Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Danger in Rising Groundwater Usage Levels

Since the 1960's, the use of groundwater has more than doubled. Approximately 70-80% of groundwater is used for agricultural purposes. Most of this water ends up going into the oceans, which also impacts the rising sea levels. A large concern is the rate at which the groundwater is being used. Aquifers are being depleted much faster than they can be replenished.

A study was recently conducted by members of Utrecht University and the International Groundwater Resources Assessment Center at Deltares in the Netherlands. This research helped to identify areas where high groundwater depletion is occurring. Findings were published in Geophysical Research Letters, and a recap of some of the important points can be seen in the Discovery News article: Groundwater Levels Draining Fast. The article also provides some suggestions for how new irrigation techniques might be used to slow groundwater usage.

For further reading, see our recommended reading list for Understanding and Protecting Groundwater.

Photo Courtesy of The Western Producer.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Mayor of Bayfield Wins Award, Going Traveling

Mayor Larry J. MacDonald of Bayfield Wisconsin was recently awarded the Peter Wege Award for best sustainable practices for a Great Lakes City under 100,000. Mayor MacDonald is a member of the UW Sea Grant Advisory Council.

In addition to the award, MacDonald will attend an invitation-only, all-expense-paid coastal economics workshop in Charleston, S.C., sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), meant to help the NOAA Coastal Services Center identify what kind of information coastal managers need to make decisions later this month. And in October, the Embassy of Sweden has invited MacDonald, along with nine other U.S. mayors, to an all-expense-paid First European Green Capital Conference.

Congratulations, Mayor MacDonald!

City of Bayfield website.

Bayfield's eco-municipality initiative.

Recent AquaLog post about Mayor MacDonald.

photo courtesy of the city of Bayfield website

Monday, September 27, 2010

29th Annual Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week has officially arrived. Kick-0ff events took place on September 25th and celebration will continue through October 2nd. Over 200 participants attended Chicago's kick-off event in the city’s historic Bughouse Square. Recognizing Banned Books Week is a way to celebrate the freedom to read. This began in 1982 because of a sudden increase in the number of challenged books. ALA defines a challenge as "an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group."

Ideas for and information about Banned Books Week can be seen here, and a listing of events by state is also available.

Photo of the Lakeview Branch Banned Books Week display courtesy of Madison Public Library.

USGS Finds Elevated Nitrogen and Phosphorus in Groundwater

While nitrogen and phosphorus levels were previously an issue in groundwater systems, and many steps have been taken, and money spent to attempt to address this issue, a recently released study by the USGS shows that these levels have stayed the same or even risen since the 1990's. Some streams contain levels two to ten times higher than what is recommended by the EPA's Water Quality Standards. Areas affected most nationally include the Northeast, Midwest, and Northwest due to high use of fertilizer and manure for agricultural purposes.

Beside threatening aquaculture in these streams, drinking water with high nitrate levels is also a concern for humans. Aquifers and shallow wells are at risk and the potential for these nitrate levels to rise in the next few years as groundwater high in nutrient concentration penetrates the soil. Since private wells are not under the jurisdiction of the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act, homeowners should test their water annually to make sure that it is safe.

The USGS's fact sheet for Nutrients in the Nation’s Streams and Groundwater gives a detailed analysis of the study's findings. For further reading suggestions, see our recommended reading list on drinking water quality.

Photo courtesy of Roger Wendell.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Genetically Engineered Fish and Chips

Would you side with 78% of surveyed adults who feel the FDA should not yet approve genetically engineered salmon for human consumption? Meetings have taken place, and parties are casting their votes. Some of the controversial topics are: whether or not the FDA should approve genetically engineered (GE) salmon, if approved, should labeling be required to advise consumers of the type of fish they are purchasing, and if the GE salmon are as healthy for people and for the environment as regular farm raised salmon are.

Obviously, there are many interdependent factors here, such as the methods companies use to grow the fish. AquaBounty Technologies, one of the sponsors of the GE salmon, submitted reports indicating the fish would be safe to eat, and safe for the environment. Many demand more research be done, and the public seems to be in agreement according to a study recently released by Food & Water Watch.

The FDA's Overview of Atlantic Salmon provides some useful information for interested parties. Food & Water Watch's release about the labeling of GE salmon can be seen here. For further reading, you can view our recommended reading list on aquaculture.

Salmon photo courtesy of

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Project WET - Water Education for Teachers

Project WET, a national program that is delivered on a statewide basis, is available for teachers interested in becoming qualified to teach water education. They provide materials that can be used to get kids thinking about water and environmental issues. Materials from this non-profit water education program are available for kids ages 5-18. The prepared teaching materials are "designed to facilitate and promote awareness, appreciation, knowledge, and stewardship of water resources" (DNR release).

Incorporating different learning styles, including community service opportunities, there are over 90 activities available from Project WET. There are four main beliefs upon which Project WET was founded. One, water quantity and quality is important to all users. Two, knowledgeable water management is key to maintaining a healthy environment. Three, water connects a vast array of life and systems. Finally, being aware and respectful of water resources can encourage positive community involvement. Teachers are also able to sign up for workshops that are conducted by a network of Wisconsin facilitators.

For further curriculum ideas involving water, see our website.

Picture of Project WET booklet courtesy of WDNR.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Real-time wave information now available

by Gene Clark, PE (Wisconsin Sea Grant) and Dr. Chin Wu (UW Madison)

The sea caves at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore are unique and spectacular natural rock formations. These eroded sandstone formations were formed when lake water and waves eroded the soft sandstone near the water edge, yielding a series of caves carved out of the exposed sandstone cliffs.

In Lake Superior, many sea caves are located on two of the islands—Devils Island and Sand Island—as well as on a relatively remote area on the mainland near Meyers Beach. The mainland sea caves can be viewed from above on land by a rugged two-mile hike along the bluff top trail from the Meyers Beach parking lot, but the best way to see these rock formations is on the water. the rest of the article on the Wisconsin Coastal Management website.

Read a recent article in the Summer 2009 Aquatic Sciences Chronicle for further information and to watch a video about the project.

Photo courtesy the National Park Service.

Monday, September 20, 2010

New Climate Change Resources in the Library

Recently, Wisconsin's Water Library updated our website to include information on, and access to a variety of climate change materials. We have created several climate change recommended reading lists for adults, which are broken down by category. These include Economies and Society, Policy, Great Lakes and Water.

We have also added a climate change recommended reading list for children, as well as a list of websites that were designed specifically for kids. For teachers and educators, we have added a curriculum ideas page which will provide some good starting points for those wishing to incorporate climate change into their lesson plans.

Book cover of Climate change begins at home: Life on the two-way street of global warming by David Reay.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

USGS Tracks Loon Migration by Satellite

Minnesota has the highest loon population in the continental US with over 10,000 adult loons. Many Midwestern loons reside in the Great Lakes during spring and summer months before they begin their annual migration to warmer areas such as the Pacific, Atlantic, or Gulf Coasts. Loons feed mainly on fish and other aquatic life.

Since the 1960's scientists have recorded cases of botulism in loons, but the numbers greatly increased starting in 1999. The Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center, a branch of the USGS, has equipped ten loons with satellite transmitters in hopes of tracking migration and ultimately discovering physical and biological links to the botulism outbreaks. The loons were tagged in July and their migration can be followed on this website. These transmitters allow researchers to track temperature and pressure, as well as location, which they hope will reveal foraging information. Other loons were also tagged with geolocators which will record information that researchers will collect when they remove the tags during the following season.

You can hear the call of a common loon here. For further reading, click here to access our recommended reading list on Great Lakes Birds.

Photo of Biologists Luke Fara and Kevin Kenow recording the measures of a common loon courtesy of Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Highlight on Cat Islands

Last week, Lisa Jackson, US EPA administer, announced EPA’s first Great Lakes Restoration Initiative competitive grants which included a $1.5 million dollar grant for the Cat Island Chain Restoration Project in lower Green Bay.

Details of the project funded by the grant are:

Grant Number: 00E00552
Total Federal Award: $1,500,000
Applicant Name: Brown County
Project Title: Cat Island Chain Restoration Project

Project Description: This project supports the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, pursuant to Public Law 111-88. Specifically, it consists of constructing a 2.5 mile barrier in Lower Green Bay to begin the process of restoring the Cat Island Chain of barrier islands. Three barrier islands will be created over the next 20 years. These islands will protect and enhance 1,400 acres surrounding Duck Creek (a tributary to Green Bay). This project will also provide immediate environmental benefits by protecting wetlands and promoting emergent and submergent aquatic vegetation growth in Lower Green Bay.

Vicky Harris, Wisconsin Sea Grant outreach specialist, has been working in this area for years. Read about her work.

To learn more about the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, visit their website.

image above from Wisconsin Sea Grant.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Why Worry About Asian Carp When There Are Quagga?

Dr. Charles Kerfoot, a researcher funded by NOAA and The National Science Foundation, isn't worried about Asian Carp. He says "by the time the carp get here, there won’t be anything left for them to eat," referring to the quagga activity that has been identified in Southern Lake Michigan.

These small European mollusks, about the size of a lima bean, have been discovered in abundance feeding on phytoplankton in Lake Michigan. A doughnut shaped collection of algae and other tiny plants was discovered in winter with the aid of NASA’s new Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS). Between 10,000 and 15,000 quagga mussels can inhabit one square meter in the soft lake bed and have been found in all of the Great Lakes. Consuming phytoplankton at a rate of five to seven times that of the production rate, the massive number of quagge are excreting enough to stimulate the growth of Cladophora algae (see the DNR article on it here). When the algae dies and decomposes, it eliminates oxygen from the surrounding waters increasing the likelihood of botulism. The predictable result from all this is a decline in lake species starting with smaller ones such as zooplankton, and then continuing on to chub and alewives, eventually leading to even the larger fish that inhabit Lake Michigan.

The Journal of Great Lakes Research has published the article on Kerfoot's research called "Approaching Storm: Disappearing Winter Bloom in Lake Michigan," which is available online, here. For an overview of the topic see the Michigan Tech News release, here.

Video of quagga mussels feeding by John Karl at UW Sea Grant.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Lake Superior National Estuarine Reserve

The State of Wisconsin nominated the freshwater estuary situated on the confluence of the St. Louis River and Lake Superior for consideration as the 28th National Estuarine Research Reserve in 2008. NOAA has been working with the reserve state partner, University of Wisconsin-Extension and others, to complete the Final Environmental Impact Statement and Management Plan for the proposed Lake Superior Reserve. The proposed site consists exclusively of public lands and waters owned by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, City of Superior, Douglas County and the University of Wisconsin. The site is a diverse complex of representative terrestrial and aquatic habitats that form a unique freshwater estuary where the St. Louis River empties into Lake Superior. Each of the four components identified as the preferred alternative are within close proximity to each other. The combination of components being considered will provide a wide range of estuarine research and public education opportunities and contribute to the national system of research reserves.

The Federal Register announcement for the Reserve appeared on September 3rd.

[Search help: Click on this link for advanced search and input September 3rd as publication date and search for the term "Lake Superior National Estuarine Reserve". The first hit will be the Federal Register notice.]

For more information about the reserve (including a link to the Final Environmental Impact Statement), visit NOAA's website.

Photo credit: Pokegama River wetlands - Mike Anderson; from the NERR's website.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Where Does the Salt from Winter Roads Go?

A recently released study conducted by the USGS Wisconsin Water Science Center has shown that streams are being adversely affected by the use of salt for deicing roads, sidewalks and parking lots. The study focused especially on eastern Wisconsin and Milwaukee, but also included other northern U.S. cities.

In eastern and south-central Wisconsin, chloride levels exceeding US EPA chronic water quality criteria were found in 100 percent of urban streams during winter. These chloride levels are the determinant of toxicity in the water. Further, the chloride levels of the water were not declining enough even by the time summer came in order for those streams to be suitable for many aquatic inhabitants. Nationally, 55 percent of northern streams samples chloride levels exceeded US EPA chronic water-quality criteria.

Matthew C. Larsen, the Associate Director for Water at the USGS says: "This study suggests the need for advancements that will reduce salt loads to surface waters." Read the full release: "Many Urban Streams Harmful to Aquatic Life Following Winter Pavement Deicing" on the USGS website. For further reading suggestions, see our recommended reading list on Understanding and Protecting Groundwater.

Photo by Michael Pereckas