“A Great City on a Great Lake.”
That was one of the slogans used to describe Milwaukee in the 1980s and 90s. It has gone out of style since then, and in reality, it misses a key point.
There’s much more to Milwaukee’s water story than Lake Michigan.
For this week’s In The Wings story, we head to the banks of the Milwaukee River to learn more about an organization keeping watch over the critical ecosystem on which the city was built.
Milwaukee Riverkeeper has been monitoring, protecting, and advocating for the city’s three rivers for more than two decades.
The nonprofit assembles the state’s largest team of volunteer water quality testers — now numbering in the hundreds — and patrols the rivers for signs of erosion and pollution.
Riverkeeper also takes a political stance, advocating for public policy that keeps the rivers clean and safe.
“We like to tell people we’re the spokesmen for the river, because the river doesn’t have a voice,” says Riverkeeper Cheryl Nenn.
And, yes, Riverkeeper is her official title.
She has a Master’s Degree in Natural Resource Management and Ecology, and has spent her entire career working on environmental protection efforts. Nenn joined Milwaukee Riverkeeper in 2003 after working on projects around the country.
She also worked in other parts of the world, such as Australia and Ecuador, before coming to Milwaukee.
“As federal budgets are cut, and state budgets are cut, it really falls on all of us to be that voice for the river,” she says.
Nenn spends her time working on various projects supporting clean water efforts, including sampling water in the rivers, cataloguing wildlife and pollution, and training volunteers to do their own water monitoring. She also works on a larger scale with municipalities, as they propose development projects, to ensure water quality is protected.
And when she’s not doing those tasks, you can find her working with kids on educational programs.