WXPR The Stream

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Are the Northwoods walleye you catch safe to eat, or do they have too much mercury?

The answer is tied to several factors, but new research shows a surprising variable might have the biggest effect.

The water level of the lake where you caught the fish could tell you more about its safety than anything else.

The realization of the connection started years ago, when lakes researcher Dr. Carl Watras found an interesting trend.

Carmen Farwell

Water-pumping plans of Trig Solberg and the Carlin Club have been rejected yet again.

Solberg, the owner of Trig’s supermarkets, wants to pump water for bottling from near a remote lake in Presque Isle.

But in a hearing on Friday, Vilas County Circuit Court Judge Neal Nielsen let stand a Vilas County Board of Adjustment decision which rejected the plan.

State of Michigan

A month ago, in a ballroom at a hotel conference center in a Madison suburb, social distancing wasn’t even in the vocabulary of most people.

The coronavirus wasn’t yet a threat to Wisconsin.  Hundreds of people packed into a convention to talk about, and hear about, a different threat to health--PFAS.

“It is the hot ticket issue right now,” conceded Bridget Kelly, the Wisconsin DNR’s Program Coordinator for Emerging Contaminants.

The topic is only growing hotter.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

At Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church in Rhinelander last Sunday, pianos and voices paired for the song “Down to the River to Pray.”

It was the final hymn at Mass, and songs about prayers at the river were just one of the many references to faith and water at Catholic Masses across the country.

The Sunday Gospel, taken from John, Chapter 4, told of Jesus and a woman at a well.

Dan Dumas/Kim Swisher Communications

On Tuesday, Scott Blado found good news as he dipped scientific instruments below the ice on the Big Eau Pleine Reservoir in Marathon County. 

“Right now, we’re seeing [a reading of] 10.9 dissolved oxygen, which is fantastic.  We couldn’t ask for anything better than that at this time of the year,” said Blado, an environmental specialist for the Wausau-based Wisconsin Valley Improvement Company (WVIC).

Blado tests multiple points on the reservoir every week, and on Tuesday, he saw a significant jump from the week before.

Godfrey and Kahn

As Wisconsin works toward setting up enforceable limits for PFAS in water, it’s already behind several other states.

But the federal government seems to be trailing even farther behind in protecting the public.

The man-made group of chemicals got more attention in Wisconsin once it was found contaminating water supplies like Rhinelander’s.

The contaminant, linked to health risks, is present across the country.

But the actions taken by different governments are a hodgepodge.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Since a 1940s dam on Sailor Creek near Fifield in Price County created a 200-acre recreational flowage, the Lobermeiers have considered it part of their home.

The S-shaped flowage is spotted with islands looking out at wooded shorelines, and for Dave Lobermeier, it’s a place of enjoyment.

But the Sailor Creek Flowage has also become the source of a decade of legal headaches.

Erika Warning-Meyer

Note: WXPR’s Ben Meyer celebrated his honeymoon in New Zealand this month with his wife, Erika.  This week’s edition of The Stream is inspired by their visit to one of New Zealand’s mountain glaciers.

Every day the weather cooperates, a helicopter delivers hikers onto Fox Glacier in the mountains of New Zealand’s South Island.

Guides lead groups wearing boots and crampons across the ice sheet, which sparkles white on the surface and bright blue in its many crevasses and ice arches.

Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau/Susan Hedman

Wisconsin is the home of its own conservation hall of fame, the home of the founder of Earth Day, Gaylord Nelson, and the home of John Muir.

It was the first state in America to ban DDT.

“Wisconsin has had such a long tradition in the conservation area and protecting the environment,” said Susan Hedman, the former Great Lakes Region Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Hedman says Wisconsin used to a leader in the field.  But now, it’s a leader in something else.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Michael Anderson uses a long bit on a drill to bust through the ice on Silver Lake in Eagle River.

“That would be a good depth for an ice castle right now,” Anderson says, measuring about 15 inches of ice.

That’s plenty for harvesting and forming into blocks for ice-castle building.

But there’s a problem.  A deep layer of slush on Silver Lake makes it inaccessible to the machines and trucks needed to transport ice blocks.

Without the ice blocks, there’s no ice castle downtown, and that means Anderson has to break the bad news to a lot of people.

Dan Dumas/Kim Swisher Communications

It’s not difficult for Norm Pestka to picture what used to be here.

After all, the land that’s now underwater was dry just a few months ago.

“It’s been fine here for years.  They lost 45 feet in one storm.  The beach was out there, literally,” Pestka said, motioning to a patch of Lake Superior now submerged.

Pestka is standing on private land just outside Ontonagon in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Lake Superior stretches out before him.  It’s mostly open water, save for some ice, snow, and floating ice chunks near the shore.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

The waters of the Biron Flowage are no more than ten feet from the porch of Mike Spranger’s second home.

“This is the reason we bought it,” he said.  “The water is right there.”

The 1,500-square-foot house is just ten minutes from Spranger’s main residence in Wisconsin Rapids.  He and his wife bought it in 2015, mainly as a refuge for their four grandchildren, who took to the water 

immediately.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

An amphibious vehicle called an Argo has eight wheels, two treads, floats on water, and can go just about anywhere.

Has Noah Lottig found a place it can’t access?

“Not yet.  We’ve tried.  We have not found a place where this will not go yet,” said Lottig, an assistant scientist at the UW-Madison Trout Lake Station in Boulder Junction.

A fifteen-minute ride on the Argo allows Lottig and two graduate students to access an undeveloped, frozen bog near Sparkling Lake in Vilas County.  Lottig has been here plenty with the Argo, hooking a snowplow to its front.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Nearly two months ago, the DNR recommended the City of Rhinelander make full PFAS testing results available on the city’s website.

As of Thursday afternoon, those testing results still weren’t posted for the public to see.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

For Northwoods artists Mary Burns and Debbie Jircik, creating art is sometimes more than putting paint on canvas or throwing clay to be fired.

Instead, it’s pulling on waterproof boots, slogging into Northwoods bogs, and collecting large pails of water.

“We didn’t see anyone doing any of this kind of work, where they were actually going out in the field, collecting water from bogs and lakes, and comparing how…that affects those dyes,” Burns said.

Burns is from Mercer, and Jircik is from Eagle River.

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