Our Second Love, Our Lakes

On this Labor Day I hope most are getting the opportunity to get out onto their lakes to enjoy a wonderful day in the upper midwest. As the boating season begins to wind down and the leaves begin their annual color change we can reflect back and the summer that to many may seem like it never was. The Great Outdoors to many others has proven to be an excellent distraction to a world in apparent disarray. For some of us who have spent more time than usual out on the water it may have provided greater insight into the value of our surface waters; this includes public waters of the state, rivers for example for kayaking/canoeing, etc.

What have we seen? Have we accumulated any new knowledge that has helped us become better stewards of the waters? Have we observed something new that has led us back to our home office to investigate the question on the internet? Have we shared information or questions with others? If our waters our something we truly cherish it takes more than a passive interest to preserve it.

The diversity of lake users is greater today than it has ever been. This includes users of varying backgrounds with variable agendas. These agendas may not always be be in unison with the best interests to the waters we inhabit, but we can all hope to play in this sandbox in harmony. If our waters spoil well then the party is over. Our water resources do not have a hospital they can got to when they feel sick or are becoming undone. We are sickness but also the cure.

This is a good time to sit back, enjoy the weather and reflect back on the things we can do better on with our lakes. What have turned a blind eye to for too long. Fall brings time to contemplate these things and plan for the winter and upcoming year. Start taking stock in the little things and track lake progress.

Up Next, we’ll take a look at the process of video recording your shoreline.

Quick Primer on Grants

As noted a few posts ago, grant season is among us. It is very common that lake districts, improvement associations, and individual property owners seek out funding assistance for a wide variety of projects that can help improve conditions within lakes, wetlands, and streams for water quality, navigation, flood control, and aesthetic appeal among other things. The one thing that grants however do not consistently funding is dredging projects.

Why is that someone might ask? The simple answer, although it never appears to be a simple answer from the regulatory end, is that dredging is often categorized as a maintenance item. While it can certainly be debated on both sides the fact stands in most cases dredging does not have a taxpayer based funding mechanism.

In a sense it is understandable that a process that is so heavily driven by healthy watershed practices be addressed at that level; and furthermore the necessity to appropriately and proactively consider the implications of sediment delivery mechanisms before addressing in lake issues. Grants can be obtained for this. It becomes a simple discussion of addressing a symptom and not the cause. Dredging is a snapshot in time, in which that snapshot begins to deteriorate the moment the contractor leaves the site. The rate of deterioration is further dictated by the practices in place on the ground to combat runoff and sedimentation. Most agencies would rather see money put towards these practices to address the issue at the point of attack rather than once the material is in the water.

So facilitating the cost of dredging is a tricky situation. Good consultation can often help in mitigating or controlling costs, but it often estimated that the cost to remove sediment from the water is nearly 6X the cost it is to attack it on land. Pair this with the fact that so many view dredging as some “big fix” when it is really only a temporary reprieve. There is money available for better shoreline practices, buffer establishment, runoff control practices, and land preservation/protection. The State of WI sees this as the better immediate value and they are not alone in this perspective.

HAB’s on the Rise

There is a lot going on in the world today and the recurrent appearance of harmful algal blooms (HABs) is simply just another issue Wisconsin waterway stakeholders are not fully prepared to take on. The State of Wisconsin is blessed that it does not receive much drinking water from reservoirs (other than Lake Michigan). Plain states such as Kansas, are dealing with critical HAB issues now.

What is HAB again? Harmful Algal blooms are a not really algae at all. HABs are actually a photosynthetic type of bacteria closely resembling the visual aspects of other types of algae but only exist under the right environmental conditions. These bacteria are know as cyanobacteria (often referred to as blue-green algae). The exact chemistry has yet to be pinpointed but there are certain trends that over time have shown to favor the presence or growth trigger for HABs.

Wisconsin Department of Health Services maintains a good informational source on HABs. The WDNR also has a page here, specifically directed towards lakes.

Why is this a problem. HABs > cyanobacterial > blue-green algae or whatever term you chose to use can have exposure risks to various age groups and furthermore household pets. There is more accurate and detailed information on the links provided above, but prolonged exposure is a health risk, more to young and old, but there is no need to subject anyone to these issues if everyone does there part to keep their lakes healthy. The ever recurrent theme is tied to pursuit and maintaining of a healthy lake environment.

Many of the HAB triggers are consistent with less than ideal lake or stream conditions tied to signs of eutrophication, which will be the topic of future discussion. For right now think of it as an overabundance of available nutrients typically associated with excess phosphorus. Phosphorus is known to be a trigger for standard algae blooms, and excess aquatic biomass accumulation, both of which lead to unnecessary premature aging of lakes.

Lake aging is a natural process, but sedimentation and excess bio-accumulation speed up the process. Combating both these issues starts with responsible lake and watershed management. Working in the watershed to reduce annual loading to the lake and looking inside the lake to observe recurrent shoreline erosion and migration that might be hidden. Shoreline erosion is a silent producer of sediment and degrades habitat. Therefore working to combat these issues through responsible lake and watershed management will assist in HAB management as well. Do not make the mistake of thinking HABs are limited to lakes and reservoirs only. Streams can exhibit HAB like symptoms as well which can also end up in a lake system.