Wisconsin and the metro Milwaukee area in particular face a tremendous opportunity to improve and develop one of this region’s greatest assets – our waterways and surrounding areas.
As the federal government readies to unleash an $800 billion economic stimulus package, state and local leadership would be wise to ensure that the state’s Clean Water Fund and other water quality initiatives receive a fair level of funding.
Our waterways are as much a part of the economic infrastructure as transportation, education and energy production. Allocating a portion of the stimulus package to fund waterway and water quality improvements will benefit not only those who use our waterways, but the immediate surrounding areas where people live and conduct business.
To really improve our waterways, we need to do more than repair the quality of our rivers and sediments beneath. We need to address the shorelines and streambanks and how we manage storm water. A good example of this is the Menomonee Valley here in Milwaukee where a redevelopment effort has been underway since the mid 1990s, when much of the concrete river was replaced with natural vegetation. Much has been accomplished in terms of remediation and development, but a clean and robust Menomonee River flowing through the Valley adds to the area’s recreational features, including the Hank Aaron State Trail, and fosters a more efficient storm water management system.
Too few Milwaukeeans have seen firsthand the transformation of the Menomonee Valley. Milwaukeeans need to visit the City of Freshwater at Discovery World to gain a better understanding of the interconnectedness between our world of water, our economy and our daily lives.
More work needs to be done in cleaning up the KK River and other watersheds in the metro area – places that include the Milwaukee River and Estabrook Park basin, and the Lincoln Park Lagoon.
Gov. Jim Doyle recognizes this need and included more than $1 billion in water cleanup projects – including those listed above – in an outline he recently provided to the federal government detailing how the state would allocate its portion of federal stimulus funding. Included in the governor’s outline were projects in the areas of transportation, education, energy and health care, all of which are designed to create jobs, stimulate the economy and create long-term investments through public works projects.
As the metro Milwaukee area looks for ways to stimulate the local economy, our unique position on a Great Lake supported by numerous inland waterways should be embraced as an opportunity for our region to both spur new business development in water-related industries as well as to make our waterways more accessible and usable in order to spur further business and residential development in surrounding areas.
We do have tools to help us realize these opportunities. The Southeastern Wisconsin Watersheds Trust and the Milwaukee 7 Water Council are taking leadership positions. We have new and important federal legislation that includes the Great Lakes Basin Compact and the Great Lakes Legacy Act. Using a portion of the federal economic stimulus package to improve our local waterways and water infrastructure would be a valuable addition to our "toolbox."
President Barack Obama has made it a point to support "green" initiatives with the stimulus funds. Our waterways are a tremendous environmental asset that can be turned into greater business and community assets with the appropriate commitment.
Bruce Keyes is a partner with Foley & Lardner LLP and is a member of the firm’s Environmental Regulation team. He also serves as a member of the Milwaukee 7 Water Council, is president of the Board of Friends of Hank Aaron State Trail and secretary of the Board for Discovery World Ltd.