I was visiting Elkhart Lake, WI recently, with the notion that this may be a sensible re-location spot for Clean Water Warrior. There is no doubt, the lake and the community are in many respects idyllic. A too-small, yet quaint village, abutting a beautiful world-class lake — Elkhart Lake is truly a destination for freshwater fans. And, as it turns out, race fans. The community’s Road America venue brings in over 100,000 people every racing weekend throughout the summer months. Not bad for a town with a population of 967.
Elkhart Lake has some terrific tourist history, too, dating back to the days of Al Capone. But its greatest asset may be its spring-fed water source, its incredible depth of nearly 120 feet, and the absence of farming or industry on its shores. Private residences, most valued at over $1,000,000, with responsible, updated septic systems surround the lake. This almost ensures that Elkhart Lake will remain clean and algae free for years to come.
Contrast that with poor Fox Lake, in Fox Lake WI — a neighbor less than 60 miles to the Southwest. Fed by creeks that empty into it after meandering through industrial parks and farms, and possessing a depth of no more than 20 feet, Fox Lake is almost doomed to its status as one of Wisconsin’s most at-risk lakes. What can be done to improve Fox Lake’s lot? Start with the farms. Wherever a 75-foot grass buffer does not exist between cropped land and creeks, create that space. Extend dramatically the distance between farms, and the lake itself. And eliminate any yard pesticide usage by lake dwellers.
Are these suggestions a solution all by themselves? No. Some conditions will simply always work against Fox Lake. But wherever implemented, they cannot hurt.
There is no question that farm runoff, and the nitrogen and phosphorus that go with it into rivers and streams, is a primary contributor to the toxic algae that is destroying precious surface water resources.
The fixes to this problem are known, but implementation is slow and often viewed as expensive. The latter position a highly debatable one.
Our opinion is that, once the clean-up strategies are put into place, runoff will be reduced at an even swifter pace — all while profits for farmers increase. Truly a win-win scenario for all involved.
I was speaking with a farmer in WI recently — a man well-known for his innovative practices as an organic operator for over 30 years. We discussed land management and farm runoff, and safeguards against having that animal waste empty into the rivers and streams which eventually lead to the algae blooms seen in so many areas around the USA.
His quick comment?
“Just feed the animals the grass you grow, along the waterways, to keep the runoff from reaching the water.”
Pretty simple, but not always easy to implement when a farm is struggling to maximize its revenue. Why grow grass, for example, when corn is so much more lucrative?
Practically speaking, without sufficient long-term financial incentive to manage land to avoid waste runoff, best practices will almost certainly not be followed universally.
The encouraging word? Best practices are known — and they work!
Not the largest of the Great Lakes, but still plenty big, why does this poor body of water get hit so hard every summer — almost covered with algae — when largely unregulated agricultural runoff dumps tons of waste into the rivers that empty into this lake?
Lake Superior, by contrast, is the greatest of the Great Lakes, and almost so clean that if one were to go far enough off shore, she/he MIGHT be able to drop in a cup and drink up.
Try that in Lake Erie at the height of the algae bloom and it is very possible she/he will die.
So — what gives?
Well, for starters Lake Erie has far more people, industry, and — perhaps most importantly — agriculture around it. But that’s not all.
Lake Erie is shallow. On average only about 60 feet deep. Lake Superior? 10 times deeper. At least.
In fact, to fully empty Lake Superior and replace it with totally new freshwater takes 191 years. Lake Erie? Two and one-half years.
It is no wonder then, that poor Lake Erie chokes on algae every summer.
But here’s the encouraging news. With effective agricultural land management, a lot can be accomplished quickly, to stop the farm runoff that is pouring into the lake.
Get to the worst spots first, make a major impact on reducing the waste, and poor Lake Erie isn’t so poor anymore. In fact, it cleans up really fast.
And everyone who lives around it loves the abundant benefits a healthy Lake Erie provides.