Friday, July 31, 2015

Voter Elects to Become Debut WRI Fellow

Carolyn Voter will be charged with compiling the annual report the state Groundwater Coordinating Council submits to the Legislature.

By Aaron R. Conklin

Groundwater brought Carolyn Voter to Wisconsin, and groundwater is what’s kept her here. It’s also the centerpiece of her latest career step:  Voter, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is set to become the first Wisconsin Water Resources Institute Policy Fellow.

The newly created position will be shared with and housed within the structure of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Voter will be charged with analyzing statistical data, compiling information and creating the annual report the state Groundwater Coordinating Council (GCC) submits to the state legislature detailing the results of groundwater research funded by WRI and DNR and other state agencies.

“Interagency cooperation is the cornerstone for groundwater protection in Wisconsin,” said Mary Ellen Vollrecht, the DNR’s Groundwater Section Chief for the Bureau of Drinking Water and Groundwater. “The new Water Resources Fellowship builds on that base.  Carolyn’s background and energy are sure to get the fellowship off to a strong start.  DNR appreciates this initiative of the Water Resources Institute and will strive to maximize the benefits to all agencies --and all Wisconsin water consumers.”

Jennifer Hauxwell, WRI’s assistant director for research and student engagement, agrees.

“Carolyn has a strong background in hydrology and familiarity with the Groundwater Coordinating Council’s Joint Solicitation for groundwater research,” Hauxwell said. “She also brings great enthusiasm and positivity toward tackling the difficult challenge of both understanding and protecting a hidden resource – our groundwater.”

Voter, who was born in New Jersey and received her undergraduate degree from Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, was inspired by stream restoration work she became involved with there, and was drawn to Wisconsin in part because of the UW’s interdisciplinary hydroecology research programs. As a PhD student, Voter worked on multiple WRI-funded research projects with UW-Madison professor of engineering Steven Loheide, including a project that examined the ways in which urban design impacted an area’s water budget.

“I’m excited about the policy angle,’ said Voter of her new position.  “I’ve had a lot of consulting experience, but I haven’t had a chance to do much policy.”

Voter already knows several of the issues that will be an integral part of the challenges associated with maintaining or enhancing the quality and quantity of the state’s groundwater resources: chemical and biological contaminants and dozens of factors that affect water supply and demand.

“An important part of what I’ll be doing is figuring out how to communicate science to non-scientists,” she said.

Voter begins work in her new position on July 27. In her spare time, Voter likes to run, spend time with her dog and check off activities on her “Madison bucket list.”

Tracking Toxins in Tunnel City

A pair of UW-Extension researchers begin the long process of detailing the mineral and chemical composition of two of Wisconsin's largest rock units.

By Aaron R. Conklin

Among Wisconsin geologists, they’re known as the Wonewoc Formation and Tunnel City Group--rock units named for places in Wisconsin where they are well exposed and were first described. Yet these rocks underlie almost half of the state.

But these porous rock units present in areas of West and Central Wisconsin could also be a potential source of groundwater contaminants, including an extensive list of elements that includes everything from aluminum, arsenic and cadmium to cobalt, copper and lead.

With the support of funding from the Wisconsin Water Resources Institute (WRI), a team of University of Wisconsin- Extension researchers is taking the first of many steps to determine whether these formations are, in fact, a possible contamination source. They’re starting at the very beginning, creating a set of baseline data that details the mineral and chemical composition of the rocks.   

“Wells in part of western Wisconsin drawing water from near the intersection of these formations sometimes have water chemistry that is not ideal,” said Jay Zambito, a bedrock geologist and professor with UW-Extension’s Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey and the principal investigator on the project. ”We sometimes find elements above advisory levels.”

To gauge the rock composition, Zambito and his colleague, hydrogeologist Mike Parsen, are collecting and studying rock samples, beginning with drill core, pristine rock materials collected from the subsurface across Wisconsin. Fortuitously, Wisconsin’s Geological and Natural History Survey curates and maintains an extensive library of drill cores. The collection contains cores from approximately 2,000 wells, as well as rock cuttings from another 11,000 water wells from across Wisconsin. This includes many samples from the Tunnel City and the Wonewoc rock units.

Having those samples available saves a ton of time—and a ton of cash.

“”It costs about $60-100 per foot to collect new drill core,” said Zambito, who noted that the estimated value of the drill core archive is between $120-140 million, though most is unique and irreplaceable. “Given the scope of this project, we’d be looking at spending approximately $2 million to collect these samples.”

Instead, they can get right to the research. Using an x-ray fluorescence analyzer, Zambito and Parsen will be able to quickly scan the cores and identify the elemental composition of the rock formations. Follow-up analyses will then be used to determine the minerals that contain these elements.

“This is a perfect example of a core being used for a different purpose than it was initially intended,” said Parsen.

Simple, right? Not quite: Just because an element is in a rock formation doesn’t mean it can leach into groundwater. A variety of environmental factors, including temperature, pH, oxygen levels, and whether the elements are incorporated within stable or unstable minerals, influences the process through which minerals can break down and constituent elements go into solution.

“We really don’t have a good idea whether these elements can make their way into the water,” explained Zambito. “That’s a subject for a subsequent study, after we figure out what elements and minerals are present.”

In addition to drill cores, Zambito and Parsen will also collect and analyze other samples, including freshly extracted rock from industrial sand mining operations and outcrops along the sides of highways.

Eventually, the results of Zambito and Parsen’s work could have the potential to inform policy decisions about where and how wells in West and Central Wisconsin that tap into the Tunnel City and Wonewoc rock units for water will be drilled and managed. Zambito pointed to an earlier WRI-funded study as a possible predictor, in which researchers determined that an interval of sulfide minerals found in the subsurface in the Green Bay area were breaking down and unleashing arsenic into the groundwater. The solution in that case could also be the solution in this case concerning the Tunnel City and Wonewoc rock units—casing-off groundwater wells so that water is not drawn from any possible horizons of problematic minerals.

“We would anticipate seeing geological layers that may contain lower or higher concentrations of problematic element-bearing minerals,” said Parsen. “The question becomes, how are we handling them? What’s the long-term policy?”

“Once we have that baseline data set, we’ll have a better idea about how to move forward in testing potential rock-to-groundwater geochemical pathways,” agreed Zambito. “This is really the first step.”

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Request for Volunteers for this Saturday, August 1st…

Just a reminder that we have the Brew City Fish Tournament0 0 0 0 Brew-City-Logo-2015 that benefits Hunger Task Force this Saturday. If anyone can spare a few hours amongst fellow fisherman, we'd love to have you help us out!

Plan on being ready to help at McKinley Marina by 11:00 at the cleaning station. If you have a regular fillet knife or an electric filet knife please bring it.

If you know of anyone else that can help with cleaning or be a runner, we can get done sooner. I need a final count of volunteers by Thursday please. Last year we cleaned about 1,400 pounds of fish.

To volunteer – call: 414-467-6658

Directions to Park

Brews City Fish Tournament Information

Hunger Task Force Information

Friday, July 17, 2015

DNR public hearing on rule related to commercial harvest of chubs from Lake Michigan

The Department of Natural Resources announces that it will hold a public hearing on permanent rule FH-10-12 to revise ch. NR 25 related to commercial harvest of chubs from Lake Michigan at the time and place shown below. (Download and read the Rule Order)

Hearing Information (Download and read the public Notice of Hearing for additional details)

Date:     Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Time:     6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Location:     Lakeshore Technical College, Wells Fargo Room, 1290 North Ave, Cleveland, WI 53015

Written comments may also be submitted at the public hearings, by regular mail, fax or email to David Boyarski, Department of Natural Resources, 110 S. Neenah Ave., Sturgeon Bay, WI  54235 or no later than July 31, 2015.