archival image of one of the earliest water parks at Gordon Park on the Milwaukee River in 1921. A large lake was created behind the North Avenue dam, enabling Milwaukeeans to have a taste of the country just minutes away from downtown.

Milwaukee and its rivers have changed a lot since 1921. Pollution made swimming unappealing and then downright dangerous. Then came the Clean Water Act and other environmental reforms of the 1970's. By the 1990's, when the North Avenue dam was finally removed, it once again was possible to envision the river as a recreational resource. This is a current view of the Milwaukee River near Gordon Park.

The highlight of yesterday's festivities was the dunk tank, which also was filled with (simulated) dog poop. After alderman Kovac (above), Neil Palmer, Village President of Elm Grove, took a turn. Former Brewer Jerry Augustine made the pitches.

One of the unfortunate side effects of excessive fertilizer getting into the waterways is an unhealthy build up of algae in ponds and lakes. I didn't have to go far after the ceremony to see an example. This pond, completely covered with a thick mat of algae, is right in Greenfield Park. The ducks that I discovered lingering along the edges did not swim away from me as I approached the bank. They flew off instead.

The Sweet Water website is beautiful, engaging, and also filled with helpful tips on how you can help minimize your own impact on our real water parks so that they will be healthy and appealing places to enjoy.


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