The National Science Foundation has awarded University of Wisconsin-Stout a three-year, $342,128 grant to continue the LAKES REU project.
“I am excited to be able to continue to work with LAKES students for another three years,” said Arthur Kneeland, a co-principal investigator for LAKES and UW-Stout senior lecturer in biology. “It’s just so much fun to work with these brilliant young people and help them build their skills and confidence.”
LAKES is an eight-week summer research experience for undergraduate students at UW-Stout that studies issues related to cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, in the Red Cedar River watershed and how the compromised water quality affects the quality of life and economy in the region.
The watershed includes Lake Menomin, Tainter Lake and the Chetek chain of lakes, about 40,000 acres of open water and 4,900 miles of waterways.
The NSF announced recently that UW-Stout received the renewed grant funding. The first grant cycle ran from 2014 to 2016 and the second from 2017 to 2019.
LAKES will be taking this summer off to regroup, allowing staff involved to wrap up the findings from the past six years and write and publish them, as well as plan for the 2021-2023 LAKES programs.
Having funding continue allows for more research tracked over a longer period of time, said Tina Lee, co-principal investigator for LAKES and a UW-Stout associate professor of anthropology.
“When you are working on a complex problem, it takes time,” she said. “It is incredibly important to have the whole picture. You are able to look at it more holistically. You can monitor progress and see if any changes made an impact. In the end, everyone has to be part of the solution.”
Kneeland said the watershed reflects the environmental health of the area. “The lakes are really the canary in the coal mine,” he said. “They indicate something is wrong.”
When nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, are high in the watershed, cyanobacteria grow. Climate change has also impacted nutrients in the water, Kneeland said, noting heavier rainfalls can cause more nutrients from sandy soils to wash into lakes, streams and rivers and feed cyanobacteria.
Of particular concern is the changing climate and how it will impact our food system, Lee said. “How can we build a sustainable food system so we can continue to grow the food we need? How do we support a healthier community that leads to a healthier environment and a healthier watershed?” she said. “Best practices such as no-till planting, nutrient management and cover crops can help prevent runoff into waterways. Encouraging more of these practices is important.”
Benefits of LAKES
LAKES allows students from different majors from across the country to research together and share their findings with the community, Kneeland said.
“It is a diverse team working on a complex problem,” he said. “We’ve got biologists, engineers, psychologists, geographers, anthropologists and social scientists all coming in with their unique perspective trying to work on a piece of the problem. That is what a polytechnic university like UW-Stout is about.”
The program also has given UW-Stout faculty and staff the opportunity to build relationships within the community and with county government as students research water and soil quality, Lee said. “We have been able to offer them data on what are the economic impacts and what might be the costs to fix it,” she said.
UW-Stout students benefit from LAKES by researching different aspects of the watershed in their classes, Kneeland said.
Projects planned for LAKES include looking at potential engineering projects that would extract nutrients from Lake Menomin and Tainter Lake, developing campaigns to get more people involved in wanting to do the right thing environmentally, studying policies to determine which ones work and what is important to people in the food system.
UW-Stout’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs compiled, organized and submitted the grant to the National Science Foundation.
“Our faculty get to help students from all over the country, while the students help make an impact on smaller communities like Menomonie,” said Elizabeth Buchanan, interim director of ORSP. “Keeping the LAKES program running has helped us learn about our impact on Lakes Menomin and Tainter. Learning comes in all areas including biology, economics, anthropology, geography, psychology and engineering. LAKES better prepares students in their research skills, while also furthering our knowledge for improving eutrophic lakes.”
ORSP plans to bring LAKES students to the National Conference of Undergraduate Research in Bozeman, Mont., Thursday through Saturday, March 26-28. The research will be seen by thousands of students, promoting not only the LAKES program but UW-Stout as well, Kneeland said
LAKES REU stands for Linking Applied Knowledge in Environmental Sustainability Research Experience for Undergraduates. Students have produced research projects on social, economic, ecological, cultural and spatial issues related to the toxic algae blooms.
LAKES is collaborating with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Tainter/Menomin Lake Improvement Association, Dunn County, Barron County, City of Menomonie, Red Cedar Lakes Association, Chetek Lakes Protection Association and the Big Chetac and Birch Lakes Association.
UW-Stout is Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, with a focus on applied learning, collaboration with business and industry, and career outcomes.
LAKES REU students collect water samples on Lake Menomin.