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Think Like a Watershed

A new strategy for the waters of Wisconsin

It's shaping up to be a thirsty century.

All over the world demand for fresh water is increasing, but supplies are declining in both quantity and quality. Ten major rivers from the Yellow in China to the Colorado in Mexico regularly fade away before they reach their outlets. By 2025 two-thirds of the Earth’s population may be water stressed, struggling through times when they simply don’t have enough, or when pollution limits use. Nearly two billion people will face severe water scarcity, placing local and global food production in jeopardy and crippling economies across the globe.

It’s hard to imagine this kind of scarcity here in Wisconsin. Great Lakes border our state to the east and north, and the mighty Mississippi guards the west. Into the tapestry of home are woven 15,000 lakes, 32,000 miles of perennial rivers and streams, and more than five million acres of wetlands. Four major aquifers swell below our feet with more than a quadrillion gallons of groundwater.

Part of the reason for this bounty is our long tradition of stewardship for Wisconsin waters. The state constitution declares that all navigable waters are “common highways and forever free,” to be held in public trust. This declaration is often interpreted as a call to protect not just water navigability, but quality as well.

In 1965 the state enacted the nation’s first shore land protection law. Filling a gap in the 1972 federal Clean Water Act, Wisconsin began in 1977 to tackle the complex problem of pollution from lawns and farm fields when it enacted its own nonpoint pollution law. In 1983, Wisconsin was the first to meet the Clean Water Act’s interim goal for municipal wastewater standards by achieving secondary treatment for all wastewater facilities in the state.

Yet, towards the end of the millennium, Wisconsin water conservation efforts began to feel the deleterious effects of continued economic pressure.

For conservation biologist and Aldo Leopold biographer Curt Meine, the sacrifice of water protections in the face of budgetary shortfalls is short sighted to say the least. “Water is not just an economic commodity, it is a necessity,” argues Meine. “And it involves ethical discussions of our relation to each other, to other species, and to future generations. Water responds to what we do. It reflects who we are, and what we prioritize.”

Meine is part of a group of 25 dedicated scientists and conservationists who in 2000 began brainstorming at the behest of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters. Their effort, called The Waters of Wisconsin (WOW) project, was shaped by immediate concerns of the new millennium but also peered far ahead into the future of our water resources.

“You can’t solve water problems in the short term,” says Meine, the WOW project’s lead dowser. “It’s not just a policy fix we need to solve problems. It’s a rethinking of our very notion of how water works in the landscape and in our lives and in the way we govern ourselves. These are huge undertakings.”

A three-year project, WOW received input from hundreds of Wisconsin citizens and experts from across the state and concluded that the reactive policies of the past could not be relied upon to protect Wisconsin’s waters for the future. The state needed a comprehensive water policy, declared WOW participants, “to assure for this generation and future generations a safe and plentiful supply of water to meet essential human needs; to strive toward efficient use and environmentally responsible management of our waters; and to ensure the resilience, viability, and beauty of Wisconsin’s watersheds and aquatic ecosystems.”

FROM WOW TO NOW

So where are we now, ten years after the publication of the first Waters of Wisconsin report?

Todd Ambs participated in WOW as head of the River Alliance of Wisconsin. In 2003 Ambs was tapped to lead the Water Division of the Department of Natural Resources, where he remained until 2010. Ambs has always wanted Wisconsin to enact a comprehensive water policy like the one WOW recommended in 2003. But he knew that the state’s management infrastructure lacked both a strategic sense of purpose and the monitoring tools to accurately assess fundamental issues of water quality and quantity. 

Over the last decade, Wisconsin has built its water management capacities with the 2003 Groundwater Protection Act (Wisconsin Act 310), the Great Lakes Compact (negotiated with seven other states and signed in 2008), and a comprehensive water quality monitoring plan that includes citizen monitoring of lakes and streams. In 2010 Wisconsin adopted a landmark rule regulating phosphorus. The phosphorous rule is particularly intriguing, because if its new approach solves what has been—for decades—an intractable problem, it may help us solve other issues affecting our waters.

And our waters need help.

In some ways we are at a turning point here in Wisconsin. A decade of water conservation progress has been offset by a decade of growing thirst and climate disruption. Without a road map for addressing some of these water issues, Wisconsin could end up like many places in the United States where water is more damaged, much scarcer, and fiercely contested. 

Prolonged drought is extending through the American South. Southern California and the Colorado River Basin have been battling over water rights for more than a century and  now face historic shortfalls. The national infrastructure for handling clean and waste water—given a grade of D by the American Society of Civil Engineers—needs $300 billion in upgrades, but is underfunded by half that much.

Some water problems are created by regional mismanagement, others by larger climate shifts. Ambs argues that we have the potential to sidestep major problems—if we play it smart.

“I’m not aware of any place across Wisconsin where, with reasonable management systems, you couldn’t have adequate amounts of water for industry, agriculture, municipalities, and ecosystems,” he says. “We’re blessed with plentiful water resources. We just need to be smarter about how we use them.”

STRAWS IN THE SAND

Like so many Wisconsin residents, some of Francie Rowe’s earliest and most treasured memories were made lake side. Rowe remembers making mud pies on the seawall of her aunt and uncle’s cabin on Pleasant Lake in southwest Waushara County. In 1980, recalling childhood expeditions to Turtle Bay in search of frogs, she bought lake side property herself and raised four children there.

Times have changed on Pleasant Lake, and today the lake and surrounding areas reflect a population with a desire for lake front property. “It’s a more fully inhabited lake now, with wild spaces few and far between,” says Rowe, who heads the biology department at Madison’s Edgewood College.

Fed by groundwater, Pleasant Lake is a seepage lake with no significant inlet or outlet. Residents have long cooperated to help keep it a crystalline example of the Wisconsin lake ideal. There are active bass and pan fisheries. Water quality is high; you can still stand waist deep and see your toes. Rowe has measured clarity as deep as twenty feet.

But the lake is also shrinking. Since 1994, Rowe says it has lost several feet of depth. The affect is most dramatic at the shoreline: last year the stretch of bare sand from her seawall to the water’s edge reached 44 feet.

Where has the water gone? That depends on whom you ask. But high-capacity wells used for irrigation and industry are the prime suspects. Where a well for a rural home might draw a few hundred gallons a day, high-capacity wells can pump more than 100,000 gallons of water per day from either an individual well or as part of a parcel. Before 1950 there were fewer than one hundred high-capacity wells in the six-county Central Sands region. Today there are more than 3,200.

At first these wells replaced the highly destructive practice of pumping water directly from the lakes. And in this water-rich area, their impact seemed minimal, even nonexistent. Most people thought it impossible to empty a lake with a straw.

“Wisconsin has vast water resources,” opined a pamphlet from the Wisconsin Agricultural Water Conservation Committee in 1959. “Irrigation ... has no permanent effect on the ground or surface water levels.... No reasonable person is concerned about this....” That same year the legislature held hearings on the impact of pumping, but did not act on the hearings in any meaningful capacity.

Scientists predicted trouble, but wells kept going in. And eventually—with enough straws—trouble began. At first the Little Plover River faded, then went dry in 2005, and has almost every year since. Long Lake near Plainfield, once ten-feet deep, is now more meadow than lake. Other lakes have withered enough to strand docks, close public recreational facilities, and cause winter fish kills. 

There is much debate over what’s going with these lakes, and discussions grow more heated with every permit application for a new well. The region is the epicenter of Wisconsin’s vegetable farming, and plenty of corn for ethanol is grown as well. In 2010 Milk Source, a large Wisconsin-based milk producer, sought two new high-capacity wells about two and a half miles from Pleasant Lake. Meanwhile, the Pleasant Lake Management District was monitoring the progress of the well application.

Unhappy with the DNR’s initial approval of the high-capacity wells, folks from the lake district decided on legal action and commissioned a second opinion on the DNR’s analysis. “We decided that this [approval] was a threat to our lake,” says Rowe. 

George Kraft, hydrogeologist at the Center for Watershed Science and Education at UW–Stevens Point, disputed the DNR’s conclusion. According to Kraft, “Substantial water table drawdown and streamflow diversions already exist in the vicinity of the proposed Richfield wells,” to an extent that he argues is “in excess of what constitutes a ‘harm.’ ” Kraft concluded that new wells in the area will only serve to exacerbate the problem.

After a contested case hearing in July of 2011, more data was collected and submitted. To the chagrin of lake district residents, in November of 2011 the DNR again approved the wells.

The problem was that the DNR had no basis for which to reject the permit application. Under the 2004 revision of the state’s groundwater protection law, the DNR can only consider environmental impacts for the most pristine waters, and then only within a quarter mile of those waters. That’s a very small distance in groundwater impacts, and most lakes and streams are not protected. Furthermore, the DNR does not legally have authority to consider cumulative impacts. Of course, a consideration of cumulative impacts are precisely what Pleasant Lake advocates are arguing for in the circuit court of appeals.

It’s difficult to solve the conflict in an over-allocated system like the Central Sands, where every drop of water seems to be spoken for. But what happens here may well set the precedent for what happens in other parts of the state as the drilling of high-capacity wells increases.

“[This over-allocation] calls for a very high level of management,” Kraft concludes. Right now “there are no practical limits on how much water a person could get,” he worries. Kraft would like to see a more adaptive system where we closely monitor supply and adjust withdrawals in a way that reflects needs for agriculture, recreation, and nature. 

There are encouraging signs of the necessary cooperation, as some agricultural leaders are engaging with water researchers. But there are also disturbing trends. Milk Source recently sued the DNR over permit approval for another facility. They argue that, under 2011’s Act 21 (which changed the authority of a state agency to promulgate rules), the state cannot require the monitoring of wells. And without monitoring, intelligent management becomes nearly impossible. 

“We have a resource here that’s worth billions of dollars and we’re not managing it,” says Kraft. “Even if we decide we’re going to dry up all the lakes and streams, we need to have that discussion.”

SUPERIOR CULVERTS

Can you imagine three quadrillion gallons of water?

Looking at the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface area (and the third largest by volume), it’s hard to imagine humans having much impact on Lake Superior’s magnificence. You might even convince yourself that we couldn’t scratch the surface if we tried.

While it is true that Lake Superior is the cleanest of all the Great Lakes, with the fewest immediate problems, keeping it this way is a tremendous challenge. More than $1.36 billion has been committed to Great Lakes restoration over the last four years, but this money has been largely earmarked for repairing existing damage, not protecting what’s still in good shape.

In far northern Wisconsin, events long ago set the stage for current local water problems. The region formed from clay and sand deposited below the frigid waters of a huge, glacial Lake Duluth more than 10,000 years ago.

Fast-forward to the late-19th century when the lumber industry clear-cut much of the majestic forest that covered northern Wisconsin. Logs were run down local streams and rivers toward market, ripping apart fragile shorelines and streambeds. With the great tree canopy and its deep filter of roots removed, rainstorms carried heavy loads of sediment to Lake Superior.

But “even degraded areas tend to be in pretty good condition” today, explains Matt Hudson, watershed program coordinator at the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute of Northland College in Ashland. Supporting industries like shipping, forestry, and myriad recreational opportunities, Hudson says that this area of the Lake Superior watershed is “still a working landscape [that] maintains very high quality resources.”

Superior’s relative health can be partially attributed to local watershed groups like the Bad River Watershed Association (BRWA), for which Hudson used to work. Groups like BRWA help to keep Lake Superior clean by monitoring what goes into it. 

And there are a lot of ways that water is moving toward the lake—so many that it can be hard to see how a feature as common and small as a culvert might make much difference. Two particular culverts allow a pair of un-named streams to flow from south to north under Hager Road toward the Marengo River. The streams are mere threads of water. You can’t spot them from Google Earth. You can jump over them without a running head start.

But over time water rushing through the old culvert pipe under Hager Road had washed away the soil and stone on the north side of the ditch—perched, is what the locals call it when this happens. 

When the Bad River Watershed Association said that they wanted to replace the culverts to create an upstream passage for fish, the folks living on Hager Road were skeptical.

“People would say, ‘There’s no fish in there!’ And [then] we pulled hundreds of little trout out of there,” says Michelle Wheeler, who at the time was head of the BRWA but is now an aquatic specialist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Ashland. “They were small fish, young of the year, but people were amazed. ‘I’ve lived here all my life, and I had no idea,’ they said.”

Small headwater streams like the one running under Hager Road are an integral part of Lake Superior. “They’re tiny, but they’re important little tribs. Fish are moving up them in the fall to spawn. They’re up there when the water gets warm [downstream] in the Marengo and they need a cold place to be,” says Wheeler.

Multiply these culverts across thousands of miles of rural roads and their importance quickly adds up. Wherever a road intersects with even the smallest stream, there’s a culvert; most were installed by the town road crew using whatever size pipe they had on hand at the time. You can cross hundreds on a Sunday drive in the country, and never even notice them. 

But managing them is a huge—and necessary—task in the Bad River Watershed. When the BRWA began to survey the area in 2005 they found some two hundred sites with fish passage problems. They also found that the Marengo River contributed the most sediment to the Bad River. Tracing the problem upstream, they discovered that perched culverts were not only problematic for fish, but that when they eventually blew out they were dumping tons of sediment into streams. In addition to the fish and sediment issues, blown culverts are a transportation infrastructure problem for cash-strapped rural townships.

The BRWA tried different culvert techniques to optimize fish passage, but the real payoff came when the towns realized that these new culverts could handle storm flows better. And because the monitoring proved the fish passage worked, the road budgets also got a boost from fish habitat money. So far the program has replaced thirteen culverts, reconnecting over seventeen miles of fish habitat.

The BRWA’s success in culvert replacement reflects the essential role of citizen conservation groups committed to local watersheds, illustrating how they can be part of the adaptive management puzzle by providing a link between lay people and scientists, between government resources and stakeholders, and between people and the water.

“People don’t always know what they can do about the health of the water and their natural resources,” says Matt Hudson, noting that “the culverts provided a way to bring people in” to the discussion.

By making the science more accessible and giving people a forum to tell their stories about the rivers and streams that are part of their everyday lives, the watershed evolves into a healthier whole.

And all of this from a culvert.

FROM SEWER WARS TO SWEET WATER

In the 1990s there was little evidence that the Milwaukee region would be a paragon of urban waste water management. When the sewer system hit capacity during major storm events, millions of gallons of sewage routinely overflowed into Lake Michigan.

During the summer of 2001, there were 339 Lake Michigan beach closings—many in the Chicago area—due to dangerously high bacteria levels. 

The beach closings were a reminder of the events that led to a 1977 lawsuit by the City of Chicago over the pollution emanating from Milwaukee. This lawsuit forced the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District (MMSD) to begin a $3 billion dollar sewage abatement program that culminated in the 1994 completion of a 405 million-gallon emergency overflow reservoir system called the Deep Tunnel. Critics decried the tunnel for focusing on the symptom—excess storm water flooding the system—and not the underlying problem: too much concrete and asphalt and not enough areas where the water could soak in. Protracted legal battles were fought over its cost.

Almost two decades after these Sewer Wars, a seemingly unsolvable situation in the Milwaukee area has evolved into a model of cooperation and innovation in storm water management and waste water treatment. This winter MMSD inked a new pact with the Environmental Protection Agency to create five million gallons of green storage for rainwater. For perspective, it takes 18,000 rain barrels to store one million gallons—that’s sixty truckloads of barrels.

While the Deep Tunnel is still in use, MMSD wants to harness newer storm water management approaches that use less energy and redefine how urban infrastructure can be sustainable: green streets and alleys incorporating rain gardens, porous pavement, and bioswales. All of this landscape is designed to capture storm water or slow its flow; to help trap, filter and remove pollution from runoff; and to allow the water to recharge groundwater instead of polluting Lake Michigan.

How did the region move from litigation to cooperation and innovation? Even after the Deep Tunnel project went online, pollution problems continued to close Lake Michigan beaches. No one could pinpoint the exact source of the pollution. Aided by the DNR, MMSD and the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission joined forces  in 2002 to figure out the pollution source. In 2007 they concluded that the pollution problem had flipped: nonpoint sources such as runoff from lawns and streets were causing nearly 90% of regional water pollution. It was no longer possible to blame any one source for the pollution harming local rivers and the lake. Everybody had a share of the responsibility to restore water quality.

As civic leaders began to realize their interdependence, they decided they needed new institutions. In 2006 the Public Policy Forum, a respected and local good-government watchdog, argued in a major report on water resources that “leaders must think strategically and regionally about managing water assets in the long term.”

In 2008, as communities began to connect the dots, a plan emerged for the Southeastern Wisconsin Watersheds Trust, now called Sweet Water. The nonprofit’s goal was to unify the region behind the clean water goal and to coordinate a cooperative approach.

LET'S MEET AT THE WATER

Scientists realized more than fifty years ago that too much phosphorus causes noxious algae to overrun lakes and rivers, but despite regulatory efforts, nothing has curbed the problem. 

Along with nitrogen and potassium, phosphorus is an essential nutrient for growing plants. Phosphorus is found in nature, but often in limited supply and in hard-to-reach places. Mined from rock formations for commercial use, phosphorus is the main ingredient in fertilizer. Phosphorus is also found in manure, which is frequently used for fertilizer. We now know that widespread use of fertilizer is one of the primary ways that phosphorus ends up accumulating in a watershed.

Although phosphorus is released into lakes and streams from discharge pipes at sewage treatment plants and some manufacturers as well, phosphorus also enters the water from a multitude of nonpoint sources that are difficult monitor: residential lawns, city streets, farm fields. Leaves blowing into lakes and streams are a major source, too. Because phosphorus is usually found in low concentrations in nature, this limits the growth of aquatic algae. Just a little extra phosphorus in aquatic systems can lead to explosive and noxious algal blooms that smother lakes and streams.

At the same time that Sweet Water was coming together in Milwaukee, the DNR was putting into place its new phosphorus rules. Combined with the state’s 1977 program on polluted runoff, the new rules helped to fill an important gap in the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972 (more commonly known as the Clean Water Act). This law lays the foundation for regulating direct pollution discharges into U.S. waters and sets quality standards to achieve healthy lakes and streams. It has never, however, regulated indirect discharges of nonpoint pollution like agricultural runoff or return flows from irrigated agriculture, each of which can carry heavy loads of sediment, pesticides, and fertilizers such as phosphorus and nitrogen.

The EPA had been pressuring states to address phosphorus pollution for years, and Wisconsin regulators were searching for ways to fund state nonpoint programs to support water quality improvements. Meanwhile, Wisconsin researchers were improving analytical tools to understand and measure how phosphorus runs off the land. The new phosphorus rule addresses both EPA’s and Wisconsin’s regulatory needs, and takes advantage of the scientific advances in the field.

Enforcement of the Clean Water Act largely relies upon regulating pollution at the point where it enters the water from a discharge pipe, or point source. Standards vary according to the type of point source (sewage treatment plants, storm water sewers, different industries) and the body of water receiving the pollution. However, a significant portion of phosphorus typically comes from sources not regulated by the Clean Water Act.

Still, under the Clean Water Act, point sources are on the hook for meeting the local water quality standards, even if they aren’t the primary polluter. And, Wisconsin’s phosphorus rule sets strong new standards. As a result, there’s a big incentive for point sources to find ways to reduce those loads within their watershed. Otherwise, they’ll wind up investing in expensive technology that may or may not solve water quality problems.

What makes the new phosphorus rule so potentially effective is that it creates a bridge between critical water quality programs. The regulated point-source dischargers can now partner with the other sources (and sometimes the major sources) in their watershed to meet water quality standards. For example, a sewage treatment plant and a pulp mill could enter into contracts with farmers and pay the farmers to reduce land-based runoff through a variety of practices, from planting buffer strips along streams, to changing the diet of their livestock, to avoiding winter manure spreading. The farmers get paid for implementing conservation practices, and the point sources don’t have to invest in expensive technologies that might only result in incremental improvements in the water body. 

In this way partners can meet their water quality goals by reducing cumulative phosphorus loadings from other sources in the same waterway. Instead of expensive technology solutions, investments can improve water quality and even habitat in multiple ways within an entire watershed. This approach is one type of adaptive management, a flexible approach to achieving environmental goals that uses different tactics to reach clean water goals.

The DNR’s new phosphorus standards are strict, but the new flexibility adaptive management affords is leading to even more cooperation in creating the first watershed-based storm water permit in the country. A National Research Council study in 2008 had advocated a watershed approach to nonpoint pollution, and the first of three watershed-based storm water permits was issued last fall for the Menominee River Basin. Originating in Washington County, the Menominee River flows southeasterly for about 32 miles before meeting the Milwaukee and Kinnickinnic Rivers in the Milwaukee Harbor Estuary. Under the old rules, each municipality—from Mequon to Milwaukee to Elm Grove—would have to meet a pollution target on its own. The watershed-based approach allows municipalities to pool resources to tackle the worst parts of the problem together. 

The broad progress toward watershed-based thinking in the Milwaukee region drew support from many places, from agencies at every level of government to private foundation to sewerage districts and local and statewide environmental organizations. But central to this whole process were the citizen volunteers who wade knee-deep into the local waterways, doing the critical monitoring needed to make this new approach work.

For decades, thousands of citizens have kept alive the idea that Milwaukee’s rivers could be something other than urban backwaters. The River Edge Nature Center and the Urban Ecology Center began with cleanups, and then in 1989 started training citizen volunteers to test their local waters. That work has been continued and consolidated by organizations like Milwaukee Riverkeeper today. Citizen monitoring of phosphorus pollution is a central part of the process.

It’s too early to declare victory, but it signals a deeper evolution of the region’s understanding of how water connects us.

“It’s an acknowledgement that what happens in one part of the watershed affects other parts of the watershed,” says Sweet Water executive director Jeff Martinka. “Water doesn’t care about municipal boundaries.”

THINKING LIKE A WATERSHED

In fact, water doesn’t care about any boundaries. Boundaries are about property: What’s on that side of the line is yours, and what’s on this side is mine. Water flows with the laws of nature, and reflects how you treat it when it is in your care. That is the ultimate lesson learned by the scores of watershed groups now active in the state.

These groups face an uphill battle as political and market forces increasingly intrude into water management. Recent legislative actions on groundwater protection and mining are not just decisions about economy and environment. Rather, this legislation involves ethical decisions about who owns water, and who has rights to water. And these decisions affect the long-term stability and resilience of our water systems.

“The very concept of the commons is under assault as we try to privatize everything,” says Curt Meine. “Water supports every single job in the state of Wisconsin. No water, no life, no job. That’s the fundamental economic reality, and yet we keep sacrificing our water to some kind of short term economic growth instead of long-term economic well being.”

Perhaps the most incredible part about water is its potential as a self-sustaining resource. A well-functioning landscape can clean and replenish its water, notes Meine, even as it produces food and works for us. Therefore, by carefully managing our water resources, we can have a healthy economy in northern Wisconsin without depending on a mine for jobs. Agriculture can flourish in central Wisconsin without draining the Little Plover River.

But, as Meine notes, we cannot have the Wisconsin we know and cherish if we destroy our greatest common resource. The question remains: Can we safely steward our water wealth through a time of rising scarcity?

Todd Ambs, now president of the national River Network, is hopeful that the flexibility being tested in the new phosphorus rule could provide the backbone of a comprehensive state water policy. But this new flexibility requires accountability, and a willingness to keep trying until we get the problem solved and the waters clean.

Water quantity—and allocating that water fairly—is likely to be a larger challenge. Ambs would like to see a mechanism for determining a watershed budget: how much water you can remove from a watershed safely, but also how to restore that balance if you exceed the budget. “I’m not suggesting that this is an easy thing to do,” he admits. “If it was easy to do, somebody would have done it.”

While we are beginning to see progress at the watershed level, the next challenges are regional and even global. For example, we’ll need to figure out how to fairly and intelligently handle water issues now that areas that drain to the Mississippi and the Great Lakes are governed by different standards.

Looming over progress and challenges alike is the threat of climate change. “One of the best things we can do to buffer ourselves from climate change is to protect water,” argues Melissa Malott, who directs water programs for Clean Wisconsin.

Speaking at a recent Wisconsin Academy forum in Green Bay, Malott discussed the exciting potential of watershed groups to lay the foundation for meeting these larger challenges. “I think there is something incredibly valuable to people [about] making decisions about the water resources where they live. There is something personal about it. It’s important. People talk more.”

Malott says that it is citizen collaboration that “is building the infrastructure that we’re going to need at the local level to deal with some of the bigger challenges that are coming our way.”

Meine concurs with Malott, pointing out that for any conservation effort to work “it’s all about how we understand the commons and our role as citizens in a democracy.” He likens the role of these sentinel citizens as the cultural embodiment of Aldo Leopold’s disciplined ritual of observing nature every day, in every place he went. This refined observation ultimately led to a deep understanding of the natural world, an understanding that is beginning to permeate our culture.

“We can dwell on the things that divide us, but we dwell within landscapes that connect us,” says Meine. “Fundamentally we are connected by water. There are other things that connect us, obviously, but water is the connecting medium.”

Contributors

Erik Ness has been writing about science, health, and the environment for more than two decades for publications as diverse as Discover, OnEarth, Prevention, and The Progressive. He lives in Madison.

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