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Water quality investment pays dividends

Investment in water quality created more than 342 full-time jobs and boosted property values in southeastern Wisconsin by $86 million in the past two years.

A new study from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater analyzed the impact of grants from the Fund for Lake Michigan on water quality projects in southeast Wisconsin.

The study found the grants impact the economy as well as the environment.

“The economic and environmental benefits go hand in hand,” said Russ Kashian, a UW-Whitewater professor of economics and lead author of the study. Additional authors at Whitewater include Benjamin Kelly and Samuel Cordova-Soto.

The Fund for Lake Michigan was established in 2011 and makes annual grant awards to local governments, institutions and nonprofits. For 2014 and 2015, the fund awarded 79 grants worth $4.4 million.

“Money invested through this foundation, which often includes the leveraging of additional private funding, is not an expense, it’s an investment in the community and the return on the investment is extremely high,” Kashian said.

The five-year economic impact of the fund’s grants in southeastern Wisconsin is impressive:

• Creation of more than 822 full-time jobs.

• $25 million in labor income.

• Increase in property value over $131 million.

The fund, in a summary, said grants were awarded for improving parks, preserves and swimming beaches; restoring wetlands; revitalizing waterfronts; developing technologies to reduce flooding and prevent stormwater pollution; and more.

Grant recipients in 2015 included Kenosha County Parks; Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership; Hunger Task Force; River Revitalization Foundation; Milwaukee County Department of Parks, Recreation and Culture; Harbor District Inc. of Milwaukee; Clean Lakes Alliance; Racine County Public Works; River Alliance of Wisconsin; Milwaukee Environmental Consortium; The Southeastern Wisconsin Watersheds Trust; Milwaukee Riverkeeper; North Point Lighthouse Friends; and the Girl Scouts of Manitou Council.

The UW-Whitewater Fiscal and Economic Research Center study focused on the impact of fund grants in southeast Wisconsin, although the fund provides grants for projects along Lake Michigan as far north as Door County.

“The economic benefits extend to these communities as well,” Kashian said in a news release. “People want to live near healthy, clean and vibrant lakes and rivers. Tourists flock to these places.”

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