Welcome to the Year of Freshwater!

In December 2000 the U.N. General Assembly acting on an initiative proposed by the government of Tajikistan and supported by 148 other countries proclaimed 2003 as the International Year of Freshwater. The U.N. resolution encourages member nations to increase awareness of the value of sustainable freshwater use, management, and protection. One project headed by New York’s International Institute for Sustainable Future and Global Futures Network hopes to halve the percentage of the world population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and to provide freshwater to 100 million people who need it by 2020. How blessed we are here in Milwaukee! We have so much to celebrate as well as a huge responsibility to maintain the integrity of the freshwater of the Great Lakes. Celebrate! Heres one way: take this article with you to the shore of Lake Michigan so that you can appreciate with awe and reverence the resource the world is focusing on this year. Think about how much water you have used today, just by brushing teeth, showering, or washing dishes. Where is that water now? If you live in Milwaukee it is most likely in the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District wastewater treatment system. Take pride in MMSD? MMSD is the nation’s leader in reduction of sewage overflows. It is the seventh-largest system in the United States and has the lowest number of overflows each year. Districts from around the country, including Pittsburgh, Houston, and Atlanta look to Milwaukee as a successful model of wastewater management despite MMSDs recent spate of bad press. Three times during the summer, highly diluted sewage was released from outfall tunnels into the rivers. The truth is that any overflow is bad for the environment, and MMSD agrees that the system is not yet up to its goal of allowing absolutely no sewage entering our lakes and streams. The most consistent issue with the system has to do with Infiltration and Inflow (I/I). Clearwater, or water that does not need to be treated, enters the system through infiltration and inflow. Infiltration happens when groundwater enters the sewer system underground through damaged sewer lines. Inflow is when rainwater enters the system above ground through leaky manhole covers or illegally connected downspouts. Clearwater handled by MMSD was expected to decrease by 12% by the time the deep tunnel project was constructed. Instead, the amount of clearwater has increased by 19%. MMSD continually is working with all of the municipalities that it serves on sewer inspection and rehabilitation as well as inspections to detect illicit connections, but Milwaukee area citizens also need to take responsibility for the way water flows on their property. Take action! Look at your home and work environments. If rainwater flows either directly into the sewage system or indirectly over a paved or hard surface to the sewage system, it is time for a change. Illegally connected downspouts can be reported on MMSDs Web site, Or, if you’re handy, disconnect it yourself. A demonstration showing how to reduce runoff from your property is planned for the new Urban Ecology Center. MMSD provided funding support for a green roof, which uses water falling on the roof to grow plants. MMSD is also considering Overflow Action Days a plan similar to the Ozone Action Days. The goal would be to alert water users in Milwaukee to the possibility of overflows during heavy rainfall. It would mean that there would be a good reason to put off doing the dishes, washing the car, or doing laundry. Reducing infiltration/inflow and practicing water conservation techniques can help to avoid contributing raw sewage to our rivers. For other methods of responsible water use, check the MMSD Web site. Kevin Shafer, Executive Director of MMSD, who did not shirk from potentially difficult questions, puts it well: Water quality is everyones business, for our future and our childrens. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 1 – January 2003