Water quality, quantity impacted as snow melts
This winter has proven to be quite wimpy when compared to some of our past winters as far as snowfall and temperature is concerned.
The lack of snow can cause situations that can linger for some time. Water levels in various area lakes can be affected by the amount and timing of precipitation. Flooding can occur when a thaw melts the snowpack and the resulting release of water cannot soak into the ground gradually but finds its way into lakes and rivers, overflowing them.
Flooding can flush silt and sediment out of a system but usually just moves a problem further downstream on its way to the ocean. Dams further complicate the problem by allowing this nutrient bound material to collect above them causing an increase in noxious vegetation growth and unwanted algae production.
The widespread in New Richmond has filled in dramatically over the years since the channel dredging back in the 1970s. Presently, the majority of the widespread is just a few feet deep.
Little Falls Lake in the Willow River State Park and Lake Mallalieu behind the dam in Hudson also has extensive sediment deposition contributing to degraded water quality and is presently on the impaired water list. The Willow River has been named a major contributor to nutrient loading to the St. Croix River. The Apple River also has been identified as a culprit for added nutrient deposition.
Cedar Lake has an interesting problem also. Besides having nutrients such as phosphorus entering the lake from non-point sources and from the water entering from Horse Lake via Horse Creek on the north end, the nutrients already in the lake are recycled by wind and wave action causing intense algae blooms. Prolonged periods of wind can then concentrate the blue-green algal bloom in certain parts of the lake making recreational activities unpleasant and even dangerous. The water from Cedar Lake leaves the lake on the southeast corner via Cedar Creek and a phosphorus load is sent down the Apple River and into the St Croix.
Squaw Lake, a seepage lake located in northwestern St. Croix County, also has a nutrient problem. Water enters the lake by runoff during periods of rain or snow melt. Water levels are also maintained by ground water which will fluctuate over time. Once nutrients enter Squaw Lake, they cannot be flushed out because there is no surface water flowing out of the system. They are left to recycle causing again intense algae proliferation.
While most of our area streams, lakes and waterways suffer from years of nutrient contamination by the overuse of residential and agricultural phosphorus, there are major efforts underway to turn the tide. These efforts are being implemented at all levels including local landowners, townships, county, state and federal entities.
All of our streams that enter the St. Croix are being monitored to determine the extent of phosphorus contamination and loading. Once this is established, a Total Daily Minimum Load (TDML) will be set and steps will be taken to reduce the levels to that benchmark. Grants and funding will be available to accomplish these goals. The TMDL for the Willow River will soon be determined.
The Star Prairie Land Preservation Trust, working in partnership with several other groups along with the St. Croix River Association will be applying for a River Protection Grant that will also push toward this goal.
Cedar Lake has been studied extensively. Lake dynamics have been worked out and plans are in the works to reduce the phosphorus load thus allowing a potential alum treatment to chelate or bind the recirculating phosphorus in the lake and prevent its recycling.
If enough surface water runoff can be held in retention areas and allowed to penetrate into the groundwater instead of flowing directly into Squaw Lake along with its phosphorus load, TMDL goals can be met which would also make the lake a viable candidate for an alum treatment.
Lake master plans have or are being developed for several of our lakes and this also includes aquatic habitat enhancement. Cedar, Bass and Glen Lakes have benefited from fish crib placement and woody habitat reconstruction this winter.
Each of our area waters has its own unique situation which is presently being addressed to move toward water quality improvement. While it is a daunting task, each step that is made brings us closer to that goal. Everyone needs to be aware of the problem and become involved. The possibilities are endless.
Reports have come our way of sightings of rare or unusual animals.
Recently New Richmond resident Irv Sather has seen a black, fox-like animal along the Willow River behind his house. Our two common foxes are the red and gray fox. Years ago, while hunting along the Willow River east of New Richmond, we had also observed a black hued fox coming out on a deer drive. We later learned that it might have been an escaped Silver Fox. The Silver Fox is a form of the red fox. Some local residents had apparently been raising some for their pelts and the one we saw might have come from there.
Ilene Baillargeon from Somerset reports of a verified sighting of a Varied Thrush at her feeder this winter. The Varied Thrush is a robin-sized bird of the Pacific Northwest that periodically shows up at feeders in our area. Four or five years ago, a sighting was also made at a New Richmond feeder.
Goldeneyes and Early Migrants
By Tom Kerr
With the recent warm, even spring-like conditions, we saw the first pair of common goldeneyes on the Willow River in the last week of January.
Although these hardy ducks winter on the St. Croix River and the Great Lakes, they usually don't spread out to the small rivers until early March. Often called whistlers for the sound that their wings make in flight, common goldeneyes are a medium sized duck that winter as far north as they can find open water. Males have a green head with a distinctive oval white patch at the base of the bill while females are mostly brown in color with a pale yellow eye.
Their breeding range includes northern Wisconsin and most of Canada. Their breeding habitat includes forested rivers and lakes and they make their nest in tree cavities and nest boxes. Like our local cavity nesting wood ducks, goldeneyes also lay their eggs in the nests of other ducks, especially other goldeneyes, wood ducks and hooded mergansers. After hatching the young are very independent, often intermixing with other broods.
With longer days and more warm weather on the way, keep an eye out for some of the early migrants. If you would like to keep up with bird sightings in the St. Croix Wetland Management District, check out our Facebook site. We will be posting species as we see them. If you have sightings you would like to share please let us know.
For more information on the St. Croix Wetland Management District, check out our website at www.fws.gov/midwest/stcroix/ or find us on Facebook by searching for "St. Croix Wetland Management District."