Add to Technorati Favorites

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Delton's Dubious Dye Dump

Allow Rat to begin by posing a basic home repair question.  Imagine for a minute that you live in a house with a leaky roof.  To be clear, we’re not talking about a rundown old rat hole (which has an undeniable charm of its own), but a genuinely nice place.  Every time it rains, water drips onto the wood floor.  After a few leaky years, the wood floor is in bad shape, completely water-stained, warped, and rotten.  Repairs are badly needed.  Do you pony up the dough for a nice new wood floor, knowing full well that the roof leaks?  

The Village of Lake Delton, known far and wide for its most river-rat-unfriendly of water skiing shows, is deeply invested in the appearance of its namesake lake, which drives its tourism-based economy.  Recently, the lake has been fouled with green water and algae blooms, caused by upstream polluted runoff that brings excess nutrients into the lake. 

The Village was apparently looking for a short-term fix to the dirty water that would allow water ski shows and other water-based recreation to continue unimpeded by unsightly and stinky algae.  So, they poured $30,000 worth (or some 500 GALLONS) of “AquaBlue” dye into the waters of Lake Delton.

Visibility in Delton's dyed waters is no more than a few feet.

AquaBlue, in case you are wondering, is a “non-toxic” dye for use in ponds—think of artificial blue ponds on golf courses.  Its contents are a trade secret—“concentrated acid blue dye #9” is all they tell us.  The dye, working its dark magic in Lake Delton at this very moment, prevents sunlight from penetrating more than a couple feet in the water.  According to its label, it provides a “beautiful blue tint” to the water.  Eyewitnesses confirm that it Lake Delton is indeed dark blue presently, with visibility at no more than a foot or two.

Rat’s pretty skeptical about this whole operation, which stinks as badly as the algae it was supposed to suppress.  Amid all of the murkiness over the dye, some light needs to be shed on a few important issues, such as the impact of this supposedly harmless dye.  If light doesn’t penetrate the dyed water beyond a couple of feet, how do sight-feeding fish find prey?  And if light can’t reach submerged aquatic plants, and the life-giving process of photosynthesis shuts down, what happens to the aquatic critters?

The question of whether or not the Village could legally dump the dye into public waters without a DNR permit is presently being evaluated by authorities, so stay tuned on that.  But it’s pretty clear that the dye was used as a workaround to the Village actually obtaining a DNR permit for any of the alternative treatments they could have sought.  You see, the dye isn’t registered (read: approved) by the EPA, which is likely why it was used.

And then there’s the not-so-insignificant issue of where the dye was dumped.  Deltonites ought to remember that their namesake “lake” is in truth Dell Creek, held up behind a dam.  (The creek infamously reminded us of this during the flood of 2008, when it blew out the dam and artificial lake, taking several homes with it).  Whether AquaBlue, PlayfulPink or RosyRed, the lake’s dye-tainted waters are currently draining out of the lake, and right into the Wisconsin River.  A greenish plume into the river was visible shortly after the dye was dumped.

Trouble is, the dye is meant to be used “in confined systems,” explicitly NOT for use in streams, rivers, or other flowing water bodies that are “not under control of the user.”  Rat can’t say with authority what kind of impacts the blue colorant will ultimately have on plants and animals downstream, but, he can say with full certainty that the Village of Lake Delton does NOT “control” the public waters of our state.

Rat knows desperation when he smells it.  And in his heart of hearts he can’t help but feel sympathy for folks yearning for crystal blue clean water.  The green plague seems to grow worse every year, wreaking havoc on Wisconsin’s rivers and streams.  Visitors flee from the hideous stuff and small businesses suffer the loss of income when summertime waters are marred by algae.  Here’s an idea: how about the fat cats on the hill in Madison pay as much attention to the concerns of small business owners affected by dirty water as they do the cries of other businesses who want regulations gutted?  They seem to only hear one type of small business owner…the one who hates government regulations.

Abstract art? Nope, just a boat landing dyed a pleasing blue tint.

In the meantime, any rat worth his whiskers could tell you that this expensive, temporary, and downright foolish “fix” (and significant expenditure of local taxpayer money) won’t clean up Lake Delton in the long term.  The only way out of this slimy mess is to look upstream and address polluted runoff problems, stopping the slime-causing sludge at the source. 

Remember our home repair question above?  The algae blooms in this case are merely a symptom of the upstream problem of polluted runoff, much like the rotten floor is a symptom of a leaky roof.  Treating the symptom does nothing to alleviate the bigger problem.  Fortunately, Wisconsin has tools in place, such as a progressive set of phosphorus rules, which allow us to holistically treat upstream “problems.”  But until we actually start looking for upstream solutions instead of downstream band-aids, quick “fixes” like Lake Delton dye dumps, Lake Menomin “scumsuckers,” or Lake Monona “solar bees,” are looking like damned expensive lipstick on the proverbial pig.

posted by the River Rat