Brook trout captured and released by Wisconsin DNR fisheries Crew while surveying trout populations in the UN-named creed near the lake Drive culvert. Photo by Tom Lager

Trout Stream Reflections

In the first two articles of the “Trout Stream Reflections” series, the relationship between the citizens of the Central Region of Wisconsin and their trout streams touched on the organizations we as citizens belong to and our perception of the intrinsic value trout streams hold in our minds eye. Relationships such as these resulted in people working together to preserve and protect trout streams for future generations. TU CARES is an example of this spirit and has been focusing on restoration of the West Branch of the White River (WBWR) for the last several years. TU CARES is a collaborative organization comprised of the four Trout Unlimited (TU) chapters in Central Region of Wisconsin.

Members of TU CARES, with guidance and participation from the Wild Rose Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) Trout Stream Habitat Management Team and the Wautoma Fisheries Team evaluated the aquatic and riparian habitats throughout the WBWR watershed. As the term watershed implies, the evaluation included the total length of the WBWR, from the headwaters at West Branch Millpond to its confluence with the White River downstream of Wautoma, a length of 7.9 river miles.

 

In addition, all tributary streams to the WBWR and the surrounding landscape that captures rainfall and directs groundwater into the WBWR, were included. Through these efforts specific habitat improvement projects were defined and the Lake Drive Culvert Replacement Project is one of these.

For a number of years John Tucker, Central Wisconsin TU and a founding member of TU CARES, suspected the culvert beneath Lake Drive, that drained water from the northern portion of the watershed, was a barrier to trout passage and was an obstruction to water drainage under the roadway, especially during heavy rain events and snow melt. John explained the situation to Scott Bunde, Wautoma Fisheries Team, who initiated a fisheries study on this un-named tributary to the WBWR that showed surprising results. The stream not only had a substantial brook and brown trout population, but also was not documented by WDNR as a trout stream.

The WDNR electro-shocking crew captured and safely released more than 150 trout from the stream surrounding the culvert. In order to better understand how the culvert blocked the free migration of trout and obstructed normal water drainage under Lake Drive, TU CARES worked with Bobbi Jo Fisher, WDNR Bureau of Environmental Analysis & Sustainability, to survey the road crossing.

Bobbi Jo and her team recognized and defined the problem as described and recommended solutions. The solution is replacement with a larger sized arch-shaped culvert, properly oriented diagonally beneath the road at a depth and pitch enabling natural movement of trout, stream sediment and debris.

The next step was gaining the support from the Town of Wautoma to replace the Lake Drive culvert. Again Bobbi Jo played a role, coordinating meetings with Jeff Nett, Town of Wautoma, and TU CARES, explaining the need for the culvert replacement and the recommended new design that improved stream habitat for trout and improved water drainage through the road crossing.

Jeff, with the understanding that TU CARES would provide funding for the proposal, obtained agreement from the Town Council and Waushara County Highway Commission to go forward with the project. Fortunately there are organizations that value investments in environmental projects and Terry Ziegler, a Fox Valley TU and TU CARES member, successfully procured the $25,000 needed for the project from the Community Foundation of the Fox Valley.

Certainly the Lake Drive Culvert Replacement Project, scheduled to be completed sometime between mid-August and the end of September 2019, is a win - win for everyone involved. The initial interest started with individuals caring about the wellbeing of our cold water streams and the trout that live there. They leveraged their involvement in Trout Unlimited organizations, worked with a range of WDNR departments and partnered with the Town of Wautoma - in short trout fishers will have an improved and newly classified Class I Trout Stream, the town will have a tax revenue-free improved road crossing resilient to flooding and the local economy will get a small boost.

 

The “Trout Stream Reflections” series, in future month, will continue to track the success of this project and other related activities, as well as the people involved.