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Lower Fox RiverWatershed Monitoring Program

History of the Fox River Watershed

The Fox-Wolf River Basin of Northeast Wisconsin drains more than 6,300 square miles to the Bay of Green Bay. It is the largest drainage basin to Lake Michigan and the third largest to the Great Lakes. The Fox River Valley contains much rich farmland, along with industrialized areas close to the river. These waters draw people to our region for the same reasons our ancestors came here: an abundant source of fish, wildlife habitat, recreation, fresh drinking water, water for agriculture, and opportunity for industrial growth.

Unfortunately, human population growth and activity rapidly exceeded the capacity of the Fox River and shallow Bay to process excess nutrients from sewage, lumber, fishing, and farming. The growing paper and dairy industries stressed the ecosystem further as processing waste including wood pulp, animal wastes, and toxic processing chemicals accumulated in the river and bay. Bay Beach, a popular swimming spot in Green Bay was permanently closed in 1943 due to pollution. Even after decades of recovery high bacterial counts prevent the beach from re-opening.

Fox Wolf Watershed History Timeline



Unfortunately, the water resources we rely on are still impaired. Green Bay is home to a “Dead Zone” similar to sections of Lake Erie. Lower Green Bay and the Lower Fox River (LFR) are identified as an international ‘Area of Concern’ (AOC), polluted to the extent that human and wildlife health are adversely affected. The main problems facing this area are contamination by persistent and toxic organic compounds, principally polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) and hyper-eutrophication – excessive nutrient inputs, primarily phosphorus, from both point and non-point sources. Urban and rural runoff pollution, wastewater discharge and degraded habitat adversely affect the water quality of the entire watershed.

Oxygen Concentrations in the Bay of Green Bay.