Red Cedar River reinvestment
New partnership project, with $500,000, targets social impact
June 16, 2016
Local and regional
partners in a new collaborative effort, led by University of Wisconsin-Stout,
the Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, are
ready to harness their resources to improve water quality in the Red Cedar
The DNR recently
awarded a $200,000 lake protection grant to the project, and the Army Corps has
committed $300,000 in water quality assessment funding from 2016 through 2018 to
identify solutions and implement them to help reduce toxic blue-green algae
blooms in the nearly 1,900-square mile watershed across 10 west-central
The project, called
the Red Cedar River Water Quality Partnership, includes other government
agencies and organizations that have been working on the problem for more than
The impact of the
toxic algae blooms that turn the water green stretches from lakes Tainter and
Menomin in Menomonie to the Chetek chain of lakes in Barron County and to the
headwaters of the Red Cedar River on Big Chetac Lake near Birchwood.
The significance of
the new effort is threefold: The sizable amount of funding, the sheer number of
groups on board and the decision to include social impact as part of the research
process to identify solutions.
Nels Paulson, an associate
professor of sociology at UW-Stout, has co-led three summers of undergraduate
research through the separately funded LAKES REU — research experience for undergraduates,
www.uwstout.edu/lakes. He said the
most significant aspect of RCRWQP is likely the expanded social science
LAKES students have
documented how poor water quality affects recreation, tourism, real estate and,
therefore, the economy and quality of life in the affected areas. LAKES already
has shown that improved water quality would boost the Menomonie area economy by
$36.6 million a year, conservatively. The new funding will help complete a full
social science analysis of the problem.
DNR and Army Corps have been wanting to integrate more social science into
water quality research projects. With this knowledge, we can help empower the
community to clean up the watershed,” Paulson said.
“When organizations get together, that’s how you get
more research done. We’re expanding on the research efforts we’re doing and want to
be a pilot for how to do this across the state in the future. I’ve been told
that nothing like this has ever been done before,” Paulson added.
Sorge, lake grants coordinator for the DNR’s west-central region, agrees. “I’m
extremely excited about this and the potential outcome,” he said.
Seeking answers in social science
Sorge credits LAKES for revealing the scope of the problem
beyond its root cause, which is excessive phosphorous in the watershed’s
streams, rivers and lakes.
“The biophysical chemistry is the ‘what’ so to speak. We’ve
got a lot of ‘what’ out there. The social science will be the ‘how do we get
this done,’ and the ‘how’ is really important,” Sorge said. “It was really the
LAKES REU students who gave us these insights.
“We’ve got to change the paradigm to solve these water
quality problems. By allowing all this to happen in one major project is
outstanding, and to have one of our state university institutions practice the
Wisconsin Idea also is very rewarding,” he added.
The purpose of the social science assessment is to identify
the major attitudinal, normative, economic and cultural factors that shape land
use decisions and community incentives and policies, according to Paulson and
Sorge. “By distinguishing such variables the local townships, cities and
counties can move forward with ways to grow their community capacity for
changing land use norms and practices and improve water resources and quality
of life in the Red Cedar basin,” Paulson said.
Paulson, Sorge and
the Army Corps don’t expect the decades-old water quality problems to magically
be solved in the next three years, but RCRWQP can build the foundation for
change in the near future.
foundational work that hopefully will allow the rest of the work to move
forward at a quicker and more appropriate scale. This doesn’t work if we get 30
to 50 percent of pollution sources under control. We need to be 70 to 90
percent. Then you’ll see lakes Tainter and Menomin look much different in
August,” Sorge said.
RCRWQP will get
underway this summer through more LAKES research and with the hiring of a
The Army Corps’ $300,000
commitment will provide modeling and water quality monitoring tools and some
staff support for the project, said Nate Campbell, a biologist and project
manager for the Army Corps’ St. Paul district. The Army Corps will work
directly with UW-Stout biology instructor Bill James, a former Army Corps
employee, and other professors.
The hard science of
water testing needs to tie in with social science research “to really get
things done in a watershed,” Campbell said.
“We’re really excited to be involved. It’s rare to see so
many groups working together. With UW-Stout’s work in outreach, we saw this as
a cool opportunity to get involved with something that’s been on the forefront
of where water assessment is going,” Campbell said.
A collaborative effort
Along with Paulson
and James, support from UW-Stout includes; Chris Ferguson, economics; Tina Lee,
anthropology; the Discovery Center; Research Services; and others.
Along with UW-Stout,
the DNR and the Army Corps, other entities and groups involved in RCRWQP
include: UW-Extension, Dunn County, Barron County, City of Menomonie, West
Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, Natural Resource Conservation
Service, Tainter/Menomin Lake Improvement Association, Red Cedar Lakes
Association, Chetek Lakes Protection Association, Big Chetac and Birch Lakes
Association, Desair Lake Restoration, 3M Corp., West Wisconsin Land Trust and
includes about 40,000 acres of open water and 4,900 miles of waterways,
according to the RCRWQP plan, A River Runs Through Us: A Water Quality Strategy
for the Land and Waters of the Red Cedar River Basin.
“The Red Cedar basin is an outstanding place to live. Improving
water quality and quality of life — that’s the end game,” Sorge said.
algae flows into Lake Menomin in Menomonie. A new partnership, with $500,000 in
funding, will focus on the social impact of water quality in the Red Cedar
REU students at UW-Stout visit an area farm in 2014 as they conduct research on
the social impact of poor water quality in the Red Cedar River watershed.
Bottom: Eniola Afolayan, a
UW-Stout LAKES researcher from University of Mary Washington in Virginia, talks
about her project during a 2015 community presentation at the Raw Deal in