Friends of Badfish Creek Watershed became the first chapter of Rock River Coalition in 2007. In 2020, Friends of Badfish Creek Watershed began to conduct analysis on concerning levels of E. coli to track down its source. The following article from member and unofficial director, Lynne Diebel, is an update on their efforts and findings.
Lynne Diebel on the Lower Wisconsin River, 2009.
A few years ago, the Friends of Badfish Creek Watershed (FBCW) learned from Rick Wietersen of the Rock County Health Department that levels of E. coli in Badfish Creek and the Lower Yahara River had become unacceptable for recreational use at certain times of the year. The little Badfish, just over 22 miles long, flows through agricultural land in Dane County and then in Rock County where it joins the larger Lower Yahara River. Along the way, it’s also the recipient of treated sewage effluent from Madison and the village of Oregon. The Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) discharge permit from DNR requires that effluent is seasonally disinfected with UV treatment, currently April 15-Oct 15 each year; but beginning Mar 1, 2022, and thereafter, disinfection will be Mar 1-Nov 30. However, a variance in Oregon’s permit completely exempts their treatment plant from disinfection.
Because many kayakers and canoeists paddle the creek all year around, FBCW wants the stream’s water to be as safe as possible for as much of the year as possible. Thus, the hunt is on for the primary source of the E. coli, manure runoff or human effluent. FBCW is partnering with Rock County to explore what percentage each of these sources contributes, using Microbial Source Tracking. The results will be used to encourage policy changes
On six dates during 2020, volunteers collected samples at five sites along the Badfish and two along the Lower Yahara. Sites were chosen to take into account the effect of tributaries on E. coli levels. Moving downstream, the Badfish sites are: MMSD outfall at Hwy B; Oregon outfall on the Oregon Branch; Hwy A downstream of the tributary Rutland Branch, at which point the stream becomes Badfish Creek proper; Leedle Mill, downstream of the tributary Frog Pond Creek; and Hwy 138, downstream of the tributary Spring Creek. The sites on the Yahara are Stebbinsville, downstream of Stoughton’s treatment plant (seasonal disinfection: May 1-Oct 31) and upstream of the Badfish/Yahara confluence; and Murwin Park, downstream of the Badfish/Yahara confluence. Dates were chosen to reflect differences between the disinfection and non-disinfection periods.
Samples were tested at the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene in Madison both for levels of E. coli and levels of Bacteriodes, genetic markers which distinguish between human and ruminant E. coli (Microbial Source Tracking.)
*Required Seasonal Disinfection Period is based on the document below and may not fully reflect the WPDES final approval or MMSD’s 2020 actual start/stop dates
7.48 Seasonal Disinfection
Disinfection shall be provided from May 1 through September 30 for the Badger Mill Creek Outfall (005). Disinfection shall be provided from April 15 through October 15 each year at the Badfish Creek Outfall (001). Beginning 2022, and thereafter disinfection will be provided for the Badfish Creek Outfall from March 1 through November 30 of each year.
Full PDF available here.
Matt Wesson and Janis Baumann of Rock County Health graphed the 2020 sampling data shown in the three charts. As you can see, based on the collected data, E. coli typically spikes to elevated levels during late Fall through early Spring. The levels of E. coli during this six-month period are often above 1000 cfu per 100 ml of water. (As a point of reference, 1000 cfu of E. coli is the level at which beaches are required to be closed. The Rock County Health Department issues a health advisory on their website for recreational waters that exceed 1000 cfu.)
The 2020 Microbial Source Tracking results point to our tentative conclusion that human effluent is the main source of E. coli in the Badfish. Levels of human Bacteriodes significantly dominated ruminant Bacteriodes for all sampling dates. (Please note that the scales of the two Bacteriodes charts are different: the range of values for the human gene copies is 569 – 694,675, and for ruminant gene copies, 0 – 95,281.)
In an interesting addition to the human and ruminant marker count, the lab used the FBCW samples to look for swine and waterfowl markers on an experimental basis. Swine markers were found in the May 15 sample at Murwin Park, but otherwise were completely absent from the 2020 data. And because the swine and waterfowl testing are considered experimental, those results won’t be part of the project’s official data base.
The project goal is to collect two full years of data to inform and support our recommendations. FBCW currently has funding to cover three sampling dates in 2021 and is applying for additional grants to continue tracking E. coli and Bacteriodes throughout 2021.
Funding for the project has come thus far from generous members of the People’s United Methodist Church of Oregon, WI, through the church’s Green Team Mission of the Month program; two grants from the Stoughton Area Community Foundation; a Wisconsin DNR River Planning grant, through the Surface Water Grant Program; and generous gifts from individuals who love the Badfish.
Many environmentalists share a familiar journey: their appreciation for nature is sparked in childhood, gains strength through adolescence and blossoms into a professional quest for conservation in adulthood. But environmentalism lacks a singular face, and some of the most influential conservationists have achieved success specifically because of their unconventional origins. Bill Boettge, a longtime partner of the Rock River Coalition, is one of these people.
Boettge began his career as an accountant. After spending several years in public accounting, he served as an officer in the US Army fulfilling a college ROTC commitment, and eventually came back to the U.S. to join his family’s footwear business, where he built and sold a chain of footwear stores in the Midwest. He then moved to Washington D.C. and became the leader of a trade association management company. At age 70, he retired and purchased a house on Beaver Dam Lake in Dodge County.
During one of Boettge’s first weeks in his new home, he ventured over to a Beaver Dam Lake Improvement Association meeting. The discussion was largely focused on a growing concern about excessive nonpoint pollution from surrounding farms, an issue that, if left unchallenged, would one day turn the 6,718-acre lake uninhabitable. Two things were evident to Boettge that evening: the situation was urgent, and he could apply his organizational and management skills to address such issues. And thus, Bill Boettge’s conservation career began.
Bill Boettge at Beaver Dam Lake. Photo credit DECA LLC/TechHerd.
“I quickly realized that I could help,” says Boettge. “I spent most of my life helping organizations operate. Forming committees; planning operations; accounting; things like that.” Boettge’s business management acumen was gladly received. “I set up an office, and before I knew it I was volunteering every day of the week. It became a fulltime job.” One of Boettge’s opportunities came when the County set up a task force of farmers and lake property owners to address nonpoint pollution. Out of this came Dodge County Healthy Soil – Healthy Water Alliance, of which he was elected as co-chair.
“Agriculture is very important to Dodge County’s economy,” he says. “We couldn’t tell farmers to stop growing crops. Instead, we approached them on an individual basis about transitioning to regenerative farming.” Regenerative farming is an ecofriendly technique that utilizes cover crops and reduces fertilizers and pesticide. “We had a lot of success. Farmers care about the environment as much as anybody else.” Healthy Soil – Healthy Water hopes to see 50% of the surrounding farms transition to regenerative farming in the near future.
While this project consumed much of Boettge’s focus, he remained active with the lake association, pushing for increased membership and public awareness about a variety of topics. “We had a quarterly newsletter. We spoke at service clubs. We worked with the Chamber of Commerce, sat on town boards, went on the radio and wrote press releases. We also began forming partnerships with other local environmental groups,” he says. “This is when I began working with the Rock River Coalition.”
When Boettge learned of the Rock River Coalition’s volunteer stream monitoring program, he saw an opportunity for collaboration. He worked closely with Addie Schlussel, the Coalition’s Stream Monitoring and AIS Program Coordinator, to select a new monitoring site on a Beaver Dam Lake tributary, where monitoring will begin in May 2022. Stream monitoring is a great way for volunteers who want to work in the field to get involved, and it’s also one of the most effective ways to track water pollution. This partnership will help Healthy Soil – Healthy Water and the Beaver Dam Lake Improvement Association assess their impact, and help the Rock River Coalition to fulfill its mission to protect clean water in the Rock River Basin.
A few months ago, Boettge announced he will be starting yet another chapter in life when he moves to Mequon to be closer to family. Though his work with Healthy Soil – Healthy Water and the Beaver Dam Lake Improvement Association will be over, his impact will remain: the lake association now has more than 350 members, a lake district was formed in March 2020, and efforts to reduce pollution in Beaver Dam Lake will carry on.
Boettge hopes his story can be a source of inspiration to those interested in conservation. “Everybody can play a part in their own way. I didn’t have a background in environmentalism but this type of work takes all different types of people. There’s no such thing as too many volunteers. It’s up to us to protect the land and water.”
Rock River Coalition has been monitoring streams since 2002 with the help of volunteers from around the basin. These volunteers spend time from May to October checking the health of their designated streams, which provides important data to help inform conservation decisions. To cover the cost of equipment, training, and water sample testing, Rock River Coalition has successfully received multiple grants, solidified collaborations with like-minded organizations, and holds fundraisers to support these programs every year. In addition, there are other opportunities to support the stream monitoring program, one of which is corporate sponsorship. Recently, we were fortunate to have a local community bank, PremierBank, sponsor a stream monitoring team for the 2021 season.
From left to right: PremierBank Employees, Rochelle Mitchell, VP/Director of PR, Matt Zastrow, VP/Sr. Lending Officer/Commercial Lender and Denise Lange, Jefferson Branch Mgr. Rock River Coalition President, Eric Compass, Rock River Coalition Treasurer, Patricia Cicero.
Founded in 1863, PremierBank has 9 locations in Jefferson, Rock, and Walworth Counties and has a history of community and civic engagement, to include environmental efforts. With PremierBank’s support, a stream monitoring team was fully equipped, received training, and has ongoing support throughout the season to monitor Johnson Creek in Johnson Creek, WI. Ellie Froelich and her grandfather, long-time Rock River Coalition supporters, hail from Jefferson County, WI and were selected as our PremierBank team. Both Ellie and Ralph are first time volunteers with Rock River Coalition’s stream monitoring program, but have been following the Coalition’s progress for years. I caught up with them recently to chat about what water quality means to them, and why they think it is important to work together as a community to make a bigger impact.
When I arrived at the monitoring site, Ellie was admiring, from a safe distance of course, a very large snapping turtle that had taken up residency in their stream. Soon she was setting up the equipment for the day and organizing her clipboard to record the data. As we chatted about the location itself, it was noted by all of us that the water seemed lower than normal, which was attributed to the drought occurring at that time. Naturally, this observation prompted the discussion on what got them involved in conservation work, and why they thought it was important to contribute to citizen science efforts in the Rock River Basin.
Ralph has lived and owned land in Wisconsin
his entire life. As a generational farmer, he has seen the landscape change over time, and not always for the better. After retiring from an honorable career in the Air Force and working as a physician, Ralph has had more time to observe his land and witness the troubles facing it. He specifically recalls having to take his tractor further into what used to be a marsh-like area, to reach where he needed to complete some work for the day. Realizing this, he began wondering what else might be happening in the ecosystems around him. His concerns about erosion, water quality, and climate change are echoed by his granddaughter Ellie, who often helps Ralph on the properties he owns.
Ellie attends UW-Madison and is studying biological engineering. After having worked on an organic hemp farm, she realized she has a true passion for biology and plants but is also intrigued by the intricacies of how things worked. With COVID-19 altering the field work season for many students, followed by a call for volunteers by the Rock River Coalition stream monitoring program, Ralph realized this was an opportunity presenting itself to work with Ellie on something they both cared about. They teamed up, hoping to monitor a stream close to home, so they could apply their knowledge and curiosity to understand what is happening in their own backyard. Both easily agree that problems require solutions, and solutions require research, ideas, and antidotes. While their professional and educational backgrounds may be different, their concerns are the same. What is science telling us and how can we come together and help in a meaningful and positive way? By volunteering with Rock River Coalition, they hope to help gain some insight to these questions.
With the generous support from PermierBank this year, Ellie and Ralph are able to learn more about the place they call home, while also contributing to the important science behind working toward improving water quality in the Rock River Basin. It takes partnerships and networks of community-oriented individuals and businesses, to work towards positive change. Without the support of sponsors and volunteers, we would not be able to do the important work we do. So thank you PremierBank, and Rock River Coalition volunteers Ellie and Ralph.
As you scroll through Facebook or read your local newspapers, you will undoubtedly see posts and articles about summer and the budding excitement to get outside and enjoy the beautiful weather and landscapes of Wisconsin. This bodes especially true after being stuck inside for most of 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. You may have also read that home and car sales have seen drastic increases in costs, coupled with a lack of inventory, with little to no end in sight. But did you know that boat sales have seen a rapid increase over the last year as well? Some retailers cannot keep up with demand in parts of Wisconsin, with orders for 2022 models already being placed. Same for boating and fishing licenses, almost doubling from years past. It seems that after last year, people have re-discovered the amazing resources right in their backyards, especially lakes, rivers and streams, and are taking this opportunity to explore them.
The summer months have always been a bustling time for outdoor recreation in Wisconsin, and with this year’s seemingly newfound passion for being outside, the environmental risks associated with those activities have increased, specifically for water quality. This includes the increased probability of coming in contact or transporting aquatic invasive species (AIS) with your boat or watercraft. With more boats and people on the water, this means there is the potential for more aquatic “hitchhikers”, something the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Erin McFarlane, the statewide educator for the Clean Boats, Clean Waters program, are keeping a watchful eye on.
The term invasive species can be simply described as “plants and animals out of place”. While that is a fairly generic and simple definition, it is easy to understand and easily translatable to many different audiences. The discovery and presence of invasive species is a complex, wide ranging and continually evolving topic, and being able to communicate this information to citizens, specialists, and policy makers is important for the protection of our native species. The Wisconsin DNR has many different resources and tools for identifying and mitigating invasives, including citizen science monitoring, educational training, and strategic planning and management. For example, Clean Boats, Clean Waters (CBCW) is a statewide program that utilizes citizens and staff to educate the public to help stop the spread of AIS, through the outreach and education of boaters, paddlers and anglers.
The origin story of CBCW is a true testament to citizen scientists and the important impact those volunteers can have on conservation efforts. Starting as a grassroots effort in Minocqua, WI in 2003, several young students were in search of a science fair project for school. They determined they wanted to look into understanding the impacts tourism had on their local lakes. Upon investigation, they saw some plants in the surrounding lakes growing on top of the water that they hadn’t noticed before. This turned out to be Eurasian water-milfoil, a prolific aquatic invasive species in Wisconsin. With the support of the local DNR Rhinelander branch, they applied for a grant from the Christopher Columbus Foundation, which recognizes innovative ideas from young people. Upon receiving the award, they developed and marketed educational tool kits for boaters and created a volunteer watercraft inspection program, the Milfoil Masters. Within a year, the Wisconsin DNR Invasive Species Program allocated additional funds to continue the project, which eventually led to the creation of the CBCW program in 2004.
Today, the CBCW watercraft inspection program is statewide and is able to reach a broad audience thanks to the large network of partners and volunteers that put in hundreds of hours each year manning boat launches, bait stores and educating the public. As the program has evolved, citizens and staff focus on four major components: inspect, remove, drain, and never move. These basic steps are fairly self-explanatory, but the practice of inspecting your boat, trailers and equipment, removing any attached aquatic animals and plants, draining any excess or stored water, and never moving any live fish or plants from the water, are all key. This information can be found on signs near boat launches (as seen in the image below), and also in the handout given to boaters. McFarlane says that while the physical removal, prevention and maintenance of invasives is undoubtedly important, this form of educational dissemination is the most effective and economical way to prevent the transportation and possible detriment of an AIS spreading to another waterbody.
When asked about the increase in traffic on the water this summer, and the potential threat that poses for spreading AIS, McFarlane stated that while it stands as a cautionary tale, it is a good opportunity to educate and share the prevention message about invasives. Water and water recreation in Wisconsin is a large part of the cultural and economic makeup of the state, so it is important to work with the citizens and support these resources. McFarlane expressed her appreciation and gratitude for the many citizen inspectors and hundreds of hours put in to help spread awareness about this important topic. Wisconsin’s CBCW program continues to be largely driven by citizens, who conduct grant-funded watercraft inspections. The DNR does offer grants that local communities, lake districts, non-profit organizations and other entities can apply for that will provide funding for 200 hours of boat and trailer inspection time during the year. These hours tend to coincide with the widely successful events held by CBCW, the Landing Blitz and the Drain Campaign. The Drain Campaign is held annually in early June, as the season kicks off, to remind boaters and anglers about the important role they play in maintaining the health of Wisconsin lakes and streams, and reminds them to drain excess water from their bilge and reservoirs. The Landing Blitz occurs over the busy fourth-of-July holiday, where boating and fishing is at its peak, and has the ability to reach an even larger audience via a media blitz. The media blitz highlights the efforts across the states and also provides education and information about CBCW. Following the appropriate prevention steps provided at these events also helps boaters comply with Wisconsin state law, which prohibits the transport of AIS. So far in 2021, over 23,000 people have been contacted and over 12,000 boats inspected, and the season is just getting started!
As Rock River Coalition continues to expand our reach in protecting and conserving water in the Rock River Basin, we are excited to bring AIS programming to Dodge County. Volunteers will monitor lakes and assist in early detection of AIS, and the Rock River Coalition staff will reach out to lake groups, bait shops, and community members about AIS preventative measures. We will also be participating in the Wisconsin Snapshot Day this year! This event acts as a statewide scavenger hunt for invasive species and provides a snap-shot of data to the DNR for future strategic planning and management plans. On August 21, 2021, Rock River Coalition will host an event in Burnett, WI in Dodge County from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. Our AIS coordinator, Addie, will provide information and training on how to spot and record them during this event. To sign up, click here. If you are interested in learning more about Rock River Coalition’s AIS programming, please reach out to email@example.com.
If you are interested in helping protect your local waterways and would like to volunteer or attend training to become a watercraft inspector, please check out the Extension Lakes website. As a partner in the CBCW program, Extension Lakes provides the tools and resources to help get you started. In addition, you can check out the DNR website to search and see if your county has a local coordinator. If you live in Dodge County, please reach out to Addie, firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 2012, as a result of the Rock River Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) report, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) determined that many streams and water sources in the Yahara Watershed were considered impaired. The sources of contamination were both point and nonpoint and the main contaminant, phosphorus. One option the DNR gives point sources to address contamination is through the creation of an Adaptive Management project. To help meet permit requirements and reduce the phosphorus load, Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) created an Adaptive Management project called Yahara Watershed Improvement Network (Yahara WINS). Yahara WINS is a collaborative effort that brings together different stakeholders responsible for reducing contamination under the TMDL to pool resources to provide to partners to implement phosphorus reducing practices on the landscape. Since its inception, the number of participating municipalities, organizations and agricultural producers has increased and the program needs have expanded and grown, to include hiring a new watershed programs coordinator at MMSD. Kim Meyer accepted the position in mid 2020 and has since been key in creating new partnerships and moving innovative programs forward, with hopes to secure additional resources and expand the scope of involvement across the watershed to gain even more phosphorus reductions.
Meyer’s background is in horticulture and water resources management, which has offered considerable insight to her
role with MMSD. Kim grew up on a dairy farm and having that firsthand experience, she knows that farming practices are a “huge piece to the water quality puzzle”. Meyer decided to leverage this knowledge during graduate school and worked for Dane County Land and Water Resources Department. Following graduation, Meyer worked with a farmer co-op in nutrient management and eventually conducted nutrient management training at the University of Wisconsin. These roles would lead her to her previous role with MMSD in the biosolids program, and ultimately now as the watershed programs coordinator. Meyer stated, “I hope to take all of those past experiences and all of the pieces that play into water quality and look at things from a different point of view”. This diversity of experience and expertise Meyer brings to foster collaborative relationships between the constituents is key.
Rock River Coalition participates in the Adaptive Management project with MMSD in the form of dedicated stream monitor volunteers in the Yahara Watershed, which is located within the Rock River Basin. Meyer says these volunteers are the “checks and balances” ensuring that what is being done to the landscape is going to have positive impacts on water quality over time. In the Yahara Watershed, volunteers test the baseline parameters of dissolved oxygen, temperature, stream flow, biotic index and collect nutrient samples. This data is then reported to Yahara WINS and the Wisconsin DNR and used to determine which bodies of water need the most mitigation going forward. Rock River Coalition is making this data easily accessible and available to anyone that wishes to access it, and it can also be used to inform policy and educate communities. As a partner of Yahara WINS, Rock River Coalition is excited to work with Meyer and continue supporting the efforts of MMSD.
Conservation action is often an unsung undertaking. For Connie Hagen, that’s perfectly fine. Like many environmentalists, winning an award was perhaps the very last thing on Hagen’s mind each time she pulled out her water monitoring tools or stepped into a creek. “Either you have the conservation gene or you don’t,” says Hagen. “I’m a composter; a gardener; a volunteer stream monitor. It’s just what I like to do with my spare time.” This selfless dedication is what makes Hagen such an effective volunteer, and was, undoubtedly, a driving force when she did win an award this past February.
Specifically, Hagen won the 2021 Wisconsin Volunteer Stream Monitoring Award from the UW-Madison Division of Extension and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, an annual acknowledgement that distinguishes a Water Action Volunteer for their commitment to protecting and restoring Wisconsin’s waters. Hagen was nominated for the award by Addie Schlussel, Rock River Coalition’s Stream Monitoring and AIS Program Coordinator, and says she feels honored by the recognition.
Connie Hagen is a recipient of the 2021 Wisconsin Volunteer Stream Monitoring Award. Photo credit Susan Clark.
Hagen has monitored the same site on Madison’s Door Creek since 2014. She first began monitoring this location with her husband, Bill Lamm. When Bill passed away in 2019, she continued the work on her own. “It used to be our site,” says Hagen. “Now, it’s my site.” Door Creek, which flows into the 3,200-acre Lake Kegonsa, was initially built as a drainage ditch for farmers, and holds generations worth of phosphorus in its stream beds. Based on bore sample analysis done by Dane County, Door Creek is now on the list of streams that have been assessed for potential inclusion in Dane County’s $12 million “Suck the Muck” legacy sediment-removal initiative.
While “stream monitoring” is in the title of the award Hagen won, nominees must meet a broader set of criteria, including a commitment to developing partnerships, the participation in a wide range of water-related activities, and a record of sharing skills and information about water quality with others. Hagen’s resume, which includes work with Friends of Lake Kegonsa Society (FOLKS), Dane County Land & Water Resources, Clean Lakes Alliance, Plant Dane Native Plant Program and Rock River Coalition, is staggering.
Her volunteerism home base is with FOLKS where she serves as a board member, treasurer, grant writer, membership services coordinator, recruiter and head of the Water Monitoring Committee. In partnerships with the other organizations mentioned above, she is involved with FOLKS in the following projects: aquatic debris removal programs for Lake Kegonsa; a leaf collection initiative in the towns of Pleasant Springs and Dunn; a demonstration shoreline garden at Fish Camp County Park; planned native plant-growing tutorials for FOLKS members and the public; and phosphorus data analysis. Hagen also regularly collects water monitoring data at the end of her pier and at the deepest part of Lake Kegonsa.
Native plant garden at Fish Camp County Park. Photo credit Connie Hagen.
Hagen’s belief in giving back is rooted in practicality. “If we want to see improvements in our water resources, we need long-term data,” she says. “The only way to collect the sheer volume of data needed is through volunteerism. It’s all about teamwork. There are so many people that want to help, that want to do something. If you can channel those people together, amazing things get done.”
Rock River Coalition takes pride in creating opportunities for people of diverse interests and backgrounds to get involved, and recruitment is currently underway for spring and summer programs. Reach out to Addie Schlussel at email@example.com to learn about Rock River Coalition’s volunteer stream monitoring program.
Marisa Ulman, Jefferson County Water Resources Management Specialist
Under the guidance of Patricia Cicero, Director of the Land and Water Conservation Department and longtime member of Rock River Coalition, Marisa Ulman will take over as the Water Resources Management Specialist for Jefferson County. A graduate of Northland College, Ulman brings a breadth of experience with her to this role. Her impressive background includes having worked as a field technician for a lake management company, working with the Wisconsin DNR in the Lake Superior Watershed to help control and respond to aquatic invasive species (AIS) and she also conducted research for three years at the Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation. Having worked in the private sector, state government and academia, Ulman stated that one thing that attracted her to this position was the wide variety of projects and work being done, giving her the opportunity to combine her education and previous experiences. Ulman is particularly excited to work where she lives, recognizing the abundance of local natural resources and community involvement, she hopes to be a steward to both.
Jefferson County is one of the few, and lucky counties throughout the state to have a Water Resources Management Specialist employed. This role is valued within the county, often connecting citizens to information and assistance they might otherwise not have access to. As new areas of impairment are realized, and the growing concern of how climate change will impact water within the region, Cicero feels these roles, “are really important, and will continue to be more important”. When asked why she thought these types of roles are needed, Ulman stated, “They are important because water resources are important. We have to have people that are understanding them and protecting them.” She believes that collaboration, outreach, and education are vital to maintain healthy waterways, and can connect people to science. They equally expressed hope that the department can continue to be used as a resource and as a way to bring people with diverse interests together.
Looking ahead, both Cicero and Ulman are excited about new opportunities to reach an even broader audience. One in particular is farmer led groups, which are popping up all over the state. “We have seen state-wide, producer led groups that are getting together and being very successful in conserving land”, Cicero states. These groups collaborate with local organizations and their municipalities to discuss water quality, conservation and how they can contribute to healthy ecosystems on their property and within the watershed. Jefferson County will soon welcome its own farmer led group, the Jefferson County Soil Builders.
An area that will also see growth is aquatic invasive species (AIS) monitoring, prevention and management, thanks to the Wisconsin DNR Lakes Monitoring & Protection Network (LMPN). The LMPN allocates non-competitive grants to interested counties throughout the state to address the detriment of impact and presence of invasive species. Ulman will be utilizing these funds to conduct field work, create management plans and provide outreach to mitigate the potential impacts on the local waterways. In concert, there will also be more opportunities for community members to become involved in hands-on citizen science through training as volunteer lake and stream monitors. These volunteers will assist Ulman, and ultimately the entire Land and Water Conservation Department, in determining the health of the streams, rivers and lakes of Jefferson County. As Ulman states, “We are so blessed to live in a water rich area such as Wisconsin”. No truer do we depend on people in roles such as Ulman’s and Cicero’s to guide us in conserving and protecting such a precious resource, especially within the Rock River Basin.
We’re excited to announce that our first year of purple loosestrife biocontrol is underway! This spring and summer, with lots of help from our partners, we’ll be raising and releasing Galerucella beetles to control purple loosestrife patches across the Rock River Basin. Purple loosestrife is the beetles’ favorite food, so they will have a feast while helping to get this invasive plant under control.
Earlier this month, we got started on the project by digging up and potting about 75 purple loosestrife plants from a wetland near Lake Koshkonong. We enclosed the potted purple loosestrife in nets to get them ready to serve as food for the beetles we’re rearing. Because purple loosestrife is a wetland plant, the pots are also kept in partially filled kiddie pools to mimic purple loosestrife’s natural habitat.
Digging up purple loosestrife while there is still snow on the ground might seem strange, but by digging in very early spring, we hope to give the plants plenty of time to grow before we introduce our beetles to them. We want the beetles to have as much food as possible! Digging early while the plants are still dormant also minimizes the stress caused to the plant.
This year, we have two amazing partners who are taking on a big role in rearing the beetles. Neighborhood House of Milwaukee, which operates a nature center near Neosho, will raise beetles with the help of students participating in their summer program. This program gives students the opportunity to experience land stewardship and learn about environmental careers. Lake Ripley Management District is also raising beetles with support from the Severson Learning Center near Cambridge.
Left: Volunteer John Kempf carries purple loosestrife out of the wetland. Right: Penny Shackleford from Lake Koshkonong Wetland Association cleans up purple loosestrife roots.
In addition to Neighborhood House and Lake Ripley, we’re very grateful to Lake Koshkonong Wetland Association, Jefferson County Land and Water Conservation Department, and WDNR for their help and support. A big thanks to the volunteers who braved the snowy marsh to help us dig too!
Now that our beetle rearing sites are set up, our next step will be to find our beetles! In mid-May, when adult Galerucella beetles emerge to mate, we will collect beetles from places where past biocontrol efforts have already resulted in healthy beetle populations. We’ll then move some adult beetles to our rearing sites, where they will hopefully lay eggs that will hatch into many more adults, which we can distribute where they’re needed.
The lakes, rivers and streams of Central Wisconsin are enjoyed by thousands of people each year, and are home to flourishing populations of mammals, amphibians, vertebrates, invertebrates, fish and birds. The relationship between those who thrive in these tranquil ecosystems is delicate, yet well-balanced. Each life impacts the next. Unfortunately, the stability of this natural state can be upset by unwanted invaders. The Rock River Coalition is taking action against aquatic invasive species (AIS).
In 2021, RRC volunteer stream monitors and a DNR biologist discovered New Zealand mudsnails in two waterbodies in Dane County – Token Creek and Elvers Creek. New Zealand mudsnails are a particularly harmful invasive species. They eat high quantities of the algae native aquatic invertebrates rely on, and they provide virtually no nutrition to the fish that consume them. “They’re really small, spread really easily, and can survive out of water for weeks,” says Addie Schlussel, Stream Monitoring and AIS Program Coordinator of the Rock River Coalition. “They’re extremely hard to get rid of once established.”
Token Creek is a prominent watershed in Southern Wisconsin, and there is concern the mudsnails may spread to Dodge County. To combat the spread of mudsnails and other AIS, the Rock River Coalition recently launched a Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers campaign in Dodge County, and hopes to expand this project to other counties in the coming years. Non-competitive funding for this project comes from the DNR’s Lakes Monitoring and Protection Network.
This fall, this campaign has been largely directed toward waterfowl hunters. Waterfowl hunting requires a lot of equipment – duck and goose decoys, hunting blinds for cover, waders, dog vests, boats, etc. Mudsnails are small and sticky, and can easily attach themselves to this gear. If the equipment isn’t properly cleaned off, the mudsnails get a free ride to the next lake, river or stream the hunter visits. Members of the Rock River Coalition have set up stations at popular boat launches to both raise awareness and help hunters clean off their gear.
“We distribute informational handouts and a towel that has the Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers logo, and will demonstrate proper cleaning techniques,” says Schlussel. “Many people know what to do and are already very diligent about cleaning off their boat. But it’s still great to spread the word in case they don’t know, or have friends who could use the information.” Overall, hunters have been very receptive to the campaign, and seem eager to play their role in conservation.
Like the creatures that inhabit these ecosystems, human visitors play an essential role in maintaining the balance of nature. The Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers campaign makes environmental conservation easy by providing three simple instructions: Inspect. Remove. Drain. Inspect your equipment, remove mud and debris, and drain all of the water from your boat. If you, or somebody you know, is interested in learning more about this project, please visit https://stopaquatichitchhikers.org/prevention/.
Left: One of the reminders that we hand out to waterfowl hunters: a bird band with AIS prevention messaging. Right: AIS Coordinator Addie visits a boat launch to discuss AIS prevention.