Report Finds Contaminated Storm Water Around Milwaukee Watersheds

Map of outfalls positive for sewage contamination, as measured by H. Bacteroides, in the Menomonee watershed (from 2008-2012). (Sandra L. McLellan and Deborah K. Dila)

A new water quality report for the Milwaukee area finds sewage contaminating Lake Michigan and local riverways, especially after heavy rains.

UW-Milwaukee Professor Sandra McLellan says over the last 40 years, a lot has gone well in the effort to protect and improve the waters of Lake Michigan. Sewage leaking into rivers that lead into the lake remains one of several concerns, however. In a new report on storm water, McLellan takes a closer look at evidence of sewage in rivers like the Menomonee River, in Milwaukee.

“Our next task is to kind of go up the pipe and figure out why is that happening?” McLellan asked. “Is it an illicit connection? Is it failing laterals in the area? Is it that the main sewer lines are leaking and failing?”

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McLellan says she hopes to eventually tell communities where to best spend their sewer repair dollars. She says the bacteria that travels in sewage is the biggest immediate health risk, but longer-term, she also worries about chemicals and pharmaceuticals in the lake.

As people get ready to hit the beach in the next month or two, McLellan offers her advice: “My general rule of thumb is, if it’s rained in the last 24 hours, I’m a little careful about swimming.”

McLellan says the Wisconsin DNR does a great job of monitoring beaches and posting water quality advisories.