Water Quality
The Wisconsin Sea Grant program is dedicated to enhancing the quality of coastal waters of Lakes Michigan and Superior by developing local capacity to improve and protect water resources and educating Great Lakes basin residents, visitors and decision makers about the causes and consequences of water quality problems. Wisconsin Sea Grant provides science-based information about the sources, transport and fate of contaminants in the Great Lakes, the cause-and-effect relationships between watershed activities and water quality, and the impacts of coastal development on nearshore habitats.

State of the Bay 2013 Report

The State of the Bay 2013 Report
“State of the Bay: The Condition of the Bay of Green Bay/Lake Michigan 2013” is the first comprehensive look at the ecological health of the region in 20 years. It offers details on the bay’s “dead zone,” the effect of aquatic invasive species, the good news about walleye and more. Read more...

Nuisance and Harmful Algae

During the past ten years, heaps of rotting algae have piled up on some beaches of Lake Michigan.  The offending plant is primarily Cladophora, a common filamentous green alga.  Growing on submerged rocks, it looks like long green hair waving in the water.  Cladophora is an important component of freshwater ecosystems, providing food and shelter for invertebrates and small fish.  The recent excessive blooms in the Great Lakes, however, signal an ecosystem responding to both natural changes and human impacts. Read more...

Cladophora Factsheets, Reports and Conference Proceedings

Nuisance and Harmful Algae Photo Gallery

Harmful Algal Blooms

Wisconsin Clean Marina Program

The Wisconsin Clean Marina Program provides guidance and education that enable marina and boatyard operators to protect the resources that sustain their livelihood — clean water, clean air, and healthy fish and wildlife communities.  The Wisconsin Clean Marina Program promotes and celebrates voluntary adoption of measures to reduce pollution from marinas, boatyards and recreational boats. Facilities that adopt the program recommended practices may become certified as Wisconsin Clean Marinas. Read more...

Lake Michigan: State of the Lake and Great Lakes Beach Association 2013 Conference

The 8th biennial State of Lake Michigan and the 13th annual Great Lakes Beach Association Conference will be held in Sheboygan, October 16th-17th, 2013 at the Blue Harbor Resort, in Sheboygan, WI. Read more...

The Lower Fox River TMDL

Several streams and rivers in the Lower Fox River and Green Bay Basin are impaired due to excess amounts of phosphorus and sediments.  A plan has been developed to improve water quality, know as a Total Maxiumum Daily Load or TMDL for the Lower Fox River and Green Bay. 

Websites for Additional Information:
The Lower Fox River Basin Website
Total Maximum Daily Load and Watershed Management Plan for Total Phosphorus and Total Suspended Solids in the Lower Fox River Basin and Lower Green Bay Report
Wisconsin DNR TMDL Website
Wisconsin DNR Lower Green Bay and Fox River Area of Concern Website
EPA Lower Green Bay and Fox River Area of Concern Website


Virtual Beach: Beach Orientation
A screencast to accompany the first of six training modules for the Virtual Beach software. This video walks the viewer through the "Beach Orientation" module, available at virtualbeach.org. Read more...

Wisconsin's 2017 Knauss Fellow: Danielle Cloutier
A brief talk with Wisconsin's 2017 Knauss Fellow. For more information about the Dean John A. Knauss Fellowships, please see http://seagrant.noaa.gov/fundingfellowships/knaussfellowship.aspx Read more...

Julia Noordyk: Helping Coastal Communities
Julia Noordyk, Wisconsin Sea Grant's Green Bay-based coastal storms outreach specialist, has been with the organizaiton two years. But she's just begun to get her feet wet. Read more...

Revitalizing Local Waterfront Economies
This video outlines the Great Lakes Legacy Act and highlights benefits it brings to communities. Read more...

Visualizing the Effects of Dioxin on Fish
Some beautiful images convey the deadly effects of the class of chemicals known as dioxin in zebra fish -- and possibly other species, like the very sensitive lake trout. Read more...

Are Flame Retardants Harming Frogs?
In Dr. William Karasov's lab, the northern leopard frog is front and center in a series of research experiments  designed to explore how environmental toxins may be affecting the frog's immune system, growth and development. Read more...

Beyond the Usual Suspects
E. coli bacteria sometimes contaminate the waters of Bradford Beach in Milwaukee. Where does the bacteria come from? How can it be reduced? Dr. Sandra MacLellan cracks the case. Read more...

Part 1: All Washed Up, Lake Michigan's Algae Challenge
Since about 2002, great gobs of algae have been fouling many of Wisconsin's beaches and rocky shorelines.  This video explores the impacts of the problem on tourism spending, property values, and industry. It also presents scientists' understanding of its causes and explains what can be done to solve it. Read more...

Part 2: All Washed Up, Lake Michigan's Algae Challenge
The second part of the full Cladophora video.

Quagga Mussels Feeding--Speeded Up 10x
Speeded up 10 times, this video emphasizes that quagga mussels are active animals--much more active than washed up shells on a beach would suggest. Read more...

Testing Well Water for Microorganisms
The University of Wisconsin Water Resources Institute is funding a new research project to refine a methodology to determine the source of well water contamination.  Read more...

See More Videos on Water Quality


The Basis for Microbially Mediated Mercury Methylation in Oxygen-Depleted Zones of the Great Lakes

Katherine McMahon, UW-Madison, (608) 263-3137, tmcmahon@engr.wisc.edu

Elevated levels of the potent neurotoxin methylmercury (MeHg) are present in fish throughout the Great Lakes. An inability to balance sources and sinks of MeHg in aquatic ecosystems suggests that we are missing significant processes and/or locations of MeHg production. In this project, we will test hypotheses about the organisms and their genes expected to be responsible for Hg methylation in the Great Lakes. We will use molecular techniques to relate microbial community composition to MeHg and total Hg levels at depth-resolve intervals within the water column of all five Great Lakes, at stations known to have significant MeHg concentrations. We will also target recently identified genes known to be involved in methylation in pure cultures of anaerobic bacteria. Finally, we will evaluate the effect of thiols on methylation in lake microbial communities. This work will advance our understanding of the freshwater Hg cycle, providing evidence for the mechanisms at play in microbial communities mediating methylation.  R/HCE-22

An In Situ Molecular Detection System for Microcystin Monitoring

Matthew Smith, UW-Milwaukee, (414) 382-1700, smith926@uwm.edu

Human activities are increasingly causing eutrophication of water supplies, which has led to an increase in toxin-producing organisms such as cyanobacteria. Of these toxins, microcystins are a group of hepatotoxins that have been shown to cause adverse health effects in humans and animals even at low concentrations. There is a need for instruments capable of making autonomous, species-specific, microbiological measurements that can serve as early warning systems for toxic metabolites in freshwater systems. We propose to develop a field-portable autonomous instrument that can be deployed in water bodies for extended periods (~1 month) and provide near real-time detection of microcystin. The proposed instrument will decrease the labor requirements of routine monitoring, while increasing sampling resolution during dangerous or inconvenient times. R/HCE-23

Population Structure and Genetic Markers of Persistent Escherichia coli in Beach Sand

Sandra McLellan, UW-Milwaukee, (414) 382-1700, mclellan@uwm.edu

In this project, genomics meets beach management as we take an innovative approach to answering the complex question of what is causing elevated levels of Escherichia coli at Wisconsin’s beaches. Fecal indicator bacteria E. coli and enterococci are harmless organisms meant to demonstrate that enteric pathogens may be present; however, they have been found to persist in beach sand, which can greatly influence water quality results. We hypothesize that E. coli in the sand are genetically distinct strains that have genomic traits that allow them to survive outside of the host. We will use host-specific alternative indicators to assess sewage and gull, dog and ruminant fecal pollution and distinguish recent pollution events from E. coli and enterococci prolonged survival. We will employ a combination of field- and laboratory-based experiments to characterize E. coli populations and use cutting-edge genomic tools to identify genes linked to functional pathways responsible for prolonged survival. R/HCE-29

Refining Our Understanding of Methylmercury Production and Bioavailability in the St. Louis River Estuary

Matthew Ginder-Vogel, UW-Madison, (608) 262-0768, mgindervogel@wisc.edu
Kristofer Rolfhus, UW-La Crosse, (608) 262-0768, krolfhus@uwlax.edu                             

The St. Louis River Estuary (SLRE) is a valuable fish spawning ground for the western arm of Lake Superior. However, preliminary data suggest that higher mercury levels are found in walleye that feed within the SLRE than those that feed in Lake Superior. Methylmercury (MeHg), the bioaccumulative form of mercury, is primarily produced by microbial activity in anaerobic wetlands, soils and sediments that are abundant in estuarine environments, such as the SLRE. Although the underlying cause of elevated mercury levels in fish in the SLRE is unknown, it is likely due to a combination of biogeochemical factors including solid-phase Hg speciation, coupled with variations in water chemistry (e.g., dissolved sulfate and organic carbon). Developing an understanding of these fundamental biogeochemical processes is critical to the ability of resource management agencies to make effective decisions concerning the beneficial use of future dredging materials and habitat restoration in the SLRE. R/HCE-30

The Role of Indirect Photolysis in the Environmental Fate of Pesticides and Pharmaceuticals

Christina Remucal, UW-Madison, (608) 262-1820, remucal@wisc.edu

The presence of biologically active anthropogenic compounds (e.g., pesticides and pharmaceuticals) in the watersheds of the Great Lakes is of emerging concern to stakeholders and water quality managers. Natural processes, such as dissolved organic matter (DOM)-mediated indirect photodegradation, can transform many of these compounds. However, predicting the photodegradation rates of target compounds is difficult because DOM varies temporally and spatially, and current approaches rely on time- and labor-intensive analyses. The overall goal of our project is to assess how the molecular composition and photochemical reactivity of DOM with anthropogenic compounds changes as it moves from the St. Louis River into the St. Louis Estuary and then into Lake Superior. We plan to develop a transferable tool that will relate the photoreactivity of DOM with simple water quality measurements and predict the photodegradation rates of target compounds in this sensitive ecosystem and other natural waters. R/HCE-31


Advancing Green Infrastructure Through Local Codes and Ordinances in the Great Lakes
Working with 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, Sea Grant is supporting efforts to reduce the negative impacts of stormwater through the use of green infrastructure in watersheds draining to the Great Lakes. Outcomes include producing an audit tool and workshops targeted at planners, stormwater engineers and zoning administrators. Funding source NOAA Coastal Storms Program

Lower Green Bay and Fox River Area of Concern Outreach
Leading the Area of Concern Citizen Advisory Committee Outreach and Education Subcommittee, Sea Grant is identifying and coordinating outreach and education activities to improve watershed water quality.

Climate Change and Green Bay Hypoxia Decision Support Tool
This project, for which Sea Grant provides supportive outreach activities for two partner campuses, is creating a decision-support tool for use within the Lower Fox River watershed to support ecosystem-based management using alternative sediment and phosphorous loading and climate trend scenarios. Funding source: University of Michigan Water Center

Wisconsin Clean Marina Program
Collaborating with the Wisconsin Marine Association and Wisconsin Coastal Management Program, Sea Grant is working with lakes Michigan and Superior marinas to voluntarily adopt measures to reduce pollution from marinas, boatyards and recreational boats. Activities include business training, marina inspector training, a website, and community participation in statewide and regional clean marina planning and guidance efforts.

Improving Beaches
Sea Grant has taken the lead in a coordinating a Wisconsin coastal beaches workgroup, as well as improving and expanding the use of free Web data services and decision-support tools by working with their developers and users across the Great Lakes. These tools offer beach managers more timely, accurate and cost effective information on water quality, lake conditions and pollution sources.

Related Publications

Visit Our Publications Store
For print and downloadable information about water quality and groundwater, visit our publications store. Read more...

Related Websites

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI)
During 2010, President Obama provided $475 million in new funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). For more information on the GLRI and for a list of GLRI grants awarded, Read more...

Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement
The Agreement, first signed in 1972 and renewed in 1978, expresses the commitment of Canada and the United States to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem and includes a number of objectives and guidelines to achieve these goals. Read more...

Great Lakes National Program Office

Video on Water Quality
Visit this site to learn more about the effect of cladophora on water quality. Read more...

Lakewide Management Plans
Access Lakewide Managment Plans for each of the Great Lakes. Read more...

Lake Michigan Forum
The Lake Michigan Forum was established as part of the Lake Michigan Lakewide Manangement Plan (LaMP) as the central vehicle for stakeholder participation in developing and implementing the LaMP. Read more...

State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference (SOLEC)
The State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conferences (SOLEC) and State of the Great Lakes reports are produced jointly by the U. S. EPA and Environment Canada. They provide independent, science-based reporting on the state of the health of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem.  For information on the conference and to access the reports, Read more...

Wisconsin's Water Library
Established in 1964 by the UW Water Resources Institute, Wisconsin's Water Library (formerly known as the Water Resources Library) is unique among UW-Madison's many libraries for its collection of almost 30,000 volumes of water-related information about the Great Lakes and the waters of Wisconsin. The library includes a curriculum collection, dozens of educational videos, a children's collection, and more than 20 journals and 100 newsletters. Read more...