Lower Green Bay/Fox River AOC
The Lower Green Bay and Fox River was designated an Area of Concern under the 1987 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and is one of five AOCs located within Wisconsin.
The Lower Green Bay and Fox River AOC is part of the Fox Wolf Watershed. The AOC spans the last seven miles of the Lower Fox River (downstream of the De Pere Dam to the mouth) and includes 22 square miles of southern Green Bay.
Portions of the AOC have experienced great environmental degradation due to land use practices. Non-point and point source discharges from industrial operations, including pulp and paper mills, agricultural land, and urban areas in the watershed have cumulatively contributed to the Beneficial Use Impairments (BUIs) in the AOC. Additionally, wetland and shoreline areas have been filled or impacted by erosion.
Several of the BUIs in the AOC are attributed to sediment contamination resulting from industrial operations. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)s generated during the manufacture and recycling of carbonless copy paper were discharged to the Fox River from pulp and paper mills. Metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) generated by manufactured gas plant operations were also discharged to the Fox River.
Stormwater run-off discharged from agricultural and urban lands has also contributed to excess nutrients within the AOC. As a result, harmful algal blooms are common in lower Green Bay. The toxins released by these algae raise concerns for using the Lower Green Bay and Fox River AOC as a drinking water and recreational resource. Efforts are underway in the AOC to mitigate the impacts from land use and improve human and ecosystem health.
Beneficial Use Impairments
An interim success of remediation and restoration work is removing Beneficial Use Impairments (BUIs). BUIs are designations given by the International Joint Commission representing different types of significant environmental degradation. As remediation and restoration work is completed, and monitoring demonstrates sufficient environmental health improvements, BUIs can gradually be removed. Of the 14 potential BUIs, the Lower Green Bay and Fox River AOC originally had eleven listed as present and two as suspected. Since then, three BUIs have been removed. Once all BUIs are removed, the process of delisting the AOC can begin.
- Restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption
- Tainting of fish and wildlife flavor - Removed 2020
- Degradation of fish and wildlife populations
- Fish tumors or other deformities
- BUI Removal Document for Degradation of Aesthetics, Lower Green Bay/Fox River AOC (pdf) - Removed 2022
- Degradation of benthos
- Restrictions on dredging activities - Removed 2021
- Loss of fish and wildlife habitat
- Bird or animal deformities or reproductive problems
- Eutrophication or undesirable algae
- Restrictions on drinking water consumption, or taste and odor
- Beach closings
- Degradation of phytoplankton and zooplankton populations
General information about BUIs: Beneficial Use Impairments for the Great Lakes AOCs
The BUIs will be addressed through restoration work implemented through the AOC program and sediment remediation implemented through the Superfund program. All sediment remediation projects to address PCB, metals and PAH contamination were completed in 2020.
EPA along with the AOC local, state and federal partners are currently working to identify and implement a final list of restoration projects that are needed to address the BUIs. In order to identify restoration projects, numerous monitoring efforts have been funded through the AOC program to evaluate the BUIs status. The monitoring projects that have been conducted using GLRI support include benthic organism surveys, mapping and sampling cyanobacteria blooms, water quality surveys, aesthetic surveys, fish studies, and river loading studies.
- Brown County Land and Water Conservation Department
- University of Wisconsin Extension
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources