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Improving water quality is next step for restoring health of Fox River, Bay area

Published: Sep. 29, 2020 at 6:42 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Tremendous progress, but a lot more work to do – that was the theme of Tuesday’s annual “State of the Bay” report given by the Clean Bay Backers.

The group is a non-profit organization dedicated to restoring the health of the Fox River and the Bay of Green Bay.

Earlier this year, the PCB clean-up in the Fox River was completed following 17 years of work.

It’s a major step in restoring the health of the river and the lower bay.

“Long ago, people did turn their backs on this river, often treating it as a sewer, but now communities and people are facing the river and improving the shoreline with new development projects and nature trails,” said Beth Olson, Manager of the DNR Fox River PCB Cleanup Project.

The good news is, the billion dollar dredging and capping operation is showing promising results.

“Surface water and sediment is responding, PCBs have been reduced by about 90% compared to measurements in 2006. In the areas from Little Lake Butte des Morts down to the De Pere dam, fish are also responding. In Little Lake Butte des Morts where the cleanup was finished 11 years ago, we’re seeing remarkable decreases in several species of fish,” said Olson.

While removing PCBs has helped clean up the fish, the next challenge is improving the water quality by better managing how the land is used in urban and rural areas to prevent runoff into the watershed and the emergence of blue-green algae blooms.

“Under intensive agriculture with dairy, we might lost 6 pounds of phospherus per acre per year, in other conditions we might have less than 1 pound, and we need to keep moving towards that area of less than 2 pounds per acre per year,” said Kevin Fermanich, an environmental sciences professor at UW-Green Bay.

Officials say the network of farms committed to better environmental practices is growing.

“Not a lot was happening with cover crops and no-till in the area, what we’ve seen in the last 6 years has just been a night and day difference, farmers are really taking a grasp on these practices, they’re seeing it work,” said Whitney Prestby, a Lower Fox River Demonstration Farm Network Natural Resource Educator.

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