The Raw Deal hosted a larger crowd than was expected as the students and staff of the LAKES REU (Linking Applied Knowledge in Environmental Sustainability Research Experience for Undergraduates) presented and discussed their research projects on Aug. 6. Ten students displayed their findings on large posters, answering questions and explaining graphs as the crowd meandered through the vegan café in downtown Menomonie.

More than 100 guests were already present when the event began at 5 p.m., with an estimated 250 people passing through by the time the event came to an unofficial close at 7 p.m.

The crowd was diverse — students, parents with small children, grandparents, farmers, policy-makers, and others. Some of the attendees had been previously surveyed or interviewed as a part of the research efforts. They all shared an interest in the area lakes and many were intrigued and impressed by the work these students accomplished in two months.

Lauren L’Esperance, an economics major from the University of Rhode Island, along with several other students, noted that one large obstacle in finding a resolution is a “disconnect” between farmers, policy makers, and the rest of the community.

About the project

The feedback researchers received at Wednesday’s event indicated that all parties are ready and willing to collaborate. “This is their lake,” said Frana. She said that those involved in collaborations have a vested interest in positive results.

The LAKES project used several different disciplines to study the sources and solutions concerning the pollution and cyanobacteria blooms that taint our local watershed. Taking a biological and geological approach, some of the students examined water samples from multiple locations.

Others studied the economic aspects of reducing pollution. One study indicated how much of a financial burden the community is willing to accept to fund a program to return the lakes to their normal clarity. Another study examined the potential expansion of BMP (Best Management Practices) among farms in the Red Cedar River Watershed.

Two students studied the sociological aspects of the issue. Their studies showed the social structure and networks of the farmers and their communities, which will help to determine the best way of communicating needs and expectations in future efforts. Zakia Elliot, a junior at Brown University, interviewed every policy maker in the area possible. Rachel Frana, of Central College in Iowa, focused on other county officials who work with the Farmer-led Initiative.

This event marked the end of the first of a three-year study on the Red Cedar watershed, which was sponsored by the National Science Foundation. This year’s students will be heading back to their own schools this fall to finish their degrees, as a new group of students will be selected for next summer’s session.

Chris Ferguson, an assistant professor of economics at UW-Stout and the co-director for the project, said that next year’s studies will likely build on and fill in the gaps of this year’s results. He mentioned that he’d like to do a study on the economic effects on the area’s businesses, the tourism industry in particular.

The community’s reception at the Raw Deal suggests that next year’s results will be eagerly anticipated.

Editor’s note: Look for more in-depth summaries of the students’ research in upcoming Sunday editions.

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Dunn County News editor

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

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