2018 Lake Michigan Champions of Conservation

Front row: Dr. Rebecca Abler, UW-Manitowoc, Whitney Prestby, UWEX (Lower Fox Demonstration Farms Network) Joan Giuliani (MillerCoors), Justin Nickels, Manitowoc Mayor, and Marcos Ugarte (MillerCoors).  Back row (l-r): Matt Otto, NRCS, Mike Mushinski, Brown County LWCD, Barry Bubolz, NRCS, Brian Peterson, Brown County LWCD (Lower Fox Demonstrations Farm Network), and Jacob Fincher, Sweet Water (MillerCoors)

Front row: Dr. Rebecca Abler, UW-Manitowoc, Whitney Prestby, UWEX (Lower Fox Demonstration Farms Network) Joan Giuliani (MillerCoors), Justin Nickels, Manitowoc Mayor, and Marcos Ugarte (MillerCoors).

Back row (l-r): Matt Otto, NRCS, Mike Mushinski, Brown County LWCD, Barry Bubolz, NRCS, Brian Peterson, Brown County LWCD (Lower Fox Demonstrations Farm Network), and Jacob Fincher, Sweet Water (MillerCoors)

Associate Professor Rebecca Abler and Professor Richard Hein
Biological Sciences, Lakeshore Water Institute at University Wisconsin Green Bay -Manitowoc

 Many educators bring their hearts, souls and passions to their classrooms to inspire and change young lives. Drs. Rebecca Abler and Richard Hein from the University of Wisconsin-Manitowoc embody this fully, having inspired numerous students to choose ecology research as their profession.

Since 2009, with support from LNRP, the UW Manitowoc Foundation, and the Friends of Hika Bay, student interns at UW-Manitowoc have been collecting and analyzing water samples in streams and lakes that flow into Lake Michigan. The program continues to grow in scope and landowner respect. This special collaboration spawned the Lakeshore Water Institute in 2012 and that same year won these organizations the coveted Wisconsin Idea Award from the University of Wisconsin Colleges System.

Thanks to the expertise and strong mentoring skills of Drs. Abler and Hein, the interns’ data-driven work analyzing key water quality parameters is having a positive and lasting impact on Manitowoc County’s agriculture, tourism, and environmental health.  Their testing results have been used to alert the Wisconsin DNR of unusual changes.

Each fall, the students present their data at a well-attended forum, and their posters have won accolades in statewide contests. Recently, these students presented their Centerville Creek findings  at a national conference in Detroit.  

By turning the university into an integral community asset, these two outstanding professors truly embody the Wisconsin Idea.

 Lower Fox Demonstration Farms Network

 The Lower Fox Demonstration Farms Network (“Fox Demo Farms”) is a model for the kind of ground-breaking change that can happen when a few creative minds get together to improve soil health and, ultimately, water quality.

This Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) funded project is demonstrating leading edge conservation practices that reduce the amount of phosphorus entering Green Bay and Lake Michigan.

The network of farmers, consultants, government agents, and academics is the first of its kind in the Great Lakes region. Members include six Lower Fox River Basin producers, their crop consultants, Brown and Outagamie County Land and Water Conservation Departments, the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), University of Wisconsin-Extension, and the Great Lakes Commission.

Fox Demo Farms’ success in finding creative solutions to runoff pollution is grabbing headlines and winning accolades. Their mission is to demonstrate the effectiveness and adaptability of practices that reduce erosion and sedimentation, control phosphorus runoff, and address other nonpoint source pollution.

The Network’s approaches have evolved from shared discussions, creative farming practices and trial and error. Among initiatives that have worked so far are low disturbance manure disposal, a one-pass system to cover three farm tasks, diverse cover crops to increase soil health, conservation tillage, and rotational grazing.

Because of their success, the Demo Farms Network has spawned a movement in the region to adopt progressive farming practices that improve the landscape and water quality. Their positive example has inspired similar efforts in neighboring counties.

Their vision is to create a culture that encourages collaboration, something they now know quite well. What started with just a few collaborators has blossomed into a growing and self-sustaining regional effort pointing us toward the future of agriculture.


A longtime leader in innovative approaches to improve water quality, MillerCoors has become the nation’s first corporation - and brewery - of its size to begin implementing the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) International Water Stewardship Standard.

MillerCoors began this process in March, 2017 by creating a Water Stewardship Plan to 1) decrease the amount of phosphorus and chlorine in effluent discharges; 2) redline or replace prioritized sewer lines; 3) install green infrastructure; 4) continue to make water efficiency improvements; and 5) invest time, talent and dollars in community engagement and leadership. As part of this initiative, MillerCoors started working with the Southeastern Wisconsin Watersheds Trust (Sweet Water) last September to raise awareness among MillerCoors employees and local communities about storm water pollution. Some 75 MillerCoors employees joined 10 Sweet Water staff to stencil nearly 450 storm drains with ‘no dumping’ messages, distribute 2000 flyers explaining the connection between storm water runoff, storm drains and water quality, and to clean the South Shore Park Beach in Bayview.

In June of last year, MillerCoors Environmental and Sustainability Engineer Joan Giuliani facilitated a meeting with the Milwaukee brewery’s neighbors, the people who live and work in the Milwaukee River Basin. They shared concerns about environmental challenges, including deteriorating infrastructure, flooding and discharges.

That invaluable stakeholder input helped shape and guide MillerCoors’ Water Stewardship Plan. The company works closely with Sweet Water, the River Revitalization Foundation, and other non-profits, and is a proud co-sponsor of the Milwaukee Riverkeeper and the Discovery World Freshwater Lab. These groups continue to work collaboratively for sustainable water management in the Milwaukee River Basin and, more specifically, the Menomonee River Watershed.

These ongoing efforts have begun to inspire other MillerCoors operations around the nation. The Milwaukee crew provides an outstanding role model for others to emulate.

Wisconsin State Representative Joel Kitchens

 You have to stand in line if you want to give an environmental award to State Representative Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay). He recently received the Policymaker of the Year award from Gathering Waters and, before the last election, was endorsed by the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters and named to its Honor Roll.

The accolades are with good reason. The second-term representative has advanced crucial conservation projects, fought for funding, and championed innovative programs throughout his public service. His work will benefit his 1st District and the rest of the state for generations. 

Among Kitchens accomplishments: He led the effort,with Sen. Rob Cowles, to expand the producer-led Watershed Grant program by half a million dollars in the state budget in FY 2017-18 and 2018-19.  Calling clean water “a basic right most of us take for granted,” he championed the Clean Water Access Bill, which funds the replacement or repair of contaminated wells and septic systems.

He led the effort to save the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, calling it an important tool for managing manure in the Karst region. When Gathering Waters recognized his KNSP work, Kitchens expressed gratitude for the progress being made in the Karst region. “Our water is a precious access, and the geology of our area is unique.”

In addition, Rep. Kitchens authored the bill banning the manufacture and sale of plastic microbeads, which passed, and successfully argued for increased funding for county conservationists. He meets regularly with the land trust community as well as other groups such as the Friends of Crescent Beach. He understands that these continuing relationships are important for the long-term sustainability of the watershed. 

Manitowoc Mayor Justin Nickels

 Since he took office in 2009, Manitowoc Mayor Justin Nickels has been a proud and consistent champion of the beautiful lake that borders his city.

“Lake Michigan is our greatest asset, and we must do everything we can to preserve it,” Nickels says.

And preserve it he has.  Frustrated by reports of poor water quality at the popular Blue Rail Marina Beach in 2011 – leading to beach closures and beach advisories, just when residents had discovered the area’s beauty – Nickels got right to work investigating the source of the problem and the best way to address it.

The problem stemmed primarily from three storm sewer outfalls that discharged directly to the beach.  Redirecting the outfall was a very expensive undertaking. Nickels, in partnership with other community leaders, succeeded in getting two Green Infrastructure grants from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) along with moneys from a grant LNRP received from the Fund for Lake Michigan. These grants paid for a major redesign of the city’s storm sewer structure, providing safer, cleaner water for the lake, and a beach area both aesthetically pleasing and sustainable for future generations.

Among the project features: an infiltration basin to treat first flush stormwater; the planting of native vegetation to treat runoff; a mechanical separator (CDS) unit to capture sediment before it gets to the Marina; beach nourishment sand to reduce bacteria runoff; and new grass plantings to slow stormwater flow and beautify the grounds.

Improvements at Blue Rail and other spots along Manitowoc’s coast have reaped long-term benefits that all Lake Michigan fans will appreciate.  They have enhanced the city’s visibility and helped Nickels and other city leaders forge new partnerships throughout the Midwest and nationally. 

Best of all, the projects that Nickels spearheaded have inspired other communities to explore similar restoration efforts. Now that’s the kind of redirection we like to see.