Mapping the Springs of Wisconsin

For August 22, 2018    
Hi WN@TL Fans,
In my hometown there’s a street called Artesian Place.  It runs down a hill called Bootlegger’s Knob and meets with River Road that runs parallel to the Rock River. Near here an artesian spring once bubbled up and flowed into the Rock.
Alas, the spring was drowned when the Dixon dam was first built in 1850 just a quarter mile downstream.  Today, the Dixon Waterworks sits at 92 Artesian Place, a stone’s throw from the old spring.  Few utilities sit on a more historically apt site and address.
Around the world, springs are mysterious places.  At a spring, dirty surface water doesn’t just pool up in a pond; instead, nearly pristine groundwater bubbles out of the rock. Springs, as the one in Dixon once did, can serve as communal gathering spaces or as traveller’s rendezvous points: they’re a refreshing stop off where a thirsty pilgrim can top off.
Springs are also magical places, sources of water to slake the people’s thirst, as with Moses in the desert;  or fonts of healing waters, like FDR’s Warm Springs in Georgia; or places of respite like the cool waters of those along the shores of Lake Wingra here in Madison.

This week (August 22) our speakers Sue Swanson from Beloit College and Grace Graham from the Wisconsin Geological Survey will chart out for us their project in mapping all the springs of Wisconsin.

Here’s how they describe their talk:

How many springs are there in Wisconsin? Where is the largest spring in the state? And what conditions control their formation?

A spring is a natural point of flowing groundwater at the Earth’s surface. Wisconsin is home to over 400 springs that discharge over 100,000 gallons of water per day. While they do not produce enough water for public drinking water supplies, they supply fish hatcheries and supplement agricultural activities. Springs are also ecologically important, creating small specialized habitats with nearly stable temperatures and year-round vegetation. They are vital to our state’s trout streams.

Springs can be vulnerable to human activities that cause groundwater pollution or depletion. In this talk, Sue Swanson and Grace Graham will describe the efforts of the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey and Beloit College to locate, describe, and monitor these special water resources. A recently completed inventory documents the state’s largest springs in a publicly-available database and improves our understanding of springs hydrology.  We will discuss the range of environments in which springs are found, why they exist in some regions of the state but not in others, and which springs are most vulnerable to changes in climate, land-use, or groundwater pumping.

For more information, visit the WGNHS website:

About the Speakers

Dr. Sue Swanson is a Professor of Geology and the Weeks Chair in Physical and Human Geography at Beloit College, where she teaches courses in environmental geology, hydrogeology, geomorphology, and geographic information systems. Her research focuses on groundwater and surface water interactions and the hydrogeology of spring systems, including the investigation of landscape and aquifer conditions that promote spring formation and affect the quality of spring water.

Grace Graham is a geologist at the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, UW-Extension. She has been at the Survey since 2014, primarily working on inventorying and monitoring springs in Wisconsin, and has visited hundreds of springs around the state.  Her work has focused on describing the physical and hydrological conditions of springs, but she has a growing interest in studying their ecological functions. Graham received a Bachelor’s in environmental geology from Beloit College.

As is well known by Cartesians
who study the hydrological lore:
Not all springs are artesians,
But a spring is never a bore.
Next week (August 29)  Justin Vandenbroucke shares the saga of this summer’s blockbuster discovery on multi-messenger astronomy:  tracing a high-energy neutrino back to its source in a cosmic-ray-generating blazar at the heart of a galaxy far, far away.
Hope to see you again soon at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab!
Tom Zinnen
Biotechnology Center & Cooperative Extension