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A rain garden installed on Bill Giese's property in 2019 is an example of the kind of project that helps reduce runoff into Lake Wissota, resulting in improved water quality.

CHIPPEWA FALLS — A state Department of Natural Resources grant will reimburse Lake Wissota residents who make improvements to their shoreline that decrease water runoff into the lake or improve the fishing habitat.

“Each homeowner can earn up to $1,000 on their projects,” said Barb Barrickman, chairwoman of the Lake Wissota Improvement and Protection Association.

This year, seven homeowners are working on eight projects, spread across the lake. Barrickman said $7,800 has been set aside by the DNR for the projects.

The grants are helping the association make sure the lake stays pristine, Barrickman said.

“The greatest thing is we’ve been able to go to the individual homeowners and say ‘we are able to help you improve your shoreline.’ It’s all different parts of the lake jumping on the bandwagon.”

Homeowners are encouraged to plant stream buffers — tall thick grass, or rock infiltration pits or native plantings — that reduce water runoff and cut algae blooms.

The quality of the lake is slowly improving as more homeowners are taking on these projects, Barrickman said.

“We all know it’s going to be a slow progress over many years,” she said. “It’s about bringing the lake edge back. We are doing continual lake and stream monitoring.”

The improvement of the lake also has meant more days this year where the water quality has led to good swimming conditions, she added.

The grants also are available to homeowners who place “fish sticks” in the water. Fish sticks are healthy, living trees purposely sunk off the shoreline with some branches still sticking up out of the water. It creates a safe fish habitat and restores a natural look to the shoreline, Barrickman said.

“We’ve seen more wildlife in those areas,” she said. “The otters love them.”

The lake also has seen few problems with invasive species, she said.

“Eurasian milfoil is in a few scattered places, but overall it isn’t a concern,” she said.

In recent years, lake residents and donors in the Wissota Improvement and Protection Association raised $250,000 to continue the stewardship project for another five years while also expanding the plan to include the Moon Bay and Yellow River watersheds.

In January 2018, the lake association hired water specialist Caleb Meyer to lead the stewardship project; he now works in the Chippewa County Land Conservation & Forest Management office, exclusively focused on this project. Since he started working on the project, thousands of trees have been planted near the lake.

The Chippewa County Land Conservation & Forest Management Department first partnered with the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company in 2009 to focus on improving the water quality; the company provided $50,000 annually in funding for the work for seven years.