Gary Swick and Otter Creek Middle School

Resolve to Be a Better Friend

By Gary Swick, President

Gary SwickIn December’s newsletter, I offered the Fox River’s holiday gift list. I also promised that I would suggest a few resolution ideas to help you to give the Fox River what  it wants.

The resolutions should be specific, achievable, relevant, measurable, and personal. We are all friends of the Fox River, and we all could be better friends. I am suggesting that we each resolve to be a better friend. First, one must identify some areas in need of improvement.

What the River Wants

To flow free was first on the river’s gift list. In the past, river-towns built dams to harness the river’s energy to support our needs. With few exceptions, these dams no longer provide any of the services for which they were constructed.  In fact, they negatively impact 50% of the river’s habitat and have a very significant impact on the whole river’s water quality.

Sanitary sewers connect us to our community’s waste water treatment plants. 50 million gallons each day are discharged into the Fox River. When operations go as  designed, our friends operating those plants are able to do a good job of cleaning our contributions to an appropriate level for safe discharge. The treatment plants are microbial farms that break down the organic waste, remove solids, and finally the liquid is disinfected and discharged. Disrupting this process with an excess of water quantity and/or chemical pollutants is something we can resolve to reduce.

The river’s second gift request was for us to keep our stuff to ourselves. The storm sewers carry whatever runs off the landscape (yards, roads, rooftops, parking lots) through a variety of conduits that end up in our river. What we do on the land impacts what enters the river. Being aware of what we do on the land is another way that we can easily resolve to be a better friend.

The river’s third request was for some respect. Respect comes from a relationship that is developed. The river offers us economic services and a wealth of natural beauty. Acknowledging and appreciating the river for what it offers is the foundation that will make us successful in achieving our resolutions.

Fox River in WaukeshaFlowing Freely

We legally cannot remove a dam or unnatural shoreline. But we can support those who can. Learning about the negative influences of dams, sharing that information, and supporting restoration of the natural habitat are some things we can do. An Army Corps of Engineers study on dam removal feasibility will be released soon and public meetings are being scheduled. Get knowledgeable, attend the meetings, support organizations that advocate for river restoration like Friends of the Fox River, and be a voice for the river. Resolve to help restore the natural river.

Help Your Wastewater Treatment Plant Friends

Be conscious that whatever goes down the drain is headed to the microbe farm. Resolve to prevent contamination. Sending waste to the landfill is safer than pouring it down the drain. Keeping kitchen grease out is a good first step. It physically clogs pipes and is a real problem at the plant.

Research indicates that our unused medications are impacting aquatic organisms. Most communities offer collection opportunities at their police station(s), and some Walgreen’s do too.

The household cleaning products that we use are toxic threats to the wastewater plant’s microbes and go all the way through their systems untreated. The stuff we use to kill bacteria on the counter top can also kill bacteria at the WWTP.

The quantity of water entering the WWTP can also influence the effectiveness of the plant’s systems. Any efforts at home, work, and play to reduce water use can help. Running laundry and dishwashers at appropriate fill levels, identifying and fixing leaks (also toilet running), and other excessive uses are good conservation ideas. Visiting your local WWTP to understand the process and thanking the operators would be a good friendly effort.

More Opportunities Outside the Home

The drains on our streets and parking lots are avenues to the river. The fall leaves that find their way into drains have been identified as a cause of increased nutrient levels that contribute to algae problems in rivers. Slippery surfaces can be dangerous to humans, but the use of salt for melting ice is an increasing problem. Many municipalities are already using alternatives to salt and reducing application amounts. Inquiring about their practices and thanking them counts as a resolution.

Keep Water in Placerain barrel

Reducing the precipitation runoff from properties is important. What rolls off our roofs and pavement can be collected and distributed on site. This can be accomplished with artificial devices like rain barrels, and naturally with native plantings. Commercial car washes are very efficient with their water use. Bit if you wash your car at home do it over a surface that can absorb the water. Native plants in your yard provide habitat and require little watering or chemicals. Fertilizers and pesticides are significant contributors to threatening water quality. The many ways of restoring the watershed to its natural state are opportunities to be the river’s friend.

Check In With Your Friend

Visiting the many natural areas or municipal river front parks is a healing way to nurture your relationship with the streams that nourish the life in our watershed. More active recreation enhances that bond. Friends of the Fox River offers a variety of warm weather family paddling opportunities. The Fox River trail provides year round river access for hikers, bikers, and others. Remember, what you use by the river makes a difference. Single use disposable items, like bags, cups, bottles, and 100 other things often are discarded and become litter. My resolution is to avoid such items by using my own reusable containers for restaurant leftovers and drinks. Saying no to plastic bags is a good one for us all. If you take it to the river, take it back out. Cigarette filters included. If you see trash there, collect it. It is everybody’s river!

Support Other Friends

fishingBe a voice and a helping hand for the river. You can resolve to do a few things and encourage others to do the same. Recognize and support those who can do more than you can individually. Our website has a donor page that lists supportive businesses. Become an active member through committee work, organizational volunteering, and attending events that connect you to the river.

The Fox River works for you every single day. It is your friend. This year it has three requests. Make a resolution that is easy, specific, achievable, relevant, measurable, and personal. You can keep this one. Even thanking the river while brushing your teeth qualifies. Together, we can collectively be a better friend to the Fox River.

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