Public hearings focus on St. Croix's health
Wisconsin and Minnesota are embarking on a long-term campaign to restore the pollution-impaired waters of the scenic, nationally protected St. Croix River that forms a border between the states.
Officials with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said the effort will involve municipalities, industries, businesses and farms within the St. Croix River basin. Moreover, there are ways every resident of the basin and every visitor to these waters can contribute, experts said.
"It will take a commitment from everyone who lives or recreates in the basin to restore our local watersheds and prevent the long-term, slow degradation of Lake St. Croix," said Dan Baumann, DNR director of water programs out of Eau Claire.
A draft report that explains this effort will be the topic of public information meetings Jan. 31 in Hudson -- located on the river in St. Croix County -- and to the north in Siren, located about 25 miles west of Spooner in Burnett County. A public comment period runs through Feb. 11.
The draft report is a "phosphorus reduction plan" for the land areas in both Wisconsin and Minnesota that drain to the St. Croix River. The report proposes goals and efforts to prevent further impairment of the many lakes, rivers and flowages in the basin and particularly to protect the water quality of Lake St. Croix, the lower 25 miles of the St. Croix River from Stillwater, Minn., to Prescott.
The plan was developed by the Wisconsin DNR and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in consultation with local stakeholders, the St. Croix Basin Water Resources Planning Team and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Known as a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), the document establishes the total amount of phosphorus that water bodies covered by the TMDL can receive and still support recreational use, including swimming and world-class fishing.
"This is an important step forward in setting goals for long-term protection of some of our most superlative waters," Baumann said.
Once the TMDL is approved by EPA and public comments are incorporated into any revision of the document, planning will focus on the best, most cost-effective ways to accomplish phosphorus reduction goals.
"All sources of phosphorus will need to be reduced," Baumann said. "MPCA and DNR will work together with the people of the St. Croix Basin to find solutions and reduction strategies."
To create the TMDL watershed scientists spent years monitoring the various tributary watersheds to determine the sources and amounts of phosphorus entering the basin.
The report calls for a reduction of 20 percent from the levels entering the basin in the 1990s in order to protect recreational use of Lake St. Croix, said DNR watershed scientist Buzz Sorge.
"Achieving these goals will restore water quality conditions to levels that existed in the 1940s in Lake St. Croix," Sorge said.
Phosphorus is a naturally-occurring nutrient found in soils, livestock manure, commercial fertilizers, urban runoff and wastewater discharges. It reaches rivers and streams as polluted runoff from farm fields, barnyards, residential yards, urban development, city streets and wastewater treatment plant discharges. It fuels excessive algae and plant growth, degrading the river's natural beauty and diminishing its recreational and ecosystem values.
The St. Croix Basin has many outstanding waters, including the Namekagon and St. Croix rivers, both part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. Both states have forested areas in the northern part of the watershed and more urban and agricultural land use in the southern portions, said Kathy Bartilson, the DNR's northern region St. Croix Basin TMDL contact.
"There are simple and practical things everyone can do to lower the amount of phosphorus entering our waters." Bartilson said. "By making wise choices on products used in our homes and for lawn and garden care, and by improving farm practices, septic system maintenance and municipal and industrial wastewater treatment, all residents and visitors to the basin can help make a difference for the St. Croix.
"The efforts we make to minimize runoff and soil erosion will not only keep phosphorus out of our surface waters, but also will prevent pollution from excess nitrogen, herbicides, pesticides, sediment and even petroleum contaminants from streets and parking lots."
The public informational meetings will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 31, at these locations and times: Siren: 10 a.m. Room 165 on the first floor of the Burnett County Government Center, 7410 County Road K.
Hudson: 7 p.m. in the Community Room, lower level of the St. Croix County Government Center, 1101 Carmichael Road.
DNR staff will be available for informal questions 30 minutes before the scheduled hearings and for a short interval immediately following.
As part of the TMDL review process individuals can submit written or electronic comments through Feb. 10. These can be directed to Kathy Bartilson, Wisconsin DNR, 810 W. Maple St., Spooner, Wis. 54801. After any revision based on public input, and upon approval by EPA, the TMDL will constitute an update to the St. Croix Basin Area-wide Water Quality Management Plan.