DU, partners scoop out pollutants at Dunes Lake

A unique pilot effort to improve waterfowl habitat and water quality exceeded goals at Dunes Lake in Door County, Wisconsin

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Ducks Unlimited helped make Dunes Lake healthier for waterfowl and easier for recreation.

Photo © Greg Meissner, DU Wisconsin volunteer

A unique pilot effort to improve waterfowl habitat and water quality exceeded goals at Dunes Lake in Door County, Wisconsin.

Dunes Lake is the largest inland lake directly connected to Lake Michigan in Door County. The lake has received pollutants from sewage discharges and from widespread sources such as from agriculture fertilizer run-off over the years. This resulted in the accelerated filling of the lake with sediment and vegetation, and the degradation of adjacent wetlands.

The multi-partner project removed phosphorus-filled sediments from the bottom of the lake. The goal was to remove at least 5,000 cubic yards of contaminated soils from the lake bottom. The project ended up removing 8,000 cubic yards.

"It was a great success. We were going to lose the lake if nothing was done," said Brian Glenzinski, Ducks Unlimited Regional Biologist for Wisconsin.

"It’s another great example of DU partnerships at work. Greg Coulthurst from the Door County Soil and Water Conservation Department and Greg Meissner, a DU volunteer, were instrumental in the success of the project," Glenzinski said.

Greg Meissner's dog, Triever, keeps an eye on Dunes Lake. Photo © Greg Meissner

The lake is nearly free of development and is a hotspot for waterfowlers. However, the pollutants entering the water contain nutrients, which spurred the growth of invasive cattails. The cattails push out native vegetation and encroach on open water critical for waterfowl and other species.

This pilot project proved the concept works, and better defined the cost needed for a full-scale lake restoration project.  The sediment buildup near the mouth of the lake makes it nearly impossible to paddle through by canoe. Future phases will address this area and provide better access as well as habitat.

Ducks Unlimited volunteer Greg Meissner has co-owned property on the lake for 15 years. He noticed the vegetation difference raised concerns about the lake’s future. Several partners came together for the $300,000 project, including DU, the Door County Land and Water Conservation Department, Doorland Preserve, Fund for Lake Michigan, Wisconsin Coastal Management Program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Coastal Program and The Nature Conservancy.

DU volunteer Greg Meissner, left, and Wisconsin State Rep. Joel Kitchens tour Dunes Lake in fall 2015. Photo © Greg Coulthurst

"It was a nice partnership up here," Meissner said. "I noticed the cattails starting to engulf the lake. They started taking hold in new places, and once got a foothold, they never died out."

Thanks to water quality monitoring and data, conservation organizations can monitor phosphorus levels in the lake. The site will be monitored for a year, and further dredging is expected in 2018.