Streams, culverts and lakeshore restoration
Grants will help Oneida County help towns and homeowners
By Eileen Persike
There are 1,129 lakes in Oneida County, covering 68,447 acres. Over 830 miles of streams added to that equals a whole lot of shore land. Oneida County Land and Water Conservation Department (OLWC) recently received three grants from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) that will allow continued work on lakeshore restoration and aquatic invasive species, and for the first time examine some of the county’s stream crossings.
The idea to look at stream crossings came to County Conservationist Michele Sadauskas, who works in the OLWC, a few years ago when extensive rains in the Ashland area in 2016 and 2018 caused roads to wash out and culvers to be carried away with storm water.
“It wasn’t just in Ashland and it wasn’t just the amount of rain,” Sadauskas said. “What we found out was just how these culverts were installed, the lack of maintenance on them, often times the sizing.” There were a lot of human adaptations that probably weren’t the best fit, she noted, adding that the culverts may have been able to handle the storm surge better with engineers and scientists helping to do things a little differently.
This is the first time OLWC has applied for what is called a River Planning Grant. Armed with basic information from the DNR that indicates the number of stream crossings per township, Sadauskas reached out to the towns of Lynne, Minocqua, Woodruff, Lake Tomahawk, Hazelhurst and to the Oneida County Highway Department in late October last year. Those five towns and the Upper Tomahawk River Watershed were chosen for the project.
The OLWC will identify the stream crossings to determine just how many there are. Secondly, the crossings and culverts will be assessed following a protocol set up by the DNR, evaluating the condition of the culvert and whether it is a viable passageway for fish.
“When you’re thinking about a trout going up and down that stream, if the culvert is sitting within the bottom and that trout can go from the left side of the road to the right side of the road, that culvert is all nice and organisms can pass and that’s good,” Sadauskas explained. “Sometimes the culverts get a little bit raised on one end. Think about when salmon have to jump upstream over rocks; our fish typically don’t do that…what goes down can never go back up, and that’s not a good thing.”
As important as how the culvert is placed is where it is situated within the stream.
“A lot of times it runs straight across the road,” Sadauskas added. “How often does a stream go straight across? The best way is to be a diagonal so it fits the pattern of the stream.”
Do the streams flood each year? If so, why is that happening? Can the culvert handle the flow of the stream? These are additional questions the River Planning Grant will allow the county to answer. Sadauskas said she expects to provide some easy fixes for when a town is ready to replace a culvert, as well as help them find available funding if needed.
The one-year, $10,000 grant allows OCLW to bring on an additional temporary staff person to do the work, a flow meter and some other extra equipment.
“At the end of the day what we want to have a is a priority list that says these are the ones that need the most attention and then hand it over to the town so they can see what can be done to fix those, and connect them with financing if it exists,” she said.
While the river grant covers one year of work, the Lake Classification Grant is for two years, which will provide some continuity between the OCLW staff and the lake groups.
Because of the number of lakes in Oneida County, the department receives cost share money from the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) for lakeshore restoration projects. Lake home owners are becoming more and more interested in shore restoration projects, Sadaukas said, wanting to do the right thing by planting native plants to protect their property and the lakeshore. The Healthy Lakes Initiative through the DNR has helped individuals with smaller, easier projects, but staff limitations have prevented Sadauskas from helping with more lakeshore projects and promoting Healthy Lakes.
“We have funding, we know there are people interested, but I’m one person and I can’t do it all,” Sadauskas said. The DNR grant, she added, will give her a person to connect the dots and help with educational outreach. The goal of the program is for OCLW to work closely with lake groups promoting lake shore restoration, identify homeowners interested in restoring their shorelines and then implement the project.
Narrowing the scope
Sadauskas said to narrow the scope of the project she focused on active lake groups.
“We have some larger lake groups that are active and organized and have gone beyond boat inspections at the landings,” she explained. “They are on to trying to work with private landowners to protect the lakes.”
She reached out to a number of groups and three – Three Lakes Waterfront Association, Pelican Lake Property Owners Association and the Tomahawk Lake Association – responded, and will be the primary partners. These lake groups have worked with OCLW on AIS and some restoration issues, but Sadauskas said she is excited about this grant because it has a structure with these groups.
“Now we’re working with them on a different level,” she said. “They’ve identified areas where they would like to see some restoration work done near some of their critical habitat areas and it’s really neat now to have that partnership.”
The Tomahawk Lake Association (TLA) will be working with the OCLW on a newly created Tomahawk Lake Shoreland and Stormwater GIS Project. It aims to encourage private and public landowners to implement shoreland best management practices in ecologically sensitive regions of the lake. For TLA member Jim Kavemeier, shoreland restoration and best management practices are vital to maintaining Tomahawk Lake and Little Tomahawk Lakes’ outstanding recreational opportunities, valuable fisheries and wildlife habitat and good water quality.
“Extensive natural areas surrounding Tomahawk and Little Tomahawk Lakes help protect our lakes water quality,” Kavemeier said. “The deep roots of native grasses, ground covers, trees and shrubs hold the soil adjacent to the lake in place…allows rainwater to soak into the soil. The canopy of tall trees creates a layer of protection against strong rains that may cause erosion. Natural vegetation next to the shore prevents erosion caused by waves. These areas provide important habitat for fisheries and wildlife.”
The Three Lakes Waterfront Association is also about to embark on one of those larger projects. Norris Ross of the association said encouraging homeowners to return the shorelines to a more “Northwoods perspective” is a priority for the group, which he said hopes to lead by example.
“The most effective way to influence homeowners is to set up ‘model shoreline-buffered lots,’ and show potential converts the benefits and beauty of a shoreline buffer zone,” Ross said. “We will combine our knowledge and financial support and work with Oneida County to create our ‘model buffer lots’ for all to see as they take their boat rides on our 20-lake chain.”
The lake grant will run through 2020 and into 2021. The first year will be laying the foundation, “talking with the lake groups, doing the educational outreach, doing the workshops, really kind of building where we’re going to be able to help throughout the county,” Sadauskas said, adding that in 2021 is when they will actually be implementing the projects.
The Oneida County AIS grant gives the department a couple of limited term employees (LTEs) and will allow continued outreach and educational programs, including promoting the Clean Boats Clean Waters campaign.