The Stream

Water in Wisconsin's Northwoods and Michigan's Upper Peninsula serves as the basis of life and health. With countless lakes, rivers, springs, and aquifers, water is also linked with the very identity of this region. As a service to our listeners, WXPR is pleased to announce the creation of a new reporting position with a specific focus: water.

What do you wonder about water, water quality and water resources in our region? 

Ask us a water-related question and it could be a future story in our new feature series, The Stream! Use the form below to submit your question.

Dan Dumas/Kim Swisher Communications

As the crow flies, Wildcat Falls near Watersmeet and the Upper Wisconsin River Legacy Forest near Land O’Lakes are only 15 miles apart, on opposite sides of the Michigan-Wisconsin border.

But in some ways, these protected places couldn’t be more different.

From one, water flows north to Lake Superior. From the other, it flows south, eventually to the Gulf of Mexico.

Huge old-growth trees dominate the area near Wildcat Falls, while a young forest supporting threatened species is common near the Upper Wisconsin River.

But they do have one thing in common.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Badger Minerals plans to begin drilling in eastern Oneida County in less than a month, according to documents filed with the county.

The mining exploration company’s plans were just approved by the DNR, the final hurdle to commence exploratory drilling.

The firm told Oneida County 24-hour-a-day drilling near the Wolf River will begin on June 1.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

A WXPR investigation has found over a seven-year period in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the City of Rhinelander spread almost 400 tons of sewage sludge at the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport. 

Later, the city built two municipal water wells near the place where some of the sludge was spread. Last year, those wells were found to have high levels of PFAS, a chemical with known health risks.

Now, a nationally-recognized expert on PFAS and sludge says the contamination in the city’s water could have come from sludge spread three decades ago.

Pixabay

More than 150,000 Wisconsin homes, businesses, schools, and daycares get their water through lead pipes, according to data newly compiled by the Environmental Defense Fund.

Consuming even small amounts of lead can lead to behavioral, learning, and cognitive problems in children.

Furthermore, for 300,000 water lines, Wisconsin cities don’t even know what the pipes are made of.

Dan Dumas/Kim Swisher Communications

On Wednesday, a mining exploration company got a step closer to drilling into the earth near the Wolf River in Oneida County.

The county’s Planning and Development committee unanimously approved a permit for Badger Minerals to drill up to ten exploration holes on a private plot of land.

The company wants to find out if the area could be a good place for a metallic mine.

But, if it wasn’t clear before, public backlash demonstrated there’s plenty of opposition in the Northwoods.

Dan Dumas/Kim Swisher Communications

Last year was the wettest year on record in the Wisconsin River basin.

That meant reservoirs were full, and challenging spring weather could put stress on the system.

But the forecasts are looking better than anticipated.

The Wisconsin Valley Improvement Company manages flows on the Wisconsin River and operates five dams on major reservoirs.

The company had to aggressively draw down water levels over the winter after last year’s record precipitation.

But company vice president of operations Peter Hansen said the spring, so far, has been manageable.

Jim Skibo

Many Wisconsin State Parks have closed along with National Forest recreation areas, leaving many to seek different ways to enjoy the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Wolf River, which starts in Forest County and runs through the entire length of Langlade County, offers opportunities to enjoy the beauty of the Northwoods while practicing social distancing.

Bill Kallner has been fishing the Wolf River for decades. Each time he visits the river he enjoys the beauty and solitude.

Madeline Magee

  

By the middle of the century, the climate, the waters, and the species of northern Wisconsin could look like today’s southern Wisconsin.

That’s according to projections presented at a scientific conference last week.

In turn, climate change could force southern Wisconsin to look like states including Kansas and Virginia.

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.

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