Ephraim is a picturesque village on the bay of Green Bay in Door County and, Ephraim’s shallow Eagle Harbor is blessed with a sand bottom, making it perfect for swimming. Recently, the Ephraim Village Board, without holding a public vote, passed a comprehensive $5 million “Streetscape Plan” that includes new sidewalks, gutters, and drainage for lower Ephraim. In fairness, the board has held many meetings, but no votes by meeting attendees or registered voters were held.
The “Streetscape Plan,” love or hate it, is the board’s prerogative as far as it impacts only property in Ephraim the board controls. The new Streetscape Drainage Plan, however, is a different matter, as it impacts property owned by the people of Wisconsin, that is, the bay of Green Bay.
No one objects to improving the drainage of lower Ephraim, as this property was originally mostly wetland and drains poorly. The problem is, the new stormwater drainage plan greatly expedites the transfer of stormwater, including surface pollutants, from the land to the bay, without any filtration, via the new, planned gutters and culverts. The plan also eliminates many trees that slow drainage and help filter stormwater. Perhaps you’re thinking, the stormwater has always gone into the bay and, draining the land quicker is the main purpose? That’s true. However, the difference is we didn’t always have humans leaving chemicals on the ground for the stormwater to pick up and transfer directly into the bay. Remember, everything humans put on the ground eventually ends up in the bay. This includes pesticides, herbicides, petroleum products, and fertilizers.
Worst of these potential contaminants is phosphorus. Phosphorus is found in fertilizers. When it rains, phosphorus washes off the land and is deposited directly into the bay. Phosphorous is a necessary building block for living things and, it does make things grow. Unfortunately, in water, especially warm stagnant water, it makes algae grow. Water that includes toxic blue-green algae can make humans sick and be fatal to dogs. As algae decomposes it smells and takes oxygen from the water in a process called eutrophication. Phosphorus pollution has dramatically and negatively impacted Florida’s waters and vacation economy. Closer to home, phosphorus pollution has closed beaches on Lakes Mendota and Monona in Madison. Phosphorus pollution has also closed beaches on Lake Winnebago. The City of Green Bay may never again have a swimming beach, thanks to phosphorus contamination. Dead zones, areas with no oxygen, are growing in the bay of Green Bay.
What’s the solution in Ephraim? The solution is natural filtration of stormwater. This can be accomplished by running stormwater through a detention pond and rain garden before running it into the bay. Perhaps stormwater could simply be pumped back into the nearby natural rain garden/wetland? This will cost more. However, it will cost substantially less than tearing up the new road, gutters, and drainage system to fix future pollution problems. As we plan to improve Ephraim, think holistically. Clean bay waters are key to Ephraim’s future.
Eileen Andera, Michael Bahrke, John Beck, Steven Eatough, Paul Leline, Susan Marks, Renee Mcallister and Dorothy Metzel
Board of Directors, Door County Environmental Council Inc.