Program and People News

New Advisory Council Member Spends Time in the Dead Zone

Where lakes and water are concerned, J. Val Klump gets around. Klump, the newest addition to Wisconsin Sea Grant’s Advisory Council, has traveled the world researching large lakes, including Lake Baikal in Russia. In the Great Lakes he was the first person to reach the deepest point in Lake Superior via submersible. Now, as senior director and associate dean of research for the School of Freshwater Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, he is looking into ways to fix the dead zone in Green Bay of Lake Michigan where a lack of oxygen (called hypoxia) makes aquatic life difficult, if not impossible.

While Klump and his colleagues are studying the problem from all angles, Klump’s lab is focusing on the biogeochemical aspects of hypoxia. They hope to develop a set of linked watershed-bay models that will allow them to predict how the system will respond to different management practices and which practices should be encouraged to help solve the hypoxia challenge. They are also incorporating climate change scenarios into the mix.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what the problem is with nutrient loading in the watershed,” Klump said. “If you just fly over the area, anyone can see the nature of it. But controlling nonpoint source runoff is difficult because you’re dealing with thousands of people instead of just a handful of point sources. It will require a shift in the way we think as a society.”

One of Klump’s goals for his advisory council tenure is to encourage Sea Grant to focus on science that’s proactive. To him, this means, “getting out in front of mistakes so we don’t make them. But that’s hard to do, especially in the Great Lakes where the system is changing so rapidly. It requires understanding the dynamics and collecting enough data, particularly monitoring data, so that you can see trends.”

“In addition to Val’s superb research track record, his role in establishing the UW-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences cannot be understated,” said James Hurley, Wisconsin Sea Grant director. “His tireless efforts have resulted in new opportunities for faculty and graduate research in Wisconsin, and we’re proud to support many new initiatives through Wisconsin Sea Grant. His forward-thinking voice will be welcome as we prepare for the future challenges in the Great Lakes.”

Goodbye, Mr. Potter - But Not Farewell

In February, the UW-Madison’s Ken Potter closed the book on a 38-year career as a professor of civil and environmental engineering, and he soon discovered that there are both benefits and drawbacks to retirement.

“On the plus side, I only work on stuff I want to do,” said Potter with a chuckle. “However, there is a danger that I’ll overcommit myself. Once people find out you’re available, your retirement ‘opportunities’ tend to grow exponentially.”

If there’s one thing Potter never had a problem overcommitting to during his nearly four-decade academic and research career, it was collaborating on research projects with the University of Wisconsin Water Resources Institute (WRI) and Wisconsin Sea Grant. Potter was front and center on a file cabinet’s worth of water and climate-based projects, including several that focused on climate change adaptation for coastal communities and one that evaluated the tools created by the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Center.

But the one he may be proudest of is the project that resulted in “Design Guidelines for Stormwater Bioretention Facilities,” an infiltration/rain garden manual he helped create in conjunction with WRI in 2006.

“It was in more demand than anything I’ve ever done,” he recalled. “It was an important topic, but this was back at the beginning, when people first began to explore it.”

David Hart, Wisconsin Sea Grant’s assistant director for extension, always appreciated Potter’s leadership on projects like the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI) Stormwater Working Group and his collaboration on Wisconsin Sea Grant’s Coastal Community Climate Adaptation Initiative (CCCAI) grants. He’s also grateful for the support Potter gave to maintaining UW-Madison’s status as a top-notch school for geospatial research and applications.

“A decade ago, three key faculty retirements threatened this reputation,” said Hart. “Some on campus wanted to go in a different direction and Ken was asked to lead a campus task force that resulted in investment in new remote sensing faculty. The geospatial community on campus owes him a debt of gratitude for helping keep our place among the leading universities in this discipline.”

James Hurley, the director of Wisconsin Sea Grant and WRI, echoes Hart’s comments about Potter’s importance to scientific issues in Wisconsin. “Ken’s research and outreach has truly exemplified the Wisconsin Idea. Through his many research projects, his participation in advisory groups and his commitment to better understanding hydrologic systems, he always had the best interests of the citizens of Wisconsin in mind. I’m sure in retirement he’ll continue to be actively involved in his community."

Hurley has that right. As Potter moves confidently into the next phase of his career, he said he’s concerned that the conservation principles that Wisconsin researchers have contributed to will be forgotten or ignored in the rush to develop and rebuild the areas around Wisconsin’s rivers and streams. For instance, Driftless Area streams that have recovered from abusive agricultural practices in the first half of the 20th century could easily be threatened by future land development. Potter already has several talks scheduled on the potential effects of continued urbanization of the Yahara River Watershed. (Hint: It’s likely to involve increased flood risk.)

“It’s better to keep the science out there,” Potter said. “We have to remind people of what we understand.”

The Aquatic Sciences Center is the administrative home of the
University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute & University of Wisconsin Water Resources Institute.

©2011 University of Wisconsin Board of Regents