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Lisa Helmuth
Water Quality Bureau

Lower Rock River special initiatives

Special initiatives in or affecting the Lower Rock River basin include the following:

Watershed and geographic management unit (GMU) approach

The Department of Natural Resources is in the process of restructuring its functional units to accommodate the state's physical, ecological and hydrologic features. Management of Wisconsin's land and water resources will focus on a geographical management unit (GMU) scale, roughly the size and physical boundaries of existing large river basins. The state will also design and implement management actions through a "watershed approach," which will involve stakeholder participation in goal setting and implementation for managing geographically targeted land and water resources issues.

Rock River coalition

The Rock River coalition, active since 1994, is a group of individuals, businesses and civic organizations concerned with the social, economic, cultural and environmental health of the Rock River basin. The Coalition is an umbrella organization for many groups working along the river, including the Rock River Partnership, Rock River First, Beloit's Friends of the Riverfront. The Coalition, which meets regularly to discuss topical issues including water quality status and trends, received a tax-exempt status (from Wisconsin Rivers, 1996).

Rock River partnership

Coinciding with a shift in the state's approach to resource management, a grassroots partnership of point source dischargers (primarily wastewater treatment facility operators) concerned with phosphorus load reductions has been formed by members also active in the Rock River Coalition. The Partnership's mission includes investigating alternative strategies to achieve in-stream phosphorus reduction goals via pollutant trading or other means. Partnership members have expressed interest in conducting a study of phosphorus in the basin through modeling. Once phosphorus has been modeled, key focal areas will be prioritized and cost-effective control methods for those key areas will be identified.

The world resources recently used this project as one of three case studies to analyze the economics of pollutant allocation redistribution within a pollutant trading system. Their economic analysis will be useful in identifying phosphorus control strategies appropriate for the Rock River basin. For more on the Rock River Partnership.

Upper Sugar River initiative

This initiative grew out of evolving pressure on the state's water resources, population growth, wastewater management and tightening fiscal resources. The Upper Sugar initiative is a project funded by a U.S. EPA grant to involve stakeholders in the process of analyzing the Upper Sugar River basin's pressing ecological issues, identifying solutions to those issues and developing an action plan by September, 1997 that addresses one or two priority issue areas such as sedimentation, habitat restoration, or growth and land use impacts in the watershed.

This initiative grew out of a Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) stakeholder group that formed to investigate wastewater effluent discharge issues. The MMSD discharges effluent from the city of Madison and its environs to Badfish Creek. By statute, this discharge bypasses the Yahara chain-of-lakes to preserve its water quality. Over the years, urban growth serviced by MMSD has occurred on the city's west side, which is located, in part, in the Upper Sugar River basin. By discharging its effluent from both the Sugar River basin and the Lower Rock basin into the Lower Rock basin, the MMSD essentially conducts an inter-basin water transfer. In addition, because the effluent is discharged in a watershed different from (downstream of) that in which the wastewater is generated, an intra-basin transfer from the Lower Rock watersheds served by the MMSD to the Badfish Creek watershed below the chain-of-lakes occurs. Trends in well logs showing drawdowns in aquifers along the city's isthmus and threats to springs and seeps that feed area rivers, wetlands and lakes contributed to concern over groundwater/suface water interactions in the area. Investigation of the hydrology of Dane County has been ongoing by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and others and funded by the Wisconsin DNR and U.S. EPA since 1993.

The initiative

The initiative also grew out of the need for a fresh approach to a difficult issue. With its wastewater treatment plant at capacity, the city of Verona along with MMSD and Wisconsin DNR agreed for MMSD to receive and treat effluent from the Verona plant. The Wisconsin DNR and MMSD subsequently agreed to return Verona's treated effluent via a pipe and pumping stations to Badger Mill Creek in the Upper Sugar River basin. The Wisconsin DNR and MMSD are capitalizing on the interest of stakeholders by setting up a framework for collective decision making in a work group structure. Work groups are considering benefits to wildlife, habitat, stream water quality and quantity and aesthetic resource values in the identification of key issue areas for the basin. In this way, the initiative is serving as a pilot for future "whole basin" or "watershed approach" projects in the state.

Horicon Marsh area coalition (HMAC)

The HMAC is a group of participating individuals, agencies and organizations that have banded together to help facilitate communication, cooperatation and coordination among individuals, groups and agencies concerned with the Horicon Marsh and surrounding area. The coalition has been actively involved since 1993 in obtaining data, identifying resource issues and following though with implementation of activities to preserve and protect the system's resources. The HMAC is an excellent example of stakeholder participation. While Horicon Marsh is located in the Upper Rock River basin, activities in this conglomeration of upper watersheds has an enormous impact on the quality of the system's downstream waters. Further, with integrated initiatives such as the Rock River Partnership and the DNR's own reorganized structure based on Geographic Management Units, the activities of the HMAC will have a large impact both institutionally and environmentally.

Last revised: Thursday December 10 2015