Late Wednesday afternoon, representatives from MillerCoors, Milwaukee County Parks, UWM's School of Freshwater Sciences and Milwaukee County held a press conference at South Shore Park, announcing new initiatives – and namely a new $500,000 contribution from MillerCoors – to clean up the park's beach.
The Bay View park features several recreational areas and hosts several events, but its sandy beach has often been closed in recent years due to E. Coli contamination. As a result, the beach has earned a national reputation as one of the worst in the country. In fact, earlier this summer, the Natural Resources Defense Council named South Shore one of 17 repeat offenders, meaning that its water samples have been worse than the public health benchmarks since 2009.
"As you can imagine, this designation ... we're not proud of it," said John Dargle Jr., parks director for Milwaukee County Parks, "but to many of our partners, we are committed to change that – forever – and get off this list."
Dargle Jr. and the rest of the speakers mentioned Bradford Beach several times throughout the press conference, hopeful to recreate the successful work that the city has already seen in action at the now revitalized Milwaukee hotspot.
"I remember being around in 2008 and an incredibly enthusiastic witness to the announcement then, again from Miller, of their commitment to clean up Bradford Beach," said County Executive Chris Abele.
"We expect huge crowds now, but at the time, we didn't have anything like that, and there hand't been for a long time. Anybody who isn't clear about how much of a transformation can be impacted by a partnership like this need only drive down – as we all have – on a hot summer day and just see thousands and thousands of your community enjoying an incredible asset and a clean beach. That's what we're going to get now."
The $500,000 donation and commitment from MillerCoors is a strong start in that direction, but obviously there is much work, planning and research that needs to be done to fix the pollution and clean the beach.
According to Sandra McLellan, professor and senior scientist at the UWM School of Freshwater Sciences, their studies point at localized pollution – not the sewage district, the cows upstream or the whole lake itself – that's causing most of the problems, ones not unique to urban-based beaches.
"Lake Michigan is really fairly clean on most days," McLellan said. "It's the localized pollution that we can see standing right here: the runoff from the parking lot, the gulls roosting on the sand, storm water outfalls that are up and down the shoreline. And it was through many years of taking water samples that we started to figure out just how severe these sources are."
The exact plans for managing those pollution sources and cleaning up South Shore Beach are still being studied, formulated and discussed. McLellan noted that they'll be looking into solutions, from the storm water outfalls and working with Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District into how the runoff from the streets can be managed better to the parking lot runoff to further studying how the water moved through the break wall.
"It's not going to be a simple fix because we are in such an urban area, but many groups of expertise have come together to compile what's forming into a master plan, and step by step, I think we can start to mitigate some of the sources," McLellan said.
When asked about moving the beach to area with cleaner water and better water movement, McLellan said that option – like all of their potential options – was one to be weighed out, but that it wouldn't truly solve the actual problem.
"We need to get rid of some of the runoff and the chronic pollution problems, because that can just flow right along the shore," McLellan said. "All of these things working together in a longterm plan, I think, is what's going to make a difference."
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