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.


Shallow Lakes Can Survive Ecological Threats

With my son heading today to the Midwestern vacation hot spot Wisconsin Dells, it seems like a good time to check on the condition of one of that area’s biggest attractions: Lake Delton.

For over 60 years this lake, which is home to Tommy Barlett’s wildly popular water shows, has been a flagship tourist draw to The Dells. Beaches and condominiums line the 250-acre man-made lake, the primary inflow for which is Dell Creek; with an outflow to the Wisconsin River.

But the lake is not without its problems. With an average depth of just 10 feet, and only about 20 feet at its deepest point, Lake Delton has algae problems. So much so, that lake area residents and the Village of Lake Delton in 2012 approved injecting blue dye into the lake, to make it prettier for residents and tourists alike.

Ahhh, the benefit of tourist dollars and sizable resources.

Home on Lake Delton, WI
Home on Lake Delton, WI

Well, the question begs, doesn’t it? If Lake Delton can struggle with toxic algae, what chance do other small and shallow lakes have?

Not that bad, it appears.

In this excellent article on shallow lakes ecology, by Dwight Osmon — a Water Research Planner for ecology engineering firm Hey and Associates — there are some rules of thumb to follow that give shallow lakes a chance to be cleaner and more naturally viable for people, plants and fish alike.

Promoting native plant life at the bottom of a shallow lake appears to be key.

Here is some of what Osmon presents as a multi-pronged solution:

  • Make an effort to, ironically and when applicable, lower the water level of the lake to permit sunlight to reach the lake bottom, and facilitate plant growth.
  • Eliminate carp via commercial fishing, and the introduction of predatory game fish such as Walleye and Pike.
  • Create larger no-wake zones to reduce wave activity — or eliminate the wake activity from boats altogether.
  • Control nutrient loading into the lake from sources such as farms and residential properties.

Osmon emphasizes that these approaches work best when implemented simultaneously. Certainly, together they represent a better option than adding blue dye.

County Algae Bloom Issues Everywhere. Solutions, Too.

Out of curiosity, mostly, I decided to start searching on counties by-state, to see which were contending with algae bloom issues in lakes. After several searches, I found that none were free of problems. All cited a combination of industrial, residential, and agricultural runoff as the contributors to the problem.

No surprise there.

But, alas, there are always solutions. Case in point: Lake Delavan in the southwest corner of Walworth County, WI.

Dredging, fish killing to remove Carp, large-scale landscaping, tributary protection, private and public funding, a network of committed area residents and municipalities sworn to maintain responsible land-use practices, and “watch dog” measures to help ensure compliance, have been applied over three decades to restore to life a lake that was once considered an area blight.

True, countless hours of effort, planning, and millions of dollars have been invested in the restoration. It has been a huge undertaking, to say the least.

Lake Delavan Aerial View
Lake Delavan Aerial View

But what a return.

It is estimated that over 800 jobs are created annually as a result of the cleanup. Property values on and around the lake have risen a remarkable $99 million, and the local economic contribution is projected at $77 million.

Clean water is an asset that cannot be diminished by any measure, in any place. Of this, Lake Delavan is surely an example.