Like many valleys across the country, Pleasant Valley, located in Dane County, Wisconsin, contained a stream that over time became degraded to the point of being classified as “impaired”. According to the EPA, this means that, “the river was considered too polluted or otherwise degraded to meet the water quality standards set by states, territories or authorized tribes in the U.S.”
The Pleasant Valley Branch of the river became filled with sediment from agricultural run-off. That sediment also contained large amounts of phosphorous and nitrogen that caused excessive algae and plant growth in the river. Fish and other aquatic species dwindled and the waters officially were listed by the DNR as impaired. Like many streams in agriculturally dominated landscapes, the outlook for the river appeared grim.
However, a new creative partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Dane County Land Conservation Division and local farmers began to reverse the fate of the Pleasant Valley Branch.
Using a variety of science and technology to develop a case study, the stakeholders formed a systematic plan to reduce the ag-induced sediment and phosphorous load degrading the steam. They spoke to those farmers about new farming methods and nutrient plans that would help the stream while also helping them make more money through conservation and efficiency. These strategies included no-till planting, dual crop rotation, contour farming, nutrient management of fertilizers, and better practices of handling of manure.
Over time, the stream scientists, known as hydrologists, noticed significant changes taking place in the health of the stream’s ecosystem. Combined with physical stream bank restoration using rocks to stabilize sediment, these improvements resulted in something few expected to see in just a few years… return of trout to the stream.
To discover the science and partnership dynamics of this entire story, watch the video here plus:
Also, find out more about what you can do to keep your local waters healthy and clean by checking out the website of our educational partners, Wisconsin Land+Water and Project WET. Project WET offers a variety of activities (including one here), games and water education resources for teachers.