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The Value and Significance of the Lower Chippewa River Basin

The Lower Chippewa River Basin covers 5300 square miles of land over 15 counties in west central Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources included much of that land in the Lower Chippewa River State Natural Area.The surface water of the Lower Chippewa River Basin drains through a network of ever-larger streams and rivers and ends up in the Lower Chippewa River. As this water runs over the land and flows downstream to the Lower Chippewa River, it accumulates different types of pollutants from many different sources.

Environmental scientists classify pollutants as either point  or nonpoint. Point-source pollution is discharged from a single, identifiable location, such as an industrial dump site or a wastewater treatment plant. Nonpoint-source pollution accumulates from many indistinguishable locations and is carried to the river by stormwater runoff. Oil leaks on the road, fertilizer, and pet waste left on lawns are just a few examples of local nonpoint pollution sources.

Not only are industrial, agricultural, and governmental entities accountable for pollutants that enter the Lower Chippewa River, but so is every resident living in the Lower Chippewa River Basin. When not properly disposed of, pollutants end up in the Lower Chippewa River, and are distributed throughout the Lower Chippewa River Basin and Lower Chippewa River State Natural Area. Our everyday choices, from how we use  fertilizer on our lawns to where we wash our cars, directly impacts the water quality of the Lower Chippewa River. Even those of us who live far from the river influence Lower Chippewa River water quality because stormwater runoff carries pollutants from everywhere in the basin to the Lower Chippewa River. 

The Lower Chippewa River State Natural Area is one of the most important areas in the United States because many rare, endangered, and threatened species find suitable habitat here, including 125 rare species (more than any other area of comparable size in Wisconsin), 70% of Wisconsin's fish species, 50% of its plant species, and 75% of its nesting bird species. The Lower Chippewa River State Natural Area also contains 25% of all the prairies left in the state. In addition, the Lower Chippewa River State Natural Area lies within the Mississippi River Flyway, providing a resting place for migrating birds.

The Lower Chippewa River State Natural Area is a place rich in biodiversity because it is composed of a mosaic of ecosystems and habitats. Biodiversity is defined as the variety of species living within a given ecosystem. Biodiverse ecosystems sustain many interconnected species. Biodiverse ecosystems provide a wide array of ecosystem services to humans, such as food, medicine, and goods we all rely on in our everyday lives. The Lower Chippewa River State Natural Area purifies our air and water, decomposes our wastes, reduces flooding, and disperses seeds and pollinates our crops. And it's a great place to recreate!

Next: Lawn Pesticides

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