The first year of the Wawasee Inlet Nutrients Study is a wrap. While Wawasee Area Conservancy Foundation didn’t expect to meet this milestone during a global pandemic, the foundation does want to take a moment to provide an update.
Data was collected from six different sensors at the inlets to Wawasee and outlet from Syracuse. Six daily samples at each gage were collected from April through June as well as additional samples each week before this period (through the ice) and through the summer and fall. Almost 3,000 water samples that correspond to more than 30,000 pieces of data are being analyzed. Each water sample was analyzed for nutrients including phosphorus and several forms of nitrogen and sediment. This is the value of this nutrient study, and what makes it unique. Typically gages collect flow and temperature data, and do not measure nutrient and sediment input.
Why are nutrient levels important?
Nutrients contribute to algae growth, including blue-green algae and overgrowth of weeds that can impair lake health.
Why so many samples?
Water quantity and quality varies greatly over time on both a large scale and a more microscopic scale. For example, seasonal and yearly changes in land use, crop selection, ag chemical use, rainfall amounts and patterns, and farming practices can have a dramatic effect on water quality. Weather patterns, wind, temperature, winter ice, precipitation, solar radiation, timing of crop chemical applications relative to heavy storm events, etc., can cause seasonal and daily variations in water quality.
To capture the inherent variability in nature requires a large sample size over multiple years. It is this large “N” requirement plus the cost of sample analysis that has prevented rigorous water quality studies of this kind from occurring in freshwater lakes.
This is a landmark study and a comprehensive analysis such as this has never been done before at an inland lake. The study overview has already been presented at a national conference on lakes. The study design and data analysis will hold up to peer review and scrutiny at a national level.
WACF undertook this monumental step because the lakes are always receiving nutrients and sediment from multiple sources. These affect water quality. Perhaps it enters from a lawn or from a street drainage ditch. But primarily these “bad actors” enter from the stream inlets into Wawasee.
In the spring and at times in the summer and especially during major rain events, these inlets are darkened from sediment and associated nutrients coming from fields, construction sites, stream banks and more. It can at times be a visible event. And realize a rain event in March with nutrients pouring in the lake is a major factor in the water quality at the end of your pier in August. WACF for 28 years has performed 36 remediation projects to reduce incoming nutrients and sediment in addition to land acquisition to improve and diminish this inflow. Improving water quality is what WACF is about.
But there has always been a challenge. Where should the funds be spent? Is Dillon Creek the biggest contributor or is Turkey, Launer or Martin creeks? How does WACF assess its conservation work? WINS provides accurate baseline data to know if progress is being made.
This study will provide guidance. Where should WACF purchase land? Where should it stabilize a creek? Where should it work with a farmer?
Taking a proactive approach to the watershed’s health is critical to preserving the lakes. One only need to look as far as Lake Erie, Grand Lake St. Mary’s, or even other lakes in Kosciusko County to see what happens when human and natural stressors negatively impact water quality.
Findings from the first year of the study will be presented in the WACF’s spring newsletter. Persons are asked to consider joining WACF by becoming a financial supporter of the most intensive nutrient study of a fresh water lake, ever. The health of the watershed is depending on every one.