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

In the winter, snowshoes are the best way to navigate a swath of undeveloped, wooded, privately-owned land between Monico and Pelican Lake in Oneida County.  The simple forest roads that exist are snow-covered and unplowed.

In late January, Badger Minerals, a Michigan-based subsidiary of a Canadian company, announced plans to drill several holes on this tract, seeking to learn more about minerals under the snowy surface. 

Dan Dumas/Kim Swisher Communications

Lakes Superior, Michigan, and Huron are on pace to set all-time records for high water levels in February.

Lake Superior is 15 inches above normal, while Michigan and Huron are more than three feet above average.

That’s sent Great Lakes states into action, scrambling for solutions as water stays high.

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.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Gary Laguna’s keyring jingles often as he sorts through the right key to the right door.

He has to open them in a variety of places as the lead water operator in Hurley, Pence, and Iron Belt, three communities in Iron County.

With 18 years of experience, Laguna is in charge of ensuring a reliable flow of water to customers’ faucets and doing near-constant water quality testing.

While he plays a critical role in water customers’ lives, Laguna says many people don’t have a clear understanding of the workings of the systems he oversees.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

A Rhinelander High School science class set out to create a PFAS water filter while competing in a national competition.

The class won’t advance in the contest, but it will still keep working on water quality.

Cheryl Esslinger’s Earth and Environmental Systems class was trying to design an effective, affordable filter for water.  Esslinger thought of the project after the contaminant was found in city water supplies this summer.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

For part of the year, a gravel road reaches a remote piece of Vilas County land.

But in the winter, a mile-long snowshoe is the only way in.

Snow decorated an evergreen forest as Trisha Moore and Troy Walters reached their destination and greeted Bob Martini, who owns the 31 acres of wilderness northeast of Eagle River.

Forty years ago, he built an eight-sided cabin here by hand.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

The City of Rhinelander injected tens of thousands of gallons of wastewater sludge into the ground above where two city wells were later located, according to the former director of the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport.

This year, those wells were shut down after tests showed high levels of PFAS, a contaminant tied to health risks.

From 1988 to 1992, the city took sludge from its wastewater treatment plant and injected it into the ground at the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport, former airport director Joe Brauer said Friday.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Trig Solberg’s group plans to keep up the fight to pump water for bottling from near a rural lake in Vilas County.

In a letter dated Tuesday, the group’s attorney, John Houlihan, alerted Vilas County Circuit Court Judge Neal Nielsen that the matter will likely end up in his courtroom again.

“Please be advised that Carlin Club Properties intends to request this Court to again review this decision of the Board,” Houlihan wrote.

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