Austin Gentel

Austin Gentel

The distribution of phosphorous pollution has been usually represented in a pie chart where it has had no place for the natural occurring phosphorous — hence, the reason phosphorous is missing a slice of pie.

It turns out that the water in the creeks are mostly made up of pre-event water, otherwise known as the water that comes from the ground and soil. This is unlike the new water that enters the stream during a storm because of runoff and direct precipitation onto the body of water.

So who cares? Why does it even matter if the creek has water from the ground, or if it is from the rain? Well, it turns out that this information is very important in the manner that it brings us a new piece of pie that has come from a pie we believed was already whole.

“Ground” breaking news

After working for the entire summer on trying to understand the east and western parts of the watershed, we came across results that the water in the streams was from the ground — and not just run-off. This is an exciting, brand new topic to look at because the ground beneath our feet has an entire story of its own.

This story remarkably shows us that the world beneath our feet is not the same when comparing the western and eastern parts of the watershed. The east turns out to have layers of rock near the surface that contains natural phosphorus. Alright, that’s something pretty cool, but if it is the rocks, then it is stuck there, right? Well, sadly that is wrong.

As it turns out, while the water travels through the ground it likes to pick up some extra items before it reaches the creeks. One of these items is called silica, which is an element found in rocks and just so happens to be able to be removed by water.

Silica was one of the items that we used to figure out that most of the water is from the ground and not the sky. This is a huge point because it turns out water likes picking up phosphorous, just as it does silica. This means in the east, the water is bringing in naturally-occurring phosphorous into the creeks, such as 18 Mile Creek.

Better policy management

So why should we care about fixing the creeks and changing our practices if the creek is only going to bring in its own phosphorous? Well, the simple answer is that we can still focus on the other problems such as runoff and point source pollutions. This discovery leads us to also be able to manage our policies better, so that they take into the account that natural occurring phosphorous is in some of our streams.

We don’t know actually how much of the phosphorous is natural, but it is a lot better to know that our pie is whole once again. In the end, this project has and will need the incorporation of all types of people to continue to work towards a solution. That being said, the LAKES REU program has allowed us to hit the ground running for a solution, but has also given me and my fellow interns an opportunity to work on a real world solution so that we can actually make a difference in this world — and so that we can be prepared for what lies ahead of us in our lives.

I would like to personally thank all of my fellow LAKES-REU interns and mentors for giving me a one-of-kind summer that I will never forget. In particularly, I would like to thank Dr. Matt Kuchta for teaching me all of the ropes of geological and phosphorous research, and Andi and Jonah for keeping tough and helping me power through the hundreds of water samples that we had to go through this summer.

In the end the biggest thank you has to go to the people of Menomonie and of the Red Cedar Watershed for being so accepting of us, for teaching us and making us feel like one of your own. I’m so glad that I was able to give back to you and hopefully help make a better difference in your life.

So again, thank you to everyone for giving me this amazing summer! I have a long drive back to Frederick, Md., but I will miss you all and surely someday I will be back here in Menomonie and see you all again.

Austin Gentel is a junior majoring in Environmental Science at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, Pa.

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Dunn County News editor

Barbara Lyon is the editor of The Dunn County News in Menomonie, WI.