2018 Annual Meeting Features the Impact of Aldo Leopold in the Watershed

Leopold at the Riley Game Cooperative in the Upper Sugar River Watershed

Everyone is invited to attend the Upper Sugar River Watershed Association’s Annual Meeting on Sunday March 11, 2018 beginning at 12:30 pm. This year’s Annual Meeting will feature a presentation on the history of Aldo Leopold’s impact in the Upper Sugar River Watershed with Dr. Curt Meine, Senior Fellow with the Aldo Leopold Foundation.

Members and non-members of USRWA are invited to attend. Refreshments will be provided by Tuvalu Coffeehouse & Gallery in Verona.

Get all the details on this year’s program at uppersugar.org/annualmeeting.


Mussel Monitoring and Propagation Coming to the Sugar River

plain pocketbook musselAs part of a grant from the Wisconsin Citizen-based Monitoring Partnership Program, USRWA kicked-off an exciting mussel monitoring project by relocating 400 Plain Pocketbook mussels to the Sugar River and monitoring their progress.

All of the mussels used in the relocation were raised by the Wisconsin DNR at the Genoa National Fish Hatchery in La Crosse, WI, most of which are contributed to the Mississippi River. In recent years, captive propagation and augmentation methods like this have increasingly been used as a species recovery tool to re-establish sustainable mussel populations.

Mussels have a storied history in the Sugar River, even to the point of receiving national attention by the New York Times back in the early 1900s. During this time, mussels were used for button making and populations were slashed. Today, the Upper Sugar River does not have a strong mussel population despite suitable habitat. Through this study, we hope to find out why populations are low and help to re-establish the Plain Pocketbook mussel.


USRWA Receives Grant to Combat New Zealand Mudsnails

Mudsnail signAfter discovering the highly invasive New Zealand mudsnails in Badger Mill Creek near Verona in Fall 2016, USRWA has been working closely with the Wisconsin DNR and many other partners to develop a response. In April 2017, USRWA applied for and was awarded the Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Early Detection and Response grant from the DNR to begin monitoring, managing, and educating the public on New Zealand mudsnails and other invasives.

Part of the managing component of the grant has already been completed. On April 29, volunteers helped to build 30 wader wash stations (see picture above) which help to educate anglers and others on stopping the spread of invasives as they move from stream to stream. Each station is equipped with a three-sided boot brush and a long-handled brush for people to clean off their gear and hopefully remove any invasive species. These stations have now been deployed throughout the Upper Sugar River Watershed and western Dane County. Increased signage in places where wash stations were not placed is the next step beginning in November 2017.

Although we don’t know the long-term impact New Zealand mudsnails will have in Southern Wisconsin, monitoring their progress and collecting data through this grant is an important first step. Anyone interested in learning more or contributing towards our efforts are encouraged to contact USRWA Executive Director Wade Moder at usrwa@usrwa.org or by phone at 608-437-7707.


New Sugar River Wetlands Restoration dates announced

SNALogoUSRWA continues its partnership with Wisconsin DNR to restore the Sugar River Wetlands State Natural Area during our series of “4th Saturdays” volunteer work days. We need your help! Volunteers will be cutting invasive species like buckthorn, honeysuckle and more to promote the growth of native plant species. It promises to be rewarding, fun, and a great way to experience the outdoors during all seasons.

Workdays are generally scheduled for the 4th Saturday of the month from 9 am to noon. Go to usrwa.org/events/ for workday details and how to RSVP.


USRWA Receives Wisconsin Citizen-Based Monitoring Grant

Upper Sugar River Watershed Association was recently the recipient of a Wisconsin Citizen-Based Monitoring grant to monitor dragonflies in the watershed and create internet-based content to help future citizen-scientists interpret the data they collect.

USRWA Executive Director Wade Moder and Board Member Robert Bohanan will be managing the grant activities. Bohanan, a scientist and educator at UW-Madison, has spent the entirety of his professional career doing research and outreach on dragonflies, lakes, ponds, streams and rivers. Over the past ten years, Bohanan has been active in citizen-science opportunities and providing an outlet for the high-quality data collected by volunteers.

Beginning in 2017, USRWA will be looking for volunteers to help collect dragonfly data around the watershed on a monthly basis. It only requires about an hour per month, and is a great activity to do with children. If you’re interested in learning more, please email usrwa@usrwa.org or call 608-437-7707.

Project Timeline:
Oct-Dec 2016: Materials development and training session organization
Jan-March 2017: Participant recruitment/volunteer training
April-Sept 2017: Monitoring and data collection


Partnership with UW-Whitewater bringing Erosion Modeling to the Watershed is Completed


A two year partnership between Upper Sugar River Watershed Association and UW-Whitewater has officially been completed in 2017. Geography students from Professor Dale Splinter’s worked over two semesters to create an Erosion Vulnerability Assessment for Agricultural Lands (EVAAL) model for the watershed. The EVAAL model allows USRWA to better assist farmers who are looking to limit runoff from their fields, including phosphorus.

Developed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the EVAAL model evaluates locations of relative vulnerability to sheet, rill and gully erosion using information about topography, soils, rainfall and land cover. This tool enables watershed managers to prioritize and focus field-scale data collection efforts, thus saving time and money while increasing the probability of locating fields with high sediment and nutrient export for implementation of best management practices.

UW-Whitewater students worked on this project during the Fall 2015 and Fall 2016 semesters, and presented their findings at the end of each semester. USRWA thanks Professor Splinter for this beneficial collaboration.

To find out more on EVAAL, check out the EVAAL Fact Sheet provided by the Wisconsin DNR.


Farmers of the Upper Sugar River

In partnership with seven local producers in the watershed, USRWA has received funding from the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection to kick start a farmer-led coalition in the Upper Sugar River Watershed. USRWA and it’s founding producers who helped write the grant application are one of 14 groups around the state that will benefit from Wisconsin’s first Producer Led Watershed Protection Grants issued.

Receiving this grant is a culmination of nearly two years worth of effort. “Two years ago we made it a priority to understand the issues facing both the watershed and the farmers when it came to ag runoff,” said Wade Moder, Executive Director of USRWA.

“As a conservation group, things really started coming together and making sense when we brought farmers into the conversation. We learned from each other quickly, and it became clear a farmer-led coalition would be a great asset for everyone.”

The Upper Sugar River Producer Coalition is targeting the Headwaters Sugar River and West Branch Sugar River watersheds, which are both impaired due to excess phosphorus loading. USRWA, who is partnering with the farmers on the coalition, has already established baseline water quality data to help prioritize the coalition’s efforts. The overarching goal of the group is to bring together like minded farmers, strengthen water quality improvement efforts, and leverage educational and financial resources in the future.

As a newly formed producer led group, the grant funding will be used to develop a mission statement, goals, and work plan for the watershed, in addition to recruiting more producers into the coalition.  Farmer education will also be a primary focus. In its first year, the group will host a field day and a “Lunch and Learn” educational workshop in partnership with Dane County UW-Extension’s Crop and Soils Educator, Heidi Johnson for all of the producers in the Sugar River Watershed. To further engage producers in the watershed, the group will also develop an incentive program to fund the installation of various conservation practices.

Learn more about the Coalition at http://uppersugar.org/farmers/.



The Upper Sugar River Watershed Association’s mission is to provide leadership for continuous resource improvement through strategic partnerships that benefit the watershed’s land, water and people.  We are a grassroots, self-sustaining, 501c3 non-profit conservation organization that serves all of those who live, work or play in the watershed. We have a board of directors, a paid membership and are able to complete many beneficial conservation projects with our own funds. We are considered to be a hands-on, project group that continues to rely on the outstanding dedication of our volunteers.

The Upper Sugar River Watershed, with a drainage area of approximately 170 square miles (109,404 acres) and 115 stream miles, is located in Dane County in southern Wisconsin. It is rich in resources, including fisheries, wildlife habitat (including rare and endangered species), native plant communities (many in decline), and recreational opportunities

We are always looking for volunteers to help us with our exciting projects. We frequently have canoe outings, clear waterways, help restore habitat and perform field studies. We have lots of hands-on projects which are always fun and always benefit the communities. Give us a call to see how you can help!