Celebrating 50 years of the Clean Water Act, NEW Water lauded as a leader, innovator – The Press Times
By Rick Cohler, Correspondent
GREEN BAY – Local, state and national leaders, along with the leadership of NEW Water in Green Bay celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Federal Clean Water Act and the 90th anniversary of NEW Water at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay’s STEM center on Tuesday, Oct. 18.
Chancellor Michael Alexander reminded the audience that UW-Green Bay was the initial “ECO-U,” saying it is fitting that the institution has played a major role in maintaining the bay and Fox River’s water quality over the years.
The Clean Water Act’s objective was to maintain the physical, biological and chemical integrity of the nation’s surface waters using a water-quality-based approach, along with a permit system for point source pollution, Dean of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology John Katers told the group.
“Since the passage, the level of pollution in the United States has decreased dramatically, and we’ve seen that right here in our own backyard where the Fox River and the bay have become an asset instead of a liability due to water quality at that time,” he said.
“However, there’s still much to be done, and we have several new initiatives taking place including the establishment of a new water science major, our ongoing effort to establish a National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) on the Bay of Green Bay, which will have a vision of research, education, stewardship and training, to become part of a national network of 30 estuaries under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.”
He added that research is underway in other non-point source pollution sources and PFAs.
NEW Water Executive Director Tom Sigmund reminded the gathering that the Cuyahoga River fire in 1969 in Ohio was the catalyst that brought about the Clean Water Act three years later.
NEW Water is the brand name of the Green Bay Metropolitan Sewerage District, which serves the greater Green Bay area by treating about 41 million gallons of wastewater every day.
While pollution from factories and other point sources has been greatly reduced, Sigmund said the focus has now shifted to storm water.
The COVID-19 pandemic also expanded the role of wastewater treatment.
“The pandemic enabled science to provide an early warning system to our communities of infections such as COVID-19 and now polio through wastewater analysis,” he explained. “We’ve been able to get a week or two early warning before the testing starts to show up.”
State Senator Rob Cowles (R-Allouez) pointed out that Congress overrode President Richard Nixon’s veto in order to enact the Clean Water legislation and recalled how his father, Richard, a paper mill engineer and a vice president with Marathon Engineering, worked to help mills all over the nation meet the new clean water requirements the act imposed.
After leading the audience in “Happy Birthday to the Clean Water Act,” Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary Preston Cole lauded NEW Water for its current effort to capture phosphorus before it runs off the farm fields into waterways and resell the product.
“It tells a story about the men and women inside NEW Water,” he said. “It talks about the science, it talks about the innovation and it talks about an organization who is hellbent on providing clean water to its residents and visitors. Regulators don’t usually say this, we love what NEW Water is doing on the landscape. We honor them and try to work with them in partnership but they are natural-born leaders. It’s exciting for us to see what they are doing to try to protect the health of people in this region.”
Cole said clean water has made Wisconsin third in the nation for out-of-state fishing licenses which translates to $18 billion a year.
“People show up here because they trust the aquaculture we have.”
Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach pointed to the STEM facility to help UW-Green Bay develop the solutions to current and future issues.
“Because of our partnership with NEW Water and the foresight of the Clean Water Act, we as a community look forward to seeing what happens,” he said.
U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, Congressman Mike Gallagher and EPA Assistant Administrator Radhika Fox addressed the gathering via recorded video messages.