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Regional Ad Campaign Aims To Stop Water Pollution

Who's the biggest contributor to water pollution? It might surprise you after you read this story, but the good news is, it's fixable.

Water pollution is a problem that needs to be fixed household-by-household, and a new public service campaign aims to teach you how you can help.

Sweet Water (the Southeastern Wisconsin Watersheds Trust) and Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network (Root-Pike WIN) kicked off a 12-week television advertising campaign that features a puppet, Sparkles the Water Spaniel, “to emphasize bad and good human behavior.” Jeff Cesario, a comedian who lives in Kenosha, does the voice of Sparkles, according to a press release.

“What many residents don’t understand is that anything that washes into storm sewers goes directly into our area rivers and then into Lake Michigan,” explains Susan Greenfield, executive director of the Root-Pike WIN. “That means, whenever it rains – dog poop, lawn fertilizer, grass, leaves, car fluids and any other debris on sidewalks, streets and parking lots flow into the waterways.”

Root-Pike WIN, a nonprofit organization focused on protecting and restoring the Root River and Pike River watersheds, joined forces with Sweet Water, a partnership of communities throughout the Greater Milwaukee Watersheds that wants to mitigate pollution from non-point sources.  

And by non-point sources, they mean us.

The advertising campaign is funded by $125,000 in grants from 28 municipalities and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The total negotiated value of the year-one initiative is $250,000 in television advertising and creative development.

“The launch of this campaign is exciting because it represents two water groups and 28 communities that have banded together for a common cause,” says Jeff Martinka, executive director of Sweet Water.

So why was the advertising campaign needed?

Sweet Water commissioned a study in 2010 by the Public Policy Forum, which showed that people often believe that pollution comes from large corporations and the Metro Milwaukee Sewerage District.

But the survey found:

  • The public incorrectly believes the major sources of water pollution are sewer overflows and industrial wastes when, in fact, 90% of water pollution comes from other sources, such as urban and rural runoff.
  • 84% of the public feels that their actions do not have an impact on water quality nor do they see a role for themselves in helping to protect water resources.

“The public has a huge role to play in fixing water pollution, but they don’t see themselves as part of the problem,” Martinka said.

Sweet Water and Root-Pike WIN will also be hosting 15 community events throughout southeastern Wisconsin to educate residents one-on-one. During those events, the groups will distribute 18,000 pet waste bags, provide native plants for rain gardens and give away rain barrels and Milorganite.

The groups are also encouraging residents to:

  • Plant rain gardens and trees.
  • Direct downspouts into rain barrels, the yard or garden instead of the sewer or driveway. 
  • Use a carwash or wash cars on the lawn.

For more information, visit www.respectourwaters.com, www.swwtwater.org or www.rootpikewin.org.

Peter Maier July 06, 2012 at 03:42 AM
What many do not know, is that when EPA implemented the Clean Water Act and set sewage treatment requirements, it used an essential water pollution test incorrect and ignored 60% of the pollution in sewage Congress intended to treat under the Act. Among the waste ignored was and still is all the nitrogenous waste (urine and protein) while this waste besides exerting an oxygen demand (like fecal waste) also is a fertilizer for algae, thus contributes to dead zones, EPA now mostly blames on the runoff from cities and farms. You can click on http://www.change.org/petitions/members-of-congress-demand-epa-correct-a-test-that-caused-the-failure-of-the-clean-water-act and EPA hopefully will implement the CWA as intended and promised.
jbw July 07, 2012 at 06:18 AM
Interesting, but how does money come into play on this? I mean someone must gain financially from the way it is interpreted now, or it would have been changed long ago, no?
James R Hoffa July 07, 2012 at 06:31 AM
@Peter - Most of the pollution you're referring to is currently coming from county drainage districts and municipal run systems. Estimated compliance with the kind of regulation / standards you're advocating would increase public utility expenses by more than 1,200%. In other words, it could effectively price many people out of being able to afford required water and sewage services offered by municipal systems. This could cause an exodus out of cities so that individuals could run their own wells and septics for a significantly lower cost. But as most people would still work in metropolitan areas, you'd realize an inevitable increase in carbon emissions from all the extra traveling that people would have to do to get back and forth to/from work. The system isn't perfect and the fleas come with the dog. But to suggest that we impose these kind of increases in costs when many people are just barely hanging on as it is would create a potential economic suicide for many municipal governments. Think about it.
Peter Maier July 07, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Of course there is this type of pollution coming from other sources, as we are dealing with element cycles. BUT that is not the issue. The issue is that Congress passed the Clean water Act with the goal to eliminate all water pollution by 1985 and that did not happen because, when EPA set sewage treatment requirements it used an essential test incorrect and ignored all the pollution caused by nitrogenous (urine and protein) waste. Already in 1983, EPA acknowledged the problems, but never corrected the test and as one of its many negative consequences we still do not know how sewage is treated and what the effluent waste load is on receiving water bodies. AND all this while EPA already in 1978 officially (one of its reports) acknowledged that not only much better sewage treatment was available (including nitrogenous waste), but actually could be built and operate at much lower cost. This and the embarrassment of having made such a basic mistake, may very well be the reason that everybody now (directly or indirectly) involved, preferred to stick their heads in the sand.

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