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Reports and Links

Wisconsin 2014 Integrated Report

Related Activities

South Fork Eau Claire River, Lisa Helmuth

South Fork Eau Claire River, Lisa Helmuth

JYahara River Watershed, JW Creations

JW Creations - Yahara River Watershed

Pheasant Branch Springs, JW Creations

Pheasant Branch Springs, jwcreations

Emerging Issues and Initiatives - 2014 Integrated Report

Water Monitoring Strategy

Monitoring Photos

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) is in the initial stages of refining our statewide water quality monitoring strategy. A WDNR workgroup was formed to developing a comprehensive (water quality, biology, habitat, hydrology) cross-media (lakes, streams, rivers, wetlands) Water Resources Monitoring Plan that is driven by assessment and management needs, adequately resourced (staffed and funded), and incorporates strategic partner and volunteer resources and shared goals. The workgroup will oversee the development of a Water Resources Monitoring Strategy for 2015-2020, including outlining an over-arching strategy design, identification of fiscal dependencies, study designs, decision protocols, documentation standards, and strategies to meet reporting requirements. Revised monitoring strategy proposals are currently being developed and reviewed by WDNR technical teams, and the proposals will be considered for implementation during the 2015 monitoring field season.

Phosphorus Standards Implementation

Phosphorus has long been recognized as a controlling factor in plant and algae growth in Wisconsin lakes and streams. Small increases in phosphorus can fuel substantial increases in aquatic plant and algae growth, which in turn can reduce recreational use, property values, and public health. To protect human health and welfare, revisions to Wisconsin’s Phosphorus Water Quality Standards for surface waters were adopted on December 1, 2010. These revisions:

  • Created water quality standards for phosphorus in surface waters. These standards set maximum thresholds for phosphorus in Wisconsin’s surface waters. See Chapter NR 102 [PDF].
  • Set procedures to implement these phosphorus standards in WPDES permits issued to point sources discharging to surface waters of the state. See Chapter NR 217 [PDF].
  • Helped to curb nonpoint sources of excess phosphorus by tightening agricultural performance standards. See Chapter NR 151 [PDF].

WDNR has put a commensurate level of effort and resources in the implementation of these phosphorus standards. WDNR Water Division sponsored a “Phosphorus Summit” on June 27, 2013, in Madison, WI and invited key stakeholders to listen to each other’s concerns about the implementation of the phosphorus rules. Approximately 60 people attended the summit.

Department staff has developed supporting resources to assist in phosphorus rule implementation including Guidance for implementation of Wisconsin’s phosphorus water quality standards [PDF]. This document may evolve as the Department addresses more of the many unique circumstances related to phosphorus implementation. WDNR has also developed guidance that describes options for regulated point source dischargers for compliance with phosphorus permit limits, including adaptive management and water quality trading.

Phosphorus criteria are also being implemented in watershed restoration projects, known as Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) studies. WDNR is currently working on two large watershed studies that include the development of TMDLs for phosphorus - the Wisconsin River and Milwaukee River watersheds. These TMDLs will establish reductions needed from each source of phosphorus in the watersheds to meet water quality goals.

Site-specific factors may influence relationships between phosphorus concentrations and environmental responses. The statewide phosphorus water quality criteria are appropriately protective in most cases. However, there may be some instances for specific waterbodies where the applicable statewide phosphorus criterion is more stringent than necessary to protect the designated uses of the waterbody in question. Alternatively, there may be waterbodies, such as impounded flowing waters, that may not be adequately protected by the current phosphorus criteria. In such cases, federal and state law allow for development of site-specific criteria - criteria that are applicable only to a specific waterbody or waterbody segment, based on site-specific circumstances - which are more appropriate for certain waterbodies. WDNR is currently developing guidance for deriving site-specific phosphorus criteria that are compatible with Wisconsin’s statewide water quality criteria for phosphorus.

In addition, based on preliminary statewide assessments of phosphorus and biological data, some waters that exceed numeric phosphorus criteria have been found to support healthy biological communities. Therefore, to avoid placing waters on the Section 303(d) list that support aquatic life and recreation uses, WDNR is in the process of revising applicable administrative rules in order to incorporate confirmation of an aquatic life or recreational use impairment using biological indicators, prior to listing a water body that exceeds numeric TP criteria. Corresponding assessment methods will be updated when the administrative rules are revised.

Harmful Algal Blooms

The WDNR, along with other state and local partners, works to protect human health, domestic animals, and wildlife from harmful algal blooms. In order to achieve this goal, the Department is committed to monitoring and sampling suspected harmful algal blooms, informing the general public about the causes and potential risks of harmful algal blooms, and finding opportunities to improve and expand the harmful algal bloom protection program in the future. Below, is the Manitowoc River Eutrophication and Algae, Photo by Mary Gansberg.

Manitowoc River Eutrophication, Algae. Photo by Mary Gansberg.

The WDNR’s current activities, which address harmful algal blooms in Wisconsin, include a partnership with the Department of Health Services (DHS) in conducting algal bloom and toxin sampling, and disseminating results as part of the DHS’s Algal Bloom Surveillance System (HABISS), funded by a grant to the DHS from the Centers for Disease Control. The aim of the HABISS project is to track cases of human and animal illnesses possibly related to algal bloom exposure. The HABISS project has also funded additional DNR sampling efforts in areas with chronic algal bloom problems, including Lakes Tainter and Menomin in Dunn County, and the Petenwell and Castle Rock Flowages in Juneau County and Adams County.

Other WDNR efforts to inform Wisconsin residents about harmful algal blooms include outreach to individual citizens and lake associations, press releases in the summer to alert citizens to peak algal blooms, press releases in late summer and fall to alert hunters to the risks of algal blooms to waterfowl-retrieving dogs, and information posted on the WDNR’s website. The website includes a page on blue-green algae, which addresses citizens’ concerns about the health and aesthetic impacts of algal blooms, information on personal protective measures and control of blooms, and links to the DHS website and algae-related illness reporting portal.

For the past several years, large quantities of decaying algae, called Cladophora, have been fouling Wisconsin Lake Michigan shoreline. As the algae and organisms trapped in the algae rot, they generate a pungent septic odor that many people confuse with sewage. Nutrient sources like phosphorus and nitrogen, zebra mussels and declining lake levels have been implicated in the recent increase in nuisance algae. The presence of rotting Cladophora on Lake Michigan beaches presents aesthetic and odor problems that impair recreational use of Lake Michigan. Cladophora is a green algae, and does not produce toxins the way blue reen algae can. Cladophora itself does not present a risk to human health. However, Cladophora rotting on a beach promotes bacterial growth that can pose a risk to human health. In addition, crustaceans that wash up with the algae can attract large flocks of gulls, resulting in high concentrations of fecal material and bacteria. WDNR plans to form a workgroup charged with developing a robust method for assessing the recreation use of Great Lakes nearshore waters. เน€ecause Lakes Michigan and Superior are large, interjurisdictional waters, the development of assessment protocols for the Great Lakes will be a collaborative effort with external partners, other waters quality agencies and the USEPA.

Last revised: Wednesday May 31 2017