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Science on Tap: The Mississippi River Watershed


More than 50 cities in the U.S. rely on the Mississippi River for daily water supply.

It provides habitat for hundreds of fish and wildlife species.

It’s also facing environmental challenges like nitrate and phosphorus pollution, forest loss, and invasive species.

The lakes and rivers that feed the Mississippi River play a role.

Peter Levi is the Associate Director of Inland Lakes at the Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation at Northland College. He used to study water bodies in Iowa and in the last few years switched to studying ones in northern Wisconsin.

Levi says he tells friends and colleagues that he jumped from one end of the water quality spectrum to the other.

“Studying highly, highly impacted and impaired streams and rivers, to now studying very pristine and much more natural lakes and rivers here in northern Wisconsin, and having the idea of ‘What can we do to improve waters in these areas with heavily impacted waterways’, to, in northern Wisconsin, thinking about how to protect these waters, how to conserve the ecosystems that are there, and make sure that they aren't impacted by human activities, either locally or more broad from regional impacts,” said Levi.

As a biogeochemist, Levi often thinks of water in terms of the molecules within it. He’s looking at how rain, drought, or temperatures can affect the chemistry of lakes.

Nitrogen and phosphorus are two chemicals often on his mind.

“You add a little bit of nitrogen or phosphorus, and you'll boost the algal abundance in a water body,” said Levi. “I like to think about how these chemicals at a molecular level are impacting ecosystems at a watershed scale.”

Levi will be diving into these topics during this week’s Science on Tap-Minocqua.

He hopes people that come will feel more connected to the Mississippi River and everything that comes with it.

“We are in a very unique place here and connected to so many other places and people and ecosystems downstream,” he said. “I think that's just such a great concept to think about. To not only be humbled by that, but also to recognize how unique and special our small corner of this giant watershed is.”

Science on Tap is this Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Rocky Reef Brewing Company in Woodruff.

You can also watch via livestream.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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