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Student Researcher Works to
Improve Quality of Half Moon Lake

RELEASED: Dec. 18, 2007

student doing reserach on Half Moon Lake
Patrick Dryer extracting lake sediment from Half Moon Lake in July 2007, to experiment with composting. (contributed photo)

EAU CLAIRE — A University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire senior is investigating the feasibility of recycling or composting the industrial organic waste that's found in many Wisconsin lakes, including Half Moon Lake in Eau Claire.

Community leaders in Wisconsin have long discussed dredging lakes that were polluted with industrial organic waste during the sawmill era, said Patrick Dryer, a geography major from Ashland. But they have been unable to move forward with plans to clean up the lakes because they are limited in what they can do with the waste once it's removed, he said.

Dryer secured a $7,000 grant from the UW System Solid Waste Research Program to document the location and thickness of the industrial byproducts in Half Moon Lake and then to develop an efficient method of drying the saturated organic waste sediment so it won't have to be put in a landfill.

"We extracted sediment from Half Moon Lake last summer, composted it and are studying it to see if we can turn it into a soil enhancer," Dryer said. "We're checking nutrient levels and the heavy metal content of the sediment. The goal is to figure out how much industrial organic waste is in the lake and what to do with it to make the lake quality better."

Dryer will complete his research and share his findings in spring 2008.

"The project has regional, national and international significance to those who want to restore sites that previously had other uses," said Dr. Harry Jol, a professor of geography who is overseeing Dryer's research along with Dr. Douglas Faulkner. "The tools used to map the subsurface of Half Moon Lake will provide the city, county and state better datasets from which to plan future projects. This model also is being looked at by other state and international organizations for use in their projects."

Half Moon Lake has limited recreation potential because of the pollutants that cover the lake bottom, Phil Fieber, director of the Parks and Recreation Department for the city of Eau Claire, stated in a letter of support for Dryer's project. But disposing of the materials once the lake is dredged creates problems, he stated.

"Simply relocating the waste to landfills does not solve a community problem," Fieber stated. "If the spoils are in fact capable of being composted and/or used in some positive, productive capacity, several communities in our state could benefit."

Since July, Dryer has been collecting sediment samples from Half Moon Lake and reviewing literature of composting processes. He also has met with officials from the city of Eau Claire, as well as UW-Extension representatives.

Lumber industries used Half Moon Lake during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Millions of board feet of lumber passed through the lake and were sawed at local mills during that time. The industries dumped sawdust, bark slabs, animal wastes and logs into lakes.

"The practice added up to several meters of industrial waste in the lake," Dryer said, citing past research findings. "As a result, the lake has excess plant growth due to the nutrient-rich organic waste."

Multiple communities are actively seeking ways to clean up these lake environments since past studies showed that removing the sediment would reduce nutrient recycling, which creates a significant weed problem and algae blooms, Dryer said. Additionally, the deepening of the lakes would probably improve the water quality and fishery, he said.

During the first phase of his project, Dryer is using ground penetrating radar systems to accurately locate the industrial waste in Half Moon Lake. He spent some time on the lake last summer and will do additional work this winter when the lake is frozen, he said.

"With different antennae the GPR can effectively image several meters through materials deposited on the lake bottom," Dryer said. "Different antennae frequencies can reveal different layering due to the changes in reflectivity of underlying materials."

Eventually, Dryer will create a 3-D bathymetric map that will indicate the locations and volume of the sediments in Half Moon Lake, which will help city officials better plan for potential dredging.

"An environmental project like this shows how a community can work together to solve local issues," said Jol, noting that Dryer's project continues work previously done with funding from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the city of Eau Claire and the UW-Eau Claire Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. "The funding support the project has received shows that the university has the background to aid in solving these kinds of environmental problems."

The research project also has enhanced his undergraduate experience, Dryer said.

"I'm using research equipment that I didn't think I'd even be able to touch until graduate school," Dryer said. "I've gained a lot of knowledge and tools that will set me ahead when I start applying for graduate schools."

Dryer will present his research at the 2008 Association of American Geographers conference in April in Boston.

For details about Dryer's research, you can find it on the Web. To discuss the research, contact Dryer at or Jol at 715-836-3472 or



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