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Friday, December 18, 2009


PCB Dredges in Little Lake Butte des Morts (Lower Fox River)

When it comes to poisons, Rat fears warfarin like Superman fears kryptonite. For you humans in Wisconsin, warfarin is a rat poison developed at the UW-Madison decades ago. It's a blood-thinner that makes rodents bleed to death. Now some of you take it for your heart problems -- in limited doses, of course.

I digress, but only so far, as I talkin' human health today -- I'm talkin' PCBs. Of all the toxic nasties dumped into rivers, PCBs were the baddest: insidious, highly toxic, very persistent, and very mobile once they end up in river sediments or groundwater.

More Wisconsin history for you: paper helped build this state. We had trees for raw material, cheap and willing immigrant labor, and there were the rivers to dam up to supply water and power for the paper mills. In the 1950s and '60s, the paper industry used PCBs for a process that's now obsolete, but the damage they wrought still haunts: there are PCBs in the Fox River, from Appleton downstream to well into Green Bay.

Here's the good news: they are getting cleaned up, slowly but surely, and that clean-up got a boost recently when a federal judge ruled that companies only very distantly responsible for dumping PCBs in the Fox River are NOT repsonsible for paying to clean them up. The two companies that WERE largely responsible -- Appleton Papers Inc. and NCR Corp. -- continue to dodge their responsibility, and may appeal the judge's decision.'

There are a lot of people unhappy with the progress on the PCB clean-up on the Fox, as well they should; it has been long, expensive, contentious and arduous. But as my rat mother used to say when something bad happened to me, "It could be worse." As for PCBs in rivers, there is a "worse," and it is in New York and Connecticut.

The cover story of the December 2009 edition of Harper's magazine explains, in toxic detail, how General Electric, having dumped untold tons of PCBs in the river and in the ground surrounding their plants on the Hudson and Connecticut Rivers, have cozily colluded with state and federal regulators to pretend they're cleaning up the PCBs with a little dredging here and some monitoring over there. But those rivers, and the people using them and leaving near those plants, will have the spectre of PCBs over them for decades. GE is NOT bringing that good thing to life.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Going Thirsty in the Central Sands

Rat's muskratty relatives have been corresponding lately from the central sands area of Wisconsin, where they've noticed that there's no water in some places where it used to be -- and there's no drought going on.

In the central sands, the water table is as close to the surface as a layer of paint on drywall, and hundreds of millions of gallons of water get sprinkled on sweet corn and snap peas that end up in the canned and frozen vegetable section of grocery stores. My city cousins tell me that in the village of Plover, they can't seem to build enough industrial parks and outlet malls, and they wonder what that all will do to the water supply.

Rat hears that the River Alliance and other groups are working on legislation that would keep better track of where groundwater is coming from, and where it's going. Good idea -- problem is, there's no house-burning-down crisis that justifies action by legislators. This is thinking about the future -- something that doesn't happen much under the Dome.

There's a good review of the issue in today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Props for POPS

I was dawdling up around Stevens Point on Saturday November 14, hoping to absorb a little knowledge from the hallowed halls of the local university in those parts, when I stumbled on an event that was right up a river rat's alley. The Politics of Phosphorus Citizens' Summit, hosted by the hard-working River Alliance of Wisconsin.

A day long powwow about the negative effects of phosphorus pollution on our rivers and to my ears. Toxic blue green algae has become a scourge of Wisconsin's waters over the years (not to mention the fur of one river rat), and it's a problem that can seem insurmountable to the average citizen. So it was a great idea for River Alliance to give those citizens...paddlers, anglers, business owners...a chance to get together and share a bit about their experiences with this noxious by-product of phosphorus runoff. And to maybe get working on a few solutions.

A lot was said during the 6 hours of the summit, and I won't try and recreate it all. But you can find out what went on by clicking here. The busy rats at River Alliance HQ have posted a nice set of notes, summaries and summations from the summit, including some pretty flash and dash Powerpoint presentations. Enjoy.

And Happy Thanksgiving to all you river lovers out there. Safe travels and safe returns.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Lot to Carp About...

We're welcoming a guest post today, from River Alliance aquatic invasive species chief Laura MacFarland, alerting all you readers to a very scary threat to the Great Lakes--Asian Carp. These huge, hungry invaders are something right out of a river horror movie, and action is needed to get the authorities that be to do what needs to be done (isn't it always?...) to stop the Carp's spread. Read on, river rats, read on...

"The Army Corps and Notre Dame University has detected DNA evidence of Asian Carp ABOVE the electric barriers in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, the Cal-Sag Channel and the Calumet River. That means the fish could be within 6 miles of Lake Michigan with only navigational locks (insufficient barriers) standing in their way.

The River Alliance of Wisconsin is writing the Council of Great Lakes Governors to encourage them to ask the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency, which will allow Federal agencies to enact emergency measures to prevent the invasion of Asian carp from the Chicago Shipping and Sanitary Canal into Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes.

The federal government must declare a state of emergency, so that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard have the authority to do what is necessary to stop the Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes. This is the opportune time for such measures because of the planned shut down of the electric barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal for maintenance, and due to recently revealed hydrological connections between the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal (CSSC) with the Des Plaines River and the Illinois & Michigan Canal (I & M Canal) during high flows and possibly low flows as well.

Call your member of Congress AND the Director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and urge them to:

- Tell the Corps to immediately close all controlling locks in Chicago waterways that lead to Lake Michigan.

- Tell the Corps to take any and all monitoring and control efforts to keep the Asian carp at bay and the Great Lakes safe.

- The risk is too great to delay taking action, we must act today to save the Great Lakes from this devastating invasive species.

To reach your member of US Congress, you may call the Capitol Switchboard at: 202-224-3121

To reach IL DNR Director Marc Miller, you may call 217-785-0075"

Check out the video clip below to see just how dangerous these interlopers are:

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sacrificing rivers? And why not a lake or six, too?

Rat has been reading with great interest the most recent issue of The Flow, the River Alliance's newsletter. This issue is all about the connection between food, farming and rivers. Lot's of intriguing stuff in there...not the least of all the comment made by a "high level" state official, who thinks, “We may have to sacrifice a few rivers to grow the food we need to grow.” Well, at least now we know where some of our "leaders" stand, I suppose.

I was a little suspect when I read in there that, "Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't" -- "it" being a lot of groundwater pumping for agriculture drying up lakes and rivers in sandy central Wisconsin. For the Rat, it's obvious -- you pump a bunch of water through big wells, you're bound to dry up the nearby lakes and rivers that depend on that very same groundwater.

Wisconsin Public Television's latest entry in water issues takes on the delusion, expressed in their piece by a potato farmer, that we have plenty of water and don't worry, be happy. In central Wisconsin, we have a case of good science undermining the myth and, implicitly asking, "Whose water is it, anyway?" Watch and learn:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Great Great Lakes Reporting

Zebra mussels getting cozy (too cozy) in Lake Keesus in Waukesha County
(photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Of all the laments about the demise of the daily newspaper, one of the most salient is the loss of good, factual, analytical reporting. For all their ubiquity (and their iniquities), Rat fully understands that blogs – even this one – are not journalism.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Dan Egan served up some fine reporting lately, however – reporting with a bit of an edge. In the October 27 edition, Egan asked the question that’s gotta be asked: what will $475 million of federal money for saving the Great Lakes really get us? Probably not what’s needed most – enforcement of existing laws. Read the sobering conclusion from his reporting here.

He keeps up the drumbeat in a follow-up story zeroing on invasive critters that hitchhike from foreign ports and get dumped into the Great Lakes, the most infamous of which is the zebra mussel.

To Egan’s point again: the zebra mussel is out of the barn door (can you say that?), and the new federal largess won’t touch this problem. In this case, it’s not the lack of enforcement, but a lack of good laws in the first place to keep nasty bilge water from being dumped in the Great Lakes.

Rat can’t imagine why a relatively tiny industry like Great Lakes shippers have such a grip on the tillers of Congress and state legislatures. (It’s not like they’re running casinos.)

Yet, lawmakers continue to refuse to regulate these ships. Their cargo could get moved around the Great Lakes by train or truck cheaper anyway. What gives? Maybe they're swept up in the romance of the high seas. Maybe they're in the hip pocket of the zebra mussel lobby. Or maybe they've listened to The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald one too many times and have lost all perspective. We might never know why they're so reticent to regulate this industry and the many menaces it's responsible for dumping in the Great Lakes. But we do know one thing...

....better start getting used to zebra mussels...and little else... in Wisconsin's inland waters...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Asian Carp: The Stuff of River Rat Nightmares

Action Needed: Contact your federal Representative, Senators and the Army
Corps immediately - read on for more information and how to get involved.

Oh, how this river rat wishes this was just a spooky Halloween tale! One good rain event and Asian carp could get into our Great Lakes and Wisconsin’s rivers, if action is not taken immediately to stop them.

Why should you care?
These bad boys are quite frankly the guests from hell. They're big, agressive and destructive. Sometimes weighing as much as 100 pounds, they are voracious predators, chomping down on everything in sight, muscling out smaller, less assertive native fish, and altering native habitat. They've also developed an espcially nasty party trick: when startled, silver and bighead carp leap straight out of the water into the air, often landing in boats, rattling boaters, even knocking teeth and jaws loose on occasion.

Currently, an electric barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal (CSSC) is all that prevents the fish from spreading into the Great Lakes. Recently discovered just a mile from the barrier, the carp have also been found in waterways less than 100 feet from the canal, and could bypass the barrier completely if a heavy rain causes the Des Plaines River to flood. A barrier, by the way, that has been installed with many, many of your pretty pennies that I would hate to see go to waste.

There are three emergency actions that Army Corp of Engineers can take this fall to further prevent Asian Carp from entering the Great Lakes. ACE should ensure that:
  1. An emergency physical barrier (like sandbags) be built between the Des Plaines and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal to ensure the Des Plaines River and live carp cannot flood into the CSSC past the electrical barrier.

  2. An additional barrier (such as a bubble/acoustic barrier) is installed to stop the carp from migrating upstream into the Des Plaines River.

  3. Critical sections of the I&M Canal be filled in, so that carp cannot swim into the CSSC during floods.
What should you do? Make your voice heard to elected officials!

First, follow this link to learn more about this threat and the emergency actions that should be taken.

Next, reach out and touch someone: namely your elected officials and the Army Corps of Engineers. Give them a call, write them a letter, email them - whatever works for you, just let them know you care about this and want action.

Ask your member of Congress and two Senators to tell the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take the immediate emergency actions above to stop Asian carp from getting into the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal during a flood.

Contacting your US Representative and Senators:
Find your representative online here and your senators here
Call 202-224-3121 and ask to be connected to your Representative's and Senators' offices.

Contacting the Army Corps of Engineers:
Contact Ms. Jo Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works).
Tell her that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must take immediate emergency action to ensure Asian carp cannot get into the Great Lakes during a flood. Assistant Secretary Darcy can be reached at (703) 697-8986 or by writing 108 Army Pentagon, Room 3E446, Washington, DC 20310-0108.

posted by the River Rat

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rogue River, OR: A little wilder and a lot more scenic

A free-flowing river where the Savage Rapids dam once stood. Photo credit: Jeff Barnard/AP Photo

The wild and scenic Rogue River has become even wilder with the demolition of a dam that had hindered passage of salmon and steelhead to their spawning grounds for 88 years. The removal caps an epic, nasty and expensive 21-year battle that pitted local irrigators against a dwindling population of wild salmon - it's a familiar sad song out west where one can still spot the "I eat spotted owls for breakfsat" bumper stickers on the occasional pickup truck bumper.

Read the full AP report here.

posted by the River Rat

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Groundwater Guys

Rat has been most gRATifed with the River Alliance's steady stream of insights about all that's happening with groundwater in Wisconsin. (Check out their newsletter here).

We learned in a fundraising letter from River Alliance in recent days that two guys -- from different parts of the state, with different interests and different approaches -- share a common concern for the fate of the vast underground water world we know as Wisconsin groundwater.

Stu Grimstad is an avid trout angler and Trout Unlimited activist. He knows streams and hydrogeomorphology better than many people who have diplomas big enough to hold that word. He's been an intrepid watchdog for many streams in central Wisconsin, especially lately the Little Plover River (dried up for the fourth year in a row from groundwater pumping), and the Isherwood Lateral, a pathetic little stream-turned-drainage-ditch that Stu and others in Portage County are committed to restoring with the help of farmers Justin and Lynn Isherwood.

Chuck Wagner is well beyond Jobian patience when it comes to the perennial dose of manure his drinking water gets at his rural Kewaunee County home. Yet he soldiers on with many others in the five-county region of northeastern Wisconsin who live on top of so-called "karst" geologic features, which makes groundwater very vulnerable to contamination by the many wastes (cow, human, industrial) spread on farmland. He's a Kewaunee County supervisor and he's involved with River Alliance and many other groups promoting legislation to stem the flow of contamination to Chuck's well and scores of other people like him.

It's good to know that there are regular Chucks and Stus out there working to make sure Wisconsin fresh waters are clean and available. We're all the better for them.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The "Right" to Put Poo in Your Water

Water on the left taken from a Luxemburg, WI
tap in the spring of 2008.
(photo courtesy of Chuck Wagner)

For most of this year, several conservation groups with whom Rat is very familiar have been working to get a bill rolling in the Wisconsin Legislature to prevent people's wells from getting contaminated by manure and other liquid wastes spread on farmland, especially in the 5 counties of northeastern Wisconsin.

You propose such an idea and your draw out the heavy artillery of the dairy industry, especially the Dairy Business Association. As they almost always are, farmers have been effective in scaring legislators into thinking this proposal will put them out of business, restrict their "right to farm," and other overstated calamities. It seems that poisoned wells just can't hold a scented candle to farmers' "right" to spread their own manure and septic, industrial and muncipal wastes.

But that artillery has been really tested this week by a small army: Michael Pollan and the New York Times. Pollan, who appears in Madison this week, has riled up Big Agriculture with his critique of industrial farming systems and industrial food, and the fact that the University of Wisconsin provoked the debate by giving away one of Pollan's books to students too.

Rat was especially pleased to see the Times' piece about dirty wells in Brown County, Wisconsin -- not pleased, of course, that these poor folks' wells have been fouled, but hopeful that the national media attention may shame lawmakers to finally act to protect their own constituents' drinking water.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Uh-oh, Madison's got fleas!

Sample of spiny water flea, an invasive newly discovered in Lake Mendota, Madison last week. Photo: Jeff Miller, University of Wisconsin

Last week, we posted an item about a new invasive crayfish that's been found a little too close to home. This week comes the news of another aquatic invasive found right in Madisonians' backyard, Lake Mendota.

Undergraduates at the University of Wisconsin-Madison out on the lake for a day of hands' on limnological research, got more than they bargained for when they pulled up a plankton net full of the unidentified little creatures. Their professor, Jake Vander Zanden, an expert in aquatic invasive species, was shocked to find spiny water fleas in Lake Mendota- they were previously known to exist in only two other large northern reservoirs in Wisconsin.

So what does this mean for the Madison lakes? It's too soon to tell how it will effect the ecology and water quality of the Madison lakes, but in the ominous words of Vander Zanden, "we have little reason to think the changes will be positive."

For the full story, see the news release from UW-Madison.

posted by the River Rat

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Take this poor river off life support!

Rat has talked about the Little Plover River for years. It's a lovely little trout stream in Portage County being sucked dry by excessive groundwater pumping from the nearby village of Plover and from irrigation for farming. None of the big water users in the area have taken this very seriously, despite gabbing about it in a "stakeholder process" for over three years.

The river dried up again this week -- which it would every year, except for this fact, kept as a wet little secret -- they pump water from an irrigation well into the river to keep it from drying up completely and to perpetuate the myth the river has water in it.

Rat's had enough of what they euphemistically call "augmentation." This will sadly result in the death of trout and other creatures (look at that grim photo), but let's have the truth come to the dried-out surface.

UPDATE: A letter to the editor of the Stevens Point Journal regarding pumping water into the Little Plover.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Taste of Louisiana Too Close To Home

credit: Kristyna Wentz-Graff,
from Sept. 8 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article
on the crayfish's appearance in Germantown, WI

For those of you who have never felt the heat in a Cajun shack in southern Louisiana sucking the heads of spicy crayfish to the sounds of a frottoir (washboard) and button accordion – you can savor the flavors without the miserably hot weather of the south. Locally supplied Cajun boils are happening throughout the north complete with crayfish pie, crayfish jambalaya, crayfish etouffee, and beans with "mudbugs". The only thing you’ll need to import is the Clifton Chenier and the Boozoo Chavis tunes.

Unfortunately, we may soon be supplying local-grown Louisiana crawdaddies too.

Wisconsin streams and rivers for years now have been invaded by the Rusty Crayfish, a crayfish with a voracious appetite of its own. It mows down native aquatic vegetation giving our fish no where to hide from predators and out competing our native crayfish for food and lodging. It is next impossible to eradicate these critters once they have infested a stream or lake; however, it is possible to keep their numbers in check by harvesting them. And folks around the state have been doing just that.

This summer the Louisiana red swamp crayfish has been found in a 6 acre pond in Washington County. These crayfish have an even more voracious appetite. They are dark red in color with raised bright red spots covering the body and claws and a black wedge-shaped stripe on the top of the abdomen. They may vary in length between 2 to 5 inches (some can reach a monstrous 8+ inches). It is very important that this infestation be contained.

If you are in the Menominee River watershed in southeast Wisconsin, please keep your eyes peeled for the Louisiana red swamp crayfish.
Check out these references to learn more about the crayfish and what to do if you should find one: and

posted by the River Rat

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Doing Their Bidding...

Now that's a title that sounds more nefarious than it really is, don't you think? Luckily, it isn't nefarious at all...just a way to get your attention turned toward the recently opened 3rd Annual River Alliance online auction. There is a river bank full of great items to bid on, with more being added all the time. And all proceeds go to support the River Alliance of Wisconsin. So why not head over, place some bids, get some deals, and help protect Wisconsin's rivers in the process. You'll be glad you did.

Whitewater rafting on the Menominee is just one of the
great river trips offered at this year's auction.

(And if you win the Badger tickets, the River Rat is free if you need a fourth...)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Staff Spotlight: Chris Clayton, River Sentinel.

In the daily - dare I say it? - rat race of saving rivers, it's no surprise that the folks at the River Alliance put a lot of their energy into keeping the spotlight on rivers and streams around this state. That's why I dig 'em! And sometimes, I like to turn the spotlight back on them, too, because they're just interesting people.

Take Chris Clayton. His official job description is "Volunteer Citizen Monitoring Coordinator" but I like to think of him as River Sentinel Extraordinaire! One can spot him zipping across all four corners of the state to train, inspire and coax along the growing network of volunteer citizen stream monitors in Wisconsin. There are rumored occasional sightings in the office behind mountains of waders and reams of spreadsheets. And in between all that work, Chris likes to relax with paintbrush and saw as he renovates his new home.

But seriously, the work he does is important, effective and well-respected. Don't just take my word for it, see the great article published last week in the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram about the Volunteer Citizen Stream Monitoring project he has shepherded along. It's going official (DNR is dedicating a position to it!).

Stimulus gives stream monitoring a boost
Eau Claire Leader-Telegram
Sunday,August 23, 2009
By Joe Knight

"Of all the federal stimulus money being spent around the country, we were pleased to see a tiny but important bit of it land here that will help Wisconsin's rivers."
So begins an article in a recent newsletter of the River Alliance of Wisconsin.

The state Legislature has allocated $54,000 in stimulus dollars for the Department of Natural Resources to hire a statewide coordinator for volunteer stream monitors.

Greg Searle of the DNR said the monitoring coordinator position still has to be approved by the Department of Administration. The position would be for two years and some additional federal dollars from a source yet-to-be determined would be needed.

"It's short-term. That's not ideal, but the way things are going right now in state government that would probably be our best shot," he said.

Searle hopes the two-year position will become a permanent position funded by federal funds for water quality monitoring.

For Chris Clayton of River Alliance, the creation of the monitoring coordinator position with the DNR means he is out of a job. In October he will begin a new job that involves trying to improve water quality in the Milwaukee River Basin.

For the past four years River Alliance has worked with the DNR to train volunteers to collect water quality data on a stream near where they live.

They have trained more than 250 volunteer monitors. Volunteers enter their information on stream temperatures, oxygen levels, acidity, etc., into a DNR database with their computers.

"We put all sorts of checks in place to make sure the data that is reported is high quality data," according to the River Alliance newsletter.

At summer's end each volunteer gets a summary of information on his or her stream, and they can compare their stream with others across the state, according to Clayton.

At the start, four years ago, some DNR water quality experts were a bit skeptical about how useful information collected by amateurs would be, he said. "Certainly not everyone, but I think for some people they needed to kind of see how the program was going to evolve," Clayton said.

The fact that the DNR now is willing to have a staff member coordinate the program is a vote of confidence for the volunteer monitors, Clayton said.

"I think the DNR has embraced it. This position is going to be full time with the DNR. It says they're willing to move forward and expand the program and have DNR biologists partner with citizens," he said.

Volunteers working with Beaver Creek Reserve, near Fall Creek, were among the first to be involved in the monitoring, he said.

Somewhere from 27 to 30 stream monitors are working through Beaver Creek's Citizen Science Center monitoring streams in Rusk, Barron, Dunn, Chippewa and Clark counties, said Sarah Braun, director of the center.

Most volunteers are in a statewide program with UW-Extension, Water Action Volunteers Level 1, she said, but some are in a more rigorous program, Level 2, coordinated by Clayton.

Level 2 monitors usually use more sophisticated equipment, provided through the Reserve or the DNR, Braun said.

"They're also on a stricter calendar," Braun said. "People are working with the DNR to monitor sites that are important to local researchers. They have to monitor certain days of the month; there's not as much flexibility as with Level 1."

UW-Stout students have been involved in Level 2 monitoring on Gilbert Creek and Elk Creek in Dunn County to document changes in water quality and invertebrates, and on Galloway Creek in Menomonie, a creek with urban-related problems, said Chuck Bomar, a biology professor.

"It's a real valuable learning tool for the students, and they take these skills back to their communities," he said.

Clayton said the program provides good information on the water quality of Wisconsin streams for the DNR, but the best part of the program may be that monitors develop a feeling of stewardship for the creeks they work on, along with a cooperative relationship with the DNR.

Knight can be reached at 830-5835, 800-236-7077 or joe.

posted by the River Rat

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sailing Through the Green...

Staff retreats for many organizations means a posh beach resort, bonding exercises disguised as games, a motivational speaker and an imported expert or two, and lots of down time when people still work their Blackberries.

But the River Rats of the River Alliance will have none of those trappings. We went right into the thick of our work -- the thick, stinky, mottled and multi-hued cakes of algae that choke the Wisconsin River this time of year. (Enjoy the video, and be glad it's not scratch-and-sniff.) We sailed with our good friends, the Petenwell and Castle Rock Stewards, who have been heroic in their patience and persistence in reducing the pollution that causes the algae blooms.

The River Alliance team after a day of sailing...and avoiding
noxious algae blooms. (Photo Credit: Matt Krueger)

Thick, smelly algae swirls in the wake of our sailboat.
(Video Credit: Matt Krueger)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Don't know didymo from diddly squat? Read on...

Didymo, affectionately known as "rock snot", may be an invasive coming to a river near you...

Today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel features a great article about River Alliance's own Laura Lueders MacFarland and her work on invasive species detection in rivers with Project RED (slogan: "Find it; Report it; Fight it!). Go read, and find out how you can learn to tell didymo from diddly-squat and help protect our rivers from invasive species!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Dark Side of Beer's Best Ingredient....

In Wisconsin, the delightful nectar created by the brewing of barley, malt and hops is not just a beverage, it's a way of life. Domestic Pilsner, American Pale Ale, English-style name it, we have it. And in the trinity of primary ingredients, the hop is arguably the best and most vital. Providing bouquet and a bit (or a lot) of bitterness, hops make Wisconsin's state drink great.

Problem is, not all hops are hopalicious (kudos to Ale Asylum Brewery in Madison for coining that word...). Some don't do anything but grow crazily and overtake riverbanks. And by some I mean Japanese hops. And not the kind you'll find in Sapporo.

Japanese hops do not produce the very useful fruit used to make delicious pale ales. These invasive plants, instead, have spiny little hairs along their stem and leaves that grab onto innocent river rats. And they hurt.

Big deal, you say? What's the problem, you think? The problem is these neutered nettles cover everything once they're introduced amongst native vegetation. And their shallow, wimpy root structure does little to help hold soil in place, leading to streambank erosion.

Japanese hops have only been found in four counties in Wisconsin. The largest infestation is on the Little Platte River in Grant County, Wisconsin. Local landowner, fellow river rat, and outdoor recreation specialist at UW Platteville, Mark Sethne, led an outing last week for DNR and River Alliance to help them attempt to wrap their heads around this problem.

Currently, no one's really sure the extent of the infestation by our spiny, invasive "friends." So, the River Alliance of Wisconsin and the Friends of the Platte River aim to get to the bottom of this by monitoring throughout the watershed in canoes and kayaks. If something isn’t done quickly, we can expect this infestation to spread to the Mississippi River.

Want to help? Then attend the Project RED (riverine early detectors) training on Sunday, August 30 at the Dickeyville Community Center from 1:00pm to 5:00pm. You'll learn how to monitor for Japanese hops and 14 other invasive species, visit the Little Platte infestation, and come away better equipped to keep your rivers free of invaders. And when the training is over, I'm sure it won't be hard to talk your fellow trainees into enjoying the fruits of good hops at a local Dickeyville establishment...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Wolf RIver among National Geographic's Must-Do Rafting trips!

(Photograph by Woods Wheatcroft for National Geographic Adventure)

While this river rat has long known there's great whitewater to be had on the Wolf and Menominee rivers - just to name a couple of Wisconsin destinations - it seems that National Geographic has caught on too. The August/September edition of National Geographic Adventure magazine featured "Six Wild and Scenic Rivers. Six Must-Do Raft Trips" and included our very own Wolf River as the only mid-western destination. Coupled with Outside Magazine's August feature on Great Lakes adventures that highlights the amazing kayaking and mountain biking opportunities in Wisconsin, it's a great reminder of how much fun staying at home can be.

posted by the River Rat

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Water Expert's Advice: Drink Your Toilet Water

Well, OK, maybe not exactly. But Robert Glennon's recent appearance on "The Daily Show" to promote his newest book Unquenchable adds a little levity to the issue of the growing crisis of freshwater availability in the US and worldwide.

Sometimes, humor is the best vehicle for a serious message. And sometimes, I can't resist a post with "drink your toilet water" in the heading.


The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Robert Glennon
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day

posted by the River Rat

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Death of a River

There are times when, despite being a loquacious River Rat, the right words for a certain event are only found amongst select other individuals and not from behind these whiskers. So it is with the recent tragedy on the Rock River in Illinois (previously reported here). So, I've enlisted the pen and mind of Lindsay Wood Davis, long time Rock River lover and dear friend of the River Alliance of Wisconsin, to capture the scope of the tragedy when, as has happened to a 100 mile stretch of the Rock, a river dies...or, is killed, which is more appropriate in this case (photos courtesy of Sauk Valley Newspapers):

"Hello darkness, my old friend I've come to talk with you again Because a vision softly creeping Left its seeds while I was sleeping And the vision that was planted in my brain Still remains Within the sound of silence"

When Paul Simon wrote those famous words back in the winter of '64, the Rock River in Northern Illinois was a muddy old river, filled with organic and inorganic effluent, from heavy metals to farm field runoff to residential, industrial and commercial sewage piped straight in. There was certainly some wildlife and a few fish, but it was far from a healthy place for "man or beast." But it was the river we had, the only one we knew.

Like the storied summer of Bryan Adam's anthem, "Back in the Summer of '69," I started paddling the Rock River. That year, a group of friends paddled and floated down the Rock River from Oregon, Illinois to Grand Detour, about 12 miles. Putting in at sundown of a Friday evening and getting in Saturday at sunup, the way was lit the entire night by a moon darned close to full and bright white. That nighttime paddle on the Friday of the full moon of July came to be known simply as, "The River Trip", an all night odyssey of friends and fun. The cast of characters paddling expanded and contracted over the years, but the core group remained. The River Trip has been held every year since.

This year a dozen folks canoed down the Rock, marking the 40th anniversary of our nighttime adventure. Age has taught us the wisdom of leaving at 6 instead of 10; now we arrive in time to help close the local tavern instead of waiting for breakfast to be ready. But what has taken place in each year since that first hasn't changed. Each year the river became cleaner, clearer and a whole lot better for "man and beast." Every year we experienced new delights: One or two Great Blue herons became a rookery with dozens of nests; Little Green herons and Night herons joined their bigger brethren. We saw eagles! Bald Eagles on the Rock! You can't imagine our delight. Or the spine tingling moment when we first spied an otter-slide on "our river." Year after year, the Rock River healed, pulling away the curtain and showing again what the Sac and Fox had seen, the river that Blackhawk didn't want to abandon; a great meandering beauty of a muddy old river, abundant with the feel and the sign and the sound of a place teeming with wonder. Every year, every single year, the river got better. Until this year.

The Rock is not a little stream; it is a good sized river with sections easily a quarter of a mile across. Where we paddle is often referred to (going back at least to the French trappers and perhaps to the Native peoples) as "the land of a 1000 islands." It has been used as the site of the American Canoe Association National Championships, and big money fishing tournaments, such as the Bass Masters and Cabella's Catfish Challenge. While Bass and Walleye have made spectacular comebacks, the river has always been most noted for huge flat-head catfish. It is said that Rock River Catfish was served at the White House by President Grant and fished for by future President Reagan. And all these fish shared the river with the buffalo carp, sheepshead and other "rough fish" typical of slow-moving, Midwest rivers. Until this year.

Our put-in, just below the Oregon dam, has for some years been a sort of Izaak Walton version of the United Nations. The people who fish that hole represent every age, race, color, creed and nationality. Little old grandmas, big tattooed bikers, Mexican kids, hordes of Hmong, toothless, tobacco-stained old men, couples paying way more attention to each other's charms than to their bobbers. There are people who fish with cane poles and carbon-fiber Ugly Sticks, stinky cheese bait or Finnish lures, the latest monofilament or thread stolen from Mom's sewing basket. They're all there, standing on that riverbank or up to their ankles, knees, waist or armpits, trying to land that big walleye or catfish, maybe even a spoonbill. Or anything. Or nothing at all. Except this year.

Each of us who paddle, or fish or float or gaze, or write or snooze or wonder or cuddle along a river has a "home river, " that stretch of water that means something deeper to us that anyplace else. Its probably obvious to you that this stretch of the Rock River is very much my "home river." While it has the familiarity of hundreds of trips, it is the changes that I see each year that really make it special to me. Until this year.

A terrible thing happened this year to my home river, the Rock River. Something so terrible that tears run down my face as I write this. In late June a train carrying ethanol hydroplaned off the tracks near Cherry Valley, just east of Rockford. Among its load were a dozen and a half tanker cars filled with ethanol. Some of these cars derailed and caught fire; the fire was fought (valiantly, according to press reports) using fire-retardant foam. Eventually, all that ethanol and all that foam ran into a creek (swollen from the same storms that derailed the train,) ran into the Kishwaukee River and then into the Rock River. What happened next is very clear. Why it happened is not.

Beginning somewhere below the Oregon Dam and above Grand Detour, essentially everything in the river was killed. Though initial reports referred to it as a "fish kill," it was WAY more than that; the river was denuded of turtles, frogs, snakes, whatever was in it at the time. This kill (and what was already dead) moved downstream past Dixon, Lake Sinnissippi, Sterling/Rock Falls and down to Como, Prophetstown and Erie. The deaths may have continued almost to the Mississippi. It was a near total devastation of almost 100 miles of the Rock River. This Canadian National freight train was our own Exxon Valdez, wiping out not only wildlife but endangering a way of life. The Rock River went from proof of the efficacy of the Clean Water Act and the efforts of thousands of people over decades of work, to being a dead zone.

As my paddling partner and I headed down the Rock last Friday night, we reached a favorite stretch a few miles north of Grand Detour. It is a spot we both know particularly well. In the midnight silence she asked, "Hey, how come it is so quiet? There's nothing! No frogs peeping or croaking, no carp feeding, no muskrats splashing. Just nothing." And she was right. The sound of that silence was both deafening and painful.

It will be years until the Rock River can recover. A real estimate is probably impossible; how many 100 mile stretches of a river, ANY river, has ever been comprehensively killed off in a matter of hours? Whatever it was that wiped out the life of the river appears to be gone; little fish, probably those who had been up the creeks feeding into the Rock, are already being caught by anglers willing to throw their lines in, even before the cause of the kill has been determined. Over time those little fish will grow to be big fish. But it will be years and years.

As of yet, there's no real outrage from the State of Illinois, no real clarion call from the politicians, no real editorial anger, no real wailing from the local chambers of commerce; there is only this deep sadness among those who know and love the river.

Over 40 years of watching the Rock River come back, I've been one of those afforded a vision of what a great place it has become and can and will be in the future. The Rock led me to involvement in the politics of rivers and the joy of paddling dozens and scores and maybe hundreds of rivers more. I'll return next year to night-time on the Rock River...and say, "Hello Darkness, my old friend, I've come to talk with you again." I hope the message I hear from my old friend will be happier than the sound of silence I heard this year. They killed an entire river, my river. Think about that: An entire river. It brings tears to my eyes.

"And the vision that was planted in my brain Still remains Within the sound of silence"

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Rat Hereby Names Thee Isherwood Creek

The River Rat's little video clip of an obscure little stream in Portage County could be seen as footage of its death throes -- or of its rebirth.

It's actually called the Isherwood Lateral, and declared long ago more useful as a drainage ditch than a real stream. The potato farmers who own a stretch of it, Lynn and Justin Isherwood (that's them in the picture), want to bring it back as a stream, and they're battling the local drainage district commission to do so.

The bucolic scene of the creek in this video (make sure you turn up your volume to hear real tweets of birds) may be the last you'll see of Isherwood Lateral like this --for now. The bulldozer and backhoe arrived a few days after Rat shot this. You can see the stream wanting to re-create itself here. That's gone now.

But hope is nigh! The drainage district boys with their machines are done, and the Isherwoods, working with River Alliance and Trout Unlimited, will restore the ditch to, if not a creek, "creek-like functions."

So, we say goodbye to the Isherwood Lateral and re-christen this homely stream Isherwood Creek. Rat doubts they'll be updating the stream maps any time soon, but it's good to be optimistic.

Crystal Geyser Eyeing Our Water -- in Bottles

Shades of Perrier!

Another water bottling outfit is back in central Wisconsin, checking out possibilities for a water bottling plant that could extract over 300,000 gallons of groundwater per day, if all goes their way. The proposed site is just a few miles away from the epicenter of the bottled water controversy early this decade, when local citizens and conservation groups sent Perrier (Nestle) packing.

River Rat was among several water rats at a meeting called by Crystal Geyser on July 21 to "dialogue" with environmental groups.

It was hard to even get past the introductions without arousing this Rat's suspicions. Despite their claim they're a "family-owned and operated company," it took some prying to find out they're actually half owned (44%) by a Japanese pharmaceutical company, Otsuka Pharmaceuticals. Rat doesn't know if there's any issues with Otsuka (yet), but it's just the wrong foot to start on when a company trying to "dialogue" with you evades questions about who owns them.

Then there's the bottling proposal itself, couched in the usual "We'll be careful!" and "Think of the jobs we create!" There are a lot of unanswered questions about what effect removing that much water will have on the area's surface waters, as groundwater and surface water there are virtually one and the same. They'll do the usual test pumping, hydro-geology studies, etc. That work will be done by a Wisconsin consulting firm, Ruekert-Mielke, last known for its laughable map-making for the City of New Berlin's application to Wisconsin DNR to divert Lake Michigan water.

Much more to come on this proposal, Rat is sorry to say.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul? Water Woes in the Little Plover River

We’ve been hearing about how the Little Plover river, a class 1 trout stream in Portage County, has been drying up or close to it each summer as excessive groundwater pumping has been literally draining the lifeblood out of this little system. Even more powerful have been the images of a dried up creekbed with little dried up fish carcasses strewn across it where once was a flowing stream teeming with trout.

Well the river’s about to run dry again. In the absence of a long-term plan to manage groundwater withdrawal in the Little Plover River basin, DNR is proposing to pour some water into the streambed to avoid having it dry up completely. The water will come from – can you see this coming? – groundwater pumping. Granted, they are quick to reassure that this is only temporary, until a more permanent solution to the problem is drafted. But still, it feels a little like robbing Peter to pay Paul and in the end, there are still no winners. What do you think: is this is a panacea or just a PR placebo? For more on this issue, stay tuned to the River Alliance’s next issue of Wisconsin Rivers newsletter, due out in August.

posted by the River Rat

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bold Visions and Muddy Thoughts on WI Dams: The Afternoon Edition

This morning, I posted about some pretty big plans for sturgeon passage around hydro dams on the Menominee River. The afternoon edition brings another exciting announcement that NOAA just awarded $4.4 million for re-establishing fish passage along 158 miles of Milwaukee River and tributaries. The ambitious project will include:
  • Removal of the Lime Kiln Dam in the Village of Grafton;
  • Fish passage construction at the Bridge Street Dam in the Village of Grafton;
  • Fish passage construction at the Mequon-Thiensville Dam;
  • Reconstruction of stream crossings in biologically significant tributaries that are blocking fish migration as well as removal of smaller migration impediments such as debris and invasive plants.
The grant was submitted by Ozaukee County in partnership with the City of Mequon and Villages of Grafton and Thiensville and the DNR. Culverts are under the jurisdiction of Ozaukee County, the City of Mequon, the Towns of Cedarburg, Fredonia, Grafton, and Saukville, and the Villages of Fredonia, Grafton, Saukville, and Thiensville.

The end result of this impressive project will be to reconnect over 35 miles of Milwaukee River, 11 miles of the north branch of the Milwaukee River, 112 miles of quality tributaries and more than 14,000 acres of wetlands. Only one small but big impediment stands between this renewed system and the mighty Lake Michigan: Estabrook Dam, whose fate is currently being pondered by Milwaukee County.

Such big and bold thinking about dams is typical of Wisconsin. And it also makes a recent budget veto by the Governor all the more befuddling. The Legislature presented a budget amendment which would reinstate the DNR's authority to recommend fish passage at dams where important fish species are impacted. This amendment also removed the requirement that taxpayers of Wisconsin pony up part of the cost of fish passage on private dams that harmed rivers. Governor Doyle vetoed this amendment, despite support of the Legislature and the DNR. There isn't some long history of cost-sharing fish passage here: this requirement was snuck into the budget by a vindictive legislator eight years ago and its removal would have presented a significant cost-savings to our heavily-in-debt state. Fish passage is an essential piece of the picture at dams on our most biologically productive rivers. What a shame to have squandered an opportunity to right this wrong.

SturgeonVision...and You Don't Need Those Goofy Cellophane Glasses

Okay, it will never get tens of thousands of hits on YouTube, but we think the video of big lake sturgeon swimming around in front of an underwater camera in the Menominee River is a good story to tell.

Here’s the story; the video link is below. For years, the River Alliance has joined the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, the natural resources agencies of Michigan and Wisconsin, and WE Energies in figuring out how to enable the mystical and prehistoric lake sturgeon to get around the many dams on the Menominee River. (This is the border river between Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.)

This is no simple task, even though the devices that may end up transporting the fish up and over the dam – essentially, elevators and water slides – are commonplace. For example, how’s a sturgeon supposed to find the elevator to get over a dam?

The only way to find out is put a box along the side of a dam and see if the fish find their way into it. That’s what you’ll see in the video clip – big sturgeon attracted to a box mounted on the side of the dam (the so-called fishway entrance). The study is designed to figure out whether sturgeon can be drawn to a place at a dam site where they can be lifted over the dam, or swim themselves to new streams expressly built to allow them to swim around them dam.

River Alliance’s hydro consultant Jim Fossum says, “This study was a very significant step. We now have proof beyond a doubt that sturgeon will enter the test device, and this information will help in the next phase – designing the actual structures for fish passage.”

Other fish passage projects the River Alliance is negotiating are at the two hydro dams near the mouth of the Menominee River, at Marinette, operated by North American Hydro; and the Alliant Energy-owned Prairie du Sac dam on the Wisconsin River.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Class is in session...Class IV that is...

When you think of whitewater rafting, your mind doesn't usually turn to Wisconsin. Bass fishing, sure. Kayaking, probably. Drinking beer while doing either, absolutely. Whitewater rafting...not so much. Well, just like all accepted assumptions, this one too is incorrect. Because you don't have to go to Colorado to experience the thrill of Class IV can do it right here on the Menominee River that creates the border between Wisconsin and Michigan. A few weeks ago, a few River Alliance rats and others went to experience it themselves. And experience it they did. Here's just one action shot from the day--and there are more available here. Great fun was had by all. Special thanks to Kosir's Rapid Rafts, good friends of the River Alliance, who made sure everyone had a great--and safe--time.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Catfish Dead of Alcohol Poisoning? Or Maybe Not

A sad story in the “industrial accident” category out of northern Illinois this week.

On Friday June 19, a train hauling tankers cars of fuel ethanol derailed, killing one woman and causing the evacuation of people in the area. Two days later, thousands of dead fish started washing up on the shores of the Rock River. People have found dead fish as far downstream as the Rock’s confluence with the Mississippi.

The train derailed near a creek which feeds the Kishwaukee River, which flows to the Rock. Incredibly, government officials say the ethanol spill didn’t necessarily kill the fish; they don’t know what did, and tests of the dead fish found no traces of ethanol or of the gasoline that’s mixed in the ethanol (to prevent people from drinking it), as reported by the June 25 edition of the Rockford Register Star Even more bizarre is that one EPA official, with an apparent straight face, claims the fish kill may have been caused by lowered oxygen levels as dead fish decomposed.

Can someone explain how the first batch of fish died?

What we do know is that some of the ethanol tanks were ablaze, and firefighters kept a constant flow of water on them to keep others from blowing up. Rat wonders where that water ended up. Some locals believe the ethanol spill was coincidental – that heavy rains ran some other toxic stuff in the river and killed the fish. Then again, an Illinois DNR guy said the cause was something “caustic” that literally made the fish jump out the water to escape it.

Whatever the cause, apparently some fine specimens of channel catfish succumbed.

Rat isn’t totally serious with this closing comment, but I have to say it – you gotta wish the derailment had taken place along the already-near-toxic Illinois River, which has been taken over by the bighead (Asian) carp, an aquatic scourge that threatens to ruin the Upper Mississippi basin. YouTube has some frightening footage about these beasts, which are also there due to “human error.”

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

River restoration: Should we bring back Mississippi's roaring white-water rapids?

"For thousands of years, the Twin Cities had a white-water rapids roaring through it, tumbling and roiling over and around enormous limestone chunks that still litter the Mississippi River's floor for eight miles from the St. Anthony Falls dam all the way down to Ft. Snelling.

If it were restored to its natural state, the "gorge" would be a kayaking and recreational wonder with hundreds of acres of new parkland, a photographer's delight and a sportsman's paradise. Scores of eagles would nest there, drawn by all the fish that would mass in oxygen-rich water and spawn in gravel beds under swirling eddies."
A recent article by Ron Way in the Minneapolis Post got my whiskers twitching in excitement. A small but growing group of restoration advocates in Minneapolis are kindling the hope that the City's majestic rapids may one day roar again with the removal of the Army Corps of Engineers Lock and Dam #1.

It's a long shot. But not impossible. And the article, and accompanying video, make for a great geology lesson with mind-boggling facts like this:
It was 12,000 years ago that a 175-foot falls that rivaled Niagara was where downtown St. Paul is, with massive volumes of meltwater from glacial Lake Agassiz — at the time much larger than the present Great Lakes combined — filling the Minnesota River (then the River Warren) to the brim. The Mississippi was a mere trickling stream by comparison.
Go read the article, and take a little day-dreaming trip through the gorges of the Upper Mississippi river.

posted by the River Rat

Friday, June 5, 2009

Glades Without Alligators

You don’t often put “glades” and Wisconsin in the same thought. We’re a long way from the Everglades, that great swamp down on the tip of Florida.

But a bunch of river rats found out last Saturday that central Wisconsin has some sweet glades to glide through. Their mystique is only enhanced by the fact that the glades are there until they’re gone, when the high waters of spring recede and nothing but mudflats and mosquitoes remain.

These glades are the woody lowlands along the western shore of the Wisconsin River, above the Upper Dells. Our intrepid guide to this ephemeral water world is Mariana Weinhold, who with her husband Frank owns the storied Louis’ Bluff, a high promontory along the river north of the Dells.

Paddling the glades and hiking the bluff was a fine way to spend a Saturday, as 14 souls found out that day. Organized by the River Alliance, the day captured everything the River Alliance wants to accomplish with their “Make a Date With a River” series – learn about a fine river, connect with like-minded river rats, stretch your physical capabilities, and bask in the passion and wisdom and good humor of people like the Weinholds.

Go to and click on “Make a Date With a River” for the schedule. We love rivers here, and it shows when you show up for a MDWR event.

Dough Rollin'...

Despite being a blogger, I don't spend a lot of time takes too much time away from being in and around the water. And I certainly don't want to touch writing a grant application. But it's a good thing some folks around the River Alliances offices don't mind it...and are pretty damned good at it. How so? Well, despite all the damage this Great Recession is doing to everyone, including acute damage to many nonprofit organizations, the RA has bucked the trend and secured several big chunks of change to not just keep the doors open, but keep things working on just about every cylinder. Big checks from a couple big old private foundations have graced the office mailbox, as well as significant commitments from the state and one of Wisconsin's larger municipalities. Apparently, they're doing something right down there at River Alliance Central--the fat wallet types sure seem to think so.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Prodigal Rat...

With the sun shining, water flowing, and flowers flowering, it's tough to find the ambition to sit at a keyboard and compose. Hence my recent hiatus from rat missives. I am weak when it comes to spring...there, I've said it. But knowing my duty to my readers, I've dragged myself off the water and the ol' desktop to share with you all a bit of interesting history. One of the finest river rats in Wisconsin, retired newspaper publisher George Rogers, sent it along. It's about an area in central Wisconsin that the River Alliance featured in its last newsletter, Wisconsin Rivers , the Portage County Drainage District. Don't worry...the story is better than the name. Here you go:

"The Isherwood story was a good one. A book could be written about the Buena Vista Marsh and the Portage County Drainage District. It started out as a big wetland -- part marsh and part tamarack bog, I think, with trout streams running through it.

Early in the 20th century Bradley Polytechnic Institute of Peoria, Ill. (now Bradley University) bought it. Bradley had drained a swamp in Indiana, sold it to farmers and made a lot of money, and decided to do the same here. They drained it and sold the land but it wasn't a farming bonanza. The soil wasn't as rich as it looked. It was peat, and sometimes it caught fire and burned all winter. Dams were put in the drainage ditches (mostly straightened trout streams) to control the water level. Some landowners wanted the level higher, some lower. At one point there was a big Kentucky bluegrass seed industry on the marsh but it collapsed after World War II when they found it was cheaper to import it from Denmark. Kentucky bluegrass isn't native to the U.S., it's a northern European plant.

While it lasted on the marsh, it was good for prairie chickens. The marsh is still Wisconsin's best prairie chicken stronghold. Over the years, there have been arguments with the DNR as to whether the ditches are navigable waters or artificial waterways. They reached some sort of compromise. Controversies continue, as you can tell from Justin's article. The ditches still have trout, although they're straight and unnatural looking. It's like fishing on a sidewalk. Currently, cranberry growing is on the increase on the marsh. Its impact on trout and prairie chickens is uncertain."

Thursday, May 7, 2009

River Rat: Travel Advisor....

Vacations are something river rats like myself excel in...we enjoy our leisure time, as we're sure you do yourselves. But "these tough economic times" quote (or possibly just paraphrase) a respected River Alliance leader...make jetting to Napa for wine and cheese or caravaning to Disneyland with your ratlets a difficult proposition (some might even say an impossibility). So, what's a leisure seeking rat to do? Well...head to their local river, of course. According to this Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, that--and camping--is exactly what many of your fellow Wisconsinites are doing.

Given this, I rattled some cages (and burrows) here at River Rat Central and asked our dedicated servants of rivers to pass along their favorite "staycation" info site links for your summer planning. They happily obliged, if only to get my dirty, wet paws off their desktops.

The Wisconsin DNR's Surface Water Viewer, an interactive G.I.S. map, lets you search for and zero in on your favorite navigable waters, while also coming upon some you might not have thought, or known, about. And even if you don't find a new pristine paddling place, it sure is fun to play around with.

After you've purused the bevy of paddle friendly running waters Wisconsin has to offer, surf over to or and find out what your fellow water voyageurs have to say about your select stream. You'll also get an idea of the current conditions and maybe--just maybe--a post-paddle watering hole recommendation. And if there isn't one there, feel free to leave one. With the variety of watering holes available in the land of deer and cheese, sometimes it's good to have a map.

Whitewater adventure more your speed than a leisurely paddle-in-hand toodle? American Whitewater will give you up to the day reports on the status of your favorite rapids, and maybe turn you on to some new ones.

Of course, there are many great options for combining a paddle with an over-night (or week's) camping. The DNR's site will also give you the scoop in state campgrounds, natural areas, and navigable waters. Just don't forget to get your state parks sticker.

Now, just so you don't think I'm all about paddling and not interested in the anglers amongst my readers, there's also a load of good links for you rod and tackle lovers. Fly Fishing WI is a real one stop shop for fly fishing information, detailing stream conditions, fishing regulations, and even fly friendly writers.

Need something to read while you dangle your line in the water? Then check out Improved Trout Waters of Wisconsin. Full of detailed maps, it's a must for you trout anglers out there.

Don't forget to go to DNR's fishing page, where you can get more info on conditions and even buy your license online.

So, there you have should be all set to fill you summer activities. I'm glad I could help. And if you have more suggestions for your fellow River Rats, leave them in the comments section below. I'm a bright rat, but I'm certainly not infallable (close...but not quite).

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Does this mean I should stop calling the Bark River the People's River?

The River Rat caught wind of some fan mail that arrived at River Alliance offices last week and as a blog-besotted communist rodent, I just had to post it for all you river lovers to enjoy:

After reading an article about the Delafield, WI dam removal; I wonder what gives this ulta-liberal [sic] organization of communist Madison a say in what goes on here?

The authority you bring is not knowledge, but your assertion of what looks best in your eyes, not how it affects others.

Please…get a real job and focus on raising a God-loving family and not this type of foolishness. Stop being a busy-body and acting as though you have some type of authority.

This is what makes me sick when we all know this poor women didn’t contact your organization, you guy’s [sic] pressured her!

Thanks for letting me speak my mind,

Area resident

Dear “area resident”,

Thanks for sharing your mind!

Being the River Rat, I respect folks who are passionate defenders of their home rivers. But I have to ask – did you get as angry when you found out about how the Delafield Common Council recently came within a single vote of approving a motion to seize the private property of one tax-paying resident to benefit the backyard of six others and take on the $700,000 repair bill that came with it ? You might not need to point so far west if you want to get mad about “communists” and “busybodies”.

You ask, too, what gives the River Alliance, or anyone else for that matter, a say in what goes on in your home river? There’s a two-part answer to that very good question. First, though the desk chairs, computers and paperclips of this fine organization are located in Madison, its soul lives in the more than 3000 members that occupy every county of this state and swim, fish, hike, explore and care for just about every foot of river, stream and creek in Wisconsin. Some of them are your fellow neighbors and “area residents”. One of them is the dam owner.

Second, there is this little piece of Wisconsin Constitution called the Public Trust Doctrine. Our founding fathers – bless their busybody little hearts – included language that ensured that the waters of Wisconsin belong to the people of Wisconsin and are forever free. That means that every Wisconsinite, whether they be a riparian owner, “area resident”, user of the river or river enthusiast, has the opportunity - or the “authority” if that’s the term you prefer – to have a say in how our public waters are managed. That’s the privilege and the responsibility of living in a place where no can ever put a fence across a flowing river and say “private property: keep out”.

So call it red menace or anything else you like but it ain’t just coming from Madison. People who love rivers are everywhere and are multiplying like, well, rats. That means you can count on them to stir healthy debate about how rivers should be managed all over this state. And the River Alliance will always continue the hard job of supporting river rats and giving those rivers a voice.

Your in-stream comrade,
The River Rat

(P.S. More on the story of the Nemahbin Roller Mill dam soon. A soon as we're done coercing the dam owner to give us more Krispy Kremes)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Damn, that's a good looking fish.

Our good friends over at Milwaukee Riverkeeper posted this sweet little discovery on Pidgeon Creek near the site of the former Seminary Dam which was removed in 2008.
"This picture shows the first confirmed migrating steelhead upstream of the former Pigeon Creek dam at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon. Milwaukee Riverkeeper was a key player in getting the dam removed, opening up 25 miles of stream to migrating fish like the one shown here."
Nice job to all involved!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

River Rat Recognition Recently Received...

Well, your favorite alliteratively titled blog is going an extent. River Network, the organization devoted to the preservation of the nation's rivers (and the support of local river organizations like the Rat's beloved River Alliance of Wisconsin), has just added a new page to their website, highlighting blogs from those same local orgs. And the River Rat is in the slate. We won't claim complete credit for this timely advancement, but we will admit to wiggling our whiskers near the ear of our River Network pal Katherine Lucher to get the idea out there. Thanks to her for making this happen, and forward ho to our other river blogging compatriots. Check them all out...after you've read the Rat, of course.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Stop Thinking, Just Paddle

River conservation is hard work. You can worry yourself to insomnia about dumb things people do to rivers: official neglect, active abuse, shoreline stupidities, cow poop (see blog entries below). It's causing me insomnia already, and I'm wide awake.

Sometimes in this earnest and furrow-browed conservation world, we figure out the best antidote for this taking-rivers-too-seriously-sometimes is to take yourself out on a river and simply have fun in it. A few fellow rats did just that on Saturday, paddling a hidden gem of a river in northern Waupaca County -- the Little Wolf. It's a typical central Wisconsin stream in that it runs clear and clean and cold, but its Laurentian shield granite outcrops and boulders make for a surprisingly active paddle. Dodging boulders in the Little Wolf, interspersed with aimless prattle and loving insults lobbed back and forth, finished off with a gentle rinse of Jim Beam at the takeout -- it was a fine day.

Between Crap and a Hard Place, pt. 3

Unless something catastrophic happens from farm runoff, it hardly generates news anymore. River Rat has learned that a leak from a Kewaunee County farmer's manure pit spilled several hundred thousand gallons into the Kewaunee River on April 10. A broken pipe is apparently the cause. The photo shows an attempt to control manure running into the Kewaunee River from a leaky pipe near a manure pit.

One eye witness account of the event put it this way: "When I stuck my hand in the water and pulled it out to smell it, to say it smelled as though I just pulled it out of a cow's ass would be an understatement!" (RAT EDITOR: We apologize to readers with sensitive countenances for the blue language...the truth is sometimes a jarring thing.) Aye-yi-yi! Brave fellow, this particular river rat. According to news reports, the farmer is cooperating with the DNR. No one is counting dead fish yet, as far as Rat knows.

Not the case at the Big Eau Pleine reservoir, where the fish die-off we told you about last week and the week before is nothing short of a disaster. On Thursday, April 23, Wisconsin Public Television will air part two of it's report on that fish kill, getting at the root causes (we linked to part one here). Here's betting farm runoff will be high on that cause list. Nothing catastrophic, but cumulative and chronic over the decades, as phosphorus-rich sediments get to the Big Eau Pleine River, which feeds algae, which then consumes oxygen, which fish can't live without.