WXPR The Stream

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A group of 34 environmental and public health organizations is calling for the state to require public drinking water systems to test for PFAS.

PFAS are so-called “forever chemicals” linked to health risks, including cancer.

High levels of PFAS contamination were found in two Rhinelander wells last year, as well as in other water systems statewide. But there’s no mandate to test for them.

Dan Dumas/Kim Swisher Communications

Note: This story has been updated to reflect that Badger Minerals won't pursue further exploration on Heartwood Forestland-owned property in the town of Schoepke. That property had been the initial target of a drilling program, but Badger Minerals owns other lands in the area which could be explored.

Badger Minerals won’t pursue further sulfide mining exploration at a timber company-owned site in eastern Oneida County, the company told WXPR. The site is near the Wolf River.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Pete McGeshick II looked out upon Spur Lake and thought about what used to be.

“The lake was full,” he said. “The rice bed was full all the way around.”

Wild rice used to grow thick on the 113-acre undeveloped lake in eastern Oneida County.

It grew tall, too.  

“You could come out here and you could see people harvesting wild rice,” McGeshick said. “A lot of them, you couldn’t even see because the wild rice was so high.”

Ben Meyer/WXPR

For years, many wildlife managers have assumed removing beaver dams on streams helps trout populations.

It allows the streams to run colder and more free, conditions trout generally like.

In an episode of The Stream last month, we showed you how wildlife managers often use explosives to remove dams.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

The construction on Stevens Street on Rhinelander’s north side is nearly complete as heavy machinery rumbles by the auto dealerships that line the road.

But Tom Jerow didn’t come to look at a car or check up on the road work.

“I see a beautiful wetland with lots of diverse vegetation that are indicators of wetlands,” Jerow said.

Wedged between Rhinelander Toyota and the Aspirus Clinic is a low-lying wetland with tamaracks, cattails, and reeds.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Walking out onto a muskeg, or wetland, the first things most people notice are the sensation of sinking and sound of suction.

Saturated sphagnum moss, or peat moss, covers the wetland. It’s walkable, but only with knee boots on. Legs sink to calf-level. They’re buoyed by the moss, although water seeps in.

But upon arriving at this wetland in Iron County, Aaron Marti first noticed a different sensation.

“If you take a deep breath,” he said, “you can get a bit of a whiff of, it’s kind of a sweet, almost spicy aroma.”

Ben Meyer/WXPR

In this line of work, projects don’t start with a bang.

They end with one.

With a booming explosion on Tuesday morning, a portion of stream at the headwaters of Big Haymeadow Creek in Langlade County again flowed freely, a beaver dam blasted out of the way.

Jeremy Irish, an assistant district supervisor with the USDA’s Wildlife Services program, triggered the blast, undoing some of this year’s construction by beavers in the area. In the process, he cleared another portion of one of northern Wisconsin’s best trout streams.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Rhinelander has started examining options for treating PFAS-contaminated water being produced by two city wells.

Wells 7 and 8 have been shut down since last year after excessive levels of the chemicals were found in the water.

This week, Rhinelander Mayor Chris Frederickson said he and others are looking at options for a treatment system for the water from the wells.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

A walk to the end of the Ashland Oredock feels like a walk out onto Lake Superior for Ed Monroe.

“We’re out amongst the buoys and the shipping lane,” he said.

What’s left of the Oredock--a slender tongue of concrete--juts 1,800 feet out from the city of Ashland.

Not long ago, the superstructure, a hulking mass of metal, would have risen 80 feet over his head.

During the Oredock’s operation, and after it was out of use, kids used to play out here, fishing and even jumping off the top.

Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest

The water flow on a little creek in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest is modest.

In fact, the stream is small enough that it has no name. Officially, it’s Unnamed Tributary to Morgan Creek.

But on July 11, 2016, it was just one of the unassuming streams that heavy rainfall turned into rushing rivers in this area of the National Forest.

“Roads were gone. Bridges were gone. Culverts were gone,” said Jim Mineau, a hydrologist for the National Forest.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

On a sunny day in a shaded forest, Don Waller and Dave Zaber, two environmental professionals, came across an orchid growing on the forest floor.

This part of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest near Eagle River is maturing, with tall trees, a shady canopy, and a cooler temperature.

It’s good orchid habitat.

But that might change soon, Zaber said.

“We’re in a proposed cutting unit of the Fourmile timber sale,” he said.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

The City of Rhinelander will test for PFAS in the discharge liquid, or leachate, of its long-closed city landfill. The Common Council approved that action this week.

Also this week, the city’s PFAS consultant, Dr. Jim Tinjum, released a white paper with further information on the issue and its potential causes. Tinjum is an environmental engineer at UW-Madison.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

If just one more Rhinelander city well is taken offline, the city won’t be able to meet its water demand, according to a DNR drinking water supervisor.

Only three off Rhinelander’s five municipal wells are currently operating.

It’s been that way since last year, when the other two were shut off due to high levels of detected PFAS.

PFAS is a manmade chemical with links to health risks, including cancer.

DNR Public Drinking Water Field Supervisor Mark Pauli said losing another well would create a water supply problem for Rhinelander.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

On a hot, sunny day last week, Jim Montgomery pulled a 1958 Evinrude Lark outboard motor outside his repair shop for a tune-up.

Montgomery pointed to the “fancy chrome on the hood,” a sign that, although the motor is now vintage, it was considered deluxe at the time.

Montgomery owns Duke’s Outboard Service just outside Rhinelander. Long ago, he lost count of the number of Evinrude motors he’s fixed.

“I have no idea. Just a lot. Thousands,” he said.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Northwoods fishermen and women love when the fish are biting often, offering excitement with every cast.

Frequent catches mean the fish population in a lake is doing well.

Right?

Maybe not.

New research shows, in many lakes, the fishing stays good until it abruptly collapses.

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