Wisconsin River Water Quality

Wisconsin River water quality issues: This last August 19th, I participated at the request of the River Alliance of Wisconsin in a forum sponsored by the Petenwell and Castle Rock Lake Stewards. This organization is at the forefront on the water quality issues that they face each year as the annual summer appearance of smelly, unsightly, even toxic algae bloom, and it’s affects on the health of the recreational users of their water, the ecosystem, and the health of the local tourism economy.

The purpose of this meeting was to bring interested parties up to date on the 3-year study underway by the DNR on these water quality issues as they pertain to the Wisconsin River and its tributaries. Once the data is collected and evaluated, the DNR will present these findings to the policy makers in Madison to implement appropriate regulations that would hopefully diminish the pollution into the Wisconsin watershed that creates the blue –green algae we have seen on our Lake Dubay this summer.

Blue green algae are actually cyanobacteria, microscopic organisms that are true bacteria. They are present in all lakes , ponds, and ditches across Wisconsin but live unrecognized except for when the right conditions develop and the cyanobacteria grow quickly, creating “blooms” across the water surface that look like paint, thick scum or pea soup. When blooms occur,cyanobacteria can release toxins that cause illiness and even death in many animals ingesting them. Nutrients,particulary phosphorus and nitrogen,can be carried into water bodies as a result of many human activities,including agriculture,discharge of untreated sewage and use of phosphorus –based fertilizers and detergents.

The three major “hot spots” that are near to Lake Dubay are in the Big Eau Pleine, Little Eau Pleine, and Mill Creek tributaries. These tributaries are the major contributors of phosphorus from the farms to the Wisconsin river here in central Wisconsin.

Lake Dubay water is monitored regularly by Pete Boettcher and Sid Ellenbecker of DBPOA along with the students at the Center of Watershed Science and Education under the direction of Nancy Turyk, Water Resources Scientist at UWSP.

I didn’t realize how serious this blue –green algae has become until I saw it first hand on the waters of Petenwel l and Castle rock. I ‘am however pleased that the DNR and the politicians that attended this function are concerned and interested in resolving these issues. It will take time but we have their full attention.

For more detailed information on the blue green algae go to : http://dnr.wi.gov/lakes/bluegreenalgea

Kevin Coleman

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