Wisconsin River Initiative
The River Alliance and Wisconsin's "Mother River"
Historically, the River Alliance has paid close attention to the Wisconsin River, but we made a strategic choice to put a sharper focus on the Wisconsin system.
Specific projects the River Alliance carries out on behalf of the Wisconsin River:
Coordinate a multi-partner effort with focused, concerted action to reduce phosphorus pollution and nasty algae blooms in the central stretch of the Wisconsin River - in particular, organizing a citizens group, the Petenwell and Castle Rock Stewards (PACRS), to raise the profile of phosphorus pollution and other serious challenges to the beauty and integrity of the Wisconsin River. ************
Why the Wisconsin?
- Because of its status and importance as the state's namesake river
- Progress made in cleaning it up is being lost
- No entity treats the river as an integrated system
- Because river protection and restoration problems across the state are found in microcosm in the Wisconsin River's system, we could demonstrate actions and make policy suggestions for the Wisconsin River system that would apply statewide.
The Wisconsin River courses 430 miles from Lac Vieux Desert to Wyalusing, and drains 12,000 square miles, or about 20% of the state. A very hard-working river, the Wisconsin has 21 hydropower dams on its mainstem alone. It absorbs industrial pollution from 15 paper plants, effluent from over 70 municipalities, and polluted runoff from some of the most intensively farmed land in Wisconsin.
Water quality has improved considerably since the passage of the Clean Water Act, but some persistent water quality challenges remain, especially from agriculture. There are a total of 33 rivers or river segments listed as "impaired waters" in the Wisconsin system; many are almost exclusively agricultural sub-watersheds.
Another water quality (and serious esthetic) challenge to the Wisconsin system is the subdividing of riparian land for recreational and housing development. In the high heat of the real estate boom, there were at least a half dozen very large developments planned or underway, within a stone's throw of the Wisconsin River, with attendant challenges of erosion, pollution and aggressive recreation.
The Wisconsin River is not at all managed as a singular system. The river's watershed is split into three management units by the Dept. of Natural Resources, and there's an additional management arrangement for the Lower Wisconsin (the Lower Wisconsin Riverway Board), not to mention the workings of a private entity called the Wisconsin Valley Improvement Project, which manipulates water flows through the series of hydro dams operated for electrical generation and paper making.
Politics of Phosphorus Summit
In 2009 the River Alliance hosted a Politics of Phosphorus Citizens' Summit. The event was was a crash-course in all things phosphorus, from the science behind algae blooms to rules and state legislation affecting phosphorus runoff. See event summary and presentations >>
Given its economic importance, unique beauty and almost mystical and poetic power, the Wisconsin River – the state's "mother river" -- deserves better than what it gets these days from piecemeal management, disregard of overall system impacts from myriad small and local actions, and no strategies to act across organizations and political boundaries.
Our Wisconsin River Initiative alone cannot improve on all these fundamental system problems, but we can get started by providing renewed focus and energy for this important river.