Rapid Snowmelt Rushes Sediment into Chequamegon Bay

ASHLAND – Rivers and streams in Ashland and Bayfield counties are flowing fast and full. The Chequamegon Bay on the south shore of Lake Superior has turned a ruddy brown as sediment rushes into the bay. The Chequamegon Bay Area Partnership (CBAP) says rapid snowmelt caused by warmer temperatures after record snowfalls have highlighted the problem of sediment and land use in the region.
CBAP, a coalition of federal, state and tribal agencies, government, and non-profit organizations, lists excess sediment as the number one concern facing Chequamegon Bay. Fish Creek has been identified as the number one contributor of sediment to the bay.
“If there is too much sediment concentrated in one place, such as Fish Creek, it can bury plants and spawning, resting, and feeding areas, and even inhibit migration or navigation,” said Faith Fitzpatrick, a research hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey.
Clear-cut logging at the turn of the 20th century, followed by agricultural activity on Fish Creek, still contribute to excess sediment.
“Even though the forests are back throughout most of the watershed and best management practices are common on farms, the creek is still responding to clear-cut logging that happened almost 150 years ago,” said Fitzpatrick.
These changes have led to about double the amount of sediment flowing into Chequamegon Bay since 1870, according to Fitzpatrick, leading to unstable banks, significantly increasing flooding and sedimentation.
CBAP has tackled the problem by initiating watershed improvement projects for Fish Creek and also the Marengo River through grant funding. In the last two years, CBAP has worked with landowners on projects to slow the flow of sediment into Chequamegon Bay. The projects are funded in part through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Four Cedars Environmental Fund of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation (DSACF) and other sources.
The good news is that Fish Creek has improved since the mid-1930s, according to Fitzpatrick.
“Research indicates that future changes from pasture or cropland to forest will help reduce flood peaks, and reduce erosion and sedimentation,” writes Fitzpatrick. The findings were published in a 1999 report that Fitzpatrick co-authored called “Effects of Historcial Land Cover Changes on Flooding and Sedimentation, North Fish Creek, Wiscon

An aerial photograph shows the result of rapid snowmelt, which has washed sediment from Fish Creek into the outlet of Chequamegon Bay on Lake Superior. The Fish Creek Landowner Project partners with landowners to improve the water quality of Fish Creek and Chequamegon Bay. (Bob Gross/Submitted Photo)

An aerial photograph shows the result of rapid snowmelt, which has washed sediment from Fish Creek into the outlet of Chequamegon Bay on Lake Superior. The Fish Creek Landowner Project partners with landowners to improve the water quality of Fish Creek and Chequamegon Bay. (Bob Gross/Submitted Photo)

sin.”
Major CBAP stakeholders working with landowners on slow-the-flow projects include Ashland and Bayfield County Land and Water Conservation Departments, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bad River Watershed Association and the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute housed at Northland College.
CBAP collaborates to provide more effective and efficient natural resource management in the Chequamegon Bay region of Lake Superior. For more information on CBAP, the Fish Creek and Marengo River watershed programs or a list of partners, visit the CBAP website at https://www.northland.edu/cbap.htm.


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