Advancing Our Understanding of Lakes and Streams and their Connection with the Land
Wisconsin has a long history of trying to understand our surface waters and their relationship to watersheds. In the early 1900s, UW Professor Edward Birge and biologist Chancey Juday sampled lakes across Wisconsin. Their observations on chemistry, biology, and geography provided early examples of the land to water connection.
Decades later, studies of Wisconsin lakes helped connect changes in watersheds with changes to the rate of lake eutrophication. Those studies formed the basis for how we can link watershed nutrient transfer with surface water response.
Our understanding of water and the link to watersheds continues to improve today as citizens, lake associations, river groups, municipalities and resource agencies seek to make connections between specific lakes, streams, watersheds and communities.
UW-Extension is part of this rich history in many ways, and educators and specialists throughout the state incorporate surface water and watersheds in their programming.
The Center for Watershed Science and Education at UW-Stevens Point plays a role by:
1) Educating, training and talking with citizens, storm water professionals, lake associations, river groups, agency staff, and students about lake and watershed evaluation tools.
2) Developing and providing laboratory and staff resources in projects ranging from monitoring challenges to county-wide assessments.
3) Engaging in applied, field-based research along with students from the College of Natural Resources to advance our understanding of watersheds, lakes and streams.
Big Eau Pleine model
The Big Eau Pleine Dissolved Oxygen Model is an example of a Center project. The Big Eau Pleine is one of the largest lakes in Wisconsin and a trophy fishery. It is a water control reservoir in the Wisconsin River system that was created in the 1930s. The lake has periodically had low levels of dissolved oxygen in the winter. After fish kills in 2009 and 2013, a group that included representatives from the Big Eau Pleine Citizens Organization, the Wisconsin Valley Improvement Company, Wisconsin DNR and Marathon County asked the Center to help them evaluate dissolved oxygen levels under the ice in the hopes of improving management of the reservoir.
Center staff applied new computer simulation tools and helped guide a technical team through a two-year process to understand how water level management and decaying organic matter contribute to oxygen levels. The monitoring and modeling suggests that sediment warming in the Big Eau Pleine during the summer can accelerate convective mixing and subsequent oxygen depletion in the winter.
While this study’s observations provide new insight into how lakes function, it is also an extension of previous UW research on sediment warming. Moving forward, the simulation tool for the Big Eau Pleine is helping guide the use of an aeration system in the most severe winters.
Center for Land Use Education Highlights
Recently, Center for Land Use Education (CLUE) educators Lynn Markham and Rebecca Power shared an infographic illustrating highlights of the Center’s staff, outreach, teaching and applied research. Check it out to get a quick look at how CLUE is helping to fulfill UW-Extension’s commitment to the Wisconsin Idea.
New CNRED Connections to a “Not so New” CNRED program:
Water Action Volunteers
By Peggy Compton
Water Action Volunteers (WAV) have been part of UW-Extension and the CNRED program area for 20 years. The program started with educational materials calling citizens to “Make WAVes for Action” by taking part in activities like stream walk surveys, storm drain stenciling or river clean-ups. Through the years, several of the popular activities grew into a citizen stream monitoring program that has become synonymous with Water Action Volunteers.
WAV’s goals are to educate and empower citizens, obtain high quality data for natural resource management, and to encourage sharing of data and knowledge. WAV volunteers can participate in one or more levels of monitoring including introductory monitoring, status and trends (long-term monitoring), and monitoring that contributes to research or special projects.
The WAV program has grown steadily throughout its story, with over 2000 citizens trained since the program began. More than 500 adults and families each year take part in WAV stream monitoring, with another 2000+ students participating under a teacher’s guidance. In 2015, volunteers monitored a record 751 unique stream sites (making 4500+ site visits) in 59 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties.
Since 2012, WAV volunteers have been monitoring streams for total phosphorus analyses to assist the DNR in making determinations regarding the water quality in local streams. The WAV total phosphorus monitoring and data collection is among the first in the nation in which citizens accomplish stream monitoring tasks that otherwise would be carried out by DNR staff.
Program administration for WAV comes from UW-Extension and DNR with support from local program coordinators who are often affiliated with other agencies or non-profit organizations. A 2015 study found that on average, for every dollar DNR and UW-Extension contributed to volunteer stream monitoring, external partners and competitive grants contributed $1.12. Read more here.