WXPR 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.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Northwoods fishermen and women love when the fish are biting often, offering excitement with every cast.

Frequent catches mean the fish population in a lake is doing well.

Right?

Maybe not.

New research shows, in many lakes, the fishing stays good until it abruptly collapses.

Dan Dumas/Kim Swisher Communications

Drilling on the last exploration site in eastern Oneida County was completed on Wednesday.

Badger Minerals had been overseeing the drilling program, which sought to gather data about potential sulfide minerals hundreds of feet under the earth.

Drilling started on June 5.

Drill cores will be taken offsite and reviewed by geologists, and some will be submitted for lab analysis.

Lake managers might be hurting native aquatic plants – instead of helping them – when they use chemicals to control invasive plants on entire lakes.

New research by DNR Lakes and River Team Leader Dr. Alison Mikulyuk shows native plant communities can struggle when chemicals are used to target invasive Eurasian watermilfoil.

It appears the effects on native plants are worse than if there were no treatment at all.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

During the first week of June, a boat sprayed chemicals into the waters of Anvil Lake in Vilas County for the first time.

It was applying an herbicide called 2,4D, targeting Eurasian watermilfoil, an aquatic invasive species whose presence in the lake has grown and grown.

The decision to use chemicals in treating the problem was difficult and often controversial for lake leaders.

But it’s a decision more and more lake groups in the Northwoods are forced to consider as invasive species spread.

In many ways, Anvil Lake is where Dr. Amy Kuhns grew up.

UW-Madison

The City of Rhinelander's municipal Well 7, now shut off because of PFAS concerns, is located at the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport.Credit Ben Meyer/WXPREdit | Remove

A UW-Madison engineering professor recommends Rhinelander test its old municipal landfill for PFAS contamination.

Dr. Jim Tinjum, who was hired by the city as an environmental consultant, says the closed landfill could be the source of PFAS contamination in the city’s water.

Dan Dumas/Kim Swisher Communications

Ron L. Zabler admits Oneida County winters have been harsh on his family’s cabin in the woods.

Some of the paint may be peeling, but that makes this place no less important to him.

“Once I’m up here, I don’t want to go back,” said Zabler, whose permanent home with his wife, Carline, is in southern Wisconsin.

A lot of his attitude has to do with his family’s history on this plot of land.

“I’ve been here since I was 14. I was here when the original owner was here,” said Zabler, who is in his 70s.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Every summer month for the last 16 years, Dick and Judi Oehler have been coming to this exact spot on the Deerskin River east of Eagle River.

Like always, Judi stands on shore, ready with a clipboard, as Dick steps into the stream. Waders cover him to his chest.

The river is about 20 feet across here, and the water comes up to his knees.

Plunging a yard stick to the sandy bottom, Dick calls out water depths as Judi records them.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Standing at Grand Traverse Harbor on the Keweenaw Peninsula, a look right reveals picturesque yellow-sand beaches and unassuming seasonal homes.

A look left includes nothing but a black shoreline on this part of the peninsula, which juts into Lake Superior in Upper Michigan.

Jay Parent scooped up a handful of the pebbly black sand, which stretches out of sight on the shoreline.

“It was this high stamp sand right here all the way across the harbor,” Parent says, gesturing more than head-high.

Dan Dumas/Kim Swisher Communications

From a few yards away, a woman and four small children watch a massive machine rumble to life.

They stand, look, and point as a boat is lifted by the Burnt Rollways Boat Hoist, carried over a road and dam, and dropped gently in the water on the other side.

“It’s a novelty,” said Scott Blado, who is operating the machine. “It’s just kind of a thing that you go and do. It’s not really a ‘we’ve got to go that way’ kind of thing. It’s more of an event.”

This week, operators fired up the hoist, the only one of its kind in the state, for the summer season.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

In a month, Wisconsin will miss a deadline for action on the chemical contaminant PFAS.

That’s the substance found in drinking water in Rhinelander and other places. It’s linked to higher cholesterol, thyroid issues, and cancer.

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.

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