Researchers test water quality on Green Bay

Erin Wilcox takes water sample on Bay Guardian research vessel, September 21, 2016 (WLUK/Eric Peterson)

GREEN BAY (WLUK) -- The water treatment plant which serves people in the Green Bay area is also in the business of testing water quality in the waters of Green Bay.

NEW Water, the brand of the Green Bay Metropolitan Sewerage District, recently celebrated a milestone: 30 years and about 12,000 samples for its Aquatic Monitoring Program.

Aboard the 37-foot vessel called the Bay Guardian, Erin Wilcox and John Kennedy are on a mission to test the waters of Green Bay, literally. A five-mile trip to the north and east takes the team to a concrete marker called The Angle Light.

Wilcox lowers a disc into the depths, to check water clarity. Water is pumped to the surface, and bottles are filled.

"Right now, we always take a sample at one meter's depth of the surface of the water. Then we'll compare that to a sample we take about one meter off the bottom," said Wilcox, a water resource specialist with NEW Water.

"We're looking at nutrients. We're looking at suspended solids, chloride, which comes from salt, Things that affect the kind of the basic water chemistry of the waters here," said Kennedy, a retired water programs manager.

Kennedy started the Aquatic Monitoring Program in 1986. He says successes include PCB cleanup and the Cat Island Chain restoration project.

But there are concerns. Kennedy says farm runoff contributes about half of the nutrients flowing into the bay. And there is an oxygen-depleted area to the north, known as the Dead Zone.

"When there's high levels of nutrient, you get lots of algae production. Algae die, go to the bottom, and the bacteria try to consume them, and they use oxygen to do it. So that's what happens with these dead zones, it's just too much production. Too much algae which comes from too much nutrients," said Kennedy.

Researchers say two relatively mild winters helped reduce runoff throughout the year.

"Depending on the rainfall, and how much water there is coming off the land, we're seeing now that that's probably the biggest influence year to year," said Kennedy.

The samples will be sorted and sent to the NEW Water lab for further study. The data will be shared with researchers throughout the Great Lakes.

"We can't help protect the receiving water here, the way we'd like to, if we don't understand it. So knowledge is a good thing in this case. We're hoping to understand what's going on out here and how we fit into it," said Kennedy.

"It really benefits all of us to work within our watershed and work within our neighborhoods to really try and improve runoff, to greatly improve our natural resources right around us," said Wilcox.

The Bay Guardian samples the waters of Green Bay, the Fox River and the East River from early May to October. Researchers say they hope to expand sampling to other creeks and streams flowing into the bay.

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