Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Environmental Stewardship: Watershed Restoration

It's time once again to lend the blog to my dad for his monthly Environmental Stewardship column. Take it away, Dad!

With the location of the Foxconn factory in the Village of Mt. Pleasant, Lake Michigan water going to Waukesha and the reorganization of Root-Pike WIN, “watersheds” are certainly in the news. First of all, what is a watershed? According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a watershed is “the area of land that catches rain and snow and drains or seeps into a marsh, stream, river, lake or groundwater.” All of us live in one or more watersheds.
Marker at 85th Street just west of Cooper Road in Pleasant Prairie

At the largest level, did you know we have a continental divide (or sub-continental divide) right in our backyards? This divide separates the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River watershed from the Mississippi River watershed. It goes right through the area to be developed by Foxconn. Some of the water that falls on that area flows south to the Des Plaines River and thence down the Illinois River to the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. Rain and snow falling on the east side of the divide will go into the Pike River and then into Lake Michigan.

Major watersheds may be broken up into smaller watersheds fitting that same definition and generally based on a single river and its tributaries. Thus, most of us [in eastern Racine County] live in the Pike River, Root River, Des Plaines River, Oak Creek or Fox River watersheds or in a somewhat different kind of watershed without a named river such as the Wind Point watershed.

It should be noted at this point that all (or most) of these rivers were recently assessed and classified by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) as being “impaired” using the Wisconsin’s Consolidated Assessment and Listing Methodology (WisCALM). This methodology basically is to determine whether the river is swimmable and fishable, checking on nitrogen, phosphorus, biological oxygen demand and e. coli levels.

But rather than wringing their hands in despair, organizations such as the Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network have worked out long-term Watershed Restoration Projects to upgrade and improve these rivers and their watersheds. According to the latest WIN newsletter, they “have helped raise more than $1.4 million for watershed restoration projects” and “More than 40 projects are in some phase of planning, design or implementation.” Within approved Watershed Restoration Plans for the Root, Pike and Wind Point watersheds, are more than 500 project recommendations. “Approved” means by both the WDNR and EPA; local governments are also adopting or endorsing these plans.
Pike River in Mt. Pleasant, Racine County
Obviously, these plans and projects involve good environmental stewardship. I have been involved with some of the removal of invasive, alien plant species along the rivers and in the wetlands. I have also assisted in the planting of native species in these areas. These projects will continue once the weather warms up again in the spring. Organizations such as Weed Out! Racine can use lots of volunteers. To volunteer, contact Melissa Warner or Dave Giordano, the Executive Director of Root-Pike WIN, or any of the other organizations that make up the “Network.”

May I also suggest that you visit one of the major restoration successes in the city of Racine; make sure you get down to Samuel Myers Park in most any season of the year. This restoration project was carried out under the direction and fund raising of Dr. Julie Kinzelman, Laboratory Director for the Racine Health Department. It is located on Lake Michigan just south of Gateway Technical College (junction of 11th Street and Pritchard Drive). Invasive plant species were removed, native species planted, proper grading and a board walk with educational signage installed. Acceptance of a large grant from the U.S. Forest Service for additional native tree planting has just been approved by the City Council. This will more than double the amount of tree canopy and stormwater infiltration, thus improving our health as well as that of the Lake.

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