One Water Spotlight: NEW Water, the brand of the Green Bay Metropolitan Sewerage District

Posted by the US Water Alliance

Thinking outside the fence: A point source in Green Bay works upstream to improve water quality

Never forget that you live at the mouth of the largest freshwater estuary in the world … and never forget the great responsibility you bear for that.

– Dr. Jack Day, Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, and NEW Water Commissioner

That quote hangs on the wall of the Jack Day Environmental Education Center, in homage Dr. Day, who dreamed that the waters of Green Bay would once again be swimmable and fishable.

The environmental education center bearing his name sits at the confluence of the Fox River and the Bay of Green Bay, which leads to Lake Michigan. The Great Lakes hold 84 percent of North America’s surface waters, and 21 percent of the earth’s surface freshwater. In Wisconsin, the joke goes that while Minnesota may claim to be the land of 10,000 lakes, Wisconsin has more – they just haven’t gotten around to naming them all. Nearly one-fifth of Wisconsin is covered in water, with more than 15,000 lakes, these waters have served as a keystone of the Wisconsin economy.

The Lower Green Bay and Fox River are among the major points of environmental concern, contributing an estimated one-third of the excess nutrients to Lake Michigan. As the snow melts each spring, nutrients, and sediment spills into the Bay from the Fox River, creating an anoxic, or “dead zone,” threatening the health of Lake Michigan.

NEW Water, the brand of the Green Bay Metropolitan Sewerage District, is facing new permit requirements to decrease the amount of phosphorus and sediment it discharges. The District is responsible for less than three percent of the total phosphorus entering the Bay. Most of sediment and nutrients come from agricultural and residential areas.

NEW Water launched a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether to upgrade or even build a new treatment facility or look elsewhere to reduce nutrient pollution. Recognizing the challenge utilities like NEW Water face, the State of Wisconsin allows point sources to work with partners to collectively reduce the phosphorus and sediment in the watershed through an innovative approach called adaptive management. For a fraction of the cost of building a new facility, NEW Water can leverage partnerships to both meet permit requirements and improve water quality.