Stout LAKES project focuses on phosphorus pollution in Red Cedar River Watershed

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE —  If you have not yet been asked your opinion about phosphorus, stormwater run-off and blue-green algae — you still might be.

A UW-Stout research project running from June 15 to August 8 sponsored by the National Science Foundation is examining phosphorus pollution in the Red Cedar River Watershed.

Dr. Nels Paulson, who is leading the LAKES project (Linking Applied Knowledge in Environmental Sustainability), spoke to the Dunn County Planning, Resources and Development committee July 22 about the project.

This year is the first summer of the project, which will span a total of three summers all together, he said.

Certain aspects of the study will include interviewing area residents.

Phosphorus fuels the toxic algae blooms in Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin every summer. The soil in this part of Wisconsin is naturally high in phosphorus, and stormwater can carry phosphorus-rich sediment into the Red Cedar River and eventually into the two lakes.

The study is looking at phosphorus and blue-green algae from a variety of angles, Dr. Paulson said.

The National Science Foundation is sponsoring a number of research projects, and each site focuses on a specific issue, he noted.

Students who are working on the UW-Stout project are from around the country, such as Colorado, Rhode Island and Iowa.

Dr. Paulson said when he first met with the director of the National Science Foundation, the director told him that no research projects on phosphorus were needed “because we know everything there is to know about phosphorus.”

Dr. Paulson pointed out that we do not yet know very much about how to reduce phosphorus run-off.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has declared Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin as “impaired waters” because of the phosphorus pollution, and the EPA has required the state Department of Natural Resources to develop a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for dealing with phosphorus in the Red Cedar River Watershed.

The Village of Colfax started a pilot project last year to add alum to the wastewater treatment lagoons to reduce the amount of phosphorus in the discharge to the Red Cedar River.

Alum binds with phosphorus and causes it to settle to bottom of the lagoon.

Prior to the addition of alum, Colfax was discharging about 1,100 pounds of phosphorus per year.

The Red Cedar River Watershed covers nearly 1,900 square miles, and according to the final TMDL report, 506,000 pounds of phosphorus enter Tainter Lake every year.

Water coming out of the tap in Colfax is right at the legal limit for phosphorus.

Five projects

The LAKES research project is actually five separate projects, Dr. Paulson said.

The biology component of the project is looking at how phosphorus fuels the algae blooms.

The geology aspect is focusing on groundwater and how phosphorus enters the groundwater from run-off. Wilson Creek and the Hay River are both being included in this portion of the study.

The bulk of the research for the LAKES project will focus on the social science aspect of phosphorus, including economics, policies and practitioners, and farmers, Dr. Paulson said.

The economics portion of the project will ask people downstream how much they are willing to spend to deal with phosphorus run-off and how much people upstream need to change their land use to reduce phosphorus run-off, he said.

The economics part of the study includes surveys of farmers to find out what it would take for them to change their farming practices to reduce run-off, Dr. Paulson explained.

The policy and practitioners part of the project will study constraints on decision-making by elected officials for fixing water pollution, he said.

The study includes a social network analysis to find out who is connected to whom and who trusts whom, Dr. Paulson said.

The end result will be a map of the constraints and social networks, he said.

The farmer part of the study will look at agricultural land use and social influences on the adoptions of Best Management Practices (BMP) as well as an analysis of social networks, Dr. Paulson said.

The research team from UW-Stout will be working with the DNR to use evidence from the research to help make a TMDL implementation plan, and the evidence from the research also will be used to ask for approval from the EPA of the TMDL plan, he said.

Raw Deal

The next part of this year’s portion of the research project will be to report the preliminary findings, Dr. Paulson said.

A community-reporting event will be held at the Raw Deal in Menomonie on August 6 beginning at 5 p.m., he said, noting that all members of the general public who are interested in the phosphorus issue and the algae blooms on Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin are encouraged to attend.