GLA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Stephanie Prellwitz: “doing nothing or not doing enough will tip Green Lake’s water quality in the wrong direction.” Hannah Tetzlaff photo
by Hannah Tetzlaff
Toxic algae blooms close beaches, cause rashes on contact and poison animals.
Major fish kills and a devastated fishing industry due to excessive phosphorus in the water.
Science-fiction-inspired invasive species such as the spiny water flea.
A pea-green colored lake with record-breaking dead zones.
Theoretically, this could describe Green Lake’s future, Green Lake Association (GLA) Executive Director Stephanie Prellwitz explained at the group’s annual meeting last week Saturday at the Goose Blind.
“I don’t believe in inventing hypothetical scenarios, and I don’t want to be accused of grandiose doomsday tales,” Prellwitz said. “Rather, I just spent a few moments skimming the headlines of Wisconsin lakes to come up with a handful of examples of what some of our neighbors are dealing with because one thing is clear: doing nothing or not doing enough will tip Green Lake’s water quality in the wrong direction.”
Prellwitz based her apocalyptic vision for Green Lake on issues that neighboring lakes such as Lac Courte Oreilles and lakes near Madison and Green Bay are confronting.
To prevent such scenarios, the GLA revealed this year’s strategic plan to launch three pillar projects: Project Green Acres, Project Clean Stream and Project Invader Defense.
GLA President Kent DeLucenay, noted the plans are a continuation of the lake-restoration strategy presented at last year’s annual meeting by Project Manager Alison Niescier.
“[This] is the next phase of that: the implementation of a number of projects,” DeLucenay said.
Prellwitz described how one of the initiatives, Project Green Acres, focuses on mobilizing farmers to incorporate innovative farming practices to reduce the negative impacts on land and water. As part of this project, the GLA wants to create a farm administration network.
“More than ever, we understand that farming is risky business, and we are asking farmers to change long-held agricultural practices” Prellwitz said. “We want to take the risk out of it, so we will form a network of demonstration farms to showcase conservation practices that are good for farms and good for Green Lake.”
The association plans go beyond showcasing farms’ innovative practices. It will invest in the next generation of farmers by sending them and their children to conferences.
“We have a generational shift on the horizon, and if we want to change the course of Green Lake’s history we have to start now,” Prellwitz said. “The Green Lake Association is sending farmers and their son or daughter to innovative agricultural conferences to empower them to introduce progressive farming practices on their farms so that the water that runs off the farm is as clean as it can be.”
As part of the project, the association also will continue to host conservation field days “to spread the word about agricultural practices that are good for the lake like no-till agriculture and cover crops [grown solely to protect and nourish the soil],” Prellwitz said.
While Project Green Acres centers on the land and farms, Project Clean Streams concentrates on improving streams and creeks that feed the Green Lake-area watershed.
An action that the association will take as part of this project is the re-introduction of brook trout in Dakin Creek, which flows into the lake around County Road A.
“In Dakin Creek, brook trout were last seen in the 1950s because the stream had been too dirty to sustain them, so by restoring segments of Dakin Creek along with work our partners have been doing to zip up the headwaters, we will introduce brook trout as a marker of clean water,” Prellwitz said.
Though the introduction of brook trout may be a sign of cleaner water, obstacles remain that prevent efforts from improving water quality. They include “legacy phosphorus” — layers of phosphorus that have been embedded deeply into streams and fields over time and slowly are being released into the water.
For this project, the association is working with Rachel Johnson, a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate who is conducting a two-year study on the role of embedded phosphorus within the Green Lake-area watershed.
“With Rachel’s help, we will uncover legacy nutrients that delay water-quality improvements by decades,” Prellwitz said. “For many Wisconsin waterways, the history of neglect has resulted in layers upon layers of phosphorus trapped in streams, lakes and fields. Every time that it rains or every time that it doesn’t, little pulses of phosphorus pump their way into the streams and rivers.”
Though nutrients such as phosphorus contribute to poor water quality, invasive plants and insects also can permanently impact the lake. To combat these foreign species, the GLA is launching Project Invader Defense.
Its purpose is “to guard our waters against invasive species that permanently alter the lake’s ecology because as we have seen once an invasive species in our lake, we don’t go back,” Prellwitz said.
She noted many people wish for the days when zebra mussels were nothing more than a possible threat to Green Lake.
Now common, zebra mussels are not the only invasive species that risk Green Lake’s health. Others that are issues for neighboring lakes but haven’t yet appeared in Green Lake are quagga mussels and spiny water fleas.
“There are other invasive species in nearby lakes that we don’t yet have, and we want to keep it that way,” Prellwitz said. “The Green Lake Association is going to work closely with our partners to install two boat-washing stations at public boat launches at Dodge Memorial Park and at Sunset Park.”
The stations will teach boaters about the dangers of invasive species while encouraging them to clean parts of their boats that could transport possible invaders.
Prellwitz noted the people of Green Lake may still remember the “carp-agedon” of 2016 and the damage the carp inflicted on the lake. “You will recall that two years ago a stinky tide of dead carp washed up on the shores of Green Lake, and since then the Green Lake Sanitary District and Green Lake Association have worked closely with commercial fishermen to remove semi-trucks full of carp out of the lake.”
She reported the association and sanitary district removed 170,000 pounds of carp from the lake last year — about five semi-trucks full. “This [carp removal] equates to over 6,000 pounds of phosphorus from the lake, which prevented 3 million pounds of weeds growing in the lake. If you didn’t have a problem with dead carp last year …
It’s not because carp-agedon is behind us; it’s because we are staying on top of the strategy, and every year we have to do some carp-gate defense.”
Prellwitz added the carp activity is a major factor of why the County Highway K estuary on the southwest side of the lake is limping along.
“[This] one estuary alone is responsible for 3,000 pounds of phosphorus or 1.5 million pounds of weeds in the lake in a year,” she said. “Hand-in-hand with our partners and local students, we inoculated the estuary with over 27,000 plants … [which will] glue down all the phosphorus-loaded, unstable muck that pollutes the lake.”
Plants were put into protective shelters to prevent the carp from damaging them.
Though the GLA is launching these three projects as part of its overall strategy to restore Green Lake, it will take a long time to reverse negative impacts that have accumulated over the years.
“These problems have developed over the long-term, and the solutions can only develop over the long-term,” Prellwitz said. “Even though this is a complex challenge, we think it’s critical to meet that challenge.”
Prellwitz is optimistic about the coming years.
“I feel so encouraged about where we are today, and I have so much hope for the future,” she said. “We’re confident that with your help, the help of our members, help of our partners — we can restore Green Lake and keep family stories coming through generations.”