LOWER WISCONSIN RIVERWAY - Almost 30 board members, members and interested citizens gathered at Grandma Mary’s Café in Arena on Saturday, Jan. 20 for the Friends of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway (FLOW) Annual Meeting.
FLOW members affirmed the 2023 board of directors, heard reports from the Science Committee, and presentations from a Wisconsin DNR Conservation Warden, a film maker who had filmed a short movie on the Wisconsin River last summer, and from Mark Cupp, executive director of the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board (LWSRB).
FLOW Bylaws state that the board may be composed of up to nine board members, but do not require that there be nine. With two resignations of board members that served in 2022, that left six board members who expressed interest in continuing to serve in 2023.
At the meeting, FLOW members affirmed Timm Zumm, Dave Marshall, Patrick Michaels, Sherry Holly, Dave Krueger and Allyson Scoien as the 2023 board. Board members Susan Graham and Jennie Lanzendorf had resigned from the board prior to the annual meeting.
Dave Marshall provided the Science Committee report as chair Jean Unmuth was unable to attend the meeting. Marshall told the members about the Borrow Pit Study the committee had undertaken in 2022, funded by a $600 grant from Dane County. That study tested water quality in a man-made lake along Highway 78 in Dane County, and surveyed aquatic plants and fish.
“Our study established that the water in the lake is “nearly pristine,” and reflects land use on Black Hawk Ridge, which supplies clean groundwater to the lake,” Marshall said. “By contrast, the water quality in various oxbow lakes up and down the Lower Wisconsin River, where changes in agricultural practices on the sand terraces along the river since about 2008 has resulted in high levels of nitrate and phosphorous in the groundwater supplying the those lakes.”
Marshall said this heavy load of nutrients has resulted in those lakes being clogged with duckweed and filamentous algae, deoxygenated, and has imperiled fish species that previously thrived there such as the Starhead Top Minnow and Lake Chubsucker.
“By comparison, the borrow pit lake did not have excessive populations of duckweed and filamentous algae, and is home to thriving populations of six native fish species as well as Starhead Top Minnows that were stocked there by the Science Committee,” Marshall said.
Marshall detailed that levels of nitrate in the borrow pit lake had been documented at 1.6 parts-per-million (ppm), which is a level well below the health standard for drinking water of 10 ppm. By contrast, he said, an average of nitrate results from various oxbow lakes documented nitrate levels of 13.6 ppm.
Marshall also reported that the Science Committee had undertaken a new Conservation Aquaculture Project in 2022, gathering Lake Chubsuckers and raising them in a permitted pond on Marshall’s property. Their goal will be to stock the fish from the pond in the Wisconsin River above the Prairie du Sac Dam, where water quality in the oxbow lakes is better due to less intensive agricultural land use in that part of the river.
One member of the audience asked what could be done about the high levels of nitrate being delivered into the oxbow lakes by polluted groundwater?
“There is no standard for nitrate in surface water in Wisconsin, but Wisconsin DNR is currently engaged in a rulemaking process to develop one,” FLOW member Ron Grasshof explained. “Another positive development in 2022 was the approval by the Wisconsin State Legislature of the ‘Nitrogen Optimization Study,’ which invites producers to use grant funds to try different approaches for the most efficient use of nitrogen on their land, and measure the results.”
WDNR Conservation Warden Al Erickson, who operates out of the Dodgeville Field Office and covers the western half of Iowa County, expressed his appreciation for FLOW’s support of public safety on the Riverway through development of the Riverway Text Alert feature.
To sign up, send a text to 77295 with the word ‘RIVERWAY’ in the message. The subscriber can stop the service at any time by sending a text to 77295 with the word ‘STOP.’
“Timm Zumm is a very valuable resource for public safety on the Lower Wisconsin River, both for his personal responses to safety incidents but also his network of people up and down the Riverway,” Erickson said.
Erickson explained that Sheriff’s Departments along the Riverway are also adopting text messaging into other public safety features such as using a text message to allow dispatch offices to link with the cell phone of an individual involved in a public safety incident on the river to determine their exact location and assess the situation remotely. He pointed out that there is also an app available for smart phones, ‘What Three Words,’ that can be downloaded and used by citizens to help public safety workers respond to emergencies on the river.
Film on the river
Ben Fritz is a filmmaker from the Madison area who filmed a short movie on the Lower Wisconsin River in the summer of 2022, with extensive assistance from Zumm.
“From my youth, I always wanted to be involved in making movies,” Fritz told the group. “After doing a stint in the movie business in California, I’ve returned to Wisconsin and now work with youth in film making.”
The movie Fritz and his crew filmed on the Wisconsin River last summer, ‘Up River,’ will be released in 2023, and local residents will be notified about when and where they will be able to view it. Fritz said that Zumm appears briefly in the movie, playing a WDNR Conservation Warden.
Fritz showed members present at the meeting a brief trailer of the movie, and described the theme as “two unlikely boat mates find commonality and brotherhood on the river.”
Mark Cupp, executive director of the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board (LWSRB) addressed attendees at the meeting, highlighting “things to know” about the Riverway.
Cupp pointed out that two current and one former members of the LWSRB were present at the meeting. Current members included Gigi LaBudde, president, and Dan Hilberry, the representative from Richland County. Former members present included former LWSRB president Gerry Dorscheid.
Cupp reported that the project to have the State of Wisconsin purchase the Wintergreen Resort in 2022, using Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program funds, had suffered many setbacks, especially resistance from Wisconsin DNR.
“The Shifflet family, which owns the property, is still holding out hope the deal could be negotiated but can’t hold onto the property indefinitely,” Cupp said. “With recent changes in Natural Resources Board membership and leadership at WDNR, I believe that one more try is worth the time.”
Cupp also reported on various Wisconsin Department of Transportation projects coming up in the Riverway, and said that LWSRB is involved in vetting the plans for the projects.
Those projects include replacement of the Highway 130 bridge across the river at Lone Rock, planned for 2023 into 2024; a major project on Highway 60 between Gotham and Muscoda, expected to close that stretch of highway for 1-2 years, planned for 2024-2025; and replacement of the County T bridge over the river at Blue River, planned for 2027-2028.
Cupp reported that he is involved with a planned celebration of the 350th Anniversary of the Marquette & Joliet Voyage of Discovery in Prairie du Chien. He said there will be a fundraising event, the ‘Fete du Voyageur,’ at the Dousman House on February 18, with the larger event planned for June 16-18.
Cupp listed items where FLOW member advocacy could be helpful in 2023. Those include encouraging state legislators to increase funding for the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program and fully fund conservation staffing for county conservation departments, and also advocating for clean water initiatives in the state.“I am deeply grateful for all that FLOW members do in the Riverway, including the ‘Kids Don’t Float’ kiosks, Science Committee research, education and outreach, public safety initiatives, volunteer work days at Frank’s Hill and the Blue River Sand Barrens, and support for the Voyageur Canoe Trips,” Cupp said. “FLOW is a vibrant organization, and your efforts make a difference in the world.”