Menomonie – This summer, people who use Half Moon Lake in Eau Claire, Long Lake in Polk County, and other lakes in western Wisconsin and Minnesota likely won’t realize they’re reaping the benefits of Wisconsin’s idea.
The Wisconsin Idea is a century-old belief that the University of Wisconsin system should directly support and help improve the lives of state residents.
The philosophy is alive and well at the UW-Stout Limnological Research and Rehabilitation Center. CLRR – pronounced “clear” – in 2022 analyzes and treats regional lakes again to improve water quality and therefore the quality of life for those who fish, boat, swim and use the lakes for others forms of leisure and pleasure.
Helping to revive and bring the lakes back from the dead, so to speak, has been CLRR’s mission since its inception 11 years ago. As a centre, it works directly and almost exclusively with regional lake partners.
“Lake management often involves years of treatment and application to repair past damage. With over 25,000 lakes in Wisconsin and Minnesota, there is an urgent need to reverse eutrophication for overall health as well as aesthetic reasons,” said CLRR Director Bill James.
People also read…
The CLRR has also studied Tainter Lake, Menomin Lake, Courte Oreilles Lake, Desair, Tomah Lake, North Pipe Lake, Lake of the Woods in Minnesota and the western basin of Lake Erie to help better understand water issues. algae and management options, said James, a principal investigator at UW-Stout’s Discovery Center, which includes CLRR.
The Center was founded by James to combat lake eutrophication, or compromised water quality due to over-fertilization. The phosphorus that has accumulated at the bottom of lakes is absorbed in summer by blue-green algae. Algae turns into dense scum that causes odor problems, releases toxins that pose a human health problem, seriously harms recreational use, and reduces property values.
CLRR comes to the rescue by scientifically analyzing lake sediments at UW-Stout labs and developing a treatment plan.
A shining example of success is Half Moon, a 135-acre lake in the center of Eau Claire. Work on Half Moon began ten years ago and will continue for at least three years, including processing in mid-May.
The treatment focused on applications of alum, a chemical also used in cooking, which sinks to the bottom and reduces phosphorus; and endothall, an aquatic herbicide that controls the curly-leaved pondweed, which was growing out of control.
Prior to treatment, Half Moon Beach was often closed due to blue-green algae blooms and poor water quality, largely due to logging operations in the late 19th and early of the 20th century who dumped animal waste on the ice every winter. Swimming in the lake, once popular, all but ceased, and other recreational uses declined for several decades.
James’ research found that Half Moon’s phosphorus issues are internal, requiring a targeted approach to cure them. The problem on most of the lakes the CLRR has worked on, including Menomin and Tainter in Dunn County, is the opposite, coming from the entry of phosphorus through the watershed.
Today the water clarity on Half Moon has improved dramatically, almost 5 feet during the summer. Curly-leaved pondweed is much reduced and native aquatic plants are bouncing back. The lake’s phosphorus is down more than 60% and harmful algal blooms are down more than 70%, James said.
The partnership between the CLRR, City of Eau Claire, Wisconsin DNR and the Eau Claire community “continues to work towards improving the water quality of the lake for the future,” James said.
Long-term treatments can cost millions of dollars, but the results are invaluable, said Steve Plaza, manager of city parks, forestry and cemetery.
“In 2011, nobody wanted to use the Half Moon because of the water quality. In 2022 we will see fishing, swimming, kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding, paddling pools for the kids and an overall positive experience on or near the lake. Just sitting on a bench looking out at the lake is a positive experience,” Plaza said.
In Polk County, along with Long Lake, CLRR is working this summer on Cedar Lake, East Balsam Lake and Big Round Lake.
Lake improvement is a year-to-year process that involves a cycle of assessment, treatment and other assessments to recommend changes and improve rehabilitation, James said.
CLRR staff launch boats every two weeks each summer to collect water and aquatic sediment samples for chemical analysis from the lakes the Center manages.
“For example, does the chemistry of the lake tell us that more alum will be needed next year? In the case of Long Lake, summer phosphorus and algal blooms were reduced by more than 60% following the first two alum applications, and concentrations are meeting target. Water clarity in summer has improved by 80%. This information tells us that management is on track so far for Long Lake,” James said.
Long Lake has received two partial alum requests since 2018 and another is expected this summer.
CLRR also analyzes sediment for consulting firms working on lake restoration projects in Minnesota, particularly in the Twin Cities area.
James was previously an aquatic biology researcher for the US Army Corps of Engineers Engineer Research and Development Center, Environmental Laboratory – Eau Galle Aquatic Ecology Laboratory, Spring Valley for 32 years.
He holds a master’s degree in limnology from Kent State University and has taught an undergraduate course at UW-Stout in aquatic ecology and management and a graduate course in advanced limnological approaches.
Buzz Sorge, a retired lake management planner with the DNR, has worked with James on CLRR projects.
“Bill developed the technology and the very technical process for analyzing sediment cores. It’s a very unique lab in Stout, and it’s trained people very well. It’s amazing for us who work at MNR to have access to this kind of science that Bill can do. The partnership with the DNR has been a phenomenal success,” said Sorge.
“The poster child is Half Moon. It was hyper eutrophic – choked with weeds and full of algae every year. It’s phenomenal how we’ve been able to turn things around with the support of the community,” Sorge said.
Sorge said the DNR did not have the staff to handle the work carried out by the CLRR. It is high-level science that otherwise is not available in the region except in consulting firms, he said.
James has published 60 peer-reviewed research articles. “Bill is so good technically in his thinking and problem solving and how he applies the tools we have in our toolbox. He is an expert in understanding the eutrophic aspect and is respected in limnological circles nationally and internationally,” Sorge said.
The CLRR is self-financed by the fees for its services. MNR Lake Protection and Planning Grants to cities, counties and lake districts often fund research.
The CLRR is able to hire students, often three per year, who gain valuable research experience through a paid internship.
Mai Lia Vang, a 2018 UW-Stout graduate in Environmental Science with a concentration in Aquatic Biology and a 2020 graduate with a professional MSc in Conservation Biology, is a research analyst who manages the day-to-day operations of the CLRR lab.
The university has an undergraduate program in environmental science, with a concentration in aquatic biology.
UW-Stout is Wisconsin’s polytechnic university, focused on applied learning, business and industry collaboration, and career outcomes.