New book highlights human mistreatment of Upper Midwest lakes


Sunset over Birch Lake. Image: Ted Rulseh

By Emile Rizk

A new book by Ted Rulseh unveils the true dangers of too much human recreation and intervention on the lakes of the Upper Midwest, including the Great Lakes.

“I’ve been interested in lakes ever since I was a kid,” said Rulseh, the author of the earlier book A Lakeside Companion and writer of the newspaper column The Lake Where You Live.

“I see things going on that are putting stress on them,” he says.

Such dangers include pollution, invasive species, ineffective septic systems and, most importantly, newer lakeside property owners not taking care of the surrounding land.

“Us old folks, we remember the Northwoods (the Upper Midwest) as the little family lake cabin on the nice quiet lake,” said Rulseh, “Now we see people buying and coming to lake properties that don’t have that perspective.”

Rulseh said that more recent lakefront homes have been much bigger, and in turn use more natural resources and put more strain on the lakes than the surrounding properties.

Ripple Effects: How We’re Loving Our Lakes to Death (University of Wisconsin Press, $26.95) aims to inform and caution the public about these dangers. Rulseh hopes to educate people on the importance of getting to know the property where they live or vacation.

Ripple Effects cover. Image: University of Wisconsin Press

“People will buy lake property and the chainsaw comes out before the furniture goes in the house,” said Rulseh.

With those chainsaws, people tend to remove the shoreline vegetation that is growing, vegetation that Rulseh claims is some of the more biodiverse areas around the lakes.

Another problem that Rulseh talks about throughout the book is septic systems, and chapter six is entirely dedicated to that problem.

“Some of these, and on some lakes the majority, are newer and properly functioning septic systems installed and maintained according to the latest codes. But others are septic systems installed 30 or more years ago when state and county regulations were less strict than they are today,” he wrote.

Rulseh then continues to emphasize why septic tank maintenance is important to maintaining a healthy lake, explaining how they treat wastewater and even explaining how defective septic systems can emit traces of phosphorus.

Asked what he wants readers to take away from the book, Rulseh said, “I want people to appreciate the lakes more and understand the role that each of us plays in taking proper care of the lake.”

Ripple Effects is available at bookstores and from the University of Wisconsin Press online store.

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