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Wisconsin Water Quality Report to Congress 2016

Read the Executive Summary of the 2016 Clean Water Act Report to Congress.


Wisconsin hosts bountiful natural resources,including a variety of lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands, aquifers, and springs.Wisconsin's 2016 online Water Quality Report to Congress ("2016 Integrated Report") provides descriptions of water quality programs, emerging issues and new initiatives, and summary reports of water quality conditions. The summary highlights the process and results of this 2016 Biennial Water Quality Report to Congress, which fulfills Clean Water Act reporting requirements under Sections 303(d), 305(b), 314, and 319. Every other year, DNR assembles this report to convey the state's water condition status and trends to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), which in turn shares this information with the United States Congress.

Tom Mortengenson

photo credit: Tom Mortenson (Eau Claire Dells)

impaired river miles

Key ideas in 2016

  • Wisconsin has made great strides in surface water quality assessment and the assessment program continues to increase the number of assessed waters in the state. Through the combined use of careful study design, systematic assessment protocols, and innovative information technology tools that expedite the assessment and documentation process, more rivers, streams, and lakes have been assessed in this 2016 cycle than in previous cycles. There has been an 85% increase in assessed river and stream miles from 2008 to 2016.

  • The 2016 draft 303(d) impaired waters list has 225 waterbody segments newly proposed for listing. There are 10 waterbody segments proposed for removal from the list. There are 70 listed waters that had a pollutant added and 14 listed waters that had a pollutant removed. The number of proposed new listings is higher than in 2014 (192 waterbody segments); this increase is mostly due to the fact that new parameters (temperature and chronic toxicity due to chlorides) were systematically assessed for all waters in the state with available data. Volunteer Monitoring Locations

  • The Water Action Volunteers (WAV) Program involves citizen monitors in the collection of stream water quality data that may be used by the DNR and their partner organizations.   The WAV program has grown steadily throughout its 20 year history (Figure 2). In 2015, volunteers monitored a record 751 unique stream sites (making 4,500+ site visits) in 59 counties across the three levels of the WAV program. In addition 150 new volunteers were trained in total phosphorus monitoring protocols.  These new monitors, along with returning volunteers, monitored 198 unique stream sites for total phosphorus. The year 2015 also marked a shift to volunteers entering their data in the DNR’s Surface Water Integrated Monitoring System (SWIMS) database directly, which aligns with data management protocols of other volunteer monitoring programs.

  • The U.S. EPA recently developed a new Clean Water Act (CWA) 303(d) Program Vision with an emphasis in prioritizing the work that is most important to meet state water quality goals as states, tribes, territories, and EPA implement CWA 303(d) Program responsibilities with existing resources.  In addition to Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) analyses the new Vision allows for consideration and use of other tools to achieve applicable water quality standards, including protection plans and alternatives to TMDLs. DNR continues to work with EPA to develop alternative restoration plans, such a Nine Key Element Plans.  The EPA has identified nine key planning elements that are critical for protecting and improving water quality. Plans that reflect the nine key elements help assess the contributing causes and sources of nonpoint source pollution within a defined watershed area and then prioritize pollutant reduction strategies to restore or protect water quality.

  • CWA Section 303(d) requires each state to prioritize waterbodies identified on their impaired waters list for TMDL development. During the 2016 assessment cycle a new prioritization framework was developed. Past priority rankings were evaluated to determine if TMDL development could be completed based on available staff and fiscal resources. The primary change in the prioritization process is the incorporation of a systematic and objective modeling analysis that identifies watershed areas at a 12-digit Hydrologic Unit Code (HUC-12) scale experiencing the most ecologicaldegradation and vulnerability to future degradation. Priority areas identified by the model are further screened by DNR staff experts to remove areas already addressed by a TMDLor alternative restoration plan. The new approach also focuses planning efforts on the two most commonly identified pollutants on the impaired waters list: total phosphorus and total suspended solids.

  • Monitoring Strategy Wisconsin recently released a comprehensive Water Quality Monitoring Framework for 2015 – 2020.  The strategic monitoring plan is designed to guide monitoring through 2020 with an updated framework including media‐specific studies, protocol inventory, and field procedures that reflect advances in study designs that answer questions aligned with federal and state program requirements and goals. One of the major changes to the state's strategy is the integration of Targeted Watershed Assessment studies with the Water Quality Planning Program. This formal 'marrying' of a hydrologic-based, core monitoring effort with the state's Clean Water Act Water Quality Planning effort sets the foundation for supporting DNR and collaborator outreach and implemetnation efforts including Nine Key Element Planning, County Land and Water Plans, urban service area plans and more.

Last revised: Friday April 22 2016