Letter to the Editor: We All Have Obligation to Keep Water Clean

Stony Creek in southern Door County is a major contributor to the water quality entering Lake Michigan, second only to the Ahnapee River in land area. The creek has several tributaries that have heavy agricultural impact, with the eastern segment draining the entire Ahnapee Trail Marsh and crossing our family farm on the eastern boundary. The western tributary drains the Maplewood Swamp and has the largest amount of agricultural activity with more active and larger farm operations. Both of these combine with several smaller isolated tributaries to form Stony Creek, which in the past had been a historical trout stream.

Because the nature of the landscape in this area of the county is reasonably flat, it would be false to presume there would not be much agricultural activity impact, but that is not the case. Heavy commercial fertilization and animal manure runoff are factors as in the Ahnapee River watershed, and the buffer strips along the stream are often compromised by lack of maintenance and/or supervision. The past practice of pasturing animals along the creek as a convenience has been eliminated, but in their place the large concentrated animal operations have changed the farm landscape with all of the manure handling problems. Fortunately in this part of the county there are fewer areas of shallow soil over fractured dolostone as is found in other parts of Door County, but the likelihood of waste entering the ground and surface waters is not diminished at all.

A recent flyover following a rain event brought out some revealing brown plumes extending far out into Lake Michigan from both Stony Creek and the Ahnapee River at Algoma Harbor. We know that animal waste is a major contributor to those plumes along with soil particles in suspension. Another recent event brought out health problems that can be caused by careless manure handling and over application, most evident in northern Door County. As with all measures that are in place to control agriculture’s pollution, these measures are only of value when they are enforced. These events were a wake-up call for the Soil and Water Departments and to the creators of the Nutrient Management Plans which now give maximum amounts of manure application as the norm. Let’s hope that changes.

My own experience with complaints that I have made to the proper agency individuals brings the response that a “cooperative effort has been made to resolve the problem,” and it was business as usual. It took publicity over serious health issues to make these problems visible to everyone and to make DNR and DATCP give these problems token attention. This was a long time overdue and it would be unfortunate if the loose enforcement of all regulations again becomes the norm. I may have retired from the Environmental Council position, but I am still working for clean water for the next generations. We all have this obligation.

Jerry Viste

Sturgeon Bay, Wis.

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