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Project ID:2006WI136B

Title: Assessing the Ecological Status and Vulnerability of Springs in Wisconsin

Project Type: Research

Start Date: 03/01/2006

End Date: 02/28/2007

Congressional District: WI 1st; 2nd

Focus Categories: Ecology, Groundwater, Hydrology

Keywords: ecology, springs, groundwater

Principal Investigators: Swanson, Susan (Beloit College); Bradbury, Kenneth R (Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey); Hart, David John; Zaber, David

Federal Funds: $18,860

Non-Federal Matching Funds: $24,759

Abstract: The need for a clear understanding of the ecological status of springs provides the overall motivation for this proposal. The current understanding of springs ecology in Wisconsin and elsewhere is limited (Springer et al., in prep.), while the ecology of lakes (Wetzel, 1983), streams (Giller and Malmquist, 1998), and wetlands (Mitsch and Gossilink, 1993) has been extensively studied. The topic is relevant in Wisconsin because the State has taken steps to protect springs that result "in a current of flowing water with flows of a minimum of one cubic foot per second at least 80 percent of the time" (2003 WI Act 310, p.2). As a result, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) is now charged with evaluating impacts to these springs that may result from groundwater pumping by high-capacity wells. We hope to provide a mechanism to evaluate the effects of pumping and address the question of whether springs covered under Act 310 are sufficient to protect the range of Wisconsin's spring resources.

Wisconsin's springs are poorly studied, resulting in a dearth of information for use in determining significance of impacts to springs and their receiving waters. In addition, a single database that houses information on springs in Wisconsin does not exist. Information on springs is scattered among State agencies and occurs in a variety of formats. Using a comprehensive springs classification system that is being developed by Springer et al. (in prep.) we will describe and document the physical, biological, and sociocultural characteristics of typical spring systems in the glaciated and unglaciated regions of the State. This will allow us to make assessments of the ecological status of typical spring systems, which is a critical first step in assessing vulnerability to pumping because it provides baseline conditions to which changes can be compared. To further address the issue of vulnerability, we will formulate viable hydrogeological conceptual models of the typical spring systems, which may be useful for modeling studies if wells are proposed in the future. In addition, we will identify ecological functions of these typical spring systems that may be vulnerable to changes induced by altered flow regimes, thereby stressing dependent biota. All spring data will be recorded and managed in a springs GIS, which will help to address the lack of a central database for springs information.

Our primary goal is to develop and implement procedures for collecting baseline data on biological communities and physio-chemical characteristics of Wisconsin's spring resources. A secondary, complementary goal is to initiate, in cooperation with existing or newly initiated geological studies at the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey (WGNHS), preliminary work to document hydrostratigraphic units and aquifer heterogeneities that lead to spring formation in a few typical settings. Conducting a baseline assessment of spring geological characteristics, physio-chemical characteristics, and select biotic communities is necessary to describe and document the ecological status of springs, to identify ecological functions of springs, and to characterize vulnerability to changes in these functions due to pumping.

Our methodology involves mapping springs in two environmentally distinct regions of the State; building a geographic information system (GIS) for springs in Wisconsin; assessing a framework for classifying and evaluating the ecological status of springs in Wisconsin; and conducting preliminary assessments of spring ecosystem vulnerability for classes of representative spring systems that we identify. We propose to survey springs in regions of Iowa and Waukesha Counties using a comprehensive classification system under development by Springer et al. (in prep.).

The results of this project will be of use to hydrogeologists, aquatic ecologists and water resources managers who are interested in better understanding the ecological status of spring resources. The findings will be of particular benefit to WDNR water resources managers who are responsible for determining the significance of environmental impacts to springs by groundwater pumping of high-capacity wells. The springs GIS may also provide a template for information requests by the WDNR in the future.

Progress/Completion Report, PDF

U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Maintained by: John Schefter
Last Updated: Thursday, June 04, 2009
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