The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay announced today (July 29) that a $740,000 gift from Arjo Wiggins Appleton Ltd. will extend and expand a highly successful program in which local high school students monitor water quality in area streams.
The gift will fund an additional three years, though 2013, of the Lower Fox River Watershed Monitoring Program. It will also increase opportunities for participation by minority and low-income students.
“This is a textbook example of partnership in support of education and the environment,” said UW-Green Bay Chancellor Thomas K. Harden.
Since its creation in 2003 the watershed program has provided hands-on science education for young people and yielded important data on tributaries that feed the Fox River and influence water quality on the bay of Green Bay.
At a news conference at Lambeau Cottage on the UW-Green Bay campus bay shore, Harden was joined by the faculty coordinator of the program, Prof. Kevin Fermanich of the Natural and Applied Sciences academic unit, and Christopher Gower, the Chief Executive Officer of Arjo Wiggins Appleton Ltd. The company is the former owner of Appleton Papers Inc. and Appleton Coated LLC.
Arjo Wiggins Appleton Ltd. provided a $1.5 million startup grant in 2003. The funding supported the establishment of the school-based monitoring program as well as the collection of extensive hydrologic, water quality and biological data on area streams. These activities were a partnership among the UW System campuses in Green Bay and Milwaukee, the U.S. Geologic Survey, the Green Bay Metropolitan Sewerage District, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Oneida Nation. Data from these efforts have played a critical role in the development of new management plans for the Lower Fox River watershed.
That original funding, Fermanich said, supported travel, supplies and equipment for the students, annual workshops and training sessions, teacher stipends, data management and program oversight by the University. With the first grant now nearly exhausted, the program’s scope and future were in doubt before Arjo Wiggins Appleton Ltd. entered discussions with University officials to finalize their gift.
As it exists today, the Lower Fox River Watershed Monitoring Program involves the annual participation of about 80 students and 10 teachers from six area high schools.
Streams currently being studied (and their research teams) are Apple Creek (Appleton East High School); Ashwaubenon Creek (West De Pere); Baird Creek (Green Bay Preble and Luxemburg-Casco); Duck Creek (Green Bay Southwest); and the Spring Brook watershed west of Oshkosh (Oshkosh North High School).
The students monitor stream flows, temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, turbidity, conductivity and nutrients in September, May and August. They monitor amphibian populations starting in April and extending through June, when they also conduct bird surveys. They survey macroinvertebrates and stream habitat in August.
Students share their data with each other and professional scientists and educators at an annual watershed symposium at UW-Green Bay each spring. The program also hosts a summer training workshop for high school educators to model best practices in leading hands-on, community science projects.
Fermanich described the watershed project as a success in pursuing goals identified at the outset.
“A basic goal has been to enhance community understanding and stewardship — ownership, really — of the Fox River Watershed,” Fermanich explained. “These young people truly understand the science behind these issues, and they’re sharing that experience with family, friends and people at their schools.”
The high school participants, he said, represent the “water planners, scientists, engineers, managers and leaders of the future.” A number have since gone on to college for environmental studies and other fields of science, and several from the first years are now pursuing graduate degrees.
“Most important, we said the schools could provide much-needed help in establishing long-term monitoring in some of these watersheds, and their data would be used in supporting resource management decisions,” Fermanich said, “and that has happened. The DNR has told us how much they appreciate that we have student teams out there gathering supplementary data.”
The DNR has responsibility for preparing a TMDL plan — Total Maximum Daily Load — for the river and lower bay inside Long Tail Point and Point au Sable. The DNR, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and others have long had an interest in reducing phosphorus and sediment levels, which affect algae growth, oxygen depletion and water clarity. The new DNR plan will offer goals and strategies for further improving water quality.
Observers say a key will be continuing efforts to control runoff from both urban and agricultural areas, with special attention to cost-effective stream-corridor protection measures the high school students have observed first-hand.
Along with extending the existing Lower Fox River Watershed Monitoring Program, the gift from Arjo Wiggins Appleton Ltd. will support new initiatives, specifically:
• Inviting participation from new groups, particularly under-represented populations including students from the Green Bay Boys and Girls Club, and other organizations;
• More intensive monitoring of targeted tributaries where research indicates significant runoff issues or, conversely, significant success or potential success with management strategies;
• Creation of a mentoring program that will match undergraduates in UW-Green Bay’s teacher education program with participants in the watershed monitoring effort. The goal is to educate tomorrow’s teachers in community-based science education while offering additional enrichment for current high school participants;
• Fundraising to establish a designated endowment fund to provide permanent support for the program.
Internally at UW-Green Bay, Fermanich says program management will transition from his academic unit, Natural and Applied Sciences, to the Cofrin Center for Biodiversity and the newly created Environmental Management and Business Institute, both of which have significant community outreach and education missions, and have the potential to spur further expansion.
One goal, he said, is to expand collaboration farther upriver in the Fox/Wolf Basin to involve additional high schools, agencies and university involvement in similar monitoring of Lake Winnebago and its tributaries.
The watershed program, which is based on a similar program in Oregon, is one of the few watershed monitoring programs in the country that involves high school students.
“I’m told that in the area just offshore from campus, every spring and fall, you have a world-class fishery for trophy walleye pike and spotted muskies,“ Gower said. “I know swimming and boating all along Green Bay continue to increase in popularity as water quality improves.”
“The project we’re supporting here is by no means the only reason for those successes, but for the students involved, for everyone, it’s a tremendous lesson in the ability of young people to get involved and help make a difference,” Gower added.