Contact(s): Aaron Larson, DNR water resources management specialist, 608-264-6129, AaronM.Larson@wisconsin.gov; Jennifer Sereno, DNR communications, 608-770-8084, Jennifer.Sereno@wisconsin.gov
October 27, 2015
MADISON -- Wisconsin's surface water quality is good and improving in many areas, thanks to limits on wastewater dischargers and new approaches for controlling urban and rural runoff.
In fact, phosphorus, ammonia and sediment levels have decreased during the past 20 years in major rivers statewide as a result of stricter limits in wastewater, improved farming practices, construction site erosion control and urban storm water management.
At the same time, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is taking the next step to identify new waterways that will be targeted for a pollution reduction plan. The DNR has listed 209 new waters that meet the criteria for being classified as impaired and is now asking for public comment.
"Before you can solve a problem, you have to identify it and acknowledge that it exists," said DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp. "The good news is, we are doing that by listing these new waterways so we can start working to restore them to their natural quality."
The public can learn more about these lakes and river stretches in a webinar set for November 3 said Susan Sylvester, director of DNR's water quality bureau. The public can then comment on the list through November 25.
"Overall, the long-term trend and satellite monitoring show that we are making progress with good overall water quality," said Sylvester. "Combined efforts including new regulatory approaches as well as strong partnerships with lake associations, local government and others have made a big difference. However, through expanded monitoring, we've identified lakes and rivers where more work is needed to improve water quality for fish to thrive and for people to enjoy them recreationally."
Over the past two years, Wisconsin has completed assessments on more than 2,400 additional waterways. The vast majority, approximately 70 percent of assessed waters, are in good condition and this list simply identifies waters that need additional management attention.
A majority of these new listings -- 130 -- are for lakes or river stretches that exceed new, more restrictive phosphorus standards that took effect in December 2010 and many are in areas with restoration plans already in development.
"The listing does not necessarily mean that phosphorus levels in these waters got worse," said Aaron Larson, a DNR water resources management specialist and coordinator of the listing process. "Phosphorus levels may be improving in some, but not enough yet to meet these new standards. At the same time, many of these waters were not assessed for previous listing cycles."
Listing waters as "impaired" requires the state to develop restoration plans for them and also may make them eligible for state and federal cleanup funds, which can help speed improvements.
For the 2016 listing cycle, 10 waterbodies are proposed to be removed from the list. Two streams, Pleasant Valley Branch in Dane County and Rush Creek in Iowa County, are being removed because restoration projects improved stream habitat and aquatic life conditions, Larson says.
"The good news is that identifying these issues through the Impaired Waters listing process helps concentrate efforts, attention and funding on these waters," he says. "It's an important first step on the road to working with partners to help restore these waters to where they should be to benefit fish, wildlife and people."
The Impaired Waters List is submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency every even-numbered year under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act (40 C.F.R. s. 130.7(b)). DNR follows standard procedures to assess waterbodies against water quality standards, these are known as Wisconsin Consolidated Assessment and Listings Methods (WisCALM).
Following the department's assessment, the federal rules require public involvement to develop the final list.
The Webinar on November 3 at 11 a.m. will provide citizens and stakeholders with the opportunity to learn more about the process DNR used to develop the list and to ask any questions about that process and specific findings. Comments can be emailed to DNR at DNRImpairedWaters@wisconsin.gov or sent by U.S. mail to Aaron Larson, DNR, Water Evaluation Section (WY/3), Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707. Comments postmarked or received by Nov. 25 will be considered before submitting the final draft list to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for approval.