October 2014 Publisher Letter
Sep 30, 2014 01:23PM
Recently, I was delighted to attend our city’s annual Lakefront Kite Festival. It was one of those perfect Milwaukee days; the sun was shining, warm breezes caressed the skin and the water looked blue and inviting. As my gaze swept the shorelines encompassing Lakeshore State Park, Discovery World and the Milwaukee Art Museum, I was freshly struck by both the beauty of our city and the remarkable recent changes that are merging sustainability with people to create an even more meaningful sense of community. Milwaukee’s Lakefront revitalization projects have enhanced public access to the lakefront while reshaping it as a visitor destination and source of community pride. Yet, these changes are so much more than just tourism-driven facelifts.
Milwaukee is now recognized as a pioneer at the forefront of America’s progress toward sustainability. The eco-redevelopment trend, emphasizing revamping of existing buildings rather than demolishing structures, is underway all around town. Vacant lots are being turned into urban community gardens. Group-buying solar power programs coordinated through the City of Milwaukee Office of Sustainability have been so successful in Bay View and Riverwest that they were recently expanded to include the Washington Heights and Layton Boulevard West neighborhoods.
Above all, it is our fresh bodies of water that make Wisconsin an extraordinary place, water that desperately needs to be protected. The new Global Water Center (GWC) in Walker’s Point is transforming this region into a water hub. The research and business center houses existing water-related companies, as well as academic facilities for water research and an accelerator space for relevant startups. It’s proving to be a magnet for attracting and creating new businesses in the industry that will address key local and global water quality, technology and policy issues.
One of the most exciting clean and sustainable solutions I learned about on a recent tour of the GWC is “green glass”, a silica-based media used to extract organic contaminants from water. Engineered with support from the National Science Foundation, green glass traps the impurities and breaks them down to render them harmless. Applications include remediation of brownfield sites, contaminated stormwater runoff and polluted groundwater scenarios.
According to a recent report in the Journal Sentinel, phosphorus runoff from modern agricultural practices is killing the country’s Great Lakes; it’s the primary culprit in creating both toxic algae blooms and dead zones where oxygen levels are so low that nothing can live.
One sign of hope is that the health of Lake Michigan and all the Great Lakes has significantly improved since the Clean Water Act was enacted. The passage of this leading legislation in 1972 was catalyzed by the sight of Lake Erie burning; it specifically targeted polluting industries and sewage treatment, all of which have significantly improved in the past 40 years. Yet, the legislation failed to address agriculture, which now continues to be the number one polluter of our waters. Thankfully, many local organizations are working diligently on water issues, and we can join their efforts.
Sustainability cannot exist without universal access to clean water. To learn more about global efforts to meet this goal, check out a list of water crisis organizations selected by Greatist.com at Tinyurl.com/GreatistWaterOrgs.
To water, to life,
Gabriella Buchnik, Publisher