If You Won’t Listen to Me, Listen to the Lorax!

Written by Ken Leinbach
    Tuesday, 25 August 2015
If You Won’t Listen to Me, Listen to the Lorax!

One of the longest running programs we have at the Urban Ecology Center is called River Connections. Through this program, students get right into the Milwaukee River in hip waders to test water quality at two locations – one urban, here in Riverside Park, and one rural, at Riveredge Nature Center. The students are amazed when, on occasion, the readings they find in the city are better than the rural readings. We teach them that this is due, in part, to the removal of the North Avenue Dam which allowed the river to flow free, cleaning itself.

This free flowing water is essential to river health, which is essential to our health.

We have made great strides in protecting the river and it is because of those positive outcomes that I feel it necessary for the Center to weigh in on an issue that compromises the health of our river. I know this kind of advocacy isn’t our usual policy, but if you’ll permit me some time on my soapbox, I feel you’ll agree and want to help.

Climbing onto a soapbox like this makes me feel like The Lorax. I read in an article about Dr. Seuss that of all the books he wrote, The Lorax is his personal favorite. It is a story about the demise of the fictional Truffula Tree which served as the perfect metaphor for many of our environmental and economic issues. Dr. Seuss’s style made The Lorax exceptionally accessible to the masses. “The Lorax,” he once explained, “came out of my being angry. In The Lorax I was out to attack what I think are evil things and let the chips fall where they might.”

Well, I’m angry too. The issue is whether to remove the broken Estabrook Dam or to rebuild it. The proposal to rebuild the dam was very cleverly buried in the Milwaukee County annual budget package. Voting against the dam would be voting against repairs at the art museum and more. Our supporters’ hands were tied. Short term politics trumped long term wisdom in an expensive move that will negatively affect Milwaukee’s water quality for generations to come (not years, generations!).

I am not alone in this view. The Urban Ecology Center Board unanimously supports the position of removing what remains of old Estabrook Park Dam. The Milwaukee Riverkeeper, the River Revitalization Foundation, the City of Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, the Village of Shorewood, our County Executive, historian John Gurda and so many other respected leaders of this city are on the side of economic and ecological reason. The County Parks Department, who spent months researching the issue, strongly recommends the removal of the dam.

The river connects us. We all have our stories of walking along its banks or enjoying the ducks as they float by. So to remind us of what’s at stake, I thought I’d try using Dr. Seuss’s approach. Here is how I imagine the Lorax would advocate for removal of the Estabrook Park Dam!

There once was a river that ran through a town. People fished, people swam, with never a frown. The water was clean, the fish you could eat and on Saturday nights oh the people you’d meet! In winter the skating and sledding was grand. It was the best place to be in all of the land!

Well this river had other uses as well, we could dam it for ice for the beer we could sell. We could transport our goods to ports far and wide so we built factories and tanneries and breweries by its side. The town grew up big and the people they came, they came and they came and they came and they came! And the river, you see, was feeling the strain.

The river kept flowing, but it did start to thicken, and those that still swam all started to sicken. It took time to figure the whys and becauses, the wherefores, the reasons, the issues and wases.

And did I mention the dams? How they grew and they grew? The herons, and the turtles and beavers -- they knew. And the fish, oh the fish, they had trouble seeing - Through the silt and the toxins, it made difficult breathing.

You’d think that we’d stop, well ... we did in a way. We stopped swimming and fishing, we stopped much of our play.

Our county, I say, is making a mistake. A very big and very expensive mistake. For reasons of politics and not of the land they plan to spend money rebuilding a dam. It makes no sense from an ecological view, no flooding advantage, nor property value.

This quick decision is so short sighted. We are smarter than this, we are so much brighter. Does anyone else get the irony here, in this city of ours famous for beer? We’re trying to serve as a model for others, a freshwater hub to share with our brothers.

Our efforts are needed with this damming occasion, let’s voice our concern to change this equation. Let’s take out the dam, let the river run free, let the fish and the ducks and the frogs jump with glee. We must right this wrong that threatens our town. This is here. This is now. Let’s take the dam down!

Well my friends from Milwaukee, I have a clue ... and it starts with me and it starts with you. We are doing it now and I ask you, join in, share this word, share this poem with all of your friends.

Share this link: milwaukeeriverkeeper.org (check it often) from our partner in crime, Milwaukee Riverkeeper is right on the dime.

We risk millions, and more, on a foolish endeavor that causes more problems and impacts forever. Only a few see a benefit here, the rest of us taxpayers will suffer for years.

 I am the Lorax, and I speak for the River.

I speak for the River which has no tongue. And I’m sharing with you at the top of my lungs ...  “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

So ... what can we do? How will the River cope?  To you I say fear not, have hope! We need to get through to the powers that be. Let the county [supervisors] hear your voice. Let them see what we see.  Call them today or email tonight. As Dr. Seuss says ... “Let the chips fall where they might.”

Note: To help facilitate your action please learn the issue.

Below are the best links to inform your opinion:

Take the action steps found here.

Then contact your county supervisor. Do it now, and here is how.

Special thanks to Joelle Leinbach for her creative contributions to this article.

Photo Credit: Maddie Bird
Ken Leinbach

Ken Leinbach

Ken Leinbach is a nationally recognized science educator and leader in community-based environmental education. From a trailer in a high-crime city park, Ken has had fun facilitating the grassroots effort to create and grow the Urban Ecology Center which is the topic of his first book.

Striving to live with as little environmental impact as possible, Ken lives in the community in which he works and, not owning a car, commutes by bike, unicycle, roller blades, and occasionally even by kayak on the Milwaukee River.



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