Northern Wisconsin has dealt with three floods in the last six years that caused millions of dollars in damage resulting in federal disaster declarations. The region is seeing more frequent, intense rainfalls.
For the last several years, local, state and federal partners have been trying to find ways to slow the flow of stormwater running off the landscape, as well as reduce the amount of sediment washing into Lake Superior.
One way the group of stakeholders is trying to solve stormwater runoff is through wetland ponds.
Not far from the washout caused by June flooding on U.S. Highway 2, Tom Gazdik led the way to a roughly half-acre pond on the back of his property near Ino, west of Ashland. His grandfather came here to farm in the early 1900s.
“This was all dairy farm, so the cattle would graze in the forest. There would be trails all over,” he said. “It was ideal for raising cattle because there was a lot of water available.”
But, the water also made it difficult to farm and many producers gave up growing crops or hay. Gazdik’s father gave it up long ago. He said that’s one reason why the spot was ideal for installing a wetland pond.
“I grew up playing back here in all the springs and all that stuff. I knew that this was ideal for a pond, and I always wanted to have some up here,” said Gazdik. “When I heard about this project, I’m going, ‘Oh my God. This is perfect.'”
The project Gazdik is referring to is one Northland College in Ashland is leading.
The college is working with Bayfield County landowners like Gazdik to slow the flow of runoff from heavy rains using money from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
The project began in 2013. The Great Lakes Commission and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awarded just under $300,000 in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative money that funded work to reduce flood peaks and erosion in North Fish Creek, said Matt Hudson, associate director of the college’s Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation.
“If we can hold back some of that water on the landscape before it gets into the stream, we can reduce the amount of water that rushes into the stream at one time and reduce the amount of erosion that happens in the stream and then reduce the amount of sediment that gets into Chequamegon Bay,” said Hudson.