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Water in Wisconsin's Northwoods and Michigan's Upper Peninsula serves as the basis of life and health. With countless lakes, rivers, springs, and aquifers, water is also linked with the very identity of this region. As a service to our listeners, WXPR is pleased to announce the creation of a new reporting position with a specific focus: water.

Water in Wisconsin's Northwoods and Michigan's Upper Peninsula serves as the basis of life and health. With countless lakes, rivers, springs, and aquifers, water is also linked with the very identity of this region. As a service to our listeners, WXPR is pleased to announce the creation of a new reporting position with a specific focus: water.


United States


Water in Wisconsin's Northwoods and Michigan's Upper Peninsula serves as the basis of life and health. With countless lakes, rivers, springs, and aquifers, water is also linked with the very identity of this region. As a service to our listeners, WXPR is pleased to announce the creation of a new reporting position with a specific focus: water.








A 'Complete Surprise': New Research Shows Higher Lake Levels Equal More Mercury In Fish

Are the Northwoods walleye you catch safe to eat, or do they have too much mercury? The answer is tied to several factors, but new research shows a surprising variable might have the biggest effect. The water level of the lake where you caught the fish could tell you more about its safety than anything else. The realization of the connection started years ago, when lakes researcher Dr. Carl Watras found an interesting trend. The water level on Northwoods lakes, and even the Great Lakes,...


Detailed Maps And Airborne Chemicals: How The PFAS Landscape Differs State-By-State

A month ago, in a ballroom at a hotel conference center in a Madison suburb, social distancing wasn’t even in the vocabulary of most people. The coronavirus wasn’t yet a threat to Wisconsin. Hundreds of people packed into a convention to talk about, and hear about, a different threat to health--PFAS. “It is the hot ticket issue right now,” conceded Bridget Kelly, the Wisconsin DNR’s Program Coordinator for Emerging Contaminants. The topic is only growing hotter. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl...


During Virus Outbreak, Safe, Municipal Water Keeps Flowing As Holy Water Disappears

At Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church in Rhinelander last Sunday, pianos and voices paired for the song “Down to the River to Pray.” It was the final hymn at Mass, and songs about prayers at the river were just one of the many references to faith and water at Catholic Masses across the country. The Sunday Gospel, taken from John, Chapter 4, told of Jesus and a woman at a well. “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them...


Fighting Phosphorus: Fish Kills, Aerators, And Oxygen On The Big Eau Pleine

On Tuesday, Scott Blado found good news as he dipped scientific instruments below the ice on the Big Eau Pleine Reservoir in Marathon County. “Right now, we’re seeing [a reading of] 10.9 dissolved oxygen, which is fantastic. We couldn’t ask for anything better than that at this time of the year,” said Blado, an environmental specialist for the Wausau-based Wisconsin Valley Improvement Company (WVIC). Blado tests multiple points on the reservoir every week, and on Tuesday, he saw a...


Federal Delays In PFAS Regulation Frustrate States

As Wisconsin works toward setting up enforceable limits for PFAS in water, it’s already behind several other states. But the federal government seems to be trailing even farther behind in protecting the public. The man-made group of chemicals got more attention in Wisconsin once it was found contaminating water supplies like Rhinelander’s. The contaminant, linked to health risks, is present across the country. But the actions taken by different governments are a hodgepodge. “There’s a lot of...


Price County Brothers Fight For Flowage Property Rights, Battle ‘Protect Our Piers’ Bill

Since a 1940s dam on Sailor Creek near Fifield in Price County created a 200-acre recreational flowage, the Lobermeiers have considered it part of their home. The S-shaped flowage is spotted with islands looking out at wooded shorelines, and for Dave Lobermeier, it’s a place of enjoyment. But the Sailor Creek Flowage has also become the source of a decade of legal headaches. “I feel like I’ve got a bullseye on my back, quite honestly,” said Dave, walking with his brother Butch on the frozen...


Mining-Related Drilling Near Wolf River Would Be First In Wisconsin In Years

In the winter, snowshoes are the best way to navigate a swath of undeveloped, wooded, privately-owned land between Monico and Pelican Lake in Oneida County. The simple forest roads that exist are snow-covered and unplowed. In late January, Badger Minerals, a Michigan-based subsidiary of a Canadian company, announced plans to drill several holes on this tract, seeking to learn more about minerals under the snowy surface. Some of those holes, which would likely average a depth of 400 feet,...


Continued Record High Water Levels Force Cooperation Among Great Lakes Leaders

Lakes Superior, Michigan, and Huron are on pace to set all-time records for high water levels in February. Lake Superior is 15 inches above normal, while Michigan and Huron are more than three feet above average. That’s sent Great Lakes states into action, scrambling for solutions as water stays high. “From the Corps’ perspective, we’re focusing on what’s happening right now. Right now, it’s just been unbelievably wet across the Great Lakes Basin, leading to these record high levels,” said...


Glaciers Don’t Lie: Climate Change And Our Visit To A Shrinking New Zealand Glacier

Note: WXPR’s Ben Meyer celebrated his honeymoon in New Zealand this month with his wife, Erika. This week’s edition of The Stream is inspired by their visit to one of New Zealand’s mountain glaciers. Every day the weather cooperates, a helicopter delivers hikers onto Fox Glacier in the mountains of New Zealand’s South Island. Guides lead groups wearing boots and crampons across the ice sheet, which sparkles white on the surface and bright blue in its many crevasses and ice arches. A hike on...


Wisconsin Ranks First In Environmental Protection Funding Cuts From 2008 To 2018

Wisconsin is the home of its own conservation hall of fame, the home of the founder of Earth Day, Gaylord Nelson, and the home of John Muir. It was the first state in America to ban DDT. “Wisconsin has had such a long tradition in the conservation area and protecting the environment,” said Susan Hedman, the former Great Lakes Region Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency. Hedman says Wisconsin used to a leader in the field. But now, it’s a leader in something else. Between...


Study Examines Cultural Value Of Declining Lake Ice As Eagle River Ice Castle Canceled Again

Michael Anderson uses a long bit on a drill to bust through the ice on Silver Lake in Eagle River. “That would be a good depth for an ice castle right now,” Anderson says, measuring about 15 inches of ice. That’s plenty for harvesting and forming into blocks for ice-castle building. But there’s a problem. A deep layer of slush on Silver Lake makes it inaccessible to the machines and trucks needed to transport ice blocks. Without the ice blocks, there’s no ice castle downtown, and that means...


As Land Falls Into Great Lakes, Workers, Regulators Scramble To Address Water Level ‘Crisis’

It’s not difficult for Norm Pestka to picture what used to be here. After all, the land that’s now underwater was dry just a few months ago. “It’s been fine here for years. They lost 45 feet in one storm. The beach was out there, literally,” Pestka said, motioning to a patch of Lake Superior now submerged. Pestka is standing on private land just outside Ontonagon in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Lake Superior stretches out before him. It’s mostly open water, save for some ice, snow, and...


A Block On Private Piers? Group Fights To Reverse Sweeping Supreme Court Decision On State Flowages

The waters of the Biron Flowage are no more than ten feet from the porch of Mike Spranger’s second home. “This is the reason we bought it,” he said. “The water is right there.” The 1,500-square-foot house is just ten minutes from Spranger’s main residence in Wisconsin Rapids. He and his wife bought it in 2015, mainly as a refuge for their four grandchildren, who took to the water immediately. “I tied some floatation devices, like tubes and things like that, off from the end of the pier. They...


Northwoods Lakes Without Winter Ice? Full-Lake Study Peers Into Potential Future

An amphibious vehicle called an Argo has eight wheels, two treads, floats on water, and can go just about anywhere. Has Noah Lottig found a place it can’t access? “Not yet. We’ve tried. We have not found a place where this will not go yet,” said Lottig, an assistant scientist at the UW-Madison Trout Lake Station in Boulder Junction. A fifteen-minute ride on the Argo allows Lottig and two graduate students to access an undeveloped, frozen bog near Sparkling Lake in Vilas County. Lottig has...


After Almost Two Months, Rhinelander Still Hasn’t Posted PFAS Testing Results On City Website

Nearly two months ago, the DNR recommended the City of Rhinelander make full PFAS testing results available on the city’s website. As of Thursday afternoon, those testing results still weren’t posted for the public to see. In a Nov. 19 letter to Rhinelander City Administrator Daniel Guild, Steven Elmore, the program director of the DNR’s Bureau of Drinking Water and Groundwater, wrote the DNR recommended Rhinelander post “all PFAS results on the city website as soon as reasonably...


Science, Art Combine To Show Waters Of Different Lakes Produce Strikingly Different Dye Results

For Northwoods artists Mary Burns and Debbie Jircik, creating art is sometimes more than putting paint on canvas or throwing clay to be fired. Instead, it’s pulling on waterproof boots, slogging into Northwoods bogs, and collecting large pails of water. “We didn’t see anyone doing any of this kind of work, where they were actually going out in the field, collecting water from bogs and lakes, and comparing how…that affects those dyes,” Burns said. Burns is from Mercer, and Jircik is from...


Does Your Community Water System Test For PFAS? Probably Not, Finds WXPR Investigation

Gary Laguna’s keyring jingles often as he sorts through the right key to the right door. He has to open them in a variety of places as the lead water operator in Hurley, Pence, and Iron Belt, three communities in Iron County. With 18 years of experience, Laguna is in charge of ensuring a reliable flow of water to customers’ faucets and doing near-constant water quality testing. While he plays a critical role in water customers’ lives, Laguna says many people don’t have a clear understanding...


Rhinelander Class PFAS Project Doesn’t Advance In Competition, But Work To Continue

A Rhinelander High School science class set out to create a PFAS water filter while competing in a national competition. The class won’t advance in the contest, but it will still keep working on water quality. Cheryl Esslinger’s Earth and Environmental Systems class was trying to design an effective, affordable filter for water. Esslinger thought of the project after the contaminant was found in city water supplies this summer. “PFAS was found in our Rhinelander water, and the well was shut...


Monitoring Visits Connect Northwoods Land Trust Staff, Volunteers, Landowners

For part of the year, a gravel road reaches a remote piece of Vilas County land. But in the winter, a mile-long snowshoe is the only way in. Snow decorated an evergreen forest as Trisha Moore and Troy Walters reached their destination and greeted Bob Martini, who owns the 31 acres of wilderness northeast of Eagle River. Forty years ago, he built an eight-sided cabin here by hand. “I just kept stacking logs on each corner. It was one of those ‘learn as you go’ things. As you can see, every...


We Answer Your Questions About PFAS, Water Quality, And Water Quantity In Rhinelander

People in Rhinelander and across the Northwoods want to know their water is clean, drinkable, and safe. But that expectation has been muddied in the past year, with the discovery of elevated levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in Rhinelander’s municipal water supply. The finding of PFAS, which has been linked to risk cancer, thyroid disease, and higher cholesterol, led Rhinelander to shut down two of its five city wells. That’s left some people confused about where their...