Thursday, February 20, 2020

Turtle River Watershed Conference

On Wednesday, January 29th, fifty-four people attended a conference sponsored by the Iron County Lakes and Rivers Alliance (ICLRA) and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) at The Great Northern Hotel in Mercer to address a first-of-its-kind grant program.  For many years grants have been issued to individual lakes to respond to problems of declining water quality, pollution and aquatic invasive species (AIS) infestations.  The conference introduced a new program to issue grants on complete watershed basis with an additional focus on prevention. The Turtle River Watershed Management program will be administered by ICLRA.

While the current Lake Management program has been very successful, it has had implementation problems in sparsely populated areas such as Iron County.  

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George Meyer
Wisconsin Wildlife Federation
In his keynote address, former WDNR secretary, George Meyer, described Wisconsin’s Public Trust Doctrine.  That legal concept, first introduced in the 1800’s, specifies that the navigable waters of the state are the property of all of the state’s citizens – not of the owners of the shoreline.  Riparian owners may not modify the lake in any way or prevent the public from free use of the waterbody.

In seeming conflict with the Public Trust Doctrine, the Lake Management program puts the cost in time and money for addressing problems on a lake squarely on the shoulders of the lake’s riparian owners, sometimes to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.  This is especially onerous in Iron County where population densities on the lakes are low, causing financial burdens on individuals to be very high.  Further, because of other requirements, problems on lakes without incorporated lake associations or without riparian owners, are not addressed.  This is especially problematic in connected lake systems such as the 70,000 acre Turtle River Watershed in southern Iron County.

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Dave Hall
President, ICLRA
Dave Hall, ICLRA president stated that the ICLRA and WDNR have been working on a watershed-wide management proposal since last October.  He said the program will distribute costs and produce more scientifically valid results. The new system also recognizes that problems on one lake affect conditions upstream and downstream.  Lakes with few or no residents will now be under the care of the watershed-wide system


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Carroll Schaal
Natural Resource Program Manager
At the conference the WDNR’s Natural Resource Program Manager, Carroll Schaal, and Lakes and Rivers Team Leader Dr. Alison Mikulyuk delineated the rules and opportunities for grants within the watershed.  

Dr. Allison Mikulyuk
Dr.  Mikulyuk is excited about the group’s idea to write a watershed-based protection plan. “Many of the lakes in Wisconsin are still in really good shape,” she said, “but they are vulnerable. Implementing a protection plan now will make sure they stay clean and healthy for generations to come. I am excited to work with Iron County Lakes and Rivers Alliance as we take a bold step toward better watershed protection.”

Eric Olsen
UW-Extension Lake Specialist and Director, Eric Olsen, presented concepts from the “Wisconsin Watershed Planning Guidance” publication.  He also distributed documentation on a consortium of local stakeholders, DNR, county and city departments to address problems in the Red Cedar River watershed of northwestern Wisconsin.

Iron County’s Land and Water Conservation specialist Zach Wilson conveyed his excitement about the program and suggested components of a successful watershed plan.  Mercer DNR station fisheries expert, Zach Lawson stated the advantages of considering a whole watershed for fish management.

The meeting closed with public discussion of plans for resolution of a serious AIS infestation on Rice Lake which threatens Pike Lake, Lake of the Falls and the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage downstream of Rice.

Iron County Lakes Alliance was formed in 2000 and became the Iron County Lakes and Rivers Alliance in 2012. The purpose of the organization is to protect county waters through education and communication and to advocate for riparian owners and lake and river associations in county and state government. Membership is open to lake and river associations as well as to individuals. Programs are free and open to the public. For more information or to make your voice heard by joining ICLRA, Inc., email 

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