UWEX Cooperative Extension Community Development Educators offer education, research and process solutions to government, business and non-profit clients. education, research and process solutions to government, business and non-profit clients in 68 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties.
In the KnowDid you know lake foam can be a natural occurrence?
Lake foam occurs naturally when organic compounds, such as plant and animal matter, decompose and are released into the water. This organic content contains surfactants, which are compounds that lessen the surface tension of the water. When these surfactants are rapidly mixed with the air, by wind, wave action, water flowing over a dam, or turbulent rapids, they will create foam in the water. This foam can build up and collect in coves and downstream, but naturally-occurring lake foam will subside and settle relatively quickly.
Lake foam is most common in eutrophic lakes that are dark brown in color. These lakes typically have high organic content from decomposing leaves and the presence of many plants and animals. You will see more lake foam in the late fall due to the release of organic compounds at the end of our growing season.
Beginning in the late 1950s, synthetic laundry detergents containing surfactants made their way into waterbodies and caused massive foam production and buildup. These detergents and other soaps were chemically non-biodegradable, so they hung around for a long time. Phosphorus in these detergents also created biological overproduction – similar to the phosphorus-related problems we still see today. After conflict over the issue in the early years of environmental protection, the industry now produces household products that are much safer for our waterbodies. The sudsing agent of all detergents now on the market must be biodegradable. This effort, combined with advances in water treatment, regulation, and education, has significantly decreased the amount of lake foam from pollution.
Is it natural or not?
Natural foam has an earthy or fishy aroma, is off-white, tan, or brown in color, and is common in rainy or windy conditions. Foam from pollution will likely smell of perfume, be whiter in color, slimy to the touch, and will not travel very far.
Written by Kirstin James, UWSP graduate, for Lake Tides
Illustration by Carol Watkins
Have you ever wondered what is so tasty below the surface that makes ducks dive for their dinner? It’s water celery! Click on the link below to read more.
- Kewaunee Recycling Guide pdf
- Department of Natural Resources
- National Recycling Coalition
- Environmental Resources Center
- Well Water Quality Viewer
- Wisconsin Woodlands Information
If you have any questions regarding Community Resource Development in Kewaunee County, please contact:
Kewaunee County UW-Extension
810 Lincoln Street
Kewaunee, WI 54216
Office Hours: M-F, 8 am to 4:30 pm
Erin Dahle – Program Assistant