Every spring when the ice and snow melt, it’s common to see debris floating down the Milwaukee River.
This year that debris is obstructing the waterways more than it has in a long time.
An utter mess of wood, basketballs, a cooler and even a propane tank are clogging the river by the Pleasant Street Bridge in Brewer’s Hill.
Valerie Hoeft is a lifelong resident of the neighborhood.
“This dam here is the worst that I’ve seen my whole life,” she said. “It just keeps getting worse and worse and worse."
Some believe the debris is related to last year's demolition of the Estabrook Dam, but Cheryl Nenn of the Milwaukee Riverkeeper said the dam had already been open for eight years.
“This dam here is the worst that I’ve seen my whole life,” she said. “It just keeps getting worse and worse and worse." -- lifelong resident Valerie Hoeft
She blames the harsh winter and recent runoff.
“We had a lot of snow on the ground and a very thick ice cover this year,” Nenn said.
Then there's the increasing problem of Emerald Ash Borers killing trees across the region.
“We have a lot of dying ash trees that are falling into the river,” she said.
Now one question remains — how do we clean it up?
Wayne Johnson of the Port of Milwaukee is trying to find the answer.
“We do have a river skimmer that handles this but this is all too big for them, so we probably have to come in here with our boat with a grapple on it,” Johnson said.
Workers started removing logs manually Tuesday afternoon, but that's only a start to what could be a long process in the weeks ahead.
“As soon as we take one piece out, it’s going to open the floodgates, and the stuff’s all going to go down the river,” he said.
Hoeft just hopes it goes away soon before she starts feeling the effects.
“If it’s going to get warm, then it’s really going to start to smell,” Hoeft said.
Johnson said they plan to try to get their boat out on the river Wednesday, but they’ll still have work to do downstream.
“As soon as we take one piece out, it’s going to open the floodgates, and the stuff’s all going to go down the river.” — Wayne Johnson of the Port of Milwaukee
If you want to join the efforts to clean the river, Nenn said there are a few steps you could take:
- If you live along the river, try to move firewood and other items such as coolers, kayaks, tubes and grills away from floodplains before the spring thaw
- If you can't move wood out of a floodplain, it would be better to leave larger or longer pieces of wood rather than small logs
- You can also help remove debris from the river at the Riverkeeper's Big River Clean-Up Saturday, April 27. For more information on that, you can register here.