The Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern spans roughly 10 miles spread across three rivers and includes Milwaukee’s inner and outer harbor. Cleaning this area requires dredging the riverbeds and lakebed to remove contaminated sediment, but where does it go? The current preferred option is a new Dredged Material Management Facility — an in-lake landfill on the east side of Jones Island. This research explores the legal issues around this facility including: What is public enough to satisfy the public trust doctrine? Can the state and other developers exclude the public? What are the permissible uses on the newly created land?
The Center’s researchers Sarah Martinez and Melissa Scanlan conducted a legal analysis and recently published their findings in their article, “Great Lakes Restoration and the Public Trust Doctrine: Milwaukee’s Restoration Obstacles and Opportunities” in Sea Grant Law & Policy Journal Vol 12:1 (2022).
You can also watch our January 2022 Public Rights in Milwaukee’s Fresh Cost panel discuss this topic and others here.
The Center for Water Policy’s Director, Melissa Scanlan, and Water Policy Specialist, Misbah Husain, tackled pressing questions about funding priorities in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021.
The Act prioritizes “disadvantaged communities” when allocating more than $50 billion over five years to finance water infrastructure projects nationwide—the single largest amount ever invested for this purpose. The federal Environmental Protection Agency will disburse most of this to states, tribes, and territories. Thus, the Center’s research probed a key legal question that impacts where the funds are spent: which communities are considered “disadvantaged” and eligible for funding priority? The research contextualizes this discussion through an overview of environmental justice concerns related to water infrastructure, outlines the ways that the Infrastructure Law supports the development of water infrastructure, interprets the term “disadvantaged communities,” and explains how Title VI of the Civil Rights Act may be used by disadvantaged communities to secure additional funding to correct historic neglect of water infrastructure.
Seton Hall Law Review invited Professor Scanlan to present their work at a symposium in 2022 and published their legal and policy research: Misbah Husain & Melissa Scanlan, “Disadvantaged Communities, Water Justice & The Promise of The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” 52 Seton Hall Law Review 1513 (2022).
In the News
How to steer money for drinking water and sewer upgrades to the communities that need it most – The Conversation, October 10, 2022
Federal Funding and Wisconsin’s Water Infrastructure – Wisconsin Lawyer, December 9, 2022
The Center for Water Policy contributed to and edited an article, published in the April 2022 Nelson Issue Brief. The Brief features research that addresses excess nutrient concentrations, mostly nitrogen and phosphorus, in surface water. Nutrient pollution degrades recreational and commercial use of surface waters from Wisconsin to the Gulf of Mexico, largely through blue-green algae blooms. In Wisconsin, phosphorus is the most-regulated nutrient, as nitrogen is often considered more of a threat to human health through polluted drinking water, though it also impacts surface waters.
Nelson Issue Brief: Nutrient Pollution in Surface Waters
Flooding is the most common – and expensive – natural disaster in the United States. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is key to helping communities manage the costs of severe flooding by providing options for flood insurance. However, climate change has drastically increased the nation’s flood risk, driving the NFIP into significant debt and creating situations where communities are under-insured or paying disproportionate amounts for flood insurance. In response, FEMA issued a Request for Information seeking feedback on revisions to the NFIP. This policy brief and response to the request for information explore the ways FEMA could revise the NFIP to remain financially viable while reducing potential inequities that could affect disadvantaged communities.
The spread of invasive Dreissenid mussels has relocated nutrients from the open water to the floor of Lake Michigan. How has this shift impacted the diets of fish and invertebrates in this system? Ben Turshak (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and his co-authors use state-of-the-art stable isotope techniques to determine the impact of these changes on the diets of aquatic organisms. Managers and policymakers can use this information to identify who the winners and losers are in this new Lake Michigan food web and plan their efforts accordingly.
August 2018 Policy Perspectives PDF
Until the late 20th century, wetlands were viewed as wastelands to be filled for agricultural or urban development. Today, we know wetlands serve several vital ecological, economic, and cultural roles. They store water to buffer against flooding, filter nutrients and toxins from surface waters, provide habitat to a diversity of plants and animals, and support a recreational industry comprised of anglers, hunters, boaters, and wildlife watchers.