Seminal Study
5:26 pm
Mon July 29, 2013

Goodbye Little Rock Lake Curtain

A landmark study on acid rain came to an end today.  Researchers took down a barrier that’s divided Little Rock Lake in two for nearly thirty years.  Dismantling the curtain was no easy task.

DNR research technician Jeff Rubsam helps remove a thick plastic barrier dividing Little Rock Lake.
Credit Natalie Jablonski / WXPR News

Decades after scientists proved the effects of acid rain on northern lakes, it was time to take down the Little Rock barrier that made the study possible.  Fifteen researchers, students and divers were on hand for the challenge:  how to dismantle a 250-foot curtain…made of heavy black plastic, and partially submerged under years of sediment. 

“Well, what we’re doing now is we’re removing all the weight that held the curtain on shore.  So there are several tons of sandbags and what this crew is doing is removing those sandbags.  And then they have to cut this curtain free, which is no small task in itself.”

Carl Watras has been involved with research on Little Rock Lake since it was first divided in 1984.  At that time acid rain was a hot topic, but no one knew for sure how it was affecting freshwater lakes. University of Wisconsin and DNR scientists divided Little Rock Lake in two and added sulfuric acid to one side.  They compared the effects with the other half, and it was the first study in the US to prove that acid rain was indeed affecting lakes.  Watras remembers the day the dividing curtain was installed.

“It came in pieces.  And the divers now are going to be cutting it back into those pieces.  And the pieces had to be fit together, and it was all rolled up like a big sausage.”

Now that the curtain is coming down, research will continue on the lake as one single ecosystem.