WUWM: Environmental Reporting

Many of us are environmentally aware — many recycle, some conserve water, you might ride a bike to work. But we do face profound environmental challenges.

Help WUWM’s Environmental Reporter Susan Bence dig deeper into the issues you are most concerned about.


Ways to Connect

Arch Electric

What Milwaukee needs is a task force. That’s what advocates say who want the city and county to jointly come up with climate change solutions. Solutions that also create jobs for people who need them.

Last week, the Milwaukee Common Council unanimously voted to create a climate task force. Tuesday Milwaukee County supervisors mulled over the possibility of joining in the effort during a meeting of the Parks, Energy and Environment Committee.

Rick Steves' Europe

Rick Steves is known for his PBS travel show and for booking 30,000 people on his European tours each year. And while he claims to be neither environmentalist nor particularly environmentally savvy, Steves is trying to balance his success by reducing the carbon footprint of all of those travelers he leads on holiday.

Susan Bence

A group of Wisconsin legislators spent more than five hours Thursday listening to experts, advocates and residents who gathered in Racine. The topic was water quality and how to improve it.

Susan Bence

Updated on July 9, 2019  

It looks like Wisconsin's largest landfill is putting off retirement. The owners of Orchard Ridge are asking the Department of Natural Resources to allow them to dig up some 1.3 million cubic yards of contaminated waste and move it elsewhere on the 725-acre property.

Susan Bence

It’s the time of year when many people are spending time outdoors. But some worry about encountering mosquitoes or ticks that might be carrying a disease.

So, just how real is the threat? And what can you do to protect yourself from ticks and mosquitoes?

Susan Bence

Picture this. You're in a field in central Wisconsin. You're one of hundreds of people squeezing as close as possible to a 16-by-12 foot elevated track as 12 handcrafted shoebox-sized wooden vehicles prepare to compete.

That's exactly what people were doing recently — including yours truly — at the 6th annual Green Mini Demo Derby. The derby is a highlight of the Energy Fair in Custer, Wis.

Susan Bence

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers officially assumed his role as chair of the Conference of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers Friday as he welcomed the group to Milwaukee.

“Today, we are gathering to protect this natural asset that is the source of our continuing prosperity,” Evers said.

The group formed over 30 years ago to cultivate environmentally-responsible economic growth.

Kate Redmond

You may not be a fan of insects, but they're both important and in decline. Just ask interpretive naturalist Kate Redmond.

"If you like birds, that’s what birds eat. And if you like a lot of other small animals, that’s what they eat. And if you like to eat strawberries, it’s insects that pollinate them. It’s a domino,” Redmond says.

Cream City Hostel

Carolyn Weber has been dreaming of opening a hostel in Milwaukee for six years. Now, Cream City Hostel is coming to life in Riverwest. 

Hostels are historically places where young people can sleep cheap and simple. Over the years, they’ve evolved to attract young and old, individuals or families.

The hostel is on the corner of Center and Holton Streets in Riverwest. It's in what was a grand neighborhood bank that Weber says was built in 1920.

Susan Bence

We're not talking about Dorothy's ruby slippers or the Wicked Witch of The West. This is a story that started 10 years ago, when a small group of volunteers devoted to conservation in Ozaukee County designed a day of exploration called the Treasures of Oz.

Chuck Quirmbach

A judge recently ruled in favor of Racine's request to divert millions of gallons of water from Lake Michigan for Foxconn Technology Group.

On Tuesday, the environmental groups that challenged the diversion issued a statement.

Racine had long argued that it was equipped to deliver the water and believed the diversion would be allowed by the Great Lakes Compact. 

Susan Bence

City leaders want to create a buzz around sustainability initiatives that have blossomed in Milwaukee’s Lindsay Heights neighborhood. There’s even a map encouraging people to tour its sustainable projects, including rooftop solar and stormwater management installations.

Susan Bence

When a child tests high for lead, Milwaukee’s health department mobilizes. A nurse begins conferring with the family while an inspector looks for sources of lead in the home.

Thursday during the Public Safety and Health Committee meeting, Alderman Jose Perez said he wants to make sure that those families living in rental properties can’t be evicted by their landlords.

Perez says he and his colleagues have been hearing from concerned Milwaukee residents.

Susan Bence

Updated on June 11 at 2:12 p.m. CT

Milwaukee County is home to more than 15,000 acres of parkland. Keeping those spaces green and healthy is daunting, especially as funding diminishes and park crews are cut. While many people cherish public green spaces, some worry about the pesticides that Milwaukee County Parks uses to manage the land.

Emily Files

In what's being called the first verdict of its kind, a federal jury Friday awarded $2 million each to three young Milwaukee men who suffered severe lead contamination.

The plaintiffs range in age from 18 to 28, but the poisoning occurred when they were toddlers. They ingested lead paint and today the men have trouble with reading comprehension, their lawyer says.

Susan Bence

If you're feeling blue about news that a million of the world's species are threatened, this might boost your spirits: A "barn swallow condo" is going up in Waukesha County.

A group of UW-Milwaukee students teamed up with a conservation biologist and a landscape architect to help design the barn swallow habitat prototype.

Susan Bence

Some people are concerned about the many lead pipes that deliver water into older Milwaukee homes. Others applaud the city for tackling stormwater management through green infrastructure. But how is Milwaukee doing at creating a comprehensive water management plan?

Susan Bence

We all know water is fundamental to our lives, and to all livings things. But do you ever stop and think about the water you have access to, and if it is actually clean?

It depends on your perspective, says John Luczaj, head of UW-Green Bay’s geosciences program.

» See More Project Milwaukee: Great Lakes, Troubled Waters Stories

Susan Bence

For months Milwaukee’s health department has been trying to dig itself out of a muddle, while city leaders continue to try to figure out what went wrong.

Problems became public in early 2018 when health commissioner Bevan Baker resigned. At the same time, the community learned that the childhood lead program – long a source of pride among city leaders – was in disarray.

Outrider Foundation

If you’ve seen Milwaukee Brewers' Brent Suter in action, you might have noticed his reusable water bottle. It’s nothing new to the pitcher.

Suter has been concerned about the environment for years. It started with a love of nature.

Growing up in Cincinnati Ohio, he was in the Boy Scouts, had pets, and loved nature and animals. His love shifted to concern when Suter was a freshman in high school.


Thursday, the Milwaukee County Board made its voice heard by voting 16-0 against allowing We Energies' Oak Creek powerplant to raise its daily maximum discharge of mercury into Lake Michigan.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has the final say in granting a the mercury variance permit to the electric company.

Original story, February 12:

A junk removal company's job is to get rid of junk, right? You might be picturing a scene from the TV show Hoarders — stuff being thrown into a big dumpster as quickly as possible, headed for the landfill. For Wisconsin veteran Andrew Weins, his goal — and that of his junk removal and hauling business — is to take absolutely nothing to the dump.

His philosophy is reduce, reuse, repurpose, recycle (in that order), and if all that fails, dispose responsibly.

Susan Bence

The EPA estimates that more food ends up in landfills than any other category of waste. Efforts are underway to tip the tide in Wisconsin. Some people have created their own compost systems at home, others compost through neighborhood gardens. Melissa Tashjian, however, wants to reach a wider audience.

Susan Bence

Monday marked the 49th anniversary of Earth Day, the day founded by Wisconsin’s Gaylord Nelson to focus attention on environmental affairs.

Earlier this month, political and environmental activist Winona LaDuke visited the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to present her lecture, "The Next Energy Economy: Grassroots Strategies to Mitigate Global Climate Change, and How We Move Ahead."

LaDuke is based on the White Earth reservation in Minnesota and was also a two-time vice presidential candidate on the Green Party ticket.

Susan Bence

We throw our paper and aluminum cans in a bin, a crew picks up the materials, and we assume we’ve made a difference. But experts say there’s still confusion on what can be recycled.

Brian Jongetjes’ family has been in the waste business since 1969. Today, their company, called Johns Disposal, handles both garbage and recycling for communities and businesses in an eight-county area.

Jongetjes says their workers routinely find stuff that can’t be recycled. “Dog leashes or rope or wire, it wraps around everything," he adds, “We hate that.”

UW-Milwaukee SALUP

In 2002, the U.S. Department of Energy launched its first solar decathlon, giving college teams the opportunity to design energy-efficient houses powered by renewable energy. Since its inception, more than 150 collegiate teams from around the world have participated.

NICOLAS LARENTO/stock.adobe.com

An April ritual took place Monday evening in every Wisconsin county: the Conservation Congress held its annual spring meeting.

The hearings are a chance for the public to give input on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) proposed rule changes and advisory questions related to fish and wildlife management in the state. And Conservation Congress advocates think more people should care about the process.

Arlin Karnopp

Kewaunee County, 100 miles north of Milwaukee, has become the poster child of unfortunate distinction: an alarming number of its private wells are contaminated. On Tuesday, residents will hear from a scientist who has been studying the county's drinking water.

So, how are the wells becoming contaminated?

In recent years, more mega dairy operations called CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) have swallowed up Kewaunee County's fragile fields.

Michelle Maternowski

The three bee-hive shaped glass structures that are home to tropical, desert and rotating show installations have glistened within Mitchell Park on Milwaukee's near south side for nearly 50 years. But like other Milwaukee County facilities, the buildings' maintenance has been chronically deferred.

Safety concerns piqued in 2016 when a piece of concrete fell inside the Desert Dome. As a result, all three closed for several weeks.

Susan Bence

It's bird migration season in Wisconsin, and scientists are noticing unsettling changes.

Ornithologist Bill Mueller is among them. As the director of the Western Great Lake Bird and Bat Observatory north of Port Washington, he has been observing a drop in numbers over recent years.