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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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

People in Rhinelander and across the Northwoods want to know their water is clean, drinkable, and safe.

But that expectation has been muddied in the past year, with the discovery of elevated levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in Rhinelander’s municipal water supply.

The finding of PFAS, which has been linked to risk cancer, thyroid disease, and higher cholesterol, led Rhinelander to shut down two of its five city wells.

That’s left some people confused about where their water is coming from, how much is available, and if it’s safe.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

The Wisconsin DNR is calling the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport a “responsible party” in the contamination of Rhinelander city water wells with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

The DNR cited the airport’s storage and use of fire-fighting foam, which contains PFAS, in its determination.

Elevated levels of PFAS, which is linked to health risks like cancer, thyroid disease, and high cholesterol, were found in June in the city’s Well 7, which is located on airport property.

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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.

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