Essay: Keeping Our Lakes & Rivers Great

Elizabeth G Fagan is passionate about the natural world and its creatures. In 2015–16, she volunteered to write the monthly column “Green Talk” for the Ozaukee County News Graphic on behalf of Mequon Nature Preserve. Fagan was a professional writer for many years, including a decade during which she operated her own business. She was often the photographer for her “Green Talk” columns.

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April 2016 Green Talk

Residential runoff into Lake Michigan, Ozaukee County, WI, USA (© 2016 Elizabeth G Fagan)
Residential runoff into Lake Michigan, Ozaukee County, WI (© 2016 Elizabeth G Fagan)

“It was a gamble, but it worked,” recalled Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day. The late Wisconsin governor and United States senator (D) successfully infused the activism of the late 1960s with such environmental issues as unchecked air and water pollution. On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day, the single voice of 20 million Americans called for increased awareness and policy change. Today Earth Day is observed by over a billion people around the world as a day for environmental advocacy and action.

Water pollution remains a concern in Ozaukee County. Roughly half the county’s acreage is agricultural; crops are regularly treated with fertilizer containing phosphates. With precipitation, resulting agricultural runoff contains large amounts of eroded soil saturated with phosphates. While phosphorus is necessary to plant life, too much flowing into streams, rivers, and lakes creates a highly enriched soup overabundant with algae and other plant life. To address the issue (and others), the USDA created nutrient-management guidelines that prescribe the amount, source, placement, and timing of commercial fertilizers and other soil amendments.

Urban or residential runoff carries fertilizer phosphates, pet waste, oil and gas residues, and other pollutants. To minimize personal polluting, property owners can devise methods of keeping precipitation in place with ponds, rain barrels, and thirsty plant life. They can also tweak landscaping routines to fertilize minimally before light rains and to refrain from fertilizing before summer downpours.

April 2016 Green Talk by Elizabeth Fagan
April 2016 Green Talk by Elizabeth Fagan

On April 22—Earth Day 2016—from 5:30 to 7:00 pm, Mequon Nature Preserve is happy to host an exhibit focusing on Milwaukee’s aquatic heritage. Collaborators are The Wisconsin Historical Society, Riveredge Nature Center, Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, Urban Ecology Center, and Mequon Nature Preserve. John Gurda, the author of The Making of Milwaukee, provides an Earth Day keynote address. Held at MNP’s PieperPower Education Center, 8200 West County Line Rd., Mequon, the evening is free and open to the public. To register, contact Kay Amland at 262-242-8055 or Be sure to keep up with MNP’s activities on Facebook.

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