The Red Cedar Watershed conference committee met once again on Monday evening, January 13, to continue the solidification of the conference for March 12, 2020, while also working on the 10th annual conference for 2021.
“Top keynote speakers typically book out a year in advance,” conference co-chair and Tainter Menomin Lake Improvement Association Inc. member Dick Lamers said. “We want to get out there and try and grab people who can provide insight and inspiration.”
When looking at a map the Red Cedar Watershed covers eight counties including Dunn, St. Croix, Pierce, Rusk, Polk, Washburn, Chippewa, and Sawyer which includes 1,213,496 acres of land, according to a map that was produced in February of 2009 by UW-Extension.
The TMLIA which hosts the conference each year, was started in 1991 and in 2012 the association began the conference which has seen as many as 450 people in attendance.
“TMLIA has sponsored the conference ever since its start in 2012,” said Lamers. “That organization’s sole function is improving the safety of water quality in Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin.”
The importance and premise of the conference has always been to maintain and sustain a conversation about water quality in the whole area, but in recent years, the committee has changed the theme of the conference and moved it away from talking about just water and made it about “Land, Water, and People coming together.”
“That has been our outline and what has kept us in focus on keeping those separate, but still maintaining the linkage that we have or working together,” Lamers explained.
In 2019, Governor Tony Evers declared it the year of clean water as well as making August “National Water Quality” month in Wisconsin, stating that tens of thousands of Wisconsin families do not meet acceptable health standards as far as their water was concerned.
However, as several members of the committee commented, the question becomes “How do we help or why is it our concern?”
“You need healthy land to have healthy air, to have healthy water, to have healthy people. And you have to have healthy people,” stated committee member Kelley Lake.
The committee and conference helps to spread awareness of how nitrates are affecting the groundwater with 90 percent of the source coming from land applications of fertilizers and manure, and gives ideas on how to keep this from happening.
Residents are able to see the consequences of phosphorus being filtered into the water by looking at Lake Menomin and Tainter Lake and seeing the blue-green algae that has formed like spilled paint on the top of the water.
Unfortunately, even after the algae is no longer visible, toxins are still present for a period of time.
“It is not just our lakes, but what we feed on down the line,” said Lake. “That is probably the largest thought you can have, that it is not just here. But what we send down the line to somebody else.”
Lake, along with her husband Jeff, have invited other farmers and curious residents to their farm near Boyceville over the past year to explain their no-till and cover crops practices, and how it helps to keep the nitrates out of the groundwater.
No-till practices allow the soil structure to stay intact and protect the soil by leaving crop residue on the surface. Improved structure and cover increase the soils ability to absorb the water, which in turn reduces erosion and runoff, preventing pollution from entering nearby water sources.
Cover crops have become useful tools to farmers as they plant them during the off-season before the land is needed for growing the cash crop.
Some common cover crops are typically grasses or legumes planted by farmers in Wisconsin.
Rod Olson, Red Cedar River Partnership and Rice Lake resident, had nothing but good things to say about farmers who have started planting cover crops in the off-season.
“I’m so delighted when I drive past farms and see the land covered,” Olson said. “Its been delightful and so exciting, I didn’t think it would happen this quickly.”
Lake noted on a trip to South Dakota there were several fields that looked barren as the sand and soil was blown across the road and into another field.
“The land was so barren, it looked dead,” said Lake. “There was nothing living, there were no animals going across it.”
As much as farmers are urged to be mindful of the run-offs on their properties, village, town, and city residents are urged to learn ways they can protect their groundwater also.
The top ten ways to protect and conserve groundwater, according to The Groundwater Foundation, includes: Using native plants in your landscape; using fewer chemicals around your home and yard; properly disposing of potentially toxic substances like unused chemicals; shut off the water when brushing your teeth or shaving; check all faucets, fixtures, toilets, and taps in your home for leaks and fix them right away; limit yourself to just a five minute shower, and challenge your family members to do the same; water the lawn and plants during the coolest parts of the day and only when they truly need it; reduce the amount of “stuff” you use and reuse what you can; use all natural/nontoxic household cleaners whenever possible; and get involved in water education.
All of which are simple ways residents can reduce their footprints on Wisconsin’s lakes, rivers, and other water sources.
“If water lands on your property, you need to be responsible,” said committee and TMLIA member Ron Verdon. “And how you do that is extremely important, and understanding, yes it lands on my ground, but how does it affect the groundwater and other people as well.”
Sustaining A Conversation
“I have observed over the years of this conference, to be able to sustain a conversation from year to year,” said Verdon. “Without this conference that was not happening. Also people have started to look at Lake Menomin and Lake Tainter as individual entities, but as part of the whole watershed,” he said.
Verdon credited Rod Olson in helping to get the engagement of the upper portions of the watershed involved, and also providing synergy between the urban and agricultural communities.
“Whether you live on a lot in Menomonie you have a responsibility,” Verdon stated. “As much as any agricultural activity going on throughout the watershed.”
The conference has also played a part in bringing together municipalities and government agencies to work together in a much more respectful manner.
“People are willing to talk about what changes can be done,” said Lamers. “We have broken that mold, there are so many topics that are positive.”
The conference has become about a space that people can come together without pointing fingers and discuss why taking care of the land and water is so crucial to Wisconsin residents.
“Instead of yelling at each other and pointing fingers, we actually tried to learn about it, then have a discussion about it, and then find a solution for it,” said Tom Quinn, executive director of the Wisconsin Farmers Union.
“Not coming from any sort of agricultural background, when I first came to the conference it was out of my realm of thinking,” TMLIA member Cathy Usborne explained. “I really learned a lot and that was what I walked away with, and a respect for everything that was presented.”
The conference will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m at UW- Stout Memorial Student Center. The cost is $35 for those who register before March 11, and will be $45 the day of the event.
Students are encouraged to attend and the price of admission is $20 with a one-year membership into TMLIA.