At the start of the 2018 fall semester, roughly two weeks after I’d officially moved onto campus at Northland College, I met with Peter Annin, director of the Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation. It was during that interview that I first heard the words “stormwater overflow.”
I wasn’t quite sure what it meant but I knew it caused untreated wastewater to flow directly into the lake I’d be calling home for at least the next four years.
I’m now working as a full-time student worker on the Burke Center communications team, which means I’m much more hands-on with issues such as this one.
In the last two months, I’ve been involved in a public forum and have produced lists and handouts aimed at providing key information about the overflows, and the more I learned, the more I realized that this was a problem that affected not only the residents of Ashland, but the tourists, business owners, recreationists, and even me, a first-year college student who came to Ashland partly because of Lake Superior.
Untreated wastewater is an incredible health hazard. If it spills out of the treatment plant, it can pollute Lake Superior, the largest freshwater body of water on earth. People in this community rely on this water for drinking, swimming and the fish they eat. In short, the things you and I love about the lake are compromised when overflows take place.
And the cause of this problem? Basically, two separate sewer systems, one for stormwater and one for wastewater, are not supposed to be connected at all. But a combination of aging pipes and improper cross connections, some dating as far back as 100 years ago, and large rain storms, are causing huge amounts of water to overwhelm the wastewater system.
Stormwater is flowing into places it’s not supposed to be. While there are efforts being made by the city of Ashland to fix the underground infrastructure, it’s going to take the entire community to be aware and willing to take part in the solution to turn this problem around.
Some of these improper connections occur on individual properties where downspouts direct water from roofs and into the ground where it is connected to the wrong system.
Kate Ullman, who is an education instructor at Northland and Ashland City Council president, noticed that the downspout on her garage was improperly connected and so she disconnected it, something that is cheap and easy to do. Useful information about how to do this in your own home can be found on the Milwaukee Municipal Sewer District - Partners for a Cleaner Environment website: www.mmsd.com/what-you-can-do/downspout-disconnection
In the last year I have fallen in love with Ashland and the things that make it special. It’s my home and I want to protect it. Even if all I can do is spread awareness in hopes it will make a difference for our city and our beautiful lake.
Nichole Paulsen is a media intern at the Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation and has been assisting with outreach related to stormwater issues in Ashland. Northland Connections is a weekly column written by Northland College faculty, staff, and stud