Thursday, August 13, 2015

Best Management Practices: Farmers and their Social Networks

Best Management Practices are farming practices that help increase soil health, decrease soil erosion and stop excessive amounts of farm runoff. Less phosphorous and solids enter the streams, rivers, and lakes, thus lowering the amounts of blue green algae blooms that are causing the toxicity, cloudiness, and smell of the lake. There are many predictors that have a significant input on increasing or decreasing BMP implementation but, for the sake of this summer’s project, I looked into social network analysis to find interesting predictors for higher uses of BMPs. The statistics that we ran were closeness centrality and some basic descriptive statistics about networks.  The results stated that farmers with a higher closeness centrality would have a higher usage of BMPs, also that farmers within the network with four or more connections had a significantly higher amount of BMP Index than those without any connections. My research suggests that to increase BMP Index farmers need to become part of a social network, most effectively through Farmer-Led Councils, which would help deal with other problems that hinder the adoption of BMPs.

We Have What it Lakes to Make a Difference

            Cyanobacterial blooms of blue-green algae plague the lakes near Menomonie each summer. I was awarded the opportunity to come to Wisconsin to participate in research to combat this problem.
My research project primarily looked at the impact of the Red Cedar and Hay Rivers on Tainter Lake and the development of cyanobacterial blooms. I found that as river flow increases there is also an increase in total phosphorus to the lake as well as soluble reactive phosphorus, the type that is most readily available for cyanobacteria to use to grow.  While all phosphorus causes blooms, soluble reactive phosphorus should be a target for remediation strategies.

Two Lakes Worth Cleaning? How cleaner Lakes Menomin and Tainter would benefit the community

Two Lakes Worth Cleaning?
How cleaner Lakes Menomin and Tainter would benefit the community

For a town built around a lake, I was surprised at the lack of people on the water when I saw Lake Menomin for the first time. Two boats, one person fishing, and no one swimming. It wasn’t until I heard more about the toxicity, smell, and blue-green algae that I got a sense of how people view it in the summer.

In one of the first conversations I had, I learned that the lake turns green and gives off a bad stench. Little did I know that that would be the theme of several more conversations, and discriminated little between the different groups of people I talked with. The green water and smell drive many people away from what should be a beautiful asset to the city if there were cleaner, clearer lakes.

Several of the business owners I spoke with expressed that the smell gets so bad they keep their windows and doors shut, and people don’t go downtown as frequently.

It’s apparent the lake is influential on the community. My research focused on the impact that cleaner Lakes Menomin and Tainter would have on the local economy.

I surveyed Menomonie citizens, businesses, UW-Stout staff, and students to gain a better understanding of how these groups would be impacted if Lakes Menomin and Tainter were cleaner and usable during the summer.

Results showed that the lakes are currently being used below their potential.  If the lakes were cleaner, 50% of those surveyed said they would fish more, 60% would boat more, and 72% said they would swim more. Approximately 40% said they would visit downtown more frequently.

It is clear that lake recreation would flourish and with more visitors downtown, local businesses could expect to grow.

Be a Good Neighbor, Put in a Buffer Strip: Why putting in a buffer strip is worth your time even if no one is checking

Be a Good Neighbor, Put in a Buffer Strip
Why putting in a buffer strip is worth your time even if no one is checking

            For the past two months I have been researching shoreline regulations which require homeowners and farm owners to put in buffer strips along the lake and rivers.  These buffer strips act as a barrier which can help trap sediment and phosphorous runoff before it reaches the water.  While regulations at the state and, until recently, the county level have been in place for years, they have not been strictly enforced and only an estimated 35% of the homes on Tainter Lake are in compliance. 
The key thing I investigated this summer is what motivates these people to cooperate with shoreline regulations.  I have found that people who know about the ordinances are more likely to have a buffer strip, but those who express concern about water quality are exponentially more likely to have a buffer strip.  To address this officials could more actively enforce the law, which would undoubtedly make the regulations a more important factor in people’s decisions to put in a buffer strip, but my research suggests that this may not be the most efficient use of limited resources.  Rather, I suggest that more resources be created to help people understand the impact that buffer strips can have on water quality and to help homeowners understand what the ordinance requires of them. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A Summer's Worth of Research, and More Work To Do

Phosphorus (P) is a labile naturally occurring element. It is one of a few essential elements required for the health and growth of many plants and animals; both terrestrial and aquatic. P comes in many forms, and is generally measured in the form of Total Phosphorus (TP) which includes all forms that P in in a given space. TP is broken down into multiple forms including Soluble Reactive Phosphorus (SRP), Particulate Phosphorus (PP), Inorganic Phosphorus, and Organic Phosphorus. The Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies typically measure P concentration of a space through TP in pounds of loading or in concentration of milligrams per liter. 
The concentration of P will shift naturally based on a variety of factors. This can include precipitation patterns, agricultural land use practices, and the exposed bedrock of an area. One of the most influential factors is the agricultural land use. Many farms utilize fertilizer to grow healthy and profitable crops. This fertilizer provides extra nutrients to stimulate plant growth including P. Terrestrial plants on average need higher concentrations of P than aquatic plants. This is important in considering another important factor: precipitation patterns. The rainfall patterns over an agricultural area will result in run off to local tributaries within the watershed and the run off from fertilizer will wind up in those streams and creeks carrying high concentrations of P.  Ultimately, within the Red Cedar Watershed, these P concentrations will wind up in the impoundment of Lake Menomin.