The following is part of a series featuring the results of student research on water quality in the Red Cedar Watershed:
This summer I used remote sensing to look at the condition of riparian buffers in Wilson Creek and the Annis Creek Watershed. Riparian buffers are the strip of natural vegetation along the side of waterways that help to keep sediment and pollutants out of them. We can use data from remote sensing — like satellite images, aerial photography, or drones — to identify areas with damaged riparian buffers.
The Wilson Creek and Annis Creek Watershed is an area of 46,946 acres, west of Menomonie, including the town of Knapp. Using satellite imagery from the US Department of Agriculture and the State of Wisconsin, I analyzed how many acres of riparian buffer each watershed has, as well as how many properties have healthy riparian buffers around Wilson Creek and Annis Creek.
Using remote sensing to understand riparian buffers can be challenging. Often it is difficult for the computer to distinguish between similar types of land use. For example, grassy wetland can look very similar to a grazed pasture on a satellite image. To assess the accuracy of the satellite images, I visually compared them to aerial photography, which shows much more detail.
I found that the satellite images were accurate a little more than 60 percent of the time. Therefore we can be about 60 percent certain that 1,547 out of 2,526 acres in the Wilson Creek Watershed have healthy riparian buffers. of the 1,059 acres in the Annis Creek Watershed has 378 acres of its buffers are healthy.
My research shows that more attention needs to be focused on Annis Creek since it is only 35 percent buffered compared to the 61 percent of Wilson Creek. Work that is being done to promote riparian buffers can be targeted to individual properties. Community organizations and government programs can judge the conditions of riparian buffers in any given area as well as have details about individual properties.
Using remote sensing technology, we can identify specific areas or even specific properties that are in need of restoration. Land owners in the Wilson & Annis Creek Watershed are eligible for federal funding for projects on their land, including creek and riparian restoration projects, that improve water quality.
The Wilson & Annis Creek Watershed Partnership is a group of community members working together with Dunn County conservationists to improve habitat and water quality. Those interested in participating can contact the Dunn County Department of Land and Water Conservation.