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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