Although Green Bay contains only a small fraction — 1.4% — of the water in Lake Michigan, it is burdened with a third of the nutrients that enter the lake and degrade water quality. The resulting algae blooms and low oxygen “dead zones” have plagued the Green Bay for most of the last century and earned it a spot on the list of most polluted areas of the Great Lakes.
This has prompted more than 50 experts to gather July 18-20, at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, to develop a plan for improving the science of ecosystem modeling and resource management in the Green Bay watershed and sharing this science with policy makers and the general public. Rigorous, comprehensive forecasting tools allow scientists and resource managers to evaluate management and restoration options under different future scenarios, leading to cost-effective decisions about watershed development, farming practices and conservation investments in the bay itself.
Although nearly $1 billion has been invested in cleaning up Green Bay, it has primarily targeted the removal of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, that contaminate the lake bottom from historical paper mill operations. Future costs to control the amount of nutrients entering the lake are anticipated to reach hundreds of millions of dollars. This type of water quality restoration can be challenging because of the number and variety of nutrient sources, like runoff from agricultural fields and urban areas, and the potential for future changes in precipitation and temperature. Scientists and resource managers say that a flexible management plan guided by science-based predictive tools would create a lasting and cost-effective strategy to restore water quality in the bay.
This event is part of a summit series organized by the University of Michigan’s Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research (CIGLR).
“We are pleased to support our partners at UW-Milwaukee in their ongoing scientific leadership to improve the quality of life around Green Bay,” said CIGLR Director Brad Cardinale. “Advances that we make in our ability to design smart restoration strategies in Green Bay will benefit other areas across the Great Lakes that are struggling to balance the needs of society, the environment and the economy.”
Summit participants include representatives from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Oneida Nation, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey, Great Lakes Commission, Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute, NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, The Nature Conservancy, Alliance for the Great Lakes, Fox-Wolf Watershed Alliance, LimnoTech, local wastewater treatment operators, and several universities. The summit is being led by J. Val Klump of UW-Milwaukee, with steering committee members from LimnoTech and UW-Green Bay Professors Robert Howe and Kevin Fermanich.
In addition to developing the restoration forecasting tool, the group is identifying key stakeholders to test the new tool and evaluating economic costs and benefits of management options
“In Green Bay, as throughout the Great Lakes, we currently are at the cusp of facing the challenge of reconciling human activity and environmental sustainability,” Klump says. “To meet that challenge will require the buy-in of our entire community, and we hope to use this workshop to identify the next steps in ensuring that restoration provides the maximum in cost-effective, economically sound, long-lasting, environmental benefits for future generations.”