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How You and MMSD Help Keep Our Waters Clean

MMSD celebrates more than 30 years of water quality research, and is holding household hazardous waste collection this Saturday.

By - Sep 4th, 2019 05:01 pm
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Pelagos. Photo courtesy of MMSD.

Pelagos. Photo courtesy of MMSD.

Foul, stinky, open sewers. That’s how many people used to describe the three main rivers that run through Milwaukee. Today, residents and visitors eat, drink, play and live on those waterways, the result of massive investments to improve and protect our waterways. One boat has tracked the progress and gathered the proof for the past 30 years.

The Pelagos is a research vessel owned by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) that’s carried dozens of researchers to conduct extensive studies of our rivers and Lake Michigan.

Originally created by Peterson Builders in Sturgeon Bay as a prototype for the U.S. Military, the Pelagos was crafted to offer the deck space and equipment needed to collect water samples and perfrom tests. The vessel first set sail on August 21st, 1989. But its job is far from over.

“Long-term monitoring is the goal,” says Captain Mitch Olds. “Lake Michigan itself is a really big body of water, so any changes will take a really long time.

Take a ride on the Pelagos.

Olds graduated UW-Stevens Point with a degree in Watershed Management. He began his career in water quality sciences in the Milwaukee area, which led him to the title of Captain of the Pelagos for the past four years.

Pelagos. Photo courtesy of MMSD.

Pelagos. Photo courtesy of MMSD.

“I’ve seen a ton of development on the rivers. The River Walk expansion, restaurants and apartments, and many other improvements. So much new activity on the water proves that we’ve truly gained higher quality water in this area. You wouldn’t build near water you didn’t think was clean.”

Two to three times a week, Olds takes a team of devoted researchers out to the water to collect and track water samples. Usually with just four to five people on board, they collect all kinds of information and samples. On occasion, the crew even takes school and community groups out on the Pelagos.

“I see this crew and what they do as our ‘Clean Water Detectives.’ They show us what’s really going on,” says MMSD’s Public Information Manager Bill Graffin. “Through the short- and long-term trends and what they’ve been able to document, we’ve seen some pretty drastic improvement in our river systems in recent years. Not that long ago our rivers were basically sewer systems and offered very little aquatic life.”

Now, our waters are home to more than 40 types of aquatic life, including sturgeon.

“With the help of our four-billion-dollar investment, and through the researcher’s work over the years, they’ve been able to prove that their work has made a huge improvement. But it also shows us that there’s more to be done,” continues Graffin.

And that’s where you come in.

Although the Pelagos has aided researchers in creating cleaner water, Milwaukeeans can do their part this weekend. On Saturday, Sept. 7th, Milwaukee county residents can visit Wauwatosa City Hall from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and drop off unneeded and unwanted household hazardous waste. The motto of this program? If it doesn’t bring joy, just drop it off.

Common household items that can be brought to this collection:

  • Garage and Workshop: antifreeze, gasoline, lighter fluid, paint thinner, road flares, shellac and more
  • Home and Garden: fertilizer with pesticides, furniture polish, insect spray, mothballs, rat poison and more
  • Kitchen and Bathroom: cleaners, disinfectants, hair remover, nail polish and more

And dropping off these materials couldn’t be any easier. Milwaukee Country residents can read through this list of accepted materials, gather their unneeded hazardous materials from their home, load up their vehicle, and pull up to Wauwatosa City Hall. Veolia Environmental Services will do the rest.

Get the yuck out of your house. Get rid of household chemicals this Saturday, September 7th from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Wauwatosa City Hall, 7725 W. North Ave. All participants must have a valid driver’s license. For more information, including what to bring, addresses of permanent drop-off locations and more, visit their website.

And, if you’d like to see the hard workers and researchers of MMSD, they will be in the upcoming Harbor Day parade on September 7th at noon. Click here for more information.

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