DRIFTLESS - John Wetenkamp, Service Hydrologist with the National Weather Service (NWS) in LaCrosse, spoke at the Thursday, March 4 meeting of the Monroe County Climate Change Task Force. About 30 people were present to hear his presentation on the spring flood outlook, and a new page on their website, ‘Southwest Wisconsin Hydrology Monitor.’
“This page is intended to give citizens in different watersheds like the Kickapoo River current information about the conditions that lead to flooding, and alerts, watches and warnings,” Wetenkamp explained. “The page is evolving, and more information will continue to be added.”
The initial screen at this site will give you a map with different river and stream monitoring locations, and what their current flood stage is. By scrolling down the page, you can select for different watersheds within the LaCrosse office coverage area, and get up-to-date hydrologic information for locations within a watershed. Where available, you can even see webcam images of the river.
Other tabs allow visitors to view latest watches/warnings, river stages and forecasts, observations/rainfall, and outlooks/rainfall forecasts. On the rainfall forecasts page, one can see six-hour rainfall amounts from the current time to 48 hours.
Eventually, as the flood monitoring devices begin to be put in place by Monroe County in the Upper Kickapoo and Little LaCrosse River Watersheds, that information will become integrated into this page. So in flooding conditions, this will be a convenient, one-stop-shop where citizens can be updated about flood and flash flood conditions, and stay current with any warnings or alerts.
Marcy West, Executive Director of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, pointed out that the U.S. Geological Service and the Weather Service also maintain river gauges at Ontario, LaFarge and Readstown. She pointed out that these stations require maintenance, and in some cases are aging, and maintenance is in part provided by donations from the private sector.
“Kickapoo Valley Reserve contributes $5,000 per year toward maintenance of the LaFarge gauge,” West pointed out.
Monroe County Conservationist Bob Micheel reported that the Climate Change Task Force has raised about $17,000 of their $60,000 goal to cover the upper reaches of the Kickapoo River and the Little LaCrosse River with monitoring stations. Fundraising is ongoing. He also announced an initiative to upgrade the monitoring stations at the Norwalk Dam. The Norwalk Dam is the only PL-566 flood control dam in the main stem of the Kickapoo River.
“We have received a $2,000 donation from the Village of Norwalk to help pay for an upgrade to the monitoring system at the dam,” Micheel reported. “We are also anticipating a donation from the Village of Leon in the Little LaCrosse Watershed to help put more monitoring stations there.”
Micheel said that the plan is to deploy the monitoring stations that have already been purchased into the watersheds by the end of March. After that, data will begin to flow and be housed on the NWS page.
Spring flood outlook
Wetenkamp shared the good news that the Upper Mississippi River is considered to be at a normal risk level for spring flooding. He said that the risk level for tributaries is slightly higher, but still low compared to previous years where wetter fall conditions meant elevated soil moisture levels going into the spring thaw.
“We were in a very dry pattern in the fall and winter, and so the soils in our area had a chance to dry out,” Wetenkamp said. “And now we have seen ideal conditions for the spring thaw with warm daytime temperatures and cold nighttime temperatures.”
He said that our area is a little dry, and could be considered to be right on the edge of a ‘D0,’(D-Zero) drought. The abnormally dry category, D0, corresponds to an area experiencing short-term dryness that is typical with the onset of drought. This type of dryness can slow crop growth and elevate fire risk to above average.
“Conditions in our area are abnormally dry right now,” Wetenkamp said. “However, with La Nina patterns forecast, if we get into a wetter pattern, then it’s likely that the drought won’t worsen.”
Wetenkamp said that his office’s third spring flooding outlook is scheduled for release on March 11.
Budget and climate
Governor Ever’s proposed biannual budget contains many climate change mitigation provisions. Monroe County Administrator Tina Osterberg led a conversation about some of those provisions with State Senator Brad Pfaff. Pfaff was the only state legislator participating in the virtual meeting.
Evers’ budget’s wide-ranging proposals include such efforts as flood mitigation, reauthorizing the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, and creating an Office of Environmental Justice to promote an equitable transition to clean energy, among other things.
Top of the list of budget priorities for Osterberg is increased funding for county conservation staff. A proposal that had come out of the Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality had been passed by the assembly in 2020, but was never taken up by the senate. Evers’ budget calls for a $3.7 million increase in funding, with $1.8 million targeted for adding staff to pursue climate resilience.
“I definitely support putting more boots on the ground to pursue conservation and climate resilience,” Pfaff said. “The Governor’s proposals also call for more funding for UW-Extension agriculture agents.”
Micheel pointed out that to add in climate resilience responsibilities at the county level would require at least one additional full-time position.
Pfaff told the group that in the past, funding for the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund had enjoyed bipartisan support, and that he hoped that support would continue.
Pfaff was particularly enthusiastic about expanded funding for Producer-Led Watershed Group grants, as well as for the per-acre tax credit for farmers enrolled in the Farmland Preservation Planning (FPP) program.
“I am working with Representative Loren Oldenburg on sponsoring bills in the senate and the assembly to increase the FPP per-acre tax credit from five dollars per acre, to tiers of $7.50 and $10 per acre,” Pfaff said. “The way I see it, conservation is climate change mitigation, and so this program should be supported.”
Pfaff stated that he would be holding virtual budget listening sessions in the 32nd Senate District soon. He said that as Wisconsin’s fiscal year begins on July 1, he hopes that the final budget will be approved by June 30.
Climate Change Task Force member Ron Luethe reported on a ‘Fish Passage, Flood Resiliency and Road Stream Crossings’ workshop he had attended the previous week. Presenters included staff from the WDNR , US Forest Service, Wisconsin Land + Water, and Trout Unlimited. Luethe sits on the Monroe County Board of Supervisors and the Ridgeville Town Board.
“The recurring theme of the workshop presenters was that the goal should be designing projects taking into account both the bankful width of the stream as well as stream geomorphology,” Luethe said. “The real goal is to design structures such as culverts or bridges that mimic the natural characteristics of the stream.”
Luethe said that WDNR’s Jon Simonsen had made a presentation emphasizing the benefits for counties in conducting an inventory of bridges and culverts prior to a disaster, such as a major flooding event.
“Conducting an inventory gives counties a long-term focus to make strategic improvements,” Luethe explained. “Having an inventory can break the cycle of short-term decision-making, site-by-site.”
Luethe reported that Simonsen said that many resource agencies recognize the high return on investment when helping to cost share culvert inventories and stream crossing restoration projects.
“Chris Collier from Trout Unlimited emphasized that when looking at restoration projects, expanding the view of project goals can open up different pots of funding,” Luethe said. “So seeing the project not just as a highway project or a flood prevention project, but also as a habitat enhancement project means that more funding and partnerships can become available.”
Micheel reported that Monroe County is moving ahead with plans to conduct a bridge inventory in the summer of 2021.
“The main thing is that we get the inventory completed this summer,” Micheel said. “We believe that two interns will be able to complete the inventory on 10 crossings per day.”Micheel said that WDNR is committed to providing training for the interns, and that some chapters of Trout Unlimited have expressed interest in helping to fund the cost of employing two interns.