Red Cedar Watershed: What can we do?

  By Grace Arneberg and Taylor Smith

On March 13, the University of Wisconsin–Stout hosted the Red Cedar Watershed Conference, which discussed issues pertaining to the lake pollution in Menomonie.

“There are a couple of chemicals that contribute to the lake pollution,” said Nels Paulson, UW–Stout sociology professor and board member for the Tainter-Menomin Lake Improvement Association. “The most prominent are nitrates and phosphorus, which are the key sources for creating the blue green algae bloom.”

The process that causes the algae bloom begins with the use of fertilizers that contain phosphates, which are used heavily in the United States and, more specifically, right here in Menomonie.

“The fertilizer loosens the ground so during a major rainfall a lot of the phosphorus from the fertilizer ends up washing off the land,” said Paulson. “If there aren’t good buffers, it ends up running into the river.”

Much of the land in this area is dedicated to agriculture, which means that farmers are inadvertently the main source of the issue. Approximately 75 percent of water pollution in this area is caused by farmland.

“It’s not the fault of the farmers themselves,” said Paulson. “The core of it is the lack of incentives from the global market and the farm.”

By setting aside land for conservation and practicing no-till farming and drilling, the effects of excess phosphorus in the environment could be less harmful.

According to Paulson, there are other contributing factors including that Menomin Lake is man made, near water treatment plants and lacks natural buffers such as trees, grasses and wetlands.

In order to rid the lake of pollution, serious changes need to be made in the community.

“We need to address the root of the problem as well as dealing with the treatment of the water itself,” Paulson says.  “We all need to change the way we live our lives in order to collectively fix the problem.”

In a community made up of many college students who are not permanent residents, it might be difficult to become invested in such an issue.

“I think that bringing awareness to the water quality in the Tainter and Menomin lakes is of high importance,” said Renee Brown, a UW–Stout junior and current intern with the Tainter Menomin Lake Improvement Association. “The more students know about the issue, the more they will be willing to act.”

As far as most students are aware, the condition of the lakes is nearly untreatable.

“It’s a shame that it has gotten to a point where it is extremely hard to fix,” said Danielle Laine, UW–Stout junior.

“It would really take a shift in the way that we think about community in rural Wisconsin,” said Paulson. “Getting involved now would be useful for students later in life, not only for their careers but in terms of how they can become embedded in a community.”

Although immediate change does not seem to be happening soon, the community remains hopeful.

“There’s not going to be any quick solution,” said Paulson. “We all need to change the way we live our lives in order to collectively fix the problem.”  

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