On Sunday, I saw a guy on the Riverwalk near Rock Bottom Brewery stand up and dive into the Milwaukee River. He proceeded to swim across to a ladder, climb up, stretch, dive back in and swim back.
Somewhat impressive, incredibly stupid.
Thankfully, according to Milwaukee Riverkeeper, there are "piers and safety ladders in the Downtown sections of the Milwaukee, which are maintained by the city and which can be used to crawl out of the river in emergencies."
I've seen several "jumpers" in my years of living near the Milwaukee Riverwalk and while, at first, jumping into the river seems funny, I always shake my head, hope and pray that the individual gets a good cleansing and checks his various orifices for whatever may be floating, swimming or just festering in our river.
I'm not an expert, so I reached out to some experts in an attempt to get the real deal on what could happen to this Sunday jumper or to you, should you feel so inclined to take a dip in the Milwaukee River.
Cecilia Gilbert, permits and communications manager at the Department of Public Works tells me, "Back in the early 1990s the city used to sponsor RiverSplash! and we had water skiing demonstrations on the Milwaukee River. Part of our process was to inform the Harbor Commission and the Coast Guard to get permission (to exceed the 5 miles per hour, no wake rule), plus secure the permission of the Health Commissioner who made sure the bacterial count wasn't too high to be harmful. We had to get this in writing for the participants in the water skiing demonstration. We were told that anyone who fell in the water had to shower immediately after being in the water with very hot water and antibacterial soap."
Paul A. Biedrzycki, director of Disease Control and Environmental Health for the City, added, "should (individuals) come into contact with the water, proper hygiene should be observed afterward including washing affected areas with soap and water. Note that this is a recommendation and will not be enforced by the Milwaukee Health Department."
Gilbert also told me that the city would schedule its now defunct canoe race with local politicians at the same time as the water skiing demos. Ensuring, of course, that local pols didn't disintegrate if their boats tipped. It's tough, but I'll keep my editorial comments on this matter to myself.
Bottom line, it's not safe to swim in the Milwaukee River.
"Let's put it this way," said Karen M. Schapiro, JD, executive director of the Milwaukee Riverkeeper, "it's better to paddle in the river -- don't swim in it!
"Where this guy was swimming is part of the Milwaukee AOC (Area of Concern), which has been a sink bed for pollution coming from upstream portions of Menomonee and Milwaukee Rivers," said Schapiro.
"The river does not meet the water quality standards of the Clean Water Act that would make it suitable for swimming. The river is far less polluted than it was decades ago, but there are still problems like bacteria and pathogens (fecal coliforms and E. coli at excessive levels) in some areas, phosphorus pollution, contaminated PCB laden sediments in some areas, etc."
Fecal coliforms! Yikes.
"Will this person get sick from a quick dip? Unlikely, but it's just not a good idea," added Schapiro.
I've traveled on the Milwaukee River Skimmer. It's a fun voyage. The boat and its crew collect junk at the river's surface. I recall the captain telling me that he can clean the top of the river but the bottom and surging water from Lake Michigan are where real problems lurk.
Yes, surging underwater tidal waves. If I were diving in the river, that would scare me. It should scare you, too.
Cheryl Nenn from Milwaukee Riverkeeper explained, "There is not an undertow, but there is a ‘seiche' or surging of water from Lake Michigan, which comes with wind patterns, that can create a tidal like effect. Often, the biggest impact is that it feels that one is paddling or swimming against the current going both directions."
Rest assured, though, much work is being done to improve Milwaukee's rivers. Schaprio urged me (and you, too) to check out the Web site of the Southeastern Wisconsin Water Watershed Trust.
She also noted that the DNR is working on new regulations to reduce phosphorous and other runoff.
I'm all about Milwaukee leveraging its water and waterways as assets and, of course, I want them to be as clean as possible.
Yet, I'm not jumping into any river anytime soon.
But, if you're thinking of it you might want to take the above words to heart or -- at least -- find the guy in the pictures and ask him how he's feeling.
Maybe if MMSD didn't dump our toliets into the river, we could swim in it.
In the old days there were a bunch of swimming schools on the Milwaukee River. What would it take to clean up the river so people could swim in it again? If enough money was available, is there current technology that can do the job?
3 comments about this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Jeff Sherman
Published Oct. 6, 2015
Beginning today, Oct. 6, all 125 McDonald's restaurants throughout Southeastern Wisconsin will serve breakfast all day.
Published Oct. 5, 2015
We enjoyed Bucks Fan Fest on Saturday. These types of events are fairly standardized for teams today and many have made them multi-day affairs with countless attractions and ways to earn your cheers and cash. On Saturday, the Bucks players did their best to be unique and stand out.
Published Oct. 2, 2015
Donald Trump is a big piece of the modern day political puzzle. But, did you know that The Donald also is a big piece of a sliding mural puzzle in Downtown Milwaukee?
Published Sept. 30, 2015
The fish are back, Milwaukee, with the relighting of "Dream with the Fishes for Aurora" on the Milwaukee RiverWalk on the side of Riverside Theater.
Published Sept. 29, 2015
Today, Metro Parent Magazine reports that the Holiday Train will stop in Wauwatosa thanks to the efforts of the two Girls Scouts in the city. Last year, the train stopped at 10 cities in Wisconsin, including Sturtevant, Milwaukee and Hartland.
Published Sept. 28, 2015
Writer, photographer, multimedia producer and former Milwaukeean Jake Naughton closed Milwaukee's beloved Wolski's in a recent piece for Mashable.
Published Sept. 22, 2015
To help highlight MMSD Green Luminaries awards, we're focusing on the winners by asking about their practices and new environmental approaches. This month, it's Summerfest.
Published Sept. 18, 2015
Today marks Jamba Juice's descent into the heart of Milwaukee, with a new location opening Downtown in October.
Published Sept. 15, 2015
The final Night Market of the season is tomorrow, Wednesday, Sept. 16. You shouldn't miss it. You'll also probably find it hard to miss the new large black and white geometric mural that's perched on the side of parking structure near the corner of 4th Street and Wisconsin Avenue.
Published Sept. 9, 2015
MilwaukeeHome, the Milwaukee-inspired brand created by Melissa Thornton, has created a cool niche in Milwaukee. Now, the brand's going national as it's expanded into multiple markets as ourhomecity.com.