More than ever before, the waters of Chequamegon Bay are facing demands and challenges that can impact its quality and therefore the ability of plants, fish, wildlife and humans to rely on this life-giving body of water.
Addressing this, the Chequamegon Bay Area Partnership Tuesday held its second annual Chequamegon Bay Symposium at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center.
The event featured a number of presentations on topics affecting Chequamegon Bay.
Topics discussed included a presentation on a model wetland conservation ordinance, a surface water model for the Bad River watershed, preliminary findings from the Bad River Plume Study, applying monitoring and modeling to water resource management decisions and the status of the Lake Superior National Maritime Sanctuary Project.
Several of the presentations addressed key issues facing Chequamegon Bay.
In a presentation entitled “Large Scale Livestock Operations and Water Quality: Applying the Lessons of Bayfield County to Ashland County” Ashland and Bayfield County Agricultural Agent Jason Fischbach reviewed the actions taken by Bayfield County in response to a proposed Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, observing that the South Fish Creek Ordinance, the facility siting law and the CAFO Operations Ordinance adopted by Bayfield County would not affect existing farmers in Bayfield County, nor were they likely to affect them in the near future.
“ However, if Ashland County took the same actions, they would affect existing farmers, because dairy farms in Ashland County are big enough so that the thresholds that Bayfield County chose would affect them, and those farms are in a stage of growth,” he said. “I pointed out to the policy makers who were there, the researchers and the partner organizations of the Chequamegon Bay Partnership, that those facts need to be taken into account as Ashland County considers what their next steps are, if any, is with respect to large-scale livestock operations.”
Fischbach said the water quality community is targeting landowners to put in water retention-type practices, such stormwater retention or wetlands restoration.
Fischbach said that would work with landowners who have the room on their properties for such practices, but not for farmers who needed to farm all of their property.
He said what may be needed were “tweaks” to the agricultural system that would allow the slowing of the flow of water while still allowing viable crop production.
Matt Hudson, the watershed program coordinator at Northland College, spoke about the evolving understanding of the complex ecosystem that is Chequamegon Bay.
He noted recent research, which shows that South Fish Creek and Bay City Creek consistently had phosphorus concentrations that were greater than state standards.
“As a result of the data collection that we have been working on for the past couple of years, South Fish Creek is now on the draft impaired waters list for the state of Wisconsin, which may have some implications for the large livestock proposal that is out there,” Hudson said.
He said there is research planned over the sometimes-high levels of E. coli bacteria found during beach monitoring at Maslowski Beach, work aimed at determining the significance of those levels.
“This summer we will doing some genetic sequencing of the beach samples we have been taking,” he said. “That will give us some more clues as what the source of the bacteria at the beaches is.”
Other work consists of studying sediment loading of Fish Creek to see if erosion control work being done upstream is having an impact.
Northland College students Jordan Welnetz and Joe Fitzgerald spoke about “upwelling events,” a phenomenon where persistent winds blow away warm surface water along coastal area, replacing it with cold water from the bottom of the lake.
“Some of the reasons we might be concerned with this within the bay is that research that has been going on from other studies has suggested that upwelling events can have a significant impact on displacement of primary productivity within the bay so movement of some of the plankton communities could be connected,” said Fitzgerald.
The upwelling could also have impacts on the water chemistry, bringing up nutrients that could have otherwise settled on the bottom of the lake, Fitzgerald said.
Another speaker was Sara Hudson, director of the City of Ashland Parks and Recreation Department. She spoke about a new initiative from the city to educate city beach users about water quality especially at Maslowski and Kreher Park beaches.
Hudson said that water testing at those city beaches showed that beaches had to have advisories or beach closure orders because of high levels of E. coli for more than half the summer.
She said that efforts to acquaint beach goers with beach bacteria conditions would include a new kiosk with a large attention-getting color coded sign that will display the appropriate condition, green for safe to swim, yellow for advisory, and red for closed for swimming.
Ashland City Council member Richard Ketring outlined city efforts to develop a source water protection plan for the city.
“This gathering are the people we are going to be reaching out to help us create that plan,” he said.
Ketring said the symposium represented a “fabulous gathering of the best minds in the area in terms of describing the water systems that we have in the area.”
He said the symposium was a vital effort in protecting those water resources.
“We all depend on clean water,” he said.
That is something event organizer Valerie Damstra, who serves as the Chequamegon Bay Area Partnership Coordinator, could agree with.
“We are a coalition of organizations in the area, federal, state and tribal governments, county governments, nonprofits that are all working on water resource issues in Chequamegon bay,” she said.
Damstra said the annual symposium was an opportunity for researchers to get together and compare the work they have done.
“This year in particular, we are trying to draw more connections between research and how that can be applied to management decisions related to water quality in the bay and local decisions that have to be made at the city or county level,” she said. “We want to make sure that decision makers have the information they need to make decisions on really important issues in our area.
“Making those connections is one of the really important goals of the Symposium.”