Water quality is the number one issue for Door Property Owners (DPO) for the upcoming year, but what seems to be a simple issue has many factors.
“Water is really the Achilles’ heel of Door County,” said Peter Sigmann, DPO treasurer.
DPO is a group of about 1,200 members who own property in Door County. It was founded in Chicago in 1976 by property owners who didn’t vote in the county but wanted a say in the community’s direction. About 40 percent of the group’s current members vote in Door County, but all members are concerned with its environment, economy and development. Past initiatives have addressed billboards, light pollution and permanent docks.
Sigmann said the members recognize water is a vital part of Door County’s tourism draw, and its karst topography and thin soil cover make it vulnerable to water degradation. DPO is out to teach the community about threats to our water and how to keep it clean.
Trouble with water quality doesn’t come from one place. Spreading too much manure on thin soil, using lots of synthetic chemicals on crops and lawns, and leaky septic systems all contribute to the problem. Water on the surface of the ground is filtered through soil, but once it hits the limestone it runs right into the groundwater and into Lake Michigan and Green Bay. When that surface water is contaminated it affects the water we drink and the water that runs onto our beaches. Clean beaches and safe water is an important part of the local ecosystem and economy, so the issue affects everyone.
“If real estate values go down, taxes go down,” Sigmann said. “If a few people spoil the county for everyone else it’s going to have a negative effect.”
Different water issues arise with different sources of contamination. Bacteria and other germs are found in human and animal waste, so spreading too much manure on fields or doing it under the wrong conditions can be dangerous. If the nutrients in that waste runs into the groundwater and out to the shore it can lead to excess algae growth, too.
“[Spreading manure] is a good recycling act if they do it right, but if it pools it gets into the groundwater,” Sigmann said.
Synthetic chemicals such as conventional fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides can also contaminate groundwater. Some of the chemicals in those products are endocrine disrupters, meaning they disrupt the hormone system and are associated with reproductive issues and cancer. Those chemicals are persistent in the environment and come from a lot of sources, and it’s unknown what dosages cause health issues.
Using those products on crops contributes a lot to local water contamination, but spraying smaller amounts of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers on private lawns or public parks add up, too.
“When it becomes cumulative throughout the county it becomes an issue,” said Pat Fitzgerald, vice president of DPO. Fitzgerald is also a member of the local Safe Lawns Campaign, a subgroup of DPO that advocates for natural lawns and landscapes.
DPO had its annual meeting on Saturday, Aug. 17, where the group talked about the next year’s initiatives and awarded John Meredith for his work on the Sister Bay – Liberty Grove Library, and Victoria Cerinich and Peter Wyatt for their advocacy work. They also heard from Mike Walker, the retired Sister Bay assessor who presented to the organization during its first year.
DPO is also working to address light pollution by encouraging communities to use lower-watt bulbs and cover their lighting so it’s focused on the ground and not toward the sky.
“People want to get away from lights, so they go to Door County,” said Ray Stonecipher, a member of the DPO board of directors. “All the light that goes up is wasted light.”
Encouraging biodiversity by planting native plants, combating invasive species and minimizing waste are other DPO initiatives.