Tomorrow River Report May Serve as Stewardship Guide

“With this report, citizens throughout the river’s watershed will now have an even greater voice in future land use decisions. Young people especially should know that the Tomorrow’s future and health is not a given. Its very future will be determined by decisions rendered today and in the coming years.” – Tom Miller, one of the funders of the report

The first-ever Tomorrow River status report examines water quality and provides a benchmark for future land management decisions. It was compiled by College of Natural Resources specialists at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, who summarized available monitoring results.

George Kraft, Professor Emeritus of Water Resources, UW-Stevens Point (UWSP) and UW-Extension (UWEX), and one of the four authors of the report told the Spirit, "The effort that went into this report provides us with a good understanding of the current health of the river and our watershed. Now it's up to us who live here and love this place to make it better for the next generation."

The Tomorrow River, which flows through Portage and Waupaca counties, is recognized statewide for supporting native trout, wildlife, recreation and economic development.

Groundwater is the primary source of water to the Tomorrow River and results in a fishery that is home to 26 species including native brook trout, brown trout, bluegill, walleye, northern pike and others. Stream flow, water quality, water temperatures, and healthy tributaries all affect the fishery.

The Tomorrow River watershed includes 120,000 acres in Portage County, of which 30 percent is in agricultural lands. The 2019 State of the River Report details the watershed’s land management practices, groundwater and surface water quantity and stream flow concerns, water quality issues, including nitrates and water temperatures and fishery status.

Water quality continues to be a concern in the watershed, and the report highlights the challenge to making water quality improvements. The river was listed as a Wisconsin “priority watershed project” in 1993. During the next 20 years, Portage County staff worked with landowners to voluntarily install numerous management practices to reduce their environmental impact.

The report suggests that water quality improvements in some areas may be offset by changes in others. Little change in nitrate concentrations in the Tomorrow River was found over time.

Approximately 16 percent of sampled residential wells exceeded the safe standard for nitrate in drinking water.

Phosphorus, which causes algae growth and diminishes water quality, was high in two tributaries and three lakes of the Tomorrow River watershed. The report notes that these observations are based on limited monitoring data.

Water quantity and stream temperature are also explored in the report. The report cites a recent study of groundwater in the watershed showing streamflow in the Tomorrow River is reduced by pumping from high capacity wells. A summary of temperature data gathered between 1998 and 2016 showed warming temperatures limited brook trout. Temperatures below the dam in Amherst were too warm for brook trout in the summer.

Through the years, public and private interests, including numerous conservation groups have worked to protect and preserve this natural resource. The report is a tool for continued collaboration among governmental and nongovernmental groups and land stewards for land use management of the watershed.

“In this day and age, a gem like the Tomorrow River can be difficult to find. I give a lot of credit to the adjacent property owners who keep their shorelands in a natural state, reducing the threats of downstream flooding and providing wildlife habitat and shade to keep the river cool in the summer,” said Nancy Turyk, Water Resources Scientist, UWSP and UWEX, and another of the report’s authors. The other two authors of the report are Joshua Raabe, Assistant Professor of Fisheries and Water Resources, UWSP, and Paul McGinley, Professor of Fisheries and Water Resources, UWSP and UWEX

The report was funded by the George Rogers Memorial Tomorrow River Fund, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) through a grant to Portage County, the Bill Cook Chapter of the Izaak Walton League, and Tom and Nancy Miller of Waupaca.

The collaborative effort may serve as a model for other Wisconsin communities interested in watershed status reports, Miller said. “This report can serve as a citizen’s guide for a better tomorrow for the Tomorrow River.”

The Izaak Walton League has worked to preserve the Tomorrow River since the 1940s, said George Guyant, former board member of the Bill Cook Chapter. “Our plan is to continue being active in conserving this wonderful fishery for years to come.”

The 2019 State of the River Report is on the Portage County website: www.co.portage.wi.us.

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