Project partners in addition to UW-Stout included the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – St. Paul District, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, UW-Madison Division of Extension, Tainter-Menomonie Lake Improvement Association, Dunn County Land and Water Conservation, Barron County Soil and Water Conservation and the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. The watershed includes Lake Menomin, Tainter Lake and the Chetek chain of lakes, about 40,000 acres of open water and 4,900 miles of waterways.
“This report demonstrates that partnerships are critical to achieving water quality goals and improving soil health,” the report noted. “This project was only possible through several organizations working cooperatively to creatively leverage resources and technical skills.”
Data from the UW-Stout LAKES REU Project is part of the project. Beginning in 2014, UW-Stout began working with undergraduate college students from all over the country for eight weeks in the summers to study the watershed as part of the Linking Applied Knowledge in Environmental Sustainability Research Experience.
With the help of grant money from the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, students come from diverse locations and backgrounds to gain a unique work, academic and social experience in the watershed. They study everything from the geology of the region to the biology and chemistry of the river itself.
Students report their findings at the end of the summer, and the Red Cedar River Water Quality Partnership uses the research to help plan and implement activities aimed at improving water quality and facets of living within the watershed. Students have produced research projects on social, economic, ecological, cultural and spatial issues related to the toxic algae blooms.
LAKES REU has received just over $342,000 for an additional three-year cycle from the NSF and is scheduled to begin again in summer 2022. It went on hiatus for the summer of 2020 and this summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic and to regroup. Co-principal investigators are Tina Lee, a UW-Stout professor of anthropology, and Arthur Kneeland, a senior lecturer in biology..
UW-Stout Professor of economics Chris Ferguson, who was a co-director of LAKES-REU, said the award is very gratifying. “This is what we set out to do, to be more embedded in the community with this project,” he said. “I think it will be exciting to see what comes next and how we can work with the state to see water quality improvements.”
UW-Stout Professor of sociology Nels Paulson, also a co-director of LAKES REU, said the project was about collaboration and groups working together to improve the waterways and quality of life in the basin area. It also helped show how UW-Stout can help provide research and expertise to the area, and he hopes to see such collaborative efforts continue. “It just shows the value of collaboration and recognizes the role UW-Stout can have in these types of collaborations that help the community,” he noted.
The summary report not only looked at phosphorus in the waterways but also measured the economic impact of water quality on tourism, home values, business and industry. LAKES REU students evaluated the economic impact of water quality in Menomonie, Chetek and surrounding areas. They surveyed farmers, other landowners, businesses and UW-Stout students.
The research found that improving water quality would increase housing values by $10,000 to $30,000 for each lakeshore home. The report notes that a home in Menomonie would go up about $30,000 with better water quality.
Improving water quality would also increase water-related tourism, the report noted. Summer water-related tourism is about $53 million in Dunn and Barron counties and supports about 800 jobs. A 10% increase would add 200 jobs and $13 million to the local economy and just over $1 million to state and local tax revenues.
Although 2020 was challenging, businesses, partners and organizations rose to the challenges, Jahn said. A list of other March award winners is available on the Momentum West website.