The groundwater of Wisconsin's Central Sands region is a vital resource that sustains a diverse regional economy comprised of rural communities, businesses, agricultural industries and fishing and recreational interests. The region is home to businesses such as Del Monte Corporation, one of the nation's premier vegetable product centers, Lands End, Kimberly-Clark, Foremost Farms USA, Sentry Insurance, UW-Stevens Point, Travel Guard, McCain Foods and Golden County Foods. Farms and agri-businesses are key employers having a tremendous economic impact on the region.
Over the past two decades, increasing business development, population growth and an expanding recreational market have led to concerns regarding the long-term quality and availability of groundwater in the Central Sands region. In particular, concerns have been raised regarding how the agricultural industry affects the region's groundwater.
In response to these concerns, the University of Wisconsin - through the Wisconsin Institute of Sustainable Agriculture- is launching the Central Wisconsin Water Initiative. The Initiative will be led by Dr. Sam Kung, Professor of Soil Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and will feature a team of scientists from a broad spectrum of disciplines.
The Central Wisconsin Water Initiative has partnered with various local action groups such as the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA) Groundwater Task Force-a group comprised of over 30 concerned citizens, growers, industry leaders and scientists. Established in 2009, the Task Force meets each month to discuss, fund and implement a range of practices that will improve the efficiency of water use. The Task Force, chaired by Stevens Point grower Nick Somers of Plover River Farms, has initiated a region-wide water use survey, established an ongoing database of irrigation well water depths and funded new research for nutrient management. With funding from the WPVGA, the Task Force has also initiated the development of a new irrigation scheduling tool, along with a well monitoring and data collection project.
The WPVGA has been recognized for its outstanding commitment to environmental stewardship, receiving the following awards: USDA Secretary's Honor Award for Maintaining and Enhancing the Nation's Natural Resources and Environment; World Wildlife Fund Gift to the Earth Award; International IPM Award of Achievement; and the International Crane Foundation Good Egg Award for Excellence.
The guiding principles of the Central Wisconsin Water Initiative are:
--Protect the long-term availability of the groundwater aquifer
--Improve and preserve water quality in the aquifer
--Promote a profitable and sustainable agriculture and food processing industry
--Preserve healthy streams, lakes and wetlands
--Ensure a vibrant regional economy and thriving rural communities.
To ensure the knowledge, experience and interests of all stakeholders are taken into account, the Central Wisconsin Water Initiative will focus on research and implementation encompassing three inter-related groups.
--Water: Comprised of hydrogeology, climate change, crop water use and water infiltration
--Crops: Comprised of irrigation, nutrient and pest management, alternative cropping systems, plant breeding for drought tolerance and technological innovation
--Societal: Examining land use patterns, community conflict, area economics and rural community impacts
Data collection, evaluation of the current groundwater use system and implementation of recommended policies will be coordinated with state and local members of the UW-Extension, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Wisconsin USGS Water Science Center, as well as growers, food processors, industry representatives and residents of the Central Sands region.
A meeting/tour has been scheduled for Aug. 25 from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Hancock Agricultural Research Station. The tour, titled, "The Science of Water and Agriculture Field Tour," will focus on the proactive nature of the agricultural community.
RSVP by Aug. 22 to: UW Extension Portage County, (715) 346-1316.