Last month marked a turning point for the Fox Watershed Leadership Roundtable, a coalition of farmers, community leaders, and local government officials working for clean water in Wisconsin’s Green Bay area.

Their vision? To achieve clean water, healthy communities, and resilient economies by 2030 through coordinated, regional collaboration in the Lower Fox River and Green Bay.

Every year, Green Bay suffers from a large deadzone, caused by excessive nutrients carried into the water by runoff pollution from the surrounding Lower Fox River watershed. While there are several sources of pollution, like sewage, industrial waste, and runoff from city streets, runoff pollution from agricultural lands is the single largest contributor to the Bay’s nutrient problem.

Now, after months of education and building buy-in, a diverse coalition has agreed on a shared vision and plan of action, known as the Lower Fox River Watershed Clean Water Agenda.

Coming together for clean water

Over the past year, the Alliance has partnered with University of Wisconsin-Green Bay to hold a series of clean water roundtables with farmers, researchers, government officials, business leaders, and more. Participants shared their perspectives on water quality and talked about what they can do to improve it. For farmers, this means changing land management practices. For engineers, this means working outside the treatment plant to build relationships and find innovative solutions.

On March 6th, all those conversations, relationships, and clean water aspirations came together at Lambeau Field in a culminating Leadership Roundtable. Farmers and leaders in the agricultural community were joined by representatives from the other roundtables to create a plan of action.

This is the first time all these groups have come together on the issue of clean water, and they’ve already committed to create a collaborative action plan to reduce runoff pollution.

“The Leadership Roundtable made me a believer,” said Keith Marquardt, Water Resources Management Specialist at Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Keith works with farmers to promote conservation practices. He was one of many who stepped up to play a leadership role in this work.

Creating a strategy that works

No single industry or community alone can improve water quality in Green Bay. It’s going to take a collaborative approach with leadership and support from many sectors, including some that have not traditionally worked together. Now, leaders are coming together to do just that.

“We’re not just looking at it from one community’s perspective, or even county to county. We’re taking a regional approach to the complicated issue of improving water quality,” said Troy Streckenbach, Brown County Executive. Brown County is home to the NEW Water treatment plant and a demonstration farm that educates farmers on sustainable practices. Streckenbach is calling on leaders from surrounding counties to join the effort.  

Coming out of the Leadership Roundtable, farmers, wastewater treatment plant managers, government officials, community groups, business leaders, educators and researchers have all agreed to work together to achieve clean water in Green Bay.

They’ve formed a diverse leadership team to set priorities and advance their clean water vision. Others signed up for action teams to execute strategies participants came up with at the Leadership Roundtable. These action teams are pursuing a number of great ideas such as hosting a clean water summit to convene regional leaders and keep up momentum, designing an education initiative that focuses on the waterfront including programs, events and materials that build an appreciation of water as a community and cultural asset, and creating a “clean food and water” marketing campaign to encourage consumers to buy sustainably farmed food that aims to improve the water as well.    

At the Alliance, we’re excited to see so many people from across the watershed so committed to cleaning up the Lower Fox River and Green Bay. And we look forward to supporting a collaborative, innovative approach to tackling the area’s runoff problem as this watershed-wide effort moves into a new phase of action.

“It can’t be solved by a simple legislative policy or even an influx of funding,” Steckenbach said. “It’s going to take education, a culture change, and broad support—we need all these folks at the table.”

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