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Sediment in Wisconsin’s Waters

Field of beautiful green corn
Sediment deposited in a culvert.

Sediment is the loose sand, clay, silt, and other soil that settles to the bottom of a water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists sediment as the most common pollutant in rivers, streams, lakes, and reservoirs. When sediment enters a waterbody, it smothers valuable aquatic breeding ground, damages fish gills, fills in stream channels (which increases the chance of flooding), contributes to the erosion of stream banks, decreases the recreational value of the waterbody, and can be costly for drinking water treatment plants to filter out. In addition, sediment often carries nutrients with it into Indiana streams and lakes.

While natural erosion produces nearly 30 percent of the total sediment in the United States, erosion from human use of land accounts for the remaining 70 percent. In agricultural watersheds, the most significant source of sediment is tilled fields. Farm fields, especially when conventional tilling is used, lack a continuous layer of vegetation to hold the soil in place, so sediment run–off is a major concern.

Improperly managed construction sites also contribute significant amounts of sediment to local waterways; up to 25 times that of agricultural lands (Chesters, 1979) and 2,000 times that of forested lands (EPA 833–F–00–008, R 12/2005 [PDF]). Construction activities that disturb an acre or more of land are subject to local and state construction site regulations to limit the amount of sediment that is permitted to leave a site. Another significant source of sediment comes from domestic animal activity. Without proper management, livestock can over–graze creating pasture erosion, and trample streambanks.

Wisconsin Regulations and Incentives

The Wisconsin Runoff portal [exit DNR] provides information spanning multiple agencies in the area of sediment runoff and loading to Wisconsin waters. Recent agricultural and non–agricultural performance standards sediment–related construction erosion control standards include:

Commercial building sites are regulated by the DNR. On January 1, 2010, administration of soil erosion, sediment control and storm water management control requirements for commercial building sites under Chapter COMM 60, Wis. Adm. Code, was transferred from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce to the DNR. The transfer of authority was mandated by 2009–2010 state budget legislation, 2009 Wisconsin Act 28. Owners of commercial building construction sites that will disturb one or more acres of land now file "Notice of Intent" applications with the DNR.

Last revised: Thursday May 04 2017