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Great Lakes Year in Review - Integrated Report 2014

Report for Great Lakes Commission Annual Summar, March 1, 2013 through February 28, 2014  The information below highlights significant accomplishments, unique partnerships, innovative project approaches, and other information that may be of interest to the Great Lakes community.

Area of Concern projects & progress:

  • Lower Green Bay and Fox River AOC:  The wave barrier, side dikes, and off-loading facility for the Cat Island Chain Restoration Project were completed in 2013. The islands will be filled using clean dredge material from the maintenance of the Green Bay Harbor over the next 20 to 30 years.  Restoring the islands will lead to recovery of a significant portion of the lower bay habitat and will benefit sport and commercial fisheries, colonial nesting water birds, shorebirds, waterfowl, marsh nesting birds, amphibians, turtles, invertebrates and fur-bearing mammals.  BUIs addressed include Degradation of Fish & Wildlife Populations and Loss of Fish & Wildlife Habitat.
  • Sheboygan River AOC:  More than 400,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment were removed from the Sheboygan River in 2012. In May, 2013 an additional 494 tons of PAH contaminated sediment was removed from an area near the Pennsylvania Avenue bridge. To address lower level residual contamination after dredging, approximately 9 acres of river bottom was covered with 6 inches of clean sand between May 28 and July 10, 2013. Due to flooding and ice flows in the winter of 2013, maintenance and some minor repair of the 2012 habitat restoration projects occurred in June and July, 2013. The habitat projects restored native plants to approximately 34 acres along more than 18,000 feet of shoreline. Assessment and evaluation of the habitat projects continues. Treatment of invasive plant species is on-going along the river. A draft fish and wildlife restoration plan for the Area of Concern was presented to the Technical Advisory Committee in January, 2014. The Sheboygan River “Eutrophication or Undesirable Algae” BUI and the “Dredging Restrictions” BUI are targeted for removal in 2014 after pending public input sessions. A BUI verification monitoring plan has been developed to further assess progress towards removal of other BUI’s in the Sheboygan River AOC.  The US Fish & Wildlife Service, NOAA and Wisconsin DNR are the NRDA Trustees for the Sheboygan River. The trustees are working with responsible parties to address natural resource damages on the Sheboygan River.  Restoration criteria have been developed by the trustees for future NRDA restoration projects.
  • Milwaukee River Estuary AOC: In 2013, the Milwaukee Estuary received funding for two important habitat projects. The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District received $767,000 in federal funds from NOAA, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (Sustain our Great Lakes), and the Great Lakes Fishery Trust to restore fish passage to approximately 34 river miles on the Menomonee River. The River Revitalization Foundation received $496,000 to stabilize stream bank, remove shoreline structures, control invasive species, and restore native riparian habitat on a 4-acre site along the Milwaukee River. The estuary also received nearly $1.25 million from EPA to conduct assessments necessary to remove impairments related to benthos and plankton, recreational restrictions, and fish and wildlife populations.
  • St. Louis River AOC: A strong bi-state effort continues in the St. Louis River AOC.  The 2013 RAP Update: The Road map to Delisting was finalized in July 2013. The Roadmap includes 58 actions necessary to meet the BUI removal targets and delist the AOC by 2025. The Wisconsin DNR is partnering with USEPA Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) for sediment characterization in Crawford Creek and the Nemadji River under the Great Lakes Legacy Act.  A removal package for the Aesthetics BUI is being drafted and the first BUI removal in the AOC is anticipated in 2015. Additionally, the 21st Ave West pilot project was initiated in Duluth-Superior harbor in 2013 to demonstrate how wetland habitat can be restored in the harbor using dredge materials containing acceptable levels of contamination. The project started in June 2013 and around 90,000 cubic yards of dredge material was placed during the first year of the pilot to restore shallow water habitat. This project will continue for 2 more years and has many partners conducting restoration and monitoring including MPCA, USACE, WDNR, MDNR, EPA, Port Authority, UM-Duluth and others.
  • Lower Menominee River AOC: The Wisconsin DNR and partners documented actions needed to restore the AOC in the 2014 RAP and Fish and Wildlife Plan Updates. The recommendations of the 2014 RAP and Fish and Wildlife Plan Updates were initiated through science-based monitoring of the avian and fishery communities. Intensive invasive plant management activities were conducted on four islands, one of which is a colonial-nesting waterbird rookery significant to the entire Bay of Green Bay ecosystem.  Public outreach continued through community events and production of the Menominee River Area of Concern: Changing Waters video. Continued high levels of activity are expected in the AOC leading up to the completion of all management actions necessary for delisting. WPSC former MGP Site Marinette, WI

 Additional progress on sediment cleanups within AOCs

  • Fox River Cleanup (Lower Green Bay & Fox River AOC):The Fox River PCB remediation project is now entering its 10th year. During the 2013 field season, remediation of contaminated sediments took place in Operational Unit 4 (OU-4) between the Depere Dam and the Chicago and North Western Railroad Bridge, including the Fort Howard Turning Basin. High-volume dredging and sand capping took place simultaneously throughout the four river miles comprising the above described work area.  A total of 584,266 cubic yards of sediment were dredged during this time.  Hydrocylonic separators removed 89,450 tons of sand from dredge spoils and this sand, having an average PCB concentration less than .072 ppm, was beneficially incorporated into the reconstruction of Hwy. 41 in Green Bay. The remaining spoils were mechanically dewatered and resulted in 274,970 tons of dry sediment cake that was hauled by truck to the Advanced Disposal Landfill in Chilton. Filtration and treatment of interstitial and carriage water resulted in 876 million gallons of clean water returned to the Fox River.  Clean sand and armoring gravel was used to create single and multi-layer caps placed over 113 acres of the river bed. Dredge and capping performance during the 2013 calendar year served as assurance to the DNR/EPA Agency Oversight Team that the project will meet its goal of completion by 2017.
  • Ansul/Tyco arsenic contaminated site (Lower Menominee River AOC): Dredging began in 2012 and continued through November 2013 with just under 260,000 cubic yards of sediment removed from the Lower Menominee River.  Tyco is currently negotiating with USEPA and DNR on a Great Lakes Legacy Act Betterment Project. The Betterment Project will remove another 40,000 cubic yards of sediment down to 20 ppm total arsenic during the 2014 dredge season. This will enable the AOC to reach its goals before the 10-year Monitored Natural Recovery period (normal process) without a Betterment Project.
  • Menekaunee Harbor (Lower Menominee River AOC): After years of planning, the City of Marinette and WDNR with financial support through the GLRI are poised to begin Menekaunee Harbor Restoration activities this spring.  2014 activities include removal of the failing seawall, removal of contaminated and excess sediment, and habitat restoration.  All work is expected to be completed in 2015.  The City and WDNR share a vision for the Harbor which includes better public access, improved economic and recreational opportunities, a cleaner environment, and spawning habitat vital to fish and wildlife like the Great Lakes Musky.
  • WPSC former MGP Site Marinette, WI: EPA led Superfund project to remove coal tar contaminated sediments at the former manufactured coal gas plant located east of the State HWY 41 Bridge in Marinette. A total of 15,028 cubic yards of PAH contaminated sediment was removed from the Menominee River, processed and delivered to Waste Management Landfill in Menominee, Michigan for disposal.  Dredging was completed in March, 2013.  Confirmation sampling indicates PAH’s above the clean-up goal in an area near Nestegg Marine and the adjacent cove.  EPA approved a 10” sand cover design and contractors have installed the sand cover.  EPA & WDNR approved “The Residual Sand Cover Monitoring Plan”.  A reactive core mat was installed to control the upland source of contamination from surface water impacts.  In addition, soil and vapor intrusion are currently under investigation to determine potential future remediation in the upland areas.
  • Lincoln Park (Milwaukee Estuary AOC): The USEPA, Wisconsin DNR and Milwaukee County continue work on the Lincoln Park EPA Great Lakes Legacy Project. Final design is underway for the final Phase 2 portion of the site to address 35,000 cubic yards of PCB and PAH contaminated sediment. This will eliminate what was once the largest source of PCBs to the Milwaukee River. Next the project will be sent for bidding by EPA pre-approved contractors with construction planned to begin in mid-2014. The estimated cost is $18 million.  
  • Howards Bay (St. Louis River AOC):  Wisconsin DNR is collaborating with Fraser Shipyards, the City of Superior, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and U.S. EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) on a project for dredging contaminated sediments in Howards Bay. Sampling was completed in 2013 to align dredging of the navigation channel by USACE with environmental dredging.  The sampling was a successful collaboration between Fraser Shipyards, WDNR and EPA with USACE and EPA picking up the analytical costs. A joint application was submitted for Great Lakes Legacy Act assistance to complete a feasibility study and remedial design (FS/RD) and a project agreement is expected soon. The FS/RD will be done during 2014.  Dredging of the selected design is scheduled to be carried out in 2015 and is expected to include beneficial reuse of dredge material.

Sediment remediation and toxic contaminant cleanup projects outside of AOCs:

  • Ashland MGP Site (Northern States Power, Wisconsin): Currently the Ashland EPA Superfund Site is split into two Phases (I and II), representing the land and off-shore remediation, respectively. The on-land portion has a selected remedy that is currently in design, which is expected to continue through 2013 with implementation starting in 2014. The off-shore (Phase II) portion has a selected remedy that is being challenged by the responsible party. Extensive geotechnical testing and expert peer review is underway to evaluate the constructability of the ROD selected remedy of dry excavation. As allowed under the ROD the RP has elected to implement an alternative wet dredge pilot test to demonstrate that the alternative can meet the ROD performance standard. The design of the pilot is currently underway; implementation is planned for 2014.
  • Hayton: The Hayton Area Remediation Project (HARP) is a multi-year cleanup of PCB sediment in tributaries of the South Branch of the Manitowoc River, Calumet County. Over the past two years, the responsible party has been performing recovery monitoring on six miles of cleaned stream and floodplain. It is the Department’s intent to have cleanup construction restarted for the remaining three miles of stream in 2014.
  • Portage Canal: The Department is currently working with City of Portage ad-hoc committee to develop a solution for the contaminated sediment. The Department has collected sediment cores for a detailed evaluation of the contaminated sediment. Ecological and human health risks are being evaluated. Next will be a feasibility study of remedial options and costs.  
  • Rippon MGP site (Alliant Energy):  Alliant’s contractors implemented the sediment cleanup action at the site in the winter of 2013-14. 4,000 tons of MGP waste contaminated sediment were removed and the site was capped with a patented ebullition-controlling cap to prevent the upward migration of deeper contamination. The millpond contours and shoreline were restored with a backfill of sand and gravel and riprap. Site monitoring will continue for three years to verify the performance of the remedy. 

Beaches/coastal health:

  • Restorations:  Door County continues to lead in its efforts to restore beaches along its coastline, completing another restoration early this year at Washington Island’s Gislason Beach. Capitalizing on the efforts to identify the sources of contamination at impaired beaches, Racine Health Department and University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh secured funding to provide engineering designs and implementation strategies to make beach restoration more affordable and do-able for local communities along the Lake Michigan and Superior coasts.  As a result, more restorations will be completed along the coasts this year. The partnerships formed through these efforts enabled Wisconsin’s beach health program to maintain a monitoring presence at many beaches in the face of current fiscal challenges.
  • Nowcasting:  In an award winning effort to make science accessible to local decision-makers, Wisconsin partnered with USGS to create automated systems for retrieving National Weather Service and NOAA data into Virtual Beach, the application used to predict water quality exceedances at beaches. To date, 21 Wisconsin beaches have operational Nowcasts and with the streamlined data retrieval, the time needed to develop a Nowcast in Virtual Beach has been cut 80% and local beach managers can generate daily Nowcasts in a matter of minutes.


  • Wisconsin's Nutrient Reduction Strategy:  completed and submitted to to EPA in December 2013.
  • Phosphorus Rule: Wisconsin adopted a phosphorus rule in 2010 that resulted in the need to integrate new standards into WPDES permits. WDNR is working with partners to find economically viable compliance options for phosphorus that achieve our water quality and watershed goals. Innovative compliance approaches including adaptive management and water quality trading are being investigated, and several resources have been developed to assist in their implementation including guidance documents, factsheets, and a webinar series. WDNR is also supporting the Fox P Trade project to investigate trading in the Lower Fox basin. The Department along with its partners continues its effort to grapple with this very important complex environmental issue.
  • Fox-Wolf Watershed: As the largest source of phosphorus from Wisconsin to Lake Michigan, the Fox-Wolf Watershed is critically important for addressing nutrient-related problems in the lake. In 2013, the Great Lakes Commission hired a Field Coordinator to support a 3-year initiative to design a water quality trading program for phosphorus in the Lower Fox River watershed. NRCS allocated $3 million for conservation practices in P reduction areas (which include a large part of the Lower Fox watershed). The Department is in implementation planning stages for the Lower Fox River TMDL and has formed committees to assist with the following activities: preparation of agricultural inventory; water quality monitoring; and outreach. EPA used GLRI funds to hire a consultant that will develop total P and TSS TMDLs in cooperation with DNR and EPA for the Upper Fox & Wolf Basins. USGS will perform the modeling requirements for four (4) of the lakes contained within the basins (Lake Winnebago, Lake Poygan, Lake Winneconne, Lake Butte des Morts); CADMUS to model/address the remaining impaired lakes in the basin.

Great Lakes Compact:

With Compact implementation, annual water withdrawal reporting has risen to 95% of all registered withdrawal sources.  Wisconsin is improving its tools for evaluating whether proposed withdrawals will result in significant adverse impacts to water resources. These tools include:

    • An updated model that predicts streamflow statistics for all stream reaches in the state. 
    • An improved hydrogeologic dataviewer that pulls together a variety of data sources in a spatial viewer.
    • A pilot groundwater flow model to evaluate management alternatives in a water stress stream basin.
    • Initiating an updated springs inventory for the state verifying location, flow and establishing reference springs for long term monitoring.

The Department continues to participate in promoting Fix a Leak Week – an EPA sponsored week in March encouraging home owners to check for and fix leaks. The Department also participates annually at an exhibit in the DNR Park at the Wisconsin State Fair promoting water efficient fixtures, understanding of where drinking water comes from and finding and fixing leaks. Development of water conservation and efficiency education and outreach trainings for teachers is also ongoing.  In addition, the Wisconsin DNR continues to review the City of Waukesha application for a diversion of Great Lakes water.  Additional information was submitted to the DNR in October 2013.

Aquatic Invasive Species:

  • Phragmites control: The US Fish and Wildlife Service (Great Lake Restoration Initiative – GLRI) provided $200,000 to control invasive Phragmites in the Lake Michigan basin.  Wisconsin DNR is using the funds to find the leading western edge of the population and chemically controlling pioneering infestations. A priority is to keep Phragmites out of the lake rich areas of northern Wisconsin. Treatment is targeted for the fall of 2014. Two hundred acres are expected to be controlled.
  • Clean Boats, Clean Waters program: Volunteers and paid staff throughout the state spent nearly 69,000 hours inspecting over 114,000 boats and talked to over 228,000 boaters at boat launches in 2013.  Boaters are reminded to take the necessary steps to prevent the spread of AIS (Inspect, Remove, Drain and Never move live fish).  This program is one of the foundations of the states AIS program and continues to be a major source of AIS information for boaters.
  • AIS monitoring: DNR is in the midst of a five year study (2011 through 2015) to understand how widespread aquatic invasive species are in lakes with public boat landings, and how fast they are spreading. The study will also provide insight as to whether the education and outreach that has been done with partners is working to slow the spread of invasive species.  Preliminary results show that of the ~15,000 lakes in Wisconsin, only 164 lakes are invaded by zebra mussels and only 6 lakes are invaded by spiny water fleas. Out of 184 invasive species introduced to Lake Michigan over the past century, just 29 have made it to inland Wisconsin lakes. More than 90 percent of boaters in Wisconsin say that they are aware of AIS laws.  Wisconsin is also developing an AIS stream monitoring program to increase our knowledge of the distribution of AIS in streams.
  • Boater survey: In 2012 and 2013 the DNR collected information from boaters at the Sturgeon Bay boat launch on the Lake Michigan shoreline to learn if boaters would be interested in having their boats and trailers cleaned of AIS.  Decontamination equipment was stationed at the launch and staffed with Department employees.  Staff contacted boaters to learn about their AIS knowledge, compliance with AIS laws and their willingness to have their equipment cleaned before leaving the launch.  Boaters showed a strong interest in having their equipment cleaned if it didn’t cost too much or take too long.  Most boaters felt the equipment would be effective at preventing the spread of AIS to inland waters.  Thirteen percent of boaters were considered high risk because they stated they would be boating on an inland water body in the next five days.  This effort will be used to guide the Department’s prevention efforts along the Great Lakes.
  • Interstate cooperation – Wisconsin cooperated with Minnesota and Michigan to produce a Public Service Announcement that informs boaters about the steps they should take to prevent the spread of AIS.  Wisconsin is also initiating talks with the other Great Lake states to coordinate early detection, rapid assessment and rapid response planning in the Great Lakes.  Interstate cooperative efforts will improve the regions ability to prevent, contain and control AIS.
  • New Zealand Mudsnails – In 2013, New Zealand Mudsnails were found in Black Earth Creek, which is a trophy trout stream in south central Wisconsin.  The snail is the first inland location in Wisconsin and the Midwest.  The snail is believed to have been brought to Wisconsin on the waders of an angler that visited a trout stream out west.  The finding is prompting Wisconsin to increase its outreach to trout anglers, trappers and waterfowl hunters.

Ballast water

  • Continued Compliance: Department ballast water staff conducted 58 compliance inspections of vessels (32 for Lake Superior, 26 for Lake Michigan), which is nearly one quarter of all ballast water permittees, the highest inspection rate in the wastewater program. Each vessel inspected received a follow-up letter, which often included recommendations to improve ballast water management plans or best management practices. At the end of the shipping season, inspectors reviewed arrival logs and sent effective Notices of Noncompliance to all companies that operated without permits.
  • Supporting research: The Department continues fostering positive working relationships with research institutions that are making progress in ballast water treatment system development and testing. In addition to reviewing proposals, writing support for research projects and doing peer reviews for National Parks Service, United States Geological Survey and Great Ships Initiative projects, program staff continued to lend a hand to critical university research, occasionally participating in ballast water sampling during inspections.
  • Outreach and Education:  The Department continues to conduct outreach and educational activities regarding ballast water at various conferences throughout the state and for crew members during inspections.
  • Collaboration: The Department continues to participate in the Ballast Water Collaborative with the U.S. Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, International Joint Commission, the shipping industry and other state and federal regulators on ballast water and invasive species issues in the region.


  • Lake Michigan Integrated Fisheries Management Plan:  The Lake Michigan Integrated Fisheries Management Plan guides the management of sport and commercial fisheries in Wisconsin waters of Lake Michigan. The current ten-year plan expires in 2013 and a new plan is under development for 2014-2023. We are engaging fisheries and law enforcement personnel working on Lake Michigan, the interested public, DNR staff in all related programs, and external partners in developing the plan. After final internal review we will be bringing the draft plan out for public comment late this spring.
  • Updated fish consumption advisories: Every year DNR, in consultation with Department of Health Services, examines new data and data from recent years to re-evaluate fish consumption advice. Updated advice released in August 2013 suggests that ongoing cleanup of PCBs from the Fox River is beginning to pay off, with anglers able to eat more of some fish species from stretches of the river and from Green Bay. Also, fish consumption advice was relaxed for five fish species from Lake Superior
  • Passing Lake Sturgeon above the first upstream dam on the Menominee River: WDNR Fisheries program staff were instrumental in finalizing an agreement between North American Hydro Power Company, the State of Michigan, The River Alliance of Wisconsin and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that governs operation and construction of a trap and transport-type “fish ladder” to be constructed on the first upstream dam on the Menominee River, which forms the Wisconsin-Michigan border at Marinette.  After years of negotiations, GLRI monies will construct this passageway and spawning lake sturgeon will have access to their historical spawning grounds. Construction on the first stage of downstream passage is anticipated to be completed in 2014 with construction beginning this spring. Other stages are under development with construction planned for 2015

Fisheries BUI-setting activities in Menominee River AOC

  • Department staff investigated the development and assessment of the “degradation of fish and wildlife populations” BUI in the Lower Menominee River AOC and developed criteria for fish species of interest, as established by citizens and technical experts. Preliminary results of sampling suggest that relative abundance for most species exceeds the established target, but additional surveys are considered necessary.
  • This work resulted in an article entitled “Decision Criteria Development and Methodology for the Degraded Fish Population Beneficial Use Impairment in Wisconsin's Lower Menominee River Area of Concern” in the December 2013 issue of Environmental Practices (Vol. 15, Issue 4, pages 393-400).
  • Lake trout quotas: Department staff held negotiations with tribal governments (Red Cliff and Bad River) to establish quotas for Lake Trout in the Apostle Islands region of Lake Superior. These negotiations used to occur once every three years. However, recently we have been meeting annually because the stock has been in decline.
  • Fish Tumor Beneficial Use Impairment Evaluation: Two hundred white suckers were sampled for liver tumor presence and stable isotopes. Isotopes are used to determine the relative time spent in the AOC compared to the lake. The following AOCs were sampled in partnership with USGS, EPA and the University of Wisconsin –Madison: Sheboygan, St Louis (2 separate years), and Milwaukee. White suckers were also collected from the reference site of Kewaunee River and collected previously in Mountain Bay Ontario (reference site in L. Superior for St. Louis AOC).  White sucker tumor incidence rates were found to be slightly higher than target levels in all sampled AOCs. However, additional collection of reference site information (e.g. Root River in 2014) as well as analysis of white sucker isotopic ratios may change the picture from barely too high to barely acceptable. Results are expected in Winter 2014/2015.  Overall, results are better than expected given most of the sediment remediation has only recently occurred.
  • Whitefish population growth in Great Lakes tributaries: Whitefish are re-establishing in a number of Lake Michigan tributaries. Department fisheries managers recorded strong year classes of younger whitefish as well as fish in spawning condition in the Fox, Peshtigo, and Oconto Rivers.  (Whitefish had previously recolonized the Menominee River.) Water quality and habitat improvements are factors in the population growth, but may not tell the whole story. The Department is providing funding through a Great Lakes Protection Fund grant to UW Green Bay and DNR Fisheries staff to investigate the extent of the whitefish resurgence and additional factors that may be involved.
  • Lake Michigan fish stocking reductions: Concern related to the depletion of forage fish in Lake Michigan has resulted in lakewide stocking reductions based on quantitative modeling and substantial public involvement. Stocking plans resulted from a collaborative effort between the states surrounding Lake Michigan.
Last revised: Monday May 29 2017