Gallagher: Save the Bay initiative keeps moving forward

By Mike Gallagher

I’m proud to be from Northeast Wisconsin. Here, we treat everyone we meet with kindness and respect. We stand by our veterans and help those in need. And we work hard every day to, in our own small way, hold the line and leave our little part of the world better than we found it.

Our character is shaped not only by our traditions of kindness and decency, but also by our land. From our rivers and streams, to our forests and rich farmland, the natural abundance of Northeast Wisconsin shapes and defines who we are as a people. Perhaps most significantly, we are home to the largest freshwater system in the world: the Great Lakes. These waters are tied directly to 1.4 million jobs, including the tourism industry that sustains many of our coastal communities. The lakes give drinking water to 40 million people each day and provide water for our crops that feed people around the world.

But Northeast Wisconsin and its resources do not just belong to us — they belong to future generations as well. It’s our moral obligation to ensure those who live in our communities long after we are gone will continue to enjoy the lands and waters, which have given so much to our families and communities. This is why I was honored to inherit the Save the Bay initiative from my predecessor, Reid Ribble.

Our team — comprised of stakeholders from agriculture, businesses, academia, local government and nonprofits — meets regularly to find ways we can reduce the excess phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment flowing into the waters of Green Bay and Lake Michigan. We share new techniques and discuss our successes and challenges in implementing conservation farming and nutrient management strategies.

The farming community in Northeast Wisconsin has really stepped up to the plate to address water-quality concerns related to runoff.

There is no simple, quick fix, but producers who have invested their time and resources in new soil health practices are encouraged with the results. Demonstration farms in the Lower Fox River basin and in Door and Kewaunee counties have hosted field days throughout the year to share new practices on cover crops, minimum tillage and low-disturbance manure application. Cooperatives, agronomists and other organizations have organized events where farmers can learn about new strategies and potential challenges when implementing conservation practices.

While it won’t happen overnight, widespread use of these practices, coordinated with the many efforts by other industries and concerned citizens, can help turn the tide for the impaired waters in our area.

Every farmer can implement practices, large or small, to help Save the Bay. While it may feel overwhelming to change long-held family farming practices, the Save the Bay team can serve as a resource and support network.

There is still plenty of work before us. But as long as we keep working together, I believe Save the Bay will be successful in building a viable community that achieves clean water and sustains a healthy Lake Michigan. In doing so, my hope is that future generations will feel as lucky as we do to call Northeast Wisconsin home.

Mike Gallagher represents the Wisconsin Eighth District  in the U.S. House of Representatives.