WI Farm Technology Days – not just about gadgets.

Touring Wisconsin (WI) Farm Technology Days, this year held on Snudden Farm on the outskirts of the beautiful, historically rich, and incredibly clean Geneva Lake area, I was eager to connect with professionals whose mission is to promote clean water.

I was not disappointed.

Though the focus of these professionals is mostly tied to ground water and drinking water, there was also sufficient concern for surface water as well.

And just for review, let’s discuss surface water, as defined by Goulds Water Technology, for a moment. And what surface water is cleanest.

In a nice review by real estate agent Adam Gohlke, the dirtiest water is that which contains the most runoff from farms, and municipalities. The cleanest: spring fed lakes, or lakes formed from exceedingly clean runoff (see: Crater Lake, which is considered by some to be the cleanest lake in the world, and has the added advantage of being one of the planet’s deepest lakes as well). These lakes are always self-contained, with no tributaries leading into them. Geneva Lake, Wisconsin’s second deepest at 145 feet, is an example of a self-contained spring-fed lake.

Geneva Lake, WI
Geneva Lake, WI

Gohlke’s basic assessment presents facts which are well-known to the professionals with whom I spoke. And that is encouraging.

Bottom line: not all lakes are created equally, and state and national clean water conservation resources must be shifted to those lakes with many tributaries  — which invariably possess excessive nutrients and pollutants. For these surface waters, eliminating invasive fish like carp, invasive and damaging plant life, and creating sizable land buffers between fertilized properties and waterways, are all critical steps that must be taken in EVERY instance.


Utah Lake’s not so dirty secret ….

As Utah Lake battles one of the most serious Harmful Algae Blooms (HAB) in its history, once again the explanations for the outbreak are readily available.

The first? It is shallow. An average depth this year of between nine and ten feet.

The second? Water in Utah County, within which Utah Lake resides, is used primarily for agriculture. Crops that feed the cattle and dairy farms which, according this somewhat dated yet still relevant assessment from Utah Extension, show that Utah County was ranked first in the state in Total Cash Receipts from crop production and ranked third in Cash Revenue from livestock production.

Utah Lake Algae Bloom
Utah Lake Algae Bloom

As of July 2016, farmers and ranchers were being discouraged from using water from Utah Lake for irrigation and animals. The fact that these agricultural operations are using the very water to which they contribute excessive amounts of phosphorus (and other nutrients), that foster HAB, is ironic.

And, unfortunately, all too common.

Conservation Easements – a solid option in PA & elsewhere.

In this wonderful white paper by Debra Wolf Goldstein, Esq., General Counsel Heritage Conservancy, the many benefits of conservation easements established between municipalities and landowners are presented. In Pennsylvania (PA), as cited in the paper, chief among them is the intrinsic and extrinsic rewards preserving valuable land holds for residents.

Milwaukee River Algae Bloom
Milwaukee River Algae Bloom

The benefit to the public of privately-owned, protected property is indisputable. In the most recent statewide Recreation Participation Survey, Pennsylvanians listed their top recreation activity as sightseeing/driving for pleasure. Easements can provide this visual relief. Easements also can protect wildlife corridors, maintain a sense of community, combat sprawl, assist in farmland preservation, and maintain high quality water sources.

Milwaukee, WI, notes similar priorities according to
this article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“People are paying a premium to live and work near the water, and this is hugely important as we work to make these rivers better,” said Matt Howard, director of the city’s Office of Environmental Sustainability. “I think there is a more explicit connection between environmental quality and economic vitality.”

To restate the obvious, clean freshwater is incredibly valuable for tourists and landowners alike. With such financial incentive at risk, the decision to clean up always makes sense.

Lake Okeechobee … a thumbnail explanation for HAB crisis.

No doubt about it … Florida is in crisis-mode as it contends with the horrible side-effects of Harmful Algae Blooms (HAB). Unfortunately, the crisis was all to predictable, after nearly unprecedented torrential winter rains filled Lake Okeechobee to threateningly high levels — and resulted in mass-draining of the polluted (see: toxic) lake.

ABC News reported on July 4th that Florida’s Gold Coast is suffering from a nearly worst-ever tourist turnout. Hundreds of millions of tourist dollars have already been lost, and more economic fallout will follow.

As far back as 1999, concerns over phosphorus loading from agriculture were being presented by the State of Florida Environmental Protection Agency. In 2011, even more clarity regarding phosphorus runoff into Lake Okeechobee, largely from area agriculture, was brought to light:

Water quality in the lake has degraded over time due to high phosphorus loadings resulting from man-induced hydrologic and land use modifications over the past 60 years. The total phosphorus concentrations that currently exist in the lake are in excess of the amount needed for a healthy ecosystem. The in-lake total phosphorus concentrations have doubled over the last 50 years ….

Gold Coast Algae Bloom
Gold Coast Algae Bloom

With all the aforementioned heavy rain, in February, 2016, concerns over flooding resulted in the Army Corp of Engineers decision to drain Lake of Okeechobee at a rate of 70,000 gallons per second. And eventually all this dirty water flows to the tourist areas … bringing HABs with it.

A February 26, 2016 article by ThinkProgress.org was downright prophetic in predicting the “What Happens Next” stemming from this inevitable, if ill-fated, decision.

The simple fact is this: too many nutrients in water are a bad thing. They present a problem that spreads with runoff from land, which flows into waterways and then moves to other areas. Florida’s Gold Coast may be the latest, and most glaring example. But it is far from the only one.