OSHKOSH – It’s a picture perfect day on Lake Winnebago, but there is a familiar buzz in the air.

The lake flies are back. For two weeks now, the feisty fly has started to appear on piers, bushes and more.

Early Friday morning a team of scientists from the DNR and UW-Oshkosh set out to find out why.

“We expected them to be ahead this year. We didn’t expect them to be this far ahead,” said Scott Koehnke, DNR water management specialist.

The team checked four locations around the lake looking for lake fly larvae hidden in the mud below sixteen feet of water.

“Right down there do you see that little worm? There’s about a dozen of them in there. These are what will turn into pupae, swim to the surface and become adults,” said Koehnke.

So why are the lake flies out so early? The DNR says warm temperatures in March triggered a feeding frenzy at the bottom of the lake.

“Two weeks of really warm temperatures, algae bloom took off. They put on some feed bags, and just went to town. And you’re seeing the results of that now,” said Koehnke.

The lake flies usually hatch twice a year, and can live from one to three weeks. Biologists predict the traditional Mother’s Day emergence may not be as big.

“Normally, it’s like poof! They’re here one day, where they weren’t here the other day. Whereas this year, I think it’s gonna spread out over several weeks,” said Koehnke.

The worms will be sent to the lab. Biologists say this batch is healthy and normal.

“They are a base of that system, of that food chain and that food pyramid. Without them you wouldn’t be able to support the amount of fish that we currently have,” said Tim Anderson, UW-Oshkosh research associate.

Nuisance or necessity? Biologists say whether the hatch comes all at once, or a little at a time, Lake Winnebago can’t survive without its seasonal visit from the lake fly.

The DNR says it will be back on the water in a couple of weeks. Weather permitting, lake fly surveys will continue on Lake Winnebago until October.

Lake News: Lake flies are back on Lake Winnebago.



DYCKESVILLE – An effort is underway to clean up area beaches. That’s what one Pulaski-based inventor hopes to do to do by turning zebra mussel shells into sand.

The inventor patented something called the Beachmaker to do just that.

This is a typical sight on beaches across the area: what was once shoreline is now a resting place for invasive zebra mussels.

RJ Elsing watched them pile up. Within months, several feet high on his property in Dyckesville.

“They’re an eyesore. You can’t use the beach the way, I think, God intended it to be used. Also, the stagnant water is harboring all sorts of bacteria,” said Elsing.

So Elsing invented the Beachmaker. Like turning straw into gold, his machine turns shells into sand.

“When we change that into sand, it takes care of these problems, and you can walk on it barefoot again,” said Elsing.

It works by vacuuming the shells, then crushing them. The Beachmaker mimics the waves’ erosion on the shells, but where it takes the waves centuries to turn the shells into this, it takes the machine only moments.

But is it safe? That’s what Kimberly Busse, a water quality specialist with the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh wants to find out.

“We just want to be sure that this product isn’t affecting water quality. Then you have recreational activities on the beach. We just want to make sure those are safe,” said Busse.

Busse said she’ll work with Beachmakers, testing the sand they make.  She wants to see what happens to the bacteria the shells are carrying.

“Seeing how much bacterial contamination is in there and then if the shell sand is actually contributing to bacteria concentrations, or eliminating, or staying the same,” said Busse.

Elsing hopes his patented invention passes the university’s tests. He said his machine can help make shorelines fun again.

“Allow people of all ages, especially kids to be able to play on our beaches,” said Elsing.

The team will be testing the Beachmaker and the sand it makes into October.

The DNR tells us the invention is unlikely to have any negative impact on the environment, and that Elsing complies with all appropriate laws.

via Turning shells into sand.



Wisconsin is not fully enforcing strict phosphorus limits adopted two years ago to reduce lake-algae blooms that make people sick, a Gannett Wisconsin Media review has found.

That’s despite the state Department of Natural Resources secretary’s alarm at foul conditions in a lake in northwestern Wisconsin last summer.

The state Legislature in 2010 approved DNR regulations intended to cut down on the amount of phosphorus running into waterways, where it causes algae to grow so thick that the water turns to green soup. The regulations are aimed at wastewater treatment plants, paper mills and factories — which are required to reapply for permits at five-year intervals.

But as of last week, only 19 permits with stricter limits have been issued since September 2010. The DNR still is evaluating applications from 201 municipal facilities and 155 industrial facilities, while hundreds more must apply for permits in the coming years.

That means boaters, swimmers and anglers on waters such as the lower Fox River and Lake Winnebago, where the annual algae bloom can be bad, can expect little change this summer as phosphorus continues to pour into the water. Once in lakes and streams, the chemical helps algae grow uncontrollably, robbing them of oxygen, harming fish and other plants and sometimes leaving people who come in contact with it ill.

“On a very practical level, the DNR is so behind and permits are sitting out there not being reissued,” said Melissa Malott of the environmental group Clean Wisconsin, which pushed for the rule. “It’s not that the DNR isn’t trying, but they just don’t have the staff to do all the things they’re supposed to be doing.”

The Fox River and Lake Winnebago are among more than 300 waters across the state in which high phosphorus levels cause problems.

The EPA requires states to maintain a list of lakes, rivers and ponds that don’t meet water quality standards. States then must come up with plans for addressing the problem at each location and send regular updates to the EPA.

Health hazards

At its worst, cyanobacteria — the organisms that feed on phosphorus and are commonly known as blue-green algae — can sicken humans, causing respiratory problems, skin rashes and cold- or flu-like symptoms. During the last three years, 100 people reported illnesses to the state Department of Public Health after exposure to blue-green algae, which also has caused the death of at least two dogs in that time.

“It’s certainly a health concern for people swimming, especially young kids,” said Todd Drew, environmental health sanitarian for Menasha.

Concerns about blue-green algae spotted on Lake Winnebago have been raised in four of the past five years, Drew said, noting a health advisory issued last year for Municipal Beach on the north shore.

Dunn County in northwest Wisconsin reported the highest number of illnesses, largely at Tainter Lake and the equally algae-coated Lake Menomin. Dick Lamers, president of the joint Lake Improvement Association, built his house on Tainter Lake in 2007 and said he was fully aware of the algae that grows on the lake each summer. But he had no idea how bad it could get.

Lamers, 64, and his wife, Marilyn, envisioned the lake house as a place their family could gather for fishing or boating — “the typical vision for someone retiring.” But on most summer days, the bay in front of their home looks like a bowl of pea soup — and smells worse. In late summer, the algae decays and gives off an odor that forces the Lamers and other neighbors to head indoors and close their windows.

“You barely want to put a boat in, much less swim,” he said.

In a video shot last summer by Clean Wisconsin, Lamers guides a small boat across the lake’s bright green surface and through decaying algae giving off a “hog farm” odor. An oar dipped into the water comes out covered in green, like a brush dipped into a can of paint.

Cited by both the DNR and Clean Wisconsin as an example of how high phosphorus levels can spoil both the recreational and economic benefits of a lake, conditions at Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin also made DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, appointed by Gov. Scott Walker in December 2010, push for tougher phosphorus efforts.

Stepp visited with the Lamers and several other neighbors in August, touring the lake and listening to their concerns. The following month, Stepp told members of the state’s Natural Resources Board that both she and Walker were “alarmed” by the conditions.

“That this has gone on for as long as it has, for over 50 years easily, is an example to us that priorities need to be examined in all things DNR and how we spend our money,” she said. “We do not have clean water in these areas. And that to me, as the head of this agency, is disappointing at best and alarming at worst but (also) motivation to do the right thing.”

Stepp said the DNR should act as a “helper,” bringing together residents, business owners and environmentalists, rather than “a hammer” forcing rule changes.

Clean Wisconsin’s Malott said Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin should serve as cautionary tales for residents near other lakes or rivers with frequent algae problems or high phosphorus levels.

In the 40th anniversary year of the federal Clean Water Act, “we’re reaching a phase two of pollution,” Malott said. “I feel like there’s this looming cloud of toxic algae on the horizon. What’s happening in Tainter (Lake) is the direction all of our waters are headed if we don’t stop this pollution problem.”

Slow progress

Wisconsin has significantly strengthened phosphorus regulations in recent years to prevent the chemical from winding up in bodies of water. In addition to passing more stringent discharge rules for industry, lawmakers banned phosphorus-based fertilizers in 2008 and the DNR is working with farmers to reduce phosphorus runoff from their fields.

From the viewpoint of Randy Much, manager of the Neenah-Menasha sewage treatment plant, agricultural land is the biggest culprit.

“Probably the biggest source (of phosphorus) all together on the whole Fox-Wolf River basin is ag land,” Much said. “You can take all the point discharges (from municipal and industrial treatment plants) down to zero and it still wouldn’t even come close to meeting the standards.”

That means to improve the water quality in Lake Winnebago and the lower Fox River will require phosphorus reductions throughout the whole watershed, he said.

The DNR’s slow progress at enforcing the phosphorus limits isn’t that surprising to environmentalists who fought for the change. Malott said she anticipated a gap between the limits’ effective date and stricter permits being issued.

That’s why Clean Wisconsin fought against Walker’s February 2011 proposal to push back the new rules’ effective date by two years.

“We knew delays would happen, but an enforcement-deadline change would push back progress even further,” Malott said.

Regulators, environmentalists and residents of lakes dealing with the effects of phosphorus agree it could take years for new rules to bring change, even without an official delay.

The permit section of the DNR’s Bureau of Watershed Management lists 19 employees in the agency’s organizational chart and 15 employees of the wastewater section.

Amanda Minks, a water quality specialist with the DNR, said the agency is issuing new permits to city or town wastewater plants as fast as possible. Progress slowed last year when Walker proposed the delay, and the DNR had to get the process running quickly when the governor withdrew his proposal, she said.

“Infancy maybe is a good word” for the new phosphorus rules, Minks said. “We’re the first state in the Midwest to really implement this for all of our water body types.”

Minks said DNR employees at the regional and central offices work on permit applications, but the agency also is trying to be flexible with facilities applying for permits. Upgrading a wastewater plant to decrease phosphorus levels can be expensive for a company or municipality, she said.

“We want to be partners,” Minks said. “Giving that additional flexibility and compliance options takes staff time and resources to get off the ground.”

Todd Ambs is the former administrator of the DNR’s water division and now works as president of the River Network, traveling across the country to bodies of water dealing with a variety of pollutants. Wisconsin should look to the “critical state” of Lake Erie in Ohio and Michigan for a glimpse of what severe phosphorus contamination and uncontrollable algae growth can do to a body of water, Ambs said.

The shallow western side of the lake was hit with a “sickly and unprecedented” algae bloom during the last three summers with a severity not seen since the 1970s, according to the EPA.

“The western end of Lake Erie is dying,” Ambs said. “It’s very, very troublesome. We’re not just talking about quality of life. There are whole industries including charter boat fishing that are in deep, deep trouble.”

But Ambs, DNR officials and residents near algae-affected waters are prepared for a long process to improve Wisconsin waters.

“It took us more than 100 years to screw it up,” Ambs said. “So I’ve always said, it’s going to take more than a couple years to fix it.”

via Dangerous algae flourishes as Wisconsin slogs through permits | Appleton Post Crescent | postcrescent.com.



The Village of Winneconne could see a new resort and marina on the banks of the Wolf River.

A developer identified as Winn-Win Resort Inc. is pursuing the redevelopment of a parcel of land located at 111 North 1st St. in Winneconne into an upper-midscale hotel and marina resort, positioned along the banks of the Wolf River. The hotel would have 60 units and the marina would include 116 boat slips. The site is currently home to Lang’s Landing, a motel owned by Dennis Lang.

Winn-Win is headed by Mike Mullen, a professor of marketing and international business at Florida Atlantic University, said Winnebago Village Administrator Steve Volkert. Lang contacted Mullen, an Appleton native, to look at the property, and an offer for Winn-Win to purchase the land has been accepted, Volkert said, adding that Mullen has spent a lot of time as a tourist in Winneconne and spent about three months investigating the site last summer. Neither Mullen nor Lang could be reached for comment.

“The mere presence of an upper-scale resort in the village is going to really bring us kicking and screaming into the 21st century,” said Tom Snider, the Winnebago County Board supervisor who represents the Winneconne area and is chairman of the Town of Winneconne. Snider said the resort would help combat a shortage of accommodations in the area and might make events such as fishing tournaments more successful.

Snider is the sponsor of a resolution that will be considered by the board Tuesday that urges the state Department of Natural Resources to approve the development of the marina. Snider said he plans to amend the resolution to simply voice the board’s support of the development. Similar resolutions have been prepared for the Winneconne town and village boards.

According to the county board resolution, the marina is part of the redevelopment of an existing Brownfield marina, motel and industrial site on a well-flushed waterway that requires no new dredging and that will substantially reduce runoff consistent with the 2010 Wisconsin Clean Marina Guidebook.

Officials said the resolutions do not represent approval of any specific plan for the project.

Volkert said Mullen will meet with the DNR within the next few weeks. After that, Volkert said, Mullen will determine the total construction costs for the project and begin explore options for financing it. Mullen completed a feasibility study in February that showed that the 60-unit resort model would be financially feasible, Volkert said.

It is unclear if Mullen would seek public assistance to finance the project.

Snider said after one meeting with the developers, he doesn’t foresee a request for public money to finance the project, but the project is in the early stages and could go in that direction.

Volkert and Snider see the project as an opportunity to bring a different market and different kind of clientele to the area, taking Winneconne’s tourism industry to a new level.

Increasing the number of tourism dollars coming into the community would help sustain Winneconne’s restaurants and other businesses that rely heavily on money from outside the community, Volkert said.

“Tourism is huge,” Volkert said. “The community doesn’t have an enormous amount of industrial or commercial properties. The dependency to get people to come to Winneconne primarily because of the water is extremely important to all our businesses.”

New resort and marina may be headed to Village of Winneconne | The Oshkosh Northwestern | thenorthwestern.com.



Oshkosh – zebra mussels are back near Lake Winnebago, spreading out across shorelines and clogging boat channels.

The Department of Natural Resources says the zebra mussel population is “extremely high” right now, and that’s causing problems for area boaters and residents.

People who come to the lake regularly near Oshkosh are noticing a changing look the beaches.

“This has been a radical change. This I’ve never seen before,” Bill Glander said.

Glander has visited the lake for more than half a century but hasn’t seen this many zebra mussel shells until now.

Just a few miles south of Oshkosh, homeowners are seeing even more shells. There are thousands of them at the very least. Residents say the infestation grew by about 40 percent just this year.

“They’re filled right in. You can’t get out… and, if you open them up, couple days the wind picks up and they close right up again,” said Gary Weber, Point Comfort resident.

The influx of those shells has blocked the Point Comfort boat channel. That’s putting a damper on some people’s chances to boat and fish.

“There’s no spawning for the fish in here, there’s no crop. This used to be great fishing here,” said Patrick Schaeffer, a Point Comfort resident and Lake Winnebago boater.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources doesn’t have a practical way to dispose of them.  The agency urges boaters to be cautious when moving from lake to lake to watch out for hitchhikers.

“It’s important that people be very careful about not transporting any water or live plants anywhere from Lake Winnebago or among any lakes,” said Rob McLennan, DNR basin supervisor.

But residents still want rid of the invasive species.

“You’d need dump trucks to come in here and get the stuff out of here. It’s no shoveling deal to get them out, it’s not going to happen,” said Schaeffer.

Residents cannot remove the mussels without a permit from the DNR.

In the meantime, some Point Comfort homeowners say they’re thinking about moving out.

Lake News: Zebra Mussels Impact Residents and Boaters at Lake Winnebago.



Huge sturgeonSHAWANO, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has tagged a 125-year-old sturgeon that’s bigger than a linebacker.

Officials found the over 7-foot-3-inch long, 240-pound female on the Wolf River near Shawano on Tuesday.

DNR sturgeon biologist Ron Bruch says she’s the largest they’ve tagged on the Lake Winnebago system since they started the tagging program in 1950s. She would have weighed about 30 pounds more, but she already laid some eggs.

At 240 pounds, she’s only 2 pounds heavier than Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop. At 87.5 inches long, she’s 3 inches taller than former Bucks center Andrew Bogut.

Bruch estimates she was born around 1887, when Grover Cleveland was president.

Officials also tagged 565 fish on Tuesday, the most ever in one day.


Lake News: DNR tags 240 pound, 125 year old sturgeon.



OSHKOSH – Oshkosh’s Menominee Park could be seeing some changes over the next few years.

The city is currently developing a master plan for the park, getting input from residents Wednesday night.

The more than 100 acre park is located on city’s east side along Lake Winnebago.

For more than a century, the park has been an iconic part of the city, drawing hundreds of visitors a day.

And now, officials say it’s time to think about its future.

“We don’t have an existing plan, so it’s an exciting time for use to really look at the park itself and hopefully get some plans for the next 15-20 years and really start adding those things to our capital improvement projects,” explained Parks Director Ray Maurer.

Wednesday night, residents got a chance to share their ideas.

Some, would like to see more restroom access.

“I’m thinking they could maybe add some port-a-potties with some wood stands that would hide them and protect them from vandals and what have you. They would work well for people walking on the trails,” said Oshkosh resident James Rothe.

Other, more extensive upgrade ideas include expanding the beach area and making it more season friendly.

“Opportunities for people to access Lake Winnebago a little more, so I think we’ll hear a little more on beach access and a year-round bath house facility for ice skating, warming shelter, and so forth,” Maurer said.

However, some park goers don’t want to see any changes, other than routine maintenance.

“We have a unique view of Lake Winnebago, I think it’s one of the prettiest spots in Wisconsin,” said Helen Herlache of Oshkosh.

The public will have another chance for input later this month or early next month.

Maurer hopes to have a comprehensive plan in place, and in the hands of the common council for a vote by mid-June.

He says the city doesn’t have any cost estimates at this point, since it is still in the planning stages.

via New plans in the works for Menominee Park.



I’m always taken aback when statistical long shots are described in terms of the chance of being struck by lightning. Sure, the odds of a person directly catching a bolt from the blue are quite low – about one in 700,000 in a calendar year, according to the National Weather Service. But put that same person aboard a boat and the­­­­­ likelihood changes – BoatU.S. insurance claim statistics show about 1.5 of every 1,000 powerboats are struck each year (as are roughly five sailboats). Is your boat protected if it should be one of those hit?

The short answer is: Probably not. Chances are, it would fare as well as my friend’s 60-foot sport-fishing boat that was struck by lightning at the dock hours before a planned fishing trip by what experts termed “a mild strike.” All of the boat’s fixed electronics were rendered inoperative. The engines still ran, but they smoked and misfired horribly, with one unable to exceed 750 rpm. The shore power and both generators were knocked out, as were all the LED running lights. The bow thruster was activated and was stuck running hard to port. (The big DC solenoid literally melted and was making continuous contact.)

The lightning entered on its destructive journey through an outrigger. The charge found its way through the arm that holds the outrigger in its raised position and into the hardtop’s aluminum support rails. From there, the current flowed down the hardtop bonding wire, eventually exiting through the engine block, the transmission and the propeller shaft into the water. It also exited through the bow thruster and the shore power connection.

If it had such a clear path, a veritable freeway for its journey, how did it damage so much equipment along the way? “Lightning covers all frequencies, from DC to daylight,” says James Coté, an electrical engineer and service manager at Ward’s Marine Electric in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Coté explains that high-frequency electricity will transfer from one wire to another without a direct electrical connection – known as electromagnetic induction. “As current passes through one wire, it will induce a current into any wire close to it,” he says. So on my friend’s boat, by routing the lightning voltage through the hardtop bonding cable that lay next to wires feeding power and data to the electronics, induction energized those wires, which in turn damaged the attached equipment.

Damage to the engines occurred more directly. Like most yachts, this boat was properly bonded – meaning all underwater metal fittings and large metal objects were tied together electrically. Such component bonding protects people aboard the boat, collecting and routing the lightning’s energy safely. The problem was the boat’s exit ramp, so to speak. Propellers, with their large surface area and sharp corners, dissipate electricity well, providing an efficient path to ground. But using them for this purpose energizes engines and transmissions along the way. On my friend’s boat, the electronic brains of the engines, housed within grounded metal boxes, actually survived, but the lightning that flowed through the engines wiped out sensors that monitor everything from turbo boost to injection timing. This resulted in the boat running horribly; but it still ran. (According to diesel mechanics familiar with lightning damage, this is typical, although in rare instances one or both engines won’t run at all.)

The lightning protection system installed on the boat in question is not uncommon and reflects production boat standards. The boat was built by a well-known company, and an equally reputable firm installed the tower and outriggers. But it could have been more effectively protected. Coté explains that if a heavy wire (out of close proximity to other wiring) had been run from the base of the outrigger – a likely potential target for a lightning strike – to proper lightning grounding strips in contact with the water, damage to the electronics may have been avoided, or at least reduced. This strategy could have spared the engines as well. If the tower and outriggers had not been bonded, the current would have used the electrical equipment’s wires to reach ground, causing even more devastation.

A well-maintained bonding system tied to at least one square foot of underwater metal typically protects people and prevents fire and structural damage. While some misinformed old-timers say this encourages a strike by providing a clear path to ground, the simple fact is a boat will always be a better conductor than air, so if it is near enough to a strike, it will become part of it. If we don’t provide an appropriate path to ground, the lightning will improvise, jumping from one conducting object to the next – called “side flashing.” It will make its way through galley appliances, water tanks, engine blocks and possibly people until it reaches the water.

Ewen Thomson is a former electrical engineering professor at the University of Florida and a marine lightning expert. He examined one sport-fishing boat after its ungrounded outrigger was struck. “Once the voltage got inside the boat, it started flashing all around,” Thomson says, explaining that once theses flashes were close enough to the water to overcome the resistance of the air, they jumped directly to the water and through anything in their way. “There were 40 large holes and hundreds of smaller ones through the hull,” he says. Tying large metal objects together via the ship’s bonding system helps prevent side flashes. Thomson strongly recommends running main lightning conductors out near the hull sides, not down the boat’s center, and providing multiple exit terminals around the boat. “What we want is a series of conductors toward the outside of the boat that form a cage,” he says. “People and equipment inside that cage are all at the same voltage, and therefore protected.”

Thomson, a Ph.D. who has studied lightning since 1972, has also come to understand that lightning isn’t seeking a path underwater, but rather a path to the surface of the water. In simple terms, lightning is a buildup of static electricity, generally consisting of a positive charge on earth and a negative charge in the clouds. When the charge builds high enough to overcome five miles of the atmosphere’s resistance, lightning bolts neutralize these two charges. “But you can’t build up a charge inside a conductor,” Thomson explains. “The charge flows through the conductor until it reaches the surface.” This is an overriding principle in how Thomson designs lightning protection systems.

Directing lightning below the surface of the water before it exits the protection system, then back up to the water’s surface, actually raises voltage because the water, says Thomson, “causes an impediment to the current flow – impedance in electrical terminology. As impedance goes up, voltage goes up, and every conductor on the boat is at risk of forming side flashes.” Thomson also points out that people are excellent conductors. For this reason he places through-hull electrodes – effectively reverse lightning rods – around the boat near the waterline to dissipate the strike.