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Guest Post: To Keep Our Freshwater Fresh, We Need to Be Smart About Salt

Once a month, Go Big Read features an article written by Adam Hintertheuer, writer for the UW-Madison Center for Limnology blog

Salt dumped by an overzealous snowplow will someday flow downhill into Lake Monona. Photo courtesy of UW-Madison Center for Limnology.

In the early morning hours this Saturday, I awoke to the first snowplow of the year scraping down my street. A few hours later, it took another pass. Then, as I was sipping my first cup of coffee, I heard the distant scrape and rumble of the plow blade grow closer as a truck from the City of Madison Streets Department began a third approach.

I walked to my window expecting a larger-than-expected snowfall blanketing my view. Instead, I saw a dusting. (According to the National Weather Service, totals on my side of town topped out at .05 inches).

While a couple of overly optimistic kids were already out on the neighborhood sledding hill, the hill was more grass than snow. The street was clear. The snow on my sidewalk was already melting away.

A dusting of snow still received the full snow-removal treatment. Photo courtesy of A. Hinterthuer.

But here the truck came anyway, scraping its blade along the clear street and spitting a shower of road salt out from the hopper attached to the truck bed. That salt wouldn’t be much use melting snow and keeping the road clear, but it will end up flowing downhill and into Lake Monona if Friday’s forecast for rain holds true.

Our Lakes Are Getting Saltier

That salt will also contribute to a growing trend. According to research from Center for Limnology (CFL) faculty member, Hilary Dugan, North America’s lakes are getting saltier. And this is mostly thanks to the use of salt to clear winter roads and parking lots here in the Midwest and the Northeastern U.S.

Dugan’s research shows increasing salinity in our lakes. File courtesy of H. Dugan.

In fact, 44% of North America’s lakes are getting saltier. Here in Madison, “we’ve seen a tremendous increase in the chloride concentrations for our local lakes,” Dugan says. Background levels in the Madison lakes were around 2 mg/L in the early 1900s, and now they’re at 50 mg/L in Lake Mendota. These high salt concentrations are also showing up in streams, ponds and groundwater.

If current trends continue, many North American lakes will surpass Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-recommended chloride levels in 50 years. According to a recent study Dugan led, 14 North American lakes are expected to exceed the EPA’s aquatic life criterion concentration of 230 mg/L by 2050, and 47 are on track to reach chloride concentrations of 100 mg/L by then, which is bad news for the plants and animals that call them home. While some species may be better able to tolerate salty waters than others, “our native species are adapted to freshwater,” Dugan says. “Salt will stress them out and any kind of stress is taking away from their ability to survive and reproduce.”

Elevated chloride levels have also been shown to alter the composition of fish, invertebrates and the plankton that form the base of the aquatic food web in lakes. Aquatic species richness and abundance can decline, and in extreme cases salinization can prevent lakes from mixing, causing low oxygen conditions that smother aquatic life and reduce water quality.

Public Works Departments Adopt a Low-Salt Diet

The good news, Dugan says, is that a lot of state and municipal transportation departments are working hard to reduce salt use.

Brine is a better solution for snow and ice removal. Photo courtesy of New Jersey DOT.

One promising new method is to apply a mixture of water and salt called “brine” to road surfaces before a winter storm. Unlike the rock salt that we’ve been using since the 1940’s that often simply bounces off of the pavement and onto nearby medians and drainage ditches, brine solutions better stick to the road surface and often a more uniform coverage, which reduces the amount of salt use.

Dugan says the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) has conducted numerous studies and trials on brine and is already adding it to the winter roads arsenal. WisDOT, which Dugan says is one of the states “leading the pack” on salt reduction, is also being more judicious in salt applications in Spring, letting late March and early April snow showers simply melt away, rather than head out and dump tons of salt on our roads.

Still, we have a long way to go to solve the problem. According to their website, the state, on average, uses an average of 526,000 tons of salt per season. Reducing that use, says Dugan, is desirable for both the state and Wisconsin waters.  “It saves us money in the long run,” she says. “Salt is cheap, but it’s not free! So if they reduce use, they reduce their budget. It can be a win-win as long as we maintain that level of safety.”

The Problem with Private Parking Lots and Sidewalks

For anyone shopping at a big box store this holiday season, those snow-free parking lots come at a steep price. Road salt is used heavily during snow removal on large parking lots, which are often managed by private snow-removal companies that have no incentive to limit salt use, Dugan says.

Rock salt on a road surface. Photo courtesy of A. Hinterthuer.

The companies don’t want to be held liable for any slips and falls customers might experience on slushy or icy surfaces, so they “cake parking lots full of salt,” Dugan says, estimating that private snow removal companies may be responsible for as much as half our total road salt use. “There’s still a long way to go to cut that back,” she says.

Another problem (although it only contributes a fraction of the salt to our freshwater ecosystems) is overuse of salt on residential sidewalks. While homeowners may feel like they are protecting public safety by carpeting their sidewalks with salt (or just lightening their own shoveling duties) that civic-minded gesture points to a bigger truth about winter salt use – what we do on land ends up in the water. And, in the case of sidewalk salt, there is almost always a storm drain nearby ready to carry whatever is on the concrete into the nearest water body.

According to a Fact Sheet put out by Dane County, a large, fifty-pound bag of salt can pollute 10,000 gallons of water. On a smaller level, a teaspoon of salt can turn a five-gallon bucket of water from fresh to saline. The county recommends using only 1-3 cups of salt for 1,000 square feet of sidewalk.

While we’ve got a long way to go to cut salt out of our winter road, parking lot and sidewalk diet, Dugan says that we’re trending in the right direction.

Hopefully the recent experience of unnecessary salt use in my neighborhood was simply a function of the streets department responding to a forecast that didn’t quite match real-time conditions. Hopefully private businesses will realize that they can get suitable surface conditions with a lot less salt. And, hopefully, next time it snows, we’ll all reach for the shovels before we start shaking out the salt.

For resources about how to limit your salt use in the winter, visit WI Salt Wise.

Article by Adam Hintertheuer

Posted by Michala Roberts

Graduate Assistant

On Point comes to Madison to talk Great Lakes

On Point – an National Public Radio broadcast – takes on a different topic each weekday. On Friday, November 9th, host David Folkenflik met up with Go Big Read author Dan Egan at Wisconsin Public Radio. The topic was, of course, the Great Lakes.

The sun sets over the Mackinac Bridge and the Mackinac Straits as seen from Lake Huron. The bridge is the dividing line between Lake Michigan to the west and Lake Huron to the east. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

Egan described the Lakes as a “really slow moving river,” emphasizing that the five lakes are interconnected with one another as well as many river systems. The Great Lakes are one part of a vast system that moves water all over the country, from the Pacific to the Atlantic, from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The interconnected nature is key to understanding biological pollution. Opening up the Great Lakes to the St. Lawrence and Mississippi rivers has lead to invasive species, most notably the quagga and zebra mussels. Egan explained how some balance is being restored while warning about future threats.

Listeners called in topics ranging from invasive species to fishing to the threat posed by mining and pipelines. While expressing concerns, they also expressed the majesty of the Great Lakes. For all, they are a source of beauty and inspiration, and must be protected.

Kayakers paddle on Lake Michigan at sunrise, Monday, Aug. 17, 2015, in Cedar Grove, Wis. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

The full episode plus submissions from listeners can be accessed here.

Michala Roberts

Graduate Assistant, Go Big Read Office

Guest Post: Under the Surface – A Photographic Journey of Hope & Healing

Once a month, the Go Big Read blog will feature an article written by one of the contributing authors of the Wisconsin Sea Grant blog. This collaboration was made possible by the Moira Harrington, the Assistant Director of Communications for Wisconsin Sea Grant. 

Water has the power to heal and restore. This power is on display in an exhibit of images created in a therapeutic program for troubled children in northern Wisconsin. The exhibit, “Under the Surface – A Photographic Journey of Hope and Healing,” is currently showing at the Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth, Minnesota, and will soon be coming to Madison, Wisconsin, or a town near you.

The underwater images were taken by clients in a residential treatment program called Northwest Passage, which is based in Webster, Wisconsin. The program is sponsored by Wisconsin Sea Grant.

Credit: Northwest Passage Ltd.

“We find our kids are able to relax in water in ways they’re not able to on land,” said Marceleen Mosher, communications director for Northwest Passage. “They’re able to capture an extraordinarily beautiful look at something seen by so few. They’re able to focus and heal.”

In addition to photographs, the students wrote stories and poetry describing their experiences or feelings about the images. The result is a powerful exhibit on the healing potential of the natural world.

Some of the images on display were captured at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on Lake Superior. Others are from the south shore of the lake.

The Great Lakes Aquarium exhibit is in the Merrill Lynch Fine Arts Gallery through Jan. 10, 2019. The display is coming to the University of Wisconsin Madison Memorial Library next week in conjunction with the campus community’s “Go Big Read” program, which focuses on the Great Lakes for this academic year. The schedule for the campus and other appearances is below.

For more information on the Northwest Passages underwater photography project, see Sea Grant’s Press Room story here. Paper copies of this article are available at the Memorial Library Exhibit. To arrange to have the exhibit come to your town or facility, please contact Wisconsin Water Librarian Anne Moser at akmoser@aqua.wisc.edu or by calling 608-262-3069. The exhibit is free to display.

Oct. 23, 2018 through Nov. 30, 2018
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Memorial Library
First Floor Lobby
728 State Street
Madison, WI 53706
Hours: 8 a.m. – 11:45 p.m.

Oct. 26, 2018 through Dec. 30, 2018
Madison Public Library, Alicia Ashman Library Meeting Room
733 N High Point Rd
Madison, WI 53717

In conjunction with the Ashman show listed above:
6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018
“Our Great Lakes in the 21st Century: Challenges and Opportunities”
A talk by Anne Moser

Article by Marie Zhukov

Contributor, Wisconsin Sea Grant

Guest Contributor, Go Big Read

Capitol Lakes continues to support Go Big Read

Since 2010, Capitol Lakes, a retirement community in downtown Madison, has used the Go Big Read book for community events and programming. This year was no exception.

A poster thanking this year’s Go Big Read program coordinators on site. Photo by Carrie Kruse (UW-Madison Libraries)

Besides organizing talks and presentations on the topics, leading discussion groups, and making sure residents have access to the book, they also promote and provide transport to the author keynote. On October 30, they will show the keynote to residents who couldn’t make it on October 16th, and those who want to see it again. Providing access to the author keynote allows residents to participate in the community conversation about the Great Lakes and water conservation.

Residents from Capitol Lakes seated at the author keynote on October 16th, 2018. Photo by Michala Roberts

One of the largest undertakings in support of the program is the creation of lobby display. This gives residents and visitors information about the author, the topic, resources and events. The 2018 display included ships used in the shipping industry, common plastics that pollute the Great Lakes and other bodies of water, and pictures of native and invasive species.

The 2018 Go Big Read lobby display at Capitol Lakes. Photo by Carrie Kruse (UW-Madison Libraries)

A close up of the exhibit.
Photo by Carrie Kruse (UW-Madison Libraries)

Community involvement is vital to the success of a common-reading program like Go Big Read. We thank Capitol Lakes for their continued support.

 

Michala Roberts

Graduate Assistant, Go Big Read

Campus gives Go Big Read author Dan Egan a warm welcome

The press leading up to Dan Egan’s campus visit and author keynote on October 16th showed how excited the community was to receive Egan and his message. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, at which Egan covered the Great Lakes as a reporter for decades, described how the “Majesty” of the region was finally “getting its due.” Many in Wisconsin grew up either directly on the Great Lakes or are frequent visitors to this unique and vast system of freshwater. The Lakes are part of our community’s collection memory, imagination, and reality. The question for many of us, and the question Egan tackled in his keynote, is how we can make sure the Great Lakes are a vibrant and healthy place for future generations.

Before the keynote, on October 16th, Water@UW-Madison sponsored a poster session featuring the work of UW faculty, students, and water resource professionals. Topics ranged from climate change, to policy, to invasive species and community engagement.

State Fellows Drs. Stephanie DeVries, Liz Tristano, and Yi Liu present on the new opportunities offered by the program. Photo by Michala Roberts.

When the doors to Shannan Hall opened at 6:30, there was a rush that did not end until doors closed at around 7:10. When Vice Provost for Libraries Lisa Carter introduced Chancellor Becky Blank, Director of the Center for Limnology Dr. Jake Vander Zanden, and Dan Egan, 1000+ people had filled the auditorium.

The auditorium at Memorial Union Shannon Hall fills up with students and members from the community. Photo by Michala Roberts

Chancellor Blank explained the significance of The Death and Life of the Great Lakes to our community, notably that 80% of UW students come from a Great Lakes state or province.

After remarks and thank you’s, Dan Egan stepped up to the podium. A journalist by profession, he expressed that he is not a public speaker, and was overwhelmed by the amount of people in the audience. This proved to be an example of classic Midwestern humility, as he quickly hit his stride and delivered an organized, engaging, and personal presentation. After going through his connection to the Great Lakes, the history of the St. Lawrence Seaway, and the ecological catastrophe of invasive species, Egan arrived at the enduring point of his research: the way to save the Great Lakes is to make sure future generations are connected to and appreciative of what the Lakes have to offer.

The keynote was followed by a question and answer session moderated by Dr. Jake Vander Zanden. The session turned into a community conversation, as Egan answered questions about industry and the Great Lakes Compact as well as how optimistic he is about the future of the Lakes.

October 17th was a busy day for Egan. He spoke to several Communication A classes about his writing process, where we learned that he likes to write in busy and energetic places like the Milwaukee airport lobby.

Dan Egan and Sarah Jedd talk to CommA students about his career as a journalist and his writing process. Photo by Michala Roberts

In Urban & Regional Planning 865: Water Resources, Institutions and Policies, Egan answered questions on human intervention in the Great Lakes ecosystem. He expressed how much damage has been done in the last century compared to the Lake’s whole ecological history.

The evening of the 17th proved to be more casual, as Dan Egan spoke to almost 200 community members at Working Draft Brewing Company as part of the Science on Tap-Madison series.

Dan Egan talks to community members at Working Draft Brewery. Photo by Michala Roberts

Reminding everyone that he is a local, having grown up in Green Bay and lived most of his adult life in Milwaukee, he told the bartender to keep the Brewers game on during his talk. He told everyone that the story of the Great Lakes is a national, not regional story. When he explained his surprise at the book’s success, many laughed. Residents of Great Lakes states are happy, and not so shocked, that the nation is so interested. We see the majesty of the Lakes often, and Egan has written has clear picture of what we see for the world.

Dan Egan’s author keynote was recorded and archived. You can find it on the homepage at https://gobigread.wisc.edu/. All events were live-tweeted by the Go Big Read office. Follow @GoBigRead on twitter to connect to the conversation and to find information about events relating to the Great Lakes.

 

Michala Roberts

Graduate Assistant

Guest Post: Whitewater Rafting on the St. Louis River

Once a month, the Go Big Read blog will feature an article written by one of the contributing authors of the Wisconsin Sea Grant blog. This collaboration was made possible by the Moira Harrington, the Assistant Director of Communications for Wisconsin Sea Grant. 

Photo courtesy of Marie Zhuikov

On Labor Day Weekend, I gained a different view of my local waterway. I write about the St. Louis River on the Wisconsin/Minnesota border for my job, since Wisconsin Sea Grant funds research and outreach projects on it. We are also a partner in the St. Louis River Stories and Science website, which contains all things river-oriented.

As if that weren’t enough, I’ve lived by the St. Louis River for most of my life. I’ve canoed on it, paddleboarded it, boated on it, but I’ve never immersed myself in it.

That changed when my friend Russ, who is an experienced kayaker, won a silent auction item at a fundraiser a few months ago. He won two tickets for whitewater rafting from a local company that operates on the riverbank in Scanlon, Minnesota.

Now, I am not a big fan of whitewater rafting, mainly because I mistakenly ended up on a whitewater rapids trip out West once that I thought was a float tour. I had my children with me, too, which added to my distress.

At least this time, I knew what I was in for. I reluctantly agreed to go on the St. Louis River trip, but I promised to scream all the way!

Upon my insistence, we agreed to wait until the water was warm, to make it a more comfortable experience. Now it was August, month of warm weather and water, and I was out of excuses not to go. We gathered everything the company’s information sheet instructed rafters to bring: a dry change of clothes, snug-fitting footwear, windbreaker, towel, etc. And off we went.

Once we arrived, I was surprised by the number of other people who wanted to fling themselves into an inflatable raft at the mercy of the river – 28 of us, to be exact, of all ages and fitness levels.

We started our three-hour journey by choosing one of the seven blue and yellow rafts lined up on the shore. Russ and I ended up paired with a young couple from St. Paul. A guide was assigned to each raft. Ours was named Logan.

The ensuing safety talk by the operations staffer, named Blu, included instruction to ignore your instincts and “lean into” whatever fearful obstacle the raft encounters. He explained that if you lean away from the rock or high wave, you are more likely to lose your seat and fall out of the raft. Not that falling out of the raft is the worst thing that can happen, but most people like to stay with their group.

The other useful instruction was to keep your feet up if you fall overboard. This is helpful in avoiding sharp rocks and logs, etc., that are on the bottom. Plus, most people aren’t strong enough to withstand the current standing up, so you might as well just go with the flow until one of the kayak patrollers (who go with every trip) retrieve you.

Blu said that in a group our size, it’s common for at least one person to fall overboard. I sure hoped it wouldn’t be me.

I thought the “lean into” rule was particularly deep. Psychologically speaking, sometimes facing your fears is the best way to overcome them. I decided then and there to change my attitude about the trip – to stop seeing it as something fearful, and instead see it as something to relish, and an opportunity to know the river better.

As the company’s website and instruction sheet promised, you will “see the river, feel the river, ride the river,” and you will get wet! On this sunny warm day, I was up for that.

Blu explained we’d encounter six sets of rapids ranging from Class I to III, and two sets of riffles. Each set of rapids would get more challenging along the four-plus-mile stretch until we reach the quiet-water reservoir formed by the Thompson Dam.

Safety talk over, we set out upon the water. Our first task was to run through a ‘slalom’ course between the pylons of the freeway bridge that goes across the river. This let us practice paddling different directions and experience what it feels like when the raft bumps into things.

Then we paddled through a set of riffles called “Warm-Up Rapids.” Everyone came through unscathed and, after stopping for an orientation, we continued to a set of surfing waves at “First Hole” rapids.

Have you ever seen standing waves that form behind an underwater rock in a river? That’s what we surfed on – if your idea of surfing involves your raft filling with water, which ours did. We surfed several times, bailing out between sessions with the handy containers provided in each raft.

Photo courtesy of Marie Zhuikov

After another group orientation session, we were onto “Two Hole” rapids. I think it was this one that had a big rock in the middle of it. Logan, our guide, thought it would be a good and fun idea to smash our raft into the rock.

On purpose.

Why he thought this was a good idea, I’ll never know. I always thought the whole idea of river rafting was to avoid the rocks. I guess I’ve been wrong all this time.

Granted, he did give us a choice, so we were complicit in the decision. I blame it on the adrenaline rush.

Paddling as hard as we could, our raft went up and over the rock, then started sliding sideways. I was on the outside side – the tippiest side – and remembered to lean into the rock to avoid falling out of the raft. I almost floated out, but managed to stay in by the skin of my teeth. Rather like dental surgery, it felt so good once it was over.

Our next stop was a canyon that featured a couple of small beaches in a slow section of the river. We grounded our rafts and had the chance to swim for a while, clothes, lifejackets and all.

Russ went all the way in. I was fine going waist deep, not because I was worried about pollution or anything, but because the river was rather chilly to me even for a warm day. I marveled at the brown water – tea stained from the many wetland plants steeping at its headwaters and along the way. The white pines and bare rock faces along the shore looked primeval, like we could have been miles into a wilderness. The beauty filled me and gave me a new sense of appreciation for the river.

Our rest stop over, it was time for the big guns in terms of rapids. We made it through “Hidden Hole” just fine, then it was onto “Electric Ledge,” which is a Class III rapids that consists of a four-to-six-foot drop.

I had heard the name of this rapids whispered in awe among my kayaker friends for years. Now we were about to go over it! And we were about to go over it before any of the others. Logan explained that our raft had the first aid kit in it, and we needed to go first in case the other rafts needed assistance once they ran the ledge.

Not only were we in the first raft, but Russ and I were sitting in the FRONT of the first raft. Oh, lucky us.

We didn’t have much time to wonder at our luck as the ledge was approaching. I repeated all the rules: lean into your fear, keep your feet up. Then we slid over it, sideways and steep. Russ grabbed onto my arm for support.

Luckily, that steadied him and we both stayed in the boat. So did the rest of our crew, but I can’t say that for one of the other rafts, which did indeed lose one person over the ledge. The person remembered the rules, however, and they were uneventfully picked up not far downriver.

The final set of rapids, “Little Kahuna,” is more technical than terrifying. After some twists and turns, we made it through just fine. From there, a somewhat longish paddle across peaceful water (known as the Boundary Waters to the staff) took us to the end of our journey and a bus that was waiting to drive us back to our starting point.

So, in summary, I did scream as initially promised, but it was from fun, not out of fear. I think this was due to the great job the staff did at letting us know what to expect from each set of rapids.

I’m glad I overcame my fear to meet my local river on its own terms.

Click here to subscribe to the Wisconsin Sea Grant blog.

Article by Marie Zhukov

Contributor, Wisconsin Sea Grant

Guest Contributor, Go Big Read

Guest Post: Chocolate Milk and Biting Flies

Once a month, the Go Big Read blog will feature an article written by one of the contributing authors of the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Press Room and blog. This collaboration was made possible by the Moira Harrington, the Assistant Director of Communications for Wisconsin Sea Grant. 

Photo courtesy of Marie Zhukov

I recently had the good fortune to go on my first extended sailboat trip across Lake Superior with some friends. We left Duluth, Minnesota, and headed to Wisconsin’s Apostle Island National Lakeshore, and then traversed the western arm of the lake to Grand Marais Harbor in Minnesota.

Since I am writing this, you know I survived the three-day trip. If fact, I would like to think I thrived, despite turning green with seasickness once and having to wear all my winter gear, plus hand warmers, on the 4th of July.

I learned a lot about sailing, but still have more to know. I was also able to take plenty of pictures, which no doubt, will find their way into Sea Grant publications in the future. And I got a firsthand look at conditions on the lake.

Two things struck me and my sailing companions. The first was the color of the water. Almost all the way to the Apostles it was the hue of chocolate milk. The large extent and persistence of the coloring was unusual. There were also floating logs to watch out for.

According to a news story I read upon returning home, the condition is due to a series of recent heavy rains that have sent thousands of tons of silt into the lake. Chequamegon Bay, on the other side of the Apostles, is also experiencing heavy sedimentation.

Usually, the chocolate milk dissipates within a few days, but this round of it is lasting longer than usual because we kept having downpours every few days. Most of the sediment comes from the Nemadji River and its red clay banks, along with the St. Louis River.

Photo courtesy of Marie Zhukov

We also had more than double the amount of usual rainfall for the month of June. Anglers and charter captains are having to travel farther than usual out into the lake to find clear water for fishing.

The second notable thing were the flies. Known locally by the name of “ankle-biters” or sand flies, stable flies look like a common housefly but they are meaner because they bite – usually a person’s ankles. I can attest that there are roughly a gazillion of them out on the lake and its shores this summer. The only thing that saved us from certain insanity on a shore trip to Outer Island was the fact that we were wearing jeans, which they couldn’t bite through.

Photo courtesy of Marie Zhukov

The flies congregated in seething clusters from our knees down, rarely venturing farther up our legs. Thank goodness they had no interest in our bare arms or we would have had to run screaming back to our dinghy!

According to a story on National Public Radio, researchers have figured out how and why the flies and other biting insects like mosquitos do this. They think these biting bugs target feet and ankles because we are less likely to notice (and therefore kill) them. They hone in on their target by smell, and apparently, the sweat and skin on our ankles smells different from that of the rest of our body.

Besides wearing jeans, we found it helpful to elevate our feet off the ground while we were on the boat. They didn’t seem to be able to find our ankles if they were level with the rest of our legs. Conditions on the boat never got bad enough that we needed to apply repellant, but we were glad we had some along, just in case.

Photo courtesy of Marie Zhukov

Although the water wasn’t its typical crystal-clear blue, and we had many insect stowaways aboard our sailboat, Lake Superior was still magical. I greatly enjoyed spending time on it, and hope to do so again someday.

Photo courtesy of Marie Zhukov

Click here to subscribe to the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Press Room.

Article by Marie Zhukov

Contributor, University of Wisconsin Sea Grant

Guest Contributor, Go Big Read

What is the Mississippi River Basin?

What is the Mississippi River Basin, and why is it so important?

The Mississippi River is, to put it simply, big. It flows 2,350 miles from its source at Lake Itasca in Minnesota through the center of the continental United States to the Gulf of Mexico. It is a major migration route for North American birds and fish, and is home to around 260 species of fish and over 300 species of birds. It is one of the world’s most important commercial waterways. Every year, million of tons of rice from farms in Arkansas and Louisiana are transported via barge. It’s final destination? China. Rice is just one of many goods transported domestically and internationally via the Mississippi.

Beginning in the 19th century, the Mississippi became an important transportation channel for commerce, industry, and recreation. Engineering the river to provide navigation and control flooding continues to be a management issue. Engineers have to consider changing floodplain regions as a result of the natural shift of the river’s course, as well as nutrient runoff from agriculture located in the floodplains. To increase navigation potential, engineer’s connected Lake Michigan and the Illinois River, making yet another path for invasive species.

The Mississippi River Basin Watershed, the area drained by a river’s tributaries, is about 1.2 million square miles, and includes all or parts of 31 states and two Canadian provinces, about 40% of the continental United States. In Wisconsin, tributaries include the Rock River, Wisconsin River, Chippewa River, and St. Croix River, among many others.

The Mississippi in the Mid-West

Balancing the needs and demands of navigation, agriculture, recreation, industry, and wildlife continues to be a challenge. There are no easy answers, as several global entities, compete for their interests in the Basin region. This complex ecological system will continue to be an important part of the conversation about water and life.

 

To read about organizations committed to responsible management of the Upper Mississippi Region, click here.

Michala Roberts

Graduate Assistant for Go Big Read 

Guest Post: Mary Burns Explores Women’s Roles as Water Stewards

Once a month, the Go Big Read blog will feature an article written by one of the contributing authors for the Center for Limnology blog. This collaboration was made possible by Adam Hinterthuer, the University Relations Specialist for the Center for Limnology. 

Courtesy of UW Center for Limnology

Mary Burns believes that water is sacred.

A textile artist and weaver, Mary lives on the banks of the Manitowish River, in the cabin that once belonged to her grandparents. She said that the cabin, and the river that runs beside it, are the sites of some of her earliest memories.

“I think people really feel drawn to water, and it means a lot to people, whether it is a sense of belonging, or a sense of serenity,” Mary said. “I think there is a magnetic pull to water for most people.”

Her own connection to water has inspired her throughout her career as a weaver. Now, she hopes that a residency at Trout Lake Station will give her the opportunity to explore that relationship — as well as the role of women as environmental stewards — further.

Mary works on a sample for a current project. She can use up to 1300 warp threads at one time. Courtesy of UW Center for Limnology

She imagines her residency taking the form of a series of woven portraits, featuring women who are leaders in water science and stewardship, paired with weavings of freshwater landscapes. She also plans to extract natural dyes from those landscapes.

“I think that women working in limnology are essential. I would like to bring their expertise into this discussion,” Mary said. “I would like the exhibit to broaden people’s knowledge our water problems and encourage people to take action.”

Tentatively, she will title the collection The Living Water.

The series will expand on a project that Mary has been working on for the past several years. Called Ancestral Women, that series included 12 woven portraits of native women and 12 landscapes. The collection resulted from a collaboration between Mary and tribal communities across Wisconsin.

“Women are life givers, and in many native societies, they are the water protectors,” Mary explained. “I started working with native women on this because it seemed to me that they should be honored first.”
A portrait of water walker Josephine Mandamin.
Weavings from both series line the walls of Mary’s airy studio.

“This is Josephine Mandamin,” Mary said, gesturing toward a grey-tone image of an older woman carrying a copper pot. It’s one of the first pieces Mary has competed as part of Living Water.

A portrait of water walker Josephine Mandamin. Courtesy of UW Center for Limnology

Josephine, Mary explained, began the Water Walk Movement, an effort lead by native women to advocate for freshwater conservation. Josephine has walked over 15,000 miles to raise awareness for water.

“She is tremendously inspirational to me,” Mary said.

The portrait of Josephine, took Mary over a month to complete. Mary has been weaving since high school, but Ancestral Women was the first time she had ever attempted portraiture in that medium.

But weaving, she said, was the best way for her to share these stories.

“Bringing these stories to life in weaving is a gift I have been given,” Mary said. “I think that people relate to it and are amazed by it. It’s a textile, and people are drawn to that. It’s something basic, it connects to everybody and it’s something that can be touched.”

Mary said she chose to design the the portraits in grey tones because color would have distracted from the stories she wanted the weavings to tell.

“I think the monochrome is more powerful,” she said. “The minimalism contains complexity.”

Mary’s jacquard loom stands in the back corner of her studio, near a window overlooking a garden bursting with the indigo she uses to dye silks.

Even when she reduces her palette to a few colors, the weaving process is incredibly complicated. Mary works with 1,300 warp threads at any time, and she controls each individually.

She navigates between 4,000 weave structures to create the perfect shading and textures in her pieces.

While Mary said she hopes her work conveys her gratitude for Wisconsin’s abundant freshwater systems, she also hopes that it inspires stewardship of them, and cautions audiences that the state’s resources cannot be taken for granted.

Particularly, she sees agricultural and industrial runoff and mining as threats to Wisconsin’s waterways. When she weaves, she said it is with that thankfulness — but also those worries — in mind.

Mary will be working at Trout Lake station throughout the summer and fall as she completes her residency. Check back often to see more of her completed work.

To view more of Mary’s weavings, please visit her website. To learn more about the Trout Lake Station artist-in-residence program (and to see some beautiful aquatic-inspired art), visit the Drawing Water website.

Article by Sydney Widell

Summer Science Communication Intern, Center for Limnology

Guest Contributor, Go Big Read

Guest Post: Summer inspectors help boaters prevent the spread of invasive species in Wisconsin’s waters

Once a month, the Go Big Read blog will feature an article written by one of the contributing authors of the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Press Room and blog. This collaboration was made possible by the Moira Harrington, the Assistant Director of Communications for Wisconsin Sea Grant. 

As another Wisconsin summer hits its stride, it’s a good time for Wisconsin boaters to think about responsible boating practices.  They can enjoy the great outdoors and protect our waters at the same time by taking simple actions to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS).

Clean Boats, Clean Waters is a statewide boater education program that Wisconsin Sea Grant implements in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and University of Wisconsin-Extension.  With the help of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding, Sea Grant educates boaters along the Great Lakes coast.

Trained watercraft inspectors are stationed in four areas of the state, where they teach boaters how to take the preventative steps required by state law to minimize the risk of spreading unwanted “hitchhikers,” such as zebra mussels and quagga mussels, from one body of water to another.

Simple steps taken after boating can prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. Clean Boats, Clean Waters inspectors are ready to educate and assist.
Credit: Clean Boats, Clean Waters

Tim Campbell, Sea Grant’s AIS outreach specialist, works closely with Wisconsin DNR on the program.  As he summed up Wisconsin law, “Basically, you’re not allowed to transport aquatic plants, mud or animals on a public roadway. You also can’t transport lake or river water, so you need to drain out the water before leaving the boat landing.”

While more than 90% of boaters say they are familiar with Wisconsin law and “always” or “usually” take steps to clean their watercraft, that still leaves many boating trips each year that present some risk.

Inspectors talk to boaters (and users of other watercraft, like kayaks and paddleboards) about these requirements and, when needed, help them take the necessary actions, such as removing plants from a hard-to-reach part of a trailer or draining excess water from boat compartments.

“Especially at the beginning of the boating season, people can be rusty in their boating habits,” said Campbell.  “And it’s always good for inspectors to be there to talk to the few people who haven’t yet heard the ‘Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers!’ message.”

Clean Boats, Clean Waters inspectors are based out of Appleton, Green Bay, Milwaukee/Port Washington, and the Kenosha/Racine/Milwaukee area.  The aim is not to penalize boaters, but to help them comply with the law and protect our waters so they can be enjoyed for generations to come.

“Many of the boaters thank me for being out and doing my job, which is pretty cool,” said inspector Matthew Cherney, a UW-Madison student majoring in geological engineering and geoscience.  Cherney, who is from Appleton, covers boat launches in and around Milwaukee.

The inspectors are all college students and work through Labor Day or so.  It’s gratifying work, said Nick Holtmeier, a UW-Whitewater student majoring in biology and Spanish, whose area is northeastern Wisconsin. “My favorite part of performing inspections is getting to talk to the public to inform them about a topic for which I have a passion.”

The program has been quite successful in holding the line on the spread of AIS.  Said Campbell, “Clean Boats, Clean Waters has been going on since 2004, and we know that it works to change boater behaviors.  It’s the best program we have to really make an impact on the spread of invasive species.”

For questions about the program, contact Campbell at tim@aqua.wisc.edu.

Click here to subscribe to the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Press Room.

Article by Jennifer A. Smith

Contributor, University of Wisconsin Sea Grant

Guest Contributor, Go Big Read