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Water quality and hydrology of the Lac Vieux Desert watershed, Gogebic County, Michigan, and Vilas County, Wisconsin, 2002-04

January 1, 2005

Lac Vieux Desert is a prominent 6.6 square-mile lake that straddles the Michigan-Wisconsin border and forms the headwaters of the Wisconsin River. For generations, the Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians have used Lac Vieux Desert and the surrounding area for growing and harvesting wild rice, and hunting and fishing. The Lac Vieux Desert Band is concerned about the impact of lake-stage regulation on hydrology and ecology, and the impact on water quality of development along and near the shore, and recreational watercraft use and sport fishing. In 2005, the U.S. Geological Survey completed a water-resources investigation of the Lac Vieux Desert watershed in cooperation with the Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians.

Water quality of Lac Vieux Desert is typical of many lakes in the northern United States. Trophic State Index calculations classify Lac Vieux Desert as a highly productive eutrophic lake. The pH of water in Lac Vieux Desert ranged from 6.5 to 9.5, and specific conductance ranged from 62 to 114 µs/cm. Chloride concentration was less than 1.5 mg/L, indicating little effect from septic-tank or road-salt input. Results indicate that the water can be classified as soft, with hardness concentrations reported as calcium carbonate ranging from 29 to 49 mg/L. Concentrations of calcium, magnesium, chloride, and other dissolved solids ranged from 47 to 77 mg/L. Alkalinity of Lac Vieux Desert ranged from 27 to 38 mg/L.

Pervasive aquatic blooms, including a bloom noted during the September 2003 sampling, are apparently common in late summer. Biological productivity at Lac Vieux Desert does not appear to have changed appreciably between 1973 and 2004. In the current study, total phosphorus concentrations ranged from 0.01 to 0.064 mg/L and dissolved nitrite plus nitrate nitrogen concentrations ranged from at, or below detection limit to 0.052 mg/L. Overabundance of nutrients in Lac Vieux Desert, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus, could result in considerable degradation in lake-water quality.

The estimated water balance includes the following inputs from the surrounding watershed: direct precipitation (35 percent); runoff, composed of streamflow and overland flow (50 percent); and ground-water flow (15 percent). Outputs from Lac Vieux Desert include streamflow into the Wisconsin River (68 percent) and evaporation from the lake surface (32 percent). Seasonal regulation of Lac Vieux Desert outflow results in an artificially high lake stage throughout the year, except from late winter to very early spring, prior to snowmelt and runoff. Regulation of Lac Vieux Desert outflow causes Wisconsin River streamflow to be artificially low during spring and summer and artificially high in fall and winter.

Recent studies indicate that lake-level regulation over the past century may have affected wild rice growth and propagation in Lac Vieux Desert. As per licensing agreement between the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Wisconsin Valley Improvement Company (operators of the dam at the outlet), the maximum lake level of Lac Vieux Desert was lowered about 0.8 feet to investigate the relation between lake-level regulation and propagation of wild rice from 2003 through 2012. Recent plantings of wild rice by the Lac Vieux Desert Band have been successful, indicating that suitable habitat and hydrologic regime were present in 2004-05.

Publication Year 2005
Title Water quality and hydrology of the Lac Vieux Desert watershed, Gogebic County, Michigan, and Vilas County, Wisconsin, 2002-04
DOI 10.3133/sir20055237
Authors T. L. Weaver, B.P. Neff, J.M. Ellis
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2005-5237
Index ID sir20055237
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Michigan Water Science Center