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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.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Between Crap and a Hard Place, pt. 2

Apparently, Wisconsin Public Television reads the River Rat...or at least pays attention to the same river news we do. Take a look at their take on the Big Eau Pleine Reservoir fish kill we wrote about here:

A little shameless self-promotion for the River Alliance of Wisconsin, but visit to learn about their Earth Day initiatives and who they are partnering with. Remember Earth Day is April 22nd, although I didn't hear anything about World Rat Day this year.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Poo in the 'Boo

Daily dose of black humor courtesy of the Kickapoo Free Press.

James Mlsna, owner of Ocooch Dairy, was fined last month for intentionally modifying his wastewater and manure holding tank to divert overflow directly into the South Branch of the Baraboo River. For all the scoop on the poop (sorry, can't help myself!), check out the Vernon Broadcaster's reporting of the incident.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Wild Rivers, Clean Rivers

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle gave his signing hand a workout today, inking his name to two important, river-friendly pieces of legislation. One gave the Brunsweiler River the state's first Wild River designation in almost 40 years. The Brunsweiler was a favorite of famed conservationist Martin Hanson, who lived beside it most of his life. Sadly, he passed away in 2007, but this designation is a recognition of his life and hard work for Wisconsin's environment. Paws way up to that. And in the "when it rains it pours" category, we're hoping that in a couple of weeks that signing hand will designate the Totogatic River a Wild River as well. Rivers are suddenly going wild all over this state...about time, if you ask me.

His second "Jim Doyle" signed the Clean Lakes Bill into law, banning the sale and use of phosphorous-based fertilizers. We've given flack to farmers on this blog for agro-runoff and its harmful effects on our trickling tributaries, but urban/suburban green lawn aficionados deserve a little blame too. Their beloved phosphorous fertilizers have wreaked havoc in our rivers, exploding algae growth and depressing oxygen levels. Not fun for fishies, to be sure...or anything else that relies on oxygenated water to breath. Now, thanks to a forward-thinking legislature and the Governor's ceremonial pen, phosphorous pollution in our rivers is one less thing about which we have to worry.

A good day to be a river rat, let me tell you.

Monday, April 13, 2009

First Ditch Effort

River Rat recently spent some time near a ditch -- just the place you'd expect a rat to hang out. But ditches in the water world, especially in Wisconsin, usually mean: "I used to be a stream, but the well-meaning fools of the early 20th century wanted to make me into a ditch so they could get water out of their fields, and straightened me out."

Problem is, those fields were marshes for hundreds or thousands of years, and unless they are "managed" (by well-meaning fools), they will revert back to what is in their biological genetic code. With time and experience, we start to see the folly of single-purpose land management, and realize that maybe these ditches and the land they drain might offer some other ecological services.

The think tank for a new view of drainage districts is the farm of Justin and Lynn Isherwood, near Plover. They and their neighbors farm what had been a gigantic marsh. But Isherwoods recognize that trying to tame old that former marsh, by dredging and ditching, makes a good display of the old adage, "If the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail."

More on this topic in upcoming communiques, but in listening to Justin Isherwood trying to bring the drainage commission into the 21st century in how it thinks about this former marsh, you wonder: what is it that we do now that in 50 years, the youngest rats among us will ask, "What were they thinking when they did THAT?" This old rat thinks numbing suburban development, with its asphalt strip malls and detachment from anything beautiful or valuable, is a good candidate for the young rats' questions 20 years hence.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Dane County Voters Return a River Champion to Office

A tail and two paws up to Dane County voters who returned, by a strong margin, current Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk to office. With her commitment to finding a creative solution to the Yahara watershed's manure run-off problems, support of stream buffers, and general championing of water issues, Dane County's rivers and lakes couldn't have a better friend. Kudos to Kathleen Falk, and to Dane County voters.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Between Crap and a Hard Place

Anglers, in recent years, have come to renown Big Eau Pleine Reservoir, located near Wausau WI, for its big catches. Walleye, pike and crappie bred like rabbits and grew like mushrooms in the thing. Well, not anymore, according to this article in today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. A combination of low water levels and high agro-runoff (read...a lot of crap in the water) caused oxygen levels to drop so low even carp couldn't survive (and given some of the carp I've known, that's saying something). Some estimates are putting the fish kill at almost 80%.
Why so high? Because, a reservoir is not a's a dammed river. So, when the crap hits the lake, the fish hit the dam. They are trapped in a shallow impoundment...sitting ducks. Or worse, because ducks could fly away. The fish are stuck...stuck in a huge man-made aquarium with the oxygen turned off. Citizens in the area have joined forces to try and make sure this sort of thing doesn't happen again. Good luck to them. Too late, unfortunately, for all the fish, the anglers and all the area businesses that cater to the line-throwers. Now, we've been told for years that strong environmental management regulations are bad for small businesses. Well, I guess now we know that poor ones aren't so hot either.