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Recreation water quality standards revisions

DNR Biologist
Sturgeon Bay, WI

The department is in the process of revising Wisconsin’s water quality standards that protect recreation. The Statement of Scope for this rule revision was approved by the Natural Resource Board on January 27, 2016.

Wisconsin’s recreation designated use protects people who swim, boat and fish in Wisconsin’s waters. Recreation water quality criteria for bacteria protect people from exposure to bacteria that are present in water contaminated by human fecal matter. These criteria are used derive permit limits, make impaired waters listing decisions, develop TMDLs and support the beach notification program.

Pathogens can be difficult to measure directly. Instead, a pathogen indicator is used to signal the potential for illness caused by fecal contamination. Currently, Wisconsin uses fecal coliform as the pathogen indicator. However, the U.S. EPA recommends that States use escherichia coli (E. coli) or enterococci as pathogen indicators because they provide a better link between human illness and exposure to human fecal contamination. The U.S. EPA has three approved analytical approaches for measuring E. coli.

In the proposed rule revisions, Wisconsin has selected E. coli as the most practical indicator. As part of these revisions, the following changes are being proposed:

  • clarifying the recreation designated use to make it clear what types of activities are considered recreation, when the use applies, and to which waterbodies the use applies.
  • changing the bacteria water quality criteria from fecal coliform to E. coli
  • adding language to allow for the development of bacteria site-specific criteria; and
  • revising the DNR’s implementation procedures for municipal dischargers of bacteria (e.g., effluent limitations, monitoring requirements, disinfection policy, compliance schedule).
  • Contact information
    For more information contact:
    Sarah Yang
    Environmental toxicologist
    Last revised: Tuesday August 23 2016