Remembering Barb Gifford
Remembering Barb Gifford
“Barb has made a significant, lasting impact on the people of Portage County and water advocates across Wisconsin by teaching the next generation about the importance of our water resources through Little Plover River field days.” – Wisconsin State Representative Katrina Shankland, who nominated Gifford for a River Champions award in 2018.
On October 22, 2022, Barb Gifford passed away in her home in Plover, Wisconsin. She was a shining example of what it means to be a champion of Wisconsin’s water. She inspired elected officials and community advocates to continue her work, ensuring her legacy of conservation, education, and activism continues for years to come.
Funeral services will be held at Boston Funeral Home in Stevens Point on Saturday, October 29 and the family welcomes donations to River Alliance of Wisconsin in her honor.
Barb Gifford and the Little Plover River went way back. Not as long as she and her husband of 59 years, but darn close. The Giffords built their house on the banks of the Little Plover, raised three children there and played with their grandchildren there. When sections of the Little Plover River first ran dry in 2005, Barb Gifford – a long-time advocate and supporter in matters concerning the river – was shocked, sad, angry — and spurred into action.
The Little Plover River is one of the most studied rivers in the country because it has no tributaries – it is fed only by groundwater – providing an incredible amount of data from which to study how groundwater feeds the river. One could assume that pumping changed the groundwater levels, and that pumping was the primary culprit for drying up parts of the Little Plover River. The data proved it.
Having owned three separate successful businesses over the course of her career, Barb was not one to back down from a challenge. She gathered an abundance of information – including a 1997 report citing the risk posed to the Little Plover of adding more and more high-capacity wells. Barb and a small group of concerned citizens formed the Friends of the Little Plover River. The group’s influence and effectiveness grew significantly as they worked to educate people about the seriousness of groundwater issues in the watershed of the Little Plover River and throughout Portage County, where more groundwater is used than any other county in the state.
The Friends of the Little Plover River planned youth education programs for local school children to learn how to become stewards of the river; hosted a Water Appreciation Day and many other community events and outreach; and served as a clearinghouse for news and information about the challenges to this unique river.
Having observed the life cycle of the river over four decades, Barb knew the Little Plover well. “You can’t live on a body of water and not know when something is wrong,” she said. “People always think all we need is rain. Well, we’ve had rain and yet the Little Plover River continues to have reduced flows 70% of the time. As long as we allow more and more high-capacity wells to deplete our groundwater, the Little Plover River – in fact, all of our lakes and rivers – remain at risk.”
In 2013, with Barb’s leadership in the Friends of the Little Plover River, the waterway was listed by American Rivers as one of the most endangered rivers in America. In 2014, Barb shared the urgency about protecting lakes and rivers drying up in Wisconsin in a commercial River Alliance aired as part of our Wish for Water campaign.
In an interview about the commercials Barb said, “I’m interested in how people want to be remembered by future generations. With gratitude? Or disdain?”
We have immense gratitude for all of the years Barb dedicated to raising awareness to the importance of protecting the waters we love. We will continue to do our best to carry on her legacy.