Our Work and Our Mission
The Superior River Watershed Association’s mission statement reflects our response to these challenges: “To promote and protect clean water resources in Wisconsin’s Lake Superior basin.” Since its inception in 2002, SRWA has been accomplishing this through pursuit of the following goals:
- To establish baseline environmental data to develop a deeper understanding of the watershed,
- Provide relevant information to local governments and agencies to promote responsible and effective decision-making on issues affecting the watershed, and,
- To facilitate grassroots involvement through outreach programs, volunteer opportunities and to provide forums for education and informed discussion of watershed issues.
Environmental challenges in the watershed include erosion, rapid runoff and fish passage blockage at road/stream crossings.
Prior to the formation of SRWA, little water resource data for the watershed existed. To address this, SRWA developed a Water Quality Monitoring Program addressing both chemical and biological parameters. Over the past 15 years of implementation, these programs have established SRWA as a key player in gathering and exchanging information across a broad range of jurisdictions. Our water quality data were used to help designate 180 river-miles as Outstanding or Exceptional Resource Waters by the state of Wisconsin. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has included our water temperature data in computer modeling to assess the effects of climate change on local water resources. SRWA baseline data is being used to determine the overall health of the watershed and provide a robust benchmark to assess change. As a result, local units of government have been able to make more informed decisions on resource management, seek effective funding of restoration projects, and are beginning to face future challenges such as potential development of mining in the watershed and climate change.
SRWA’s second major initiative is its Culvert Restoration Program, which addresses problems of excessive sedimentation and fish passage barriers at road/stream crossings. This program is inventorying the over 1,000 culverts in the watershed to prioritize sites needing upgrading. Through ecological field assessment, creating partnerships between townships, agencies and volunteers, and securing project grants, SRWA has reconnected nearly 30 miles of trout streams and reduced sediment loads to Lake Superior.
Emerging challenges: Open-pit Mining & Large-Scale Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)
In 2011, a massive open-pit iron mine was proposed in the headwaters of the Bad River watershed. A comprehensive water quality monitoring program was initiated on potentially affected streams. In 2015, the mining company withdraw its plans to develop the mine in the watershed. However, the land owner and mineral rights holder is continuing its pursuit of developing a mine in the watershed. SRWA seeks to complete its baseline water quality studies so that reliable benchmark water quality data are available to assess impacts of a possible future mine operations.
In 2014, a large-scale hog production facility began the permitting process for siting of a 26,000 animal facility in the Fish Creek watershed, within a mile of tributary streams that feed the Bad River watershed. In 2015 a dairy facility began the permitting process to expand to CAFO status within the eastern boundary of the watershed. These proposed and existing farms will produce nearly 20 million gallons of manure per year, which will be spread on waste sites that are dominated by heavy clay soils that characterize much of the region. SRWA seeks to expand nutrient and bacterial sampling in the streams that would receive surface runoff from these sites to establish baseline water quality values prior to waste spreading, and to detect nutrient or bacterial increases that may occur from waste runoff after operations commence.