Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Not just for cats anymore

In otter words...

I love the English language. Words, their shape and sound: their proper and improper usage, whether in Standard English, AAVE, "Milwaukee Sous'ide" talk, or the way new learners of English sound when first becoming confident; words on a printed page or on a computer screen; letters masterfully arranged on a Scrabble board; words carefully chosen and artfully spoken. I love it all.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the Estabrook Park Dam Public Hearing on the 24th.

"...the most freshest body of water in the world!" -The Harbormaster, speaking of The Great Lakes

"...the trees and debris and the flooding upstream" -neighbor/dam supporter (I want to note that she pronounced it "dabreeze" which added to its poetry- try saying it aloud.)

"Urban rivers must be considered in the context of the city which they run through." -Riverkeeper

Ah, yes- me gusta mucho el ingles.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Parks and Recreation

This photo below is by Eddee Daniel, author of the wonderful book Urban Wilderness: Exploring a Metropolitan Watershed. I bought an autographed copy last year, because I knew I would turn to it again and again. The photo was taken in Lincoln Park between the islands, on the impoundment, with the Estabrook Dam closed.
I believe strongly in the power of recreation, to create self-esteem, to build skills, to build a community. To learn about nature. (I worked for the Milwaukee County Special Rec department for a few years.) I believe that denied the opportunity for constructive recreation, people are more likely to turn their energies to what I will politely describe as more destructive pursuits. I also note that the Urban Ecology Center has publicly declined to take a stand on the dam position; they utilize the impoundment often, every summer.

Forget, for a moment, about the flood control; forget about the hydropower. Forget about the history and the all hard work that all the men from the CCC did during the last Depression.
We have something beautiful, people. Let's not let it slip away.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Lincoln Park Public Art

I wondered what had happened to the public art aspect of the Aquatic Center design. DH and I had attended an input session some time ago, held in the Blatz Pavilion- I remember it seemed to be hosted by a ten-year-old boy and that chips and salsa were served; more importantly, I wasn't all that impressed with the designs or the fact that local artists were not more prominently showcased. There were no other citizens in attendance while we perused the proposed designs and commented appropriately. Then I never heard anything more about it- until I found this March 26, 2009 article in the Third Coast Digest. Takashi Soga, a Japanese artist who will work on the piece in New York, has been selected to bring us this, (below) or a very similar, piece of art.
Now, I know that everyone has his or her own opinion about what is beautiful and what constitutes art (and what constitutes giant basketball hoops). But, I think that public art should take into better consideration the situation into which it will be placed, and would have liked to attend the more recent meeting regarding this, but missed the notice. (For the record, I do like a variety of art, including the iconic Milwaukee sunburst; the larger-than-life bronze statue of Baron Frederick von Steuben by Washington Park is another favorite.)

I have a friend from Cartagena, Colombia. This past week she was telling me about her city, and its artist Fernando Botero- that he created public sculpture, and that he is a "beloved Colombian artist." His pieces seem to me reminiscent of the art of the indigenous peoples of that part of the world. I wish this future Lincoln Park art (by the way, the total public art budget for Lincoln Park is about $250,000, but Soga’s proposed art will require an additional $100,000 from the city) was just more rooted in place. Or had something to it at all.

Bradley Center bailout

So...now Governor Doyle is seeking $5 million in state bonding support to upgrade the Bradley Center.
In a statement, Ulice Payne Jr., the chairman of the Bradley Center board of directors, said, "the time has come for the state and the people of Wisconsin to invest in its successful future."

"In the meantime, the building is in need of an upgrade and maintenance, according to a fact sheet distributed by the Bradley Center. The lengthy list includes: outdated mechanical and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment; an outdated scoreboard; a deteriorating roof and exterior fa├žade; an obsolete hockey rink system; outdated event production technology; aging and inefficient lighting; and a significant number of seats that need to be replaced or refurbished."
So, as a taxpayer, I should pay for the future of the Bradley Center- which I don't use, but about which I distinctly remember the 'hundreds of dollars for Hannah Montana tickets' phenomenon from January 2008- but not repairs for the Estabrook Dam, which I do use?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Underwood Creek

One thing I have pointed out more than once is that the Estabrook Dam impoundment does not alter any watershed, in the sense that the water from this part of the Milwaukee River basin gets to exactly where it is supposed to go- Lake Michigan. It's detained for awhile, but I'm late for just about everything too, so I'm not really in a position to judge here.
On the other hand (according to this March 22, 2009 Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article), being considered at this very moment is a project to divert Lake Michigan water into a neighboring watershed (Waukesha), using it for swimming pools, lawn-watering, and golf courses (as well as household and business use), and then "pouring all the city's treated wastewater into a small stream in Wauwatosa." Underwood Creek, already prone to flooding, which leads into the Menomonee River, also prone to flooding, would bear the burden of handling Waukesha's used and treated water. (Picture is from an online MMSD brochure- section of Menomonee River in Hart Park, which flooded heavily in the late 90's.)
I found these statements from Biebel, the SEWRPC engineer,particularly interesting- "If the discharge is 10 million gallons a day, that is not a significant flow. That would add just a few inches in depth and not much in velocity." He then went on to explain- the article quoted him indirectly here- "Waukesha could avoid adding to extreme flows in the creek during heavy rain storms, and filling the basin more quickly than planned, by shutting off the discharge. The city could pour its treated wastewater into the Fox River at those times."

"Though the Fox River is outside the Great Lakes basin, Waukesha likely could discharge to it several days a year without violating the requirement for returning as much water to Lake Michigan as it withdraws, Biebel said". The discharge pipe would most likely be located just north of Bluemound Road, by 124th street, just inside the Great Lakes Basin again. Have I mentioned that the project is likely to cost $60-70 million? Does that put the dam repair money into perspective?

A project like this requires the consent of each of the eight Great Lakes states. This is a regional issue.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Hello to Portland!
Since I initially set this blog up to address a particular local issue, it's interesting how much traffic comes in from Portland. Who are you, Oregonian readers? Hello! (You're not really looking for Milwaukie, are you?)

Poli Sci 102

It was an honor to be able to speak at the Parks, Energy, and Environment Committee's public hearing re: the dam last night. As I like to remind people, "It's not enough just to vote- be a part of the political process." Elected officials represent their constituents- let them know how you feel about issues that are important to you.

I had the opportunity to talk to Supervisor Broderick on a more casual level after the hearing and was impressed with his intelligence and his willingness to listen to and consider all sides of an issue before coming to a conclusion, and his respect for people's differing opinions.

I thought there would be more media and fewer cops last night, though. Also, I worried that it would be more out of hand. So despite a few outbursts from the "pro-dam crowd," it still went more smoothly than I had dared to hope. The whole thing was even kind of fun!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hooray- votes are in!

Well, the poll closed- votes are in. Results: Yes (remove the Estabrook Dam)- 2 votes, or 14%; No (leave the dam in), 13 votes, or 86%. So the dam stays- hooray!

Haha, just kidding- it was a completely biased poll of readers of this blog, the subset of those people that noticed the poll, and the subset of those who chose to vote. Oh, well. See you tonight for "politics in action" including TV crews, County Board Supervisors, and all manner of interested parties! The excitement builds...

Tonight, Tuesday March 24th, at 6:00 pm
Public Hearing on Estabrook Dam of the Parks, Energy and Environment Committee
Harbor Lights Room, Downtown Transit Center, 909 East Michigan Street, Milwaukee, WI (just off Lake Drive)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Fond memories part II and a vision for the future

My mom told me this story: “My friend and I went crabbing on the Kinnickinnic River in the early 50's between South 27th and 29th Streets. It was fun. We used raw liver my friend brought and tied onto string. We put them in a bucket of water (because they were alive) and my friend took them home. I seem to remember that they cooked and ate them.” Crabs? Enough to feed a family? From the KK?

That was before they cemented in that river to prevent flooding. Above is a picture of that same stretch of the KK now, right by St. Luke's Hospital. The only living things I saw were a dove and a duck. It is sort of a nice walk, but really cementy. It would definitely be nicer if the cement were taken out and replaced with a grassy path of some kind.
I do some volunteer service at a church very near there. It's an urban area, densely populated with people who live or work within an easy walk of that stretch of the KK; St. Luke's is a bustling hospital, not abandoned and creepy like the St. Michael's building on the banks of Lincoln Creek, where the cement banks have been recently removed. Above is a shot I got a couple days ago showing what that stretch looks like since the cement was replaced with rip rap and stone. I don't think it's much more attractive, but there were definitely more (and more diverse) birds. These shots above were both taken at the same time of day, nearing dusk.

Here (it's a PDF, if that matters to you) is an example of what visionary people can accomplish in our city- "a future vision for the [KK] corridor; one that includes 'a community network of trails, open space, places and people along the Kinnickinnic River Corridor that would improve the quality of life on Milwaukee’s south side.'" The people involved in this project recognize that clean waters and recreational opportunities are necessary for the health of a community- I agree! But I also think that our city is large enough to encompass all manner of clean-water recreational opportunities- be they different types of fishing (or even crabbing with liver), bicycling a smooth riverside commuter trail that actually gets you somewhere, hiking, or paddling on-- you know I have to get it in here somehow-- a smooth dammed lake. All of these can exist at the same time. I believe in Milwaukee.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Clean hydro power, revisited

Here is a portion of the original permit for the Estabrook Dam from 1937. I have seen this misquoted elsewhere (in fact Mr Helm misquoted it as a comment on this blog), so I thought I would set the record straight. The permit has no exact definition of what the hydro capabilities would be, but note that it is indeed noted to be more than 50 theoretical horse power for 50% of the time.

The dam would have been capable of creating clean hydro power from the get-go, but would have been subject to additional regulations, as in the Wisconsin statute below:
"31.09 Proposals to accompany applications. Each applicant for a permit to construct, operate and maintain a dam for the purpose of developing power or for the purpose of aiding in the development of power by other dams through the creation of reservoirs or otherwise, and each applicant for a permit to construct, operate and maintain a dam for any other purpose whatsoever, which is capable of developing 50 theoretical horsepower or more available for 50% of the time throughout the year, shall file with an application for a permit, in addition to the requirements of s. 31.05 or s. 31.07, as the case may be, the following proposals..."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Red-tail hawk

I took advantage of the beautiful weather today and got out my kayak, going up Lincoln Creek to just past the abandoned St. Michael's Hospital building. This hawk let me get within 20 feet, occasionally pausing his dinner to glance in my direction.

The water was just deep enough to get through the northwestern part of the river in Lincoln Park to the confluence, but I scraped bottom in more than a few places. Without the dam, such a trip would be impossible during any of the summer months. These birds of prey have been around for at least the past two summers; they do live on the river when the water is high, as do the herons that seem to be more abundant every year, catching fish in the park.

Thank you!

I'd like to take the opportunity to thank everyone out there on the interwebs who is reading this, and especially those who are contributing to the discussion, both here and elsewhere. It certainly has been an adventure.

Otters are team players. We need each other to be successful! So thank you; you know who you are.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Science for sale

Please enjoy the above webcomic (from xkcd).
The essential problem that I have with science is bias. Every study, every statistic, has been bought and paid for by someone. Data can be manipulated in all manner of ways. A classic example is the "link" between the MMR vaccine and autism- initially put forth in a 1998 study, whose lead has now been found to have manipulated data. "Despite involving just a dozen children, the 1998 paper’s impact was extraordinary. After its publication, rates of inoculation fell from 92% to below 80%. Populations acquire “herd immunity” from measles when more than 95% of people have been vaccinated.
"Last week official figures showed that 1,348 confirmed cases of measles in England and Wales were reported last year, compared with 56 in 1998. Two children have died of the disease." This is just one example- this 1998 study, though flawed, has influenced many people.

In 2002 I had the opportunity to go to a conference that I thought would be about my field (health care), but it really was about sales: selling medications. Chocolate and champagne flowed freely. (I swear I had no idea of the hedonism that awaited me. I went in good faith.) One of the many powerpoint luncheons really struck me: it was sponsored by a company that I knew made a drug that did not work. Time and again I would offer it to patients, and after trying it once, they all said the same things: It doesn't work; the side effects are intolerable. Then, at this powerpoint, the data-- with graphs conveniently skewed for emphasis-- showed that it worked...just a little bit, in conjunction with another medication that we all knew does work, does its job, does it reliably well. We were encouraged strongly to use the med that sucked. It was a weird experience for me, and rather surreal.

My point is that everyone (full disclosure: this includes me) has his or her own agenda. Data can be spun in different ways. I really want to trust science-- really I do--but I am not sure that human beings, with all our flaws, are capable of objectivity.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Fond memories, part I

One thing I always looked forward to when I was little was "feeding the ducks," which meant going up to Thiensville. There was a store by the river that sold paper bags of dried corn. Then we would go down and feed it to the ducks. Fun was had by all, as you can see from this happy photo of me, taken in the fall of 1978.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The "trash hatch."

My photo, late October, 2007
A commenter on fellow blogger Erik Helm's site referred to the Estabrook Dam as the "trash hatch." It is true that Milwaukee County hasn't cleaned up the floaters since, I believe, 2005 (could it have been 2004?) They used to use heavy machinery to get rid of the trash and logs that build up behind the dam and spillway. There is something larger at work, though- the fact that we as a society not only keep creating this kind of crap (fast food containers, plastic bottles, and all other detritus), but once we have created it and used it once, we neglect to get it to where it is supposed to go (away, I assume. My mom lives just past The Dump on the county line, another visual reminder of this aspect of modern life). Getting rid of the dam will get rid of its ability to block this junk, but it will just continue down the stream to Lake Michigan, where it will harm wildlife just the same.

I had a conversation once with another thoughtful individual: I described to him how I had witnessed, time and time again, people enjoying, say, a bag of chips or a candy bar- and as soon as the last morsel was consumed, the person simply dropped the wrapper. In the street. Or on the sidewalk in front of my house. (This was at our prior home). We asked the city to put a trash receptacle on the corner, which they did. Yet, the behavior continued, despite this convenience that we had facilitated. So, after I described this daily scenario, I asked my friend why? Why do people do this?

"Because," he said, "they lack hope."

Even still- people that do (presumably) have hope continue to create just as much garbage- so much that escapees will inevitably find themselves on the street, washing into the storm drains, which lead down to the river- as most things do.

Clean energy from wind AND water?

Photo taken by me in southwestern Wisconsin, 2007, from a moving car. I was not driving at the time.
In 2006, renewable energy equirements were increased for Wisconsin utilities. The mandate for renewable energy is no less than 6 percent by 2010, and 10 percent by 2015 of total retail energy delivered on a statewide basis (source).
President Obama stressed the need to expand solar and wind power during his inaugural address- one of the things I really like about him (and Jimmy Carter, but that is a discussion for another day). The Obama administration supports a national mandate for 10% of the country's electricity to come from renewable power by 2012 and 25% by 2025 (source).

To this end, some people have wondered whether the Estabrook Dam can be used for hydroelectric power. Here is a video showing how strong the flow can be on the Milwaukee River- taken approximately March 8th, 2009.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"De gustibus non est disputandem."

"There is no accounting for taste."
There was a gentleman who spoke at the PEE Committee meeting who stated that the part of the Milwaukee River where the North Avenue Dam was removed (shown above) is the most beautiful part and the best for recreation, feeling that the section up by Lincoln Park- the section where the river is impounded by the Estabrook Dam- is extremely unattractive. (I took this shot from the pedestrian bridge to Caesar's Park. I know it's brown. It is not officially spring yet, and things are still kind of brown.) That is one opinion, welcome in a world where differing opinions are respected.

Here is another shot I took the previous day, though, off Commerce Street not far downstream from the area of which he spoke. Not quite so attractive. Maybe the condo owners think so. But it is hardly a natural-appearing area. I call these "side dams"- they hem the water in from the sides, elevating the water level, and curbing the natural ebb and flow that a stream or river would have.

Awhile ago I used to work in for Special Recreation programs. There was a group of autistic adults who used to come to class and they taught me a lot. One of the women used to ask me the same question every night. "Why are people different?" she would ask me, and then give me the answer: "Because people like different things!" Then she would hand-flap and run away, a laughing Buddha. I think of this often. Why don't other people understand this? Is it a truly difficult concept? Is this city too small to have different sections of the river, for people with different taste? for people who "like different things?"

The drinking o' the green.

At least we don't do this in Milwaukee.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Rain barrels

Using rain gardens and rain barrels helps the river: during heavy rain events rain pours off of impervious surfaces such as home and garage roofs, running almost directly into storm sewers that feed into the river. The rain never has a chance to soak into the earth and filter into the groundwater, and then we have flooding with no replenishment of waterways during the hot dry season.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentenel had an article yesterday on the benefits of rain barrels and rain gardens.

Contact the MMSD to get your own rain barrel;for further benefit, you can hook it up to a rain garden.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


One of the arguments against the Estabrook Dam is that it creates an unnatural impoundment on the river, slowing the flow of water. It is true that it is a human alteration of nature. Many other things- in fact, almost every item people use- fall into that exact same category: buildings, interstates, clothing...of course we all know this. A thoughtful person considers the influence he or she has on nature. How can I cut down on my fossil fuel use? How can I create less garbage and fewer recyclables? I carpool. I keep my heat low in winter- today I had guests, so I cranked the heat to a toasty 64 degrees fahrenheit. These are things I consider every day: how am I affecting global warming? I used a styrofoam cup at the PEE meeting at the Courthouse and felt guilty about it. (To be fair, I knew that the check-in at the Courthouse would be strict and stressed about leaving everything I could at home- even forgetting to eat breakfast, which for me could be disastrous.)
What I wanted to really highlight here, though, is the irony of trying to keep this stretch of the Milwaukee River all-natural, whilst simultaneously carving the David Schulz Aquatic Center into Lincoln Park. I can't find much information about it online, so I had to take a photograph of its herald sign. I hope it conveys to you a sense of the magnitude of this project.

I took these construction photos last week.

All of this is taking place right around the magnificent oak tree at right. I love this tree- I just find its silhouette so striking in shape and size, so attractive; I very much hope that its roots are not harmed between the digging and the heavy machinery driving around it. This tree has survived and thrived for so long. It would be a shame to see it wither and die.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Gratuitous (royalty-free) otter shots

(SUPER CUTE alert!)
I've heard a few people say they've seen otters on the Milwaukee River. It's possible. I've seen them (North American River Otters) in northern Wisconsin and it was a special treat. They are kind of fun to watch at the Zoo, but it made me very sad at the same time.

I myself have seen something along the river bank that I can best identify as a fisher. I have also learned that there are dark mink in Glendale, descendents of escapees from a former fur farm.

I hope that someday the waters of our river can one day be clean enough that otters can once again frolic here. People who enjoy fishing, though, do not seem to appreciate the otter. (Addendum: this last statement is based on reports of fisherpeople killing/poisoning otters in northern Wisconsin, acting on the belief that they "eat all the fish.") I do note, also, that they live in the impounded lakes in the Nicolet National Forest- dammed rivers- so I really do hold the belief that it is the contaminants (and other issues with urban life) and not the dam themselves that deter otters.

Aren't they just SUPER CUTE????????

Thursday, March 12, 2009

If I weren't so pissed off, it might be funny.

To be fair, the writing in Lee Bergquist's article "Estabrook Dam earns praise from neighbors" could have been even more biased. Of course, it was based partially on the flawed and biased Matrix the County put forth with The Report: data that misrepresents and underestimates the true cost of removing the dam (and associated rechanneling of the river). It's just that the costs would be partially borne by the Federal and State government, rather than all by the County. PCB remediation will continue either way- a good thing.

Some history of the impoundment

John Gurda wrote this article in December of 2008, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
"There were ultimately six camps within the county's borders: in Whitnall, Estabrook, Sheridan and Kletzsch parks, with two more along what is now Honey Creek Parkway. Each accommodated roughly 200 young men who lived under the authority of regular Army officers and worked under the direction of trained foremen on highly specific tasks. The improvements they made to our parks and parkways have proven remarkably durable...They reshaped the bed of the Milwaukee River in Lincoln Park and constructed the present flood-control dam in Estabrook Park. They erected the graceful suspension bridge that crosses the Menomonee River near Hoyt Park, and they built miles of walkways and retaining walls with dolomite from a quarry in Currie Park. The waterfall on the Milwaukee River in Kletzsch Park - a popular fishing spot during the fall salmon run - is actually a concrete dam faced with local dolomite. CCC crews worked day and night to finish it before the spring floods came."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Increased fish diversity-- good news

Will Wawrzyn of the DNR spoke at length yesterday at the PEE Committee meeting. I was particularly interested in what he had to say about fish diversity. He had a powerpoint slide showing that there was a jump in total number of species and total number of native species in the North Avenue Dam site in 1997 (the year of partial removal, though it had been open since late 1990.) I tried to find this specific slide online, but I found better: this 2005 DNR report that discusses the subject at length. In particular, I wondered if the increase in fish diversity and number was as much or more due to the abatement, removal, and washing out to the lake (since the dam was open for sediments to wash though) of PCB's, heavy metals, and whatever other contaminants had settled there.

Changing Habitat and Biodiversity of the
Lower Milwaukee River and Estuary

"The Kletzsch Park station is an upstream site, [upstream from the Estabrook Dam also] which was not influenced by the NorthAvenue Dam impoundment. The upstream end of the station is fast flowing riffle, immediately downstream of the Kletzsch Park Dam (see Figure 5). The downstream section has some deep holes, and glides with overhanging tree branches, large boulders, and undercut banks providing fish cover. We recorded a total of 29 native species in five years of sampling, ranging from 11 species in 1996 to 23 species in 2001(Table 7). We could not sample this section in 1997 due to logistical reasons. Common carp was the only exotic species captured. The few walleye that were captured belonged to the recent stocking effort, demonstrating that the stocked walleye swim past the Estabrook Falls and Dam. Almost all the species captured at this station were also found in the Capitol Drive station except an occasional brassy minnow and fantail darter. At least seven species occurred consistently in all samples – spotfin shiner, common shiner, sand shiner, bluntnose minnow, rock bass, smallmouth bass, and logperch – although the numbers differed from year to year."

Keep in mind that the Estabrook Dam is located between the Capitol Drive sampling site and the Kletzch Park site.

"Other dams on theMilwaukee River including Estabrook, Kletzsch and Thiensville should be studied to see if removal or fish passage can be accomplished with minimal impact to the environment and conflicts with different user groups in those areas."
Photo taken by me in October, 2007. I photographed what I thought was a random fisherman, and when I asked him a question about the area, I realized he is a man I work with. What a small world we live in.

Our post-industrial legacy

“ 'We’re very pleased to complete this important first step in restoring recreational opportunities in Lincoln Park,' says DNR Secretary Matt Frank. 'The park has long been an important recreational spot for the local community, and this work allows people to enjoy it again.'
"Contact with Milwaukee River water is no longer a problem for people boating in the lagoon as a result of the project. People fishing from 1-acre lagoon who want to eat their catch should follow the fish consumption advice for that stretch of the Milwaukee River."


Photo by Fa Ross, May 2007, Lincoln Park with dam open.
Yesterday at the hearing for The Report (see below), Janet Marie Tierney from the Park People spoke on behalf of the Estabrook Dam. She stated that removing the dam would "diminish" Lincoln Park. This photo shows the exposed soil in the Lincoln Park Lagoon, where PCB remediation was done in 2008. It's not very inviting as a mud flat.
She went on to discuss the rumor that removing the dam would be less expensive than rehabilitating the aging structure, but reminded the Parks, Energy, and Environment Committee that the complete remediation of the affected area has not been studied, regarding the scope of the project and estimated costs; such a study needs to be completed and shared with the public. The Riverkeeper- whom I deeply respect- has shared with me that rechanneling would occur, and that state and Federal money would indeed be allocated for all of this. Yet last year's PCB cleanup in the lagoon by the Blatz Pavilion- sediment shown in this prior photo- did not go exactly as planned...heavy rains delayed its work and completion, and washed yet more contaminated sediment downriver, exactly what the project was intended to remediate.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Empathy test

OK, here's something I'd like you to consider: suppose you live somewhere that you really like. For instance, maybe you made your home a block from where you work every day and enjoy your almost-nonexistent commute. Then your company announces it is relocating to a distant 'burb. Would you be a little upset? Or, you have a nice quiet neighborhood, and your new next-door neighbors host their AC-DC tribute band rehearsal there three times a week? (Assuming, for purposes of argument, that you are not at all an AC-DC fan. Or they're your favorite band, but these guys really suck.) Or maybe you have a job you like- really like, even- what if you were reassigned to different department? One that does not at all suit you? [Addendum: I thought of a better example: suppose you live in a quiet, walkable cummunity, like Shorewood or someplace like that, and a developer comes along- wanting to tear down all the places to which you enjoy walking, and putting up a Wal-Mart instead.] These are all just examples off the top of my head. Why do you live where you live, if you were able to choose your home? What made you like it? What if that reason were removed? Would you be a bit upset?

Poli Sci 101

I spent 5.5 hours of my life here today in a windowless room in the Courthouse, voluntarily.
Another adventure in the political process: today was the Parks, Energy, and Environment Committee (an unwieldy moniker with an unfortunate acronym) discussion of the Estabrook Dam Rehabilitation Alternatives Analysis, also known as "The Report." Thirteen other items were on the agenda, all of them interesting (I did miss one due to a bathroom break- this was, after all, a five and a half hour meeting). Everyone was able to speak who had indicated a wish to do so. Overall it was a very civil and interesting discussion, the ultimate outcome of which was that the PEE Committee did not accept or reject the report; instead, they voted to "Receive and Place on File" after reminding everyone twice that there will be a special meeting on the 24th where people can air their grievances, for two minutes each.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Open letter to Milwaukee County officials

A neighbor on the river sent this to me- I thought it summed up eloquently what a lot of people are thinking. She graciously said I could quote her here:
"On Mother's Day in 1997 I saw a cottage for sale in Glendale on the Milwaukee River. The balance of urban life in a setting of trees, river, and wildlife was the life I sought. Over the past 11 years, I have restored and improved my property, and after a day's work I would enjoy a rest down at the river, waving at the boaters and sharing a quick hello. Over the years I have noticed a doubling of the boaters and paddlers. I watched the river rise during storms and shrivel during droughts. I have marveled at the ducklings in spring, the geese in fall, and thrilled to see the herons. I have engaged in the life cycle of the river, supported and enhanced by the Estabrook Dam.
Prior to moving here, I lived on/near the Milwaukee River north of the North Avenue Dam.
There, too, as I was working on my property, I would hear the crew boats coming down the river. Shorewood had built a boat house for them and they practiced every Saturday. Then one day the river was gone. The dam had been removed (it seemed overnight and with no notice) and the mighty river and the community it supported became a muddy ugly stream. To this day it is still a diminished river, unapproachable, and abandoned.
I am telling you these personal stories as I understand that a similiar process is being
advocated for the Estabrook Dam. I have gone to the meetings, and read the report prepared by the Riverkeepers. I wonder who funds the Riverkeepers, with their executive director, newsletters, offices, and 14 page reports. I don't recall electing these people to represent me. I do recall electing county supervisors. I rely on the elected officials to provide a balance to the debates remembering the local paying public who is funding these debates and the managent of this resource.
I do know two things. My property value will go down along with the dimise of the river from its current glory. A respected real estate agent in the Glendale community has predicted the home values will diminish by 50%. Between what you are being asked to do and what Wall Street has already done, I will become part of the problem facing our country. My house could be worth less than I owe.
I have also looked at the pictures provided by Riverkeepers of other 'improvement projects' on dams in this area and in Wisconsin. What happened at North Ave was not a rare instance. The rivers become a sad trickle overgrown with vegetation and no longer serving it's urban purpose. Natural river streams are appropriate in many areas. But in an urban area a river serves many functions, including accessability and recreation. It should not be a backwater which has lost its full usefulness.
Much is being said about the other citizens in Milwaukee. That fish and fishermen have rights. That people need to walk along rivers. That the homeowners are single minded, only worrying about their land. However there are three parks which border this river under consideration and are open to any citizen who wishes to picnic or fish. The new aquatic center [in Lincoln Park] was not planned to be along side a muddy stream. And finally, I am very tired of being taxed when you want my money and then ignored. Taxed and ignored."

Photo of blue heron having a dinner , Tennessee Valley, California, by Mila Zinkova

"Freshwater Capitol of the World"

Today's Journal-Sentinel business section offers this interesting article-http://www.jsonline.com/business/40878037.html
"The economics of water 'will define the region for the next 30 years,' says Dean Amhaus, who runs the Spirit of Milwaukee, a civic promotion agency that coordinates efforts to craft a modern image for the metro region on behalf of the Milwaukee 7 economic development group.
'Water has positive connotations in many ways,' Amhaus said. 'It's environmental. It's economics. It's innovation. It's technology. It's biotech. It's big.'"

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Procrastination can be a good thing

It might seem like a great idea to get some laundry done on a bad-weather day like today, but it's not. Heavy rain events already tax Milwaukee's combined sewer system; MMSD recommends, "Do the laundry tomorrow if there's heavy rain today!" Every drop counts. I don't want to see sewage discharge (less formally known as "poop in the river") any more than anyone else.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

River Alliance of Wisconsin

The River Alliance of Wisconsin, an adamantly anti-dam group http://www.wisconsinrivers.org/ classifies dams on a 1-6 scale, with 6 being the highest priority for removal. According to their map, the Estabrook Dam rates a 2. This is based on a variety of ecological and logistical factors,
?? Dam density in the watershed
?? Fisheries habitat affected
?? Endangered species affected
?? Potential connectivity restored
?? Potential headwaters impacts
?? Water quality mitigation
?? Specially designated rivers

Our dam scores a 2 out of 6- pretty low priority, hey?
photo of Estabrook Dam at high pool

Just for the record...

...a little bit about me.
I live on the banks of the Milwaukee River, right smack dab between Lincoln Park and an I-43 on-ramp. My husband and I own the duplex we live in. When we first saw it eight years ago, we looked at each other in wonder and knew this was just the place we wanted to live. We love having the river in our backyard. We paddle regularly in the summer...the dog swims in the river too. We pay high property taxes to live here, because it is waterfront property. So, yes I do think we should have a say in what happens to the Estabrook Dam. If you want to travel here to fish, well, you could just as easily travel elsewhere to fish. My apartment was for rent, and you did not rent it, nor did you rent my neighbor's apartment, nor did you rent my other neighbor's apartment. There were recently two houses on our street for sale, and you did not buy either of them.
That said, on to the next logical environmental argument: the dam creates a lake within Milwaukee County, usable by kayakers, canoeists, and yes, small motorcraft. A city person (have I mentioned that there are 600,000 people in the city of Milwaukee alone? and two million in the metro area?) does not have to travel far to use any of the public boat launches. A person in Milwaukee does not have to drive to Pewaukee, Okauchee, or Nagawaukee lake to do this stuff: a short drive, saving fossil fuels and the cash to pay for them, and you're right at this nearby treasure. People fish all the time by the Blatz Pavilion. All the time! If you want to go to the free-flowing part, that's right below the dam at the dolomite falls, and all the way down to Lake Michigan.
As I have previously mentioned, this is a city...a great place full of "stuff we have built to accommodate people" (roads, buildings, etc); the infrastructure is here. I subscribe to the New Urbanist theory of limiting or halting suburban sprawl. I remember seeing, when I was a kid, farms within the county. Not just Growing Power, but real farms, right on Mill Road. Now they are houses, and it's houses and stores pretty much all the way to Madison. That's why we need to limit sprawl from taking up all our green space for NEW infrastructure, so people can live even FARTHER from the center of the action and drive even MORE.
To recap my argument: save gas...live in town...kayak in the city. Leave the Estabrook Dam in place.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Dam signs!

Missed opportunity

Kate Horgan took this picture of the Blatz Pavilion in Lincoln Park, when the water was high in the summer, impounded by the Estabrook Dam. Canoes used to be available for rental here. That's a thing of the past. It could be revived if the dam stays where it is. Of course now the giant water park is being built right behind it- how ironic: we have our city's largest river running right past the park- accused by many of having existed in an "unnatural" state for the past 75 or so years- but a water park is just fine.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

River cleanups- call to action

Photo taken by me, 2007, on the river near the dolomite falls in Estabrook Park.
The Milwaukee Riverkeeper is sponsoring the Earth Day river cleanups on Saturday, April 18th, from 9am to noon. I will participate, most likely in Lincoln Park, my neighborhood park. I URGE AND ENCOURAGE all Estabrook Dam supporters to participate as well. Here is a list of sites.
I note that Kletzsch Park, Estabrook park and the UWM Park and Ride on Humboldt are listed also, as well as a canoe-in cleanup off Brown Deer Road- fun!
When you register, feel free to let the Riverkeeper staff know you are an Estabrook Dam supporter. They need to know that we care about the river beyond "our own backyards."
See you there!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

River Prayer Flag

James Brozek sent me this photo of his river prayer flag. What a wonderful idea.


I am reminded of a conversation I had with my brother a few years ago. I said to him (I think we were discussing war or something) that I didn't understand why there was so much dissent in the world. I wondered why people couldn't just peacefully float around in canoes. (Sort of a variation on the "why don't people just get along?" argument.)
He said to me, "If people were just floating around in canoes, "I'D attack them!" As in, people have to stay organized. People have to be aware of the political issues that affect them and their neighborhoods. Let our elected officials know how you feel. The pen, as they say- and also the computer keyboard and the telephone- is mightier than the sword.
At http://www.milwaukeeriverpreservation.org we have a contact list for the County Supervisors on the Parks, Energy, and Environment committee. Please contact them and let them know that the inland lake provided by the Estabrook Dam is a recreational and aesthetic treasure in our urban habitat that could be lost forever.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Call to everyone who wants the dam out

To everyone who signed a petition to remove the Estabrook Dam, I'll see you out on the banks every weekend in the coming summers doing stabilization and planting suitable native species to keep the inevitable carpet of buckthorn and the subsequent underlayer of garlic mustard at bay. Oh? You thought you just would get to fish? Sorry. You're not really signing a petition--it's a long-term work contract. See you there!

Low water, no water?

If the Estabrook Dam is removed, this is what we have to look forward to. This is what a large portion of Lincoln Park will look like. The newly-exposed sediment will require extensive (and expensive) remediation to remove contaminated silt, which is very friable when exposed. Non-native invasives will immediately colonize the soil as we witnessed in 2008 when the water was low most of the summer for PCB remediation in the Lincoln Park lagoon area.

"But...aren't dams bad?"

Dams are built for a variety of reasons, including provision of hydroelectric power, flood control, and to offer recreational opportunities. The Estrabrook Dam provides the latter two. Humans have altered their environment since we have been in existence, and this includes altering waterways. Building massive cities and the interstate system have obviously had a large impact on the ecology of our area as well. We strive to have a beautiful Milwaukee County Park system so that large numbers of people can appreciate nature within this built environment.
I want to point out that we are not talking about the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in China, the construction of which displaced millions of people who lived on the river banks; we are not talking about the Hoover Dam. We are not talking about the Colorado River, the damming and diversion of which- to provide for things like swimming pools, green lawns, and golf courses in the desert and makes Las Vegas possible- reduces the water flow to a mere trickle by the time it reaches Mexico. We are not even talking about the many dams on the Wisconsin River, known as "the hardest working river in the nation." We are talking about a 15-ft-tall dam with a length of 562 feet...one dam on a small rivershed that drains 882 square miles. Keeping it in place offers so much here.

Cleaner than the Chicago...much, much cleaner

Peter Horgan does water testing on our reach of the Milwaukee River, above the Estabrook Dam. He, at one of our Milwaukee River Preservation Association meetings, addressed the cleanliness of the river- he did 75 water tests in 2008; 50 tests were “swimmable.” Transparency was also measured and transparency of up to a meter was noted in 2008. He extrapolates that in a few years the River may be consistently swimmable.

Compare that to this sign that I photographed on the banks of the Chicago River in October, 2007- on a nice, deep stretch, perfect for paddling, except...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Save the Estabrook Dam!

Please be sure to check my home page. Content is updated daily!
I am the River Otter. I live by the Milwaukee River. I love the river, I love nature; I try to conserve gas by riding my bike; I reduce and reuse. I also love to kayak (if by myself) and canoe (with my dear husband) on the Milwaukee River and Lincoln Creek. That is by far the most influential reason we moved here (and it's close to where we both work).
Let me explain: the Estabrook Dam was built as a WPA project in the 1930's, as part of the economic stimulus package during the Great Depression. Bedrock had been removed from the riverbed and the water level was low as a result. The dam, an innovative design that won an award and influenced later dams, raised the water level to essentially its original level. As part of this project, wetlands were drained and islands were formed in what is now county park land in Lincoln Park. It is beautiful...peaceful...an urban oasis.
Now, I am not a big proponent of draining wetlands, and if such a project were proposed now, I would be opposed.
However, we live in a built environment, an urban environment that has been altered. John Gurda's fantastic documentary series _The Making of Milwaukee_ illustrates how humans have altered the land, from the time people noted that the confluence of rivers and the natural port on Lake Michigan were a great place to settle, all the way to now, when we have a population of nearly two million people in the metro area. Removing the Estabrook Dam won't return the area to a pristine natural setting such as existed three hundred years ago; leaving it in place allows the park to exist as it does now, an urban paddler's paradise.
See also my posts about the recreational benefits of the impoundment, the original state of the confluence, and some more of its history.