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.

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Gov. Tony Evers wants to spend $25 million dollars to address PFAS issues over the next two years.

PFAS became familiar to people in the Northwoods two years ago, when Rhinelander had to shut down two of its five municipal water wells due to PFAS contamination. Those wells remain off today.

When ingested, the PFAS group of chemicals can lead to higher risks of certain diseases and cancer in humans.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

People living on Carlin Lake near Presque Isle believe their battle is finally over.

For six years, they’ve been fighting to block a proposed drinking water extraction and bottling operation near the lake.

But a land purchase seems to have closed all efforts to take and sell water from the area.

“We know that the property has been sold and, for the first time, to a private owner who intends to use that beautiful lakefront property for his private purposes,” said Carmen Farwell of the Carlin Lake committee.

Mike Spranger

People living on flowages in Wisconsin will have to keep waiting for the right to install piers to be protected by state law.

A proposed bill to extend pier-placement rights to waterfront flowage owners died in the state legislature this year.

In Wisconsin, the land underneath flowages is often privately owned.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Only “trace amounts” of PFAS were found in liquid discharged from the long-closed City of Rhinelander landfill, new testing shows.

The testing was part of an effort to identify sources of PFAS contamination in Rhinelander-area water. High levels of PFAS forced the city to shut down two of its five municipal drinking water wells in 2019.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

A major logging project in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest near Eagle River will go forward despite strong objections from an environmental law group.

The Fourmile project will include cuts from almost 12,000 acres of National Forest property, yielding timber valued at $4 million.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Fall storms have forced more dredging to protect part of the Lake Superior shoreline from being overrun by mine waste.

The cold-weather dredging is being done at Grand Traverse Harbor on Upper Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula and is being funded by the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.

We first visited Grand Traverse Harbor this summer, where five miles of beaches were covered by black, pebbly mine waste called stamp sands.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

A group of 34 environmental and public health organizations is calling for the state to require public drinking water systems to test for PFAS.

PFAS are so-called “forever chemicals” linked to health risks, including cancer.

High levels of PFAS contamination were found in two Rhinelander wells last year, as well as in other water systems statewide. But there’s no mandate to test for them.

Dan Dumas/Kim Swisher Communications

Note: This story has been updated to reflect that Badger Minerals won't pursue further exploration on Heartwood Forestland-owned property in the town of Schoepke. That property had been the initial target of a drilling program, but Badger Minerals owns other lands in the area which could be explored.

Badger Minerals won’t pursue further sulfide mining exploration at a timber company-owned site in eastern Oneida County, the company told WXPR. The site is near the Wolf River.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Pete McGeshick II looked out upon Spur Lake and thought about what used to be.

“The lake was full,” he said. “The rice bed was full all the way around.”

Wild rice used to grow thick on the 113-acre undeveloped lake in eastern Oneida County.

It grew tall, too.  

“You could come out here and you could see people harvesting wild rice,” McGeshick said. “A lot of them, you couldn’t even see because the wild rice was so high.”

Ben Meyer/WXPR

For years, many wildlife managers have assumed removing beaver dams on streams helps trout populations.

It allows the streams to run colder and more free, conditions trout generally like.

In an episode of The Stream last month, we showed you how wildlife managers often use explosives to remove dams.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

The construction on Stevens Street on Rhinelander’s north side is nearly complete as heavy machinery rumbles by the auto dealerships that line the road.

But Tom Jerow didn’t come to look at a car or check up on the road work.

“I see a beautiful wetland with lots of diverse vegetation that are indicators of wetlands,” Jerow said.

Wedged between Rhinelander Toyota and the Aspirus Clinic is a low-lying wetland with tamaracks, cattails, and reeds.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Walking out onto a muskeg, or wetland, the first things most people notice are the sensation of sinking and sound of suction.

Saturated sphagnum moss, or peat moss, covers the wetland. It’s walkable, but only with knee boots on. Legs sink to calf-level. They’re buoyed by the moss, although water seeps in.

But upon arriving at this wetland in Iron County, Aaron Marti first noticed a different sensation.

“If you take a deep breath,” he said, “you can get a bit of a whiff of, it’s kind of a sweet, almost spicy aroma.”

Ben Meyer/WXPR

In this line of work, projects don’t start with a bang.

They end with one.

With a booming explosion on Tuesday morning, a portion of stream at the headwaters of Big Haymeadow Creek in Langlade County again flowed freely, a beaver dam blasted out of the way.

Jeremy Irish, an assistant district supervisor with the USDA’s Wildlife Services program, triggered the blast, undoing some of this year’s construction by beavers in the area. In the process, he cleared another portion of one of northern Wisconsin’s best trout streams.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Rhinelander has started examining options for treating PFAS-contaminated water being produced by two city wells.

Wells 7 and 8 have been shut down since last year after excessive levels of the chemicals were found in the water.

This week, Rhinelander Mayor Chris Frederickson said he and others are looking at options for a treatment system for the water from the wells.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

A walk to the end of the Ashland Oredock feels like a walk out onto Lake Superior for Ed Monroe.

“We’re out amongst the buoys and the shipping lane,” he said.

What’s left of the Oredock--a slender tongue of concrete--juts 1,800 feet out from the city of Ashland.

Not long ago, the superstructure, a hulking mass of metal, would have risen 80 feet over his head.

During the Oredock’s operation, and after it was out of use, kids used to play out here, fishing and even jumping off the top.

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