Lessons in keeping rivers clean
Earlier this summer, as the drought shriveled crops across southern Wisconsin, I went to the athletic club in downtown Janesville, parked on the plaza and gazed over the railing. I couldn’t remember a time when the river had been so low. Trash including a bicycle and a pier were sticking out of the placid waters.
It would be a great time for the city to rally its employees and clean up the trash, I thought. I emailed the city about whether it might divert employees from other projects for such a cleanup. I got no response.
While on vacation two weeks ago, my wife and I took our grandkids, 10-year-old Lexi and 3-year-old Remy, to see the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa. It’s an easy two-hour drive west of Janesville.
The kids discovered the aquarium has many hands-on and educational displays. We spent the entire afternoon there; employees nearly locked the doors behind us.
Much of the focus is on keeping rivers clean. Did you know that the trash in your streets that some slob motorist tossed out and that you’re too lazy to pick up doesn’t magically disappear? It eventually gets flushed down a storm sewer and most likely winds up in the Rock River.
The museum showed that, in some river cities, volunteers paint messages explaining this pollution flow on storm sewer grates, yet Janesville hasn’t done so.
Check out the mix of trash from a cleanup in one aquarium display in the photo below.
The aquarium has a short video you can watch that shows an NBC report. A young man who grew up on the Mississippi proposed a massive cleanup while in high school. He approached his superintendent, who thought it would be too difficult. Today, Chad Pregracke operates a cleanup flotilla funded by corporate donations. In the first eight years, it collected 1,000 tons of river debris, including 500 refrigerators, 14,000 tires, more than 100 TVs and even a grand piano. His former superintendent pilots the flotilla’s barge. Check it out here.
The aquarium explains that plastics don’t disappear; instead, nature continues to grind them into smaller and smaller particles that wind up in the food chain. Reading about it is one reason I collected broken parts from a Bic lighter in gas station parking lot last week. They were lying next to a storm sewer grate. I tossed the pieces in the trash.
The past two falls, Janesville’s Dave Peterson and Dave Wirth have teamed up to lead local cleanup efforts as part of the Great Rock River Sweep. Peterson is my neighbor, and he told me last week he’s willing to help lead it again this year on Saturday, Sept. 8, and would be contacting Wirth.
Here’s hoping they follow through and that many caring individuals and groups join them.