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.

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Ben Meyer/WXPR

On Tuesday, high school junior Mariah Freeman watched water drip through a filter she designed and constructed.

“We’re going to take the filter we’ve made, and we’re going to pour that water through it, and then retest the water in the new bottle,” Freeman explained.

Freeman and her classmates in Cheryl Esslinger’s Earth and Environmental Systems class at Rhinelander High School were simply trying to filter vinegar out of the water and balance its acidity.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Wisconsin landfills are concerned they’re taking the blame for PFAS contamination.

But a new coalition of solid waste professionals points out landfills and recycling centers don’t produce the chemicals, they only receive them from other sources.

Greg Matzke

Perhaps more than any other fish, northern Wisconsin identifies with the walleye.

But walleye populations in many local lakes have been struggling.            

Some are even at risk of disappearing completely, as the populations are no longer naturally reproducing.

Fisheries biologists have had to get creative to try to address the problem, and they’re doing it in different ways in different parts of the Northwoods.

The Minocqua chain is a prime example.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Rhinelander Mayor Chris Frederickson says he tried to get the state to provide clear direction on rising levels of a PFAS compound in a city well, but got nothing.

Instead, Frederickson himself ordered the well shut down last Friday.

Well 8 became the second Rhinelander city water well shut down due to PFAS concerns, joining Well 7.  Various types of compounds in the PFAS family have been linked to health risks.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Rhinelander Mayor Chris Frederickson ordered a second city water well shut down Friday as levels of a PFAS-family chemical continued to rise.

Earlier this month, WXPR reported Well 8 was still providing water to the city as concentrations of PFHxS continued upward.

On Friday, Frederickson said those levels caused him to order the shutoff.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

In the late 1990s, when Patrick Taylor moved back to his Merrill hometown, he bought a house on the water.

It was one of more than a hundred homes on a mill pond created by the old Ward paper mill dam.

“It was a great area for duck hunting,” Taylor said.

Other people on the water fished, swam, or canoed.

Then, Taylor learned the water was about to disappear.

“The day after we closed on the house, they announced the removal of the dam,” he said in an interview this week.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Note: this story has been updated to include comments from the DNR's Kyle Burton in a Tuesday interview.  Rhinelander City Administrator Daniel Guild has been invited to comment.

In a letter to Rhinelander City Administrator Daniel Guild on Tuesday, the Wisconsin DNR said it had “no reason to question the accuracy” of tests showing high levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in a city water well.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

The DNR admitted putting new rules on PFAS in groundwater, drinking water, and surface water will have a “significant” economic impact on the state.

DNR staff also listened to the public, environmentalists, and industry groups at a hearing over a proposed PFAS regulation scope statement last week.

Wisconsin is in the early steps of regulating PFAS, a family of chemicals with health hazards.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Once again on Thursday, a Vilas County committee rejected Trig Solberg’s attempt to collect water from a well in Presque Isle for commercial bottling.

Over a span of nearly five years, Solberg’s group has been blocked time and again by judges, boards, and administrators.  It wants to take water from near rural Carlin Lake, bottle it, and sell it in stores.  Solberg is the founder of Trig’s supermarkets.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Jim and Ruth Brennan thought the days of iron ore mining in northern Wisconsin were over.

So when Gogebic Taconite started drawing up plans about earlier this decade for a massive mine near their home in southern Ashland County, they were surprised, to say the least.

“A three- or four-mile ditch that would actually come within about a mile of our house,” said Jim Brennan.

Jim and Ruth live in the town of Morse, near Mellen and Copper Falls State Park.

Their unique house overlooks Lake Galilee.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Despite ongoing concerns about city drinking water, Rhinelander’s Common Council adopted a

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Note: This story has been updated from its original version with information about PFHxS studies in animals and humans.             

This summer, tests showed Rhinelander’s Municipal Well 7 was contaminated with PFAS chemicals.

However, the most recent tests show no detection of the two main chemicals in the PFAS family, PFOA and PFOS.  Even so, that well remains offline, and is not contributing to the city’s drinking water supply.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Records of water levels on many Northwoods lakes often only go back a few decades, if they exist at all.

But one researcher has figured out a way to see the story of lakes going back hundreds of years.

That history, and a clue about the future, is as simple as tree rings themselves.

“We’re proposing using these trees as an Excel spreadsheet, as a way to get at [the history of] these lake levels,” said Dom Ciruzzi, a UW-Madison graduate student working at Trout Lake Station in Boulder Junction.

The latest testing on Rhinelander’s Municipal Well 7 showed no detection of the two best-known per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals.

In June, the city shut off Well 7 after the combined PFOA and PFOS levels exceeded both federal and state recommendations for the compounds, which have been linked to health problems.

Since then, the city has been drawing drinking water for residents from its other active wells.

Wisconsin DNR

Levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in foam samples on the Peshtigo River spiked well above what may be safe, the DNR announced this week.

The samples were collected below the dam in Peshtigo and in a nearby roadside ditch.

Just below the dam, the PFOA level in the foam was 230 parts per trillion (ppt), and the PFOS level was about 17,000 ppt.

PFOA and PFOS are the two best-known PFAS chemicals.  PFAS has been linked to health issues.

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