Category: Clean Water Act


English: Great Seal of the state of Wisconsin
English: Great Seal of the state of Wisconsin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The longterm goal is cleaner water, fewer algae blooms  and weeds to improve the habitat for fish and other freshwater aquatic life that live in lakes, streams and rivers in Wisconsin.

The idea is to allow wastewater treatment plants, paper mills or dairies with pollution discharge permits to avoid or reduce pollution control costs, in favor of  developing partnerships within watersheds that reduce the flow of phosphorous.  Partnerships may include grants for farmers to change their field and husbandry practices and help communities control runoff from streets.  Regulations also allow water pollution trading among the many watersheds in Wisconsin, which may provide more flexibility to address the pollution issue.

Phosphorous is a nutrient in fertilizer and can be found in suburban yards, automatic dishwasher detergents and manure from farm fields. It causes algae blooms and increases weeds in streams, lakes and rivers.

Algal bloom on the dam

Algal bloom on the dam (Photo credit: MCG Images 2)

The new program to reduce runoff  is another step in the effort to control phosphorous. Wisconsin restricted the sale of fertilizer containing phosphorous in April 2010 and limited the phosphorous level in dishwasher detergents.

In Wisconsin, 172 waterways are polluted due to high levels of phosphorous which reduces their value and recreational use, according to the Department of Natural Resources. The latest phosphorous regulations were approved by Gov. Jim Doyle before he left office but needed EPA approval to move ahead.  Governor Walker tried to shelve the regulation early in 2011, saying Wisconsin’s rule couldn’t be stricter than surrounding states. 

Environmentalists and pro-lakes advocates argued that states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota had a greater interest in controlling phosphorous then states such as Illinois and Indiana with fewer lakes. Toni Herkert, policy maker at the Wisconsin Lakes Association, said law makers in farming and lake areas saw the regulations as a chance to take on the problems of algae blooms and weedy lakes.  In spring of 2011, legislators allowed the regulations to pass.

 A state analysis is underway on the economic impact of phosphorous reduction in bodies of water. The DNR expects the report will show that the benefits of cleaner water on property values will out strip the capital costs of pollution control.

“Using this rule, communities and businesses can work together to make more meaningful phosphorous reduction,” said DNR secretary Cathy Stepp.


The town of Edmonston, one of the Washington, DC area’s lowest-lying communities, has had numerous clashes with its environment.  The Anacostia River splits the town in two, causing flooding during heavy rains. There have been four floods in the last decade. Two bridges, one for cars, bikes and pedestrians; and one for freight trains — reconnect Edmonston’s east and west sides. 

Located in Prince George’s County between much larger Hyattsville and Bladensburg, Edmonston is a middle class town of 1,400.  But Edmonston is now calling Decatur the “East Coast’s greenest street,” thanks to $1.3 million in stimulus money and a year of construction.

“We have no confirmation on that, but I will boast that it is the greenest street in the country,” said volunteer Mayor Adam C. Ortiz, who began working on revamping Decatur in 2007. “Block by block, from the tops of the trees to the stormwater system under the ground, it is as environmentally responsible as possible.”

Before the rain gardens were planted, dirty stormwater flowed through street drains emptying into the Chesapeake Bay. During storms, water would flood the streets. Now, the streets are clean and water-free, and the plants do most of the filtering work.

“This is the most important thing right here. These gardens — they’re low-tech, they’re affordable, and they’re completely sustainable,” Ortiz said.

“We wanted to show that there’s another way to build, there’s another way to prosper, that accepts full responsibility and does not pass problems downstream, and that it can be beautiful and livable.”

Edmonston officials unveiled the new Decatur Street in November 2010. Running three-fourths of a mile, it is now lined with about 30 maple, elm, sycamore and oak trees and energy-efficient, wind-powered streetlights. Crews installed a bike lane made of permeable asphalt that reduces storm runoff and pollution. They also narrowed the roadway by about eight feet, reducing the amount of pavement. The new sidewalks are made of permeable concrete blocks and landscaped areas, or “rain gardens,” that filter water naturally through the ground.

The Bigger Picture

Green streets have been built before, in Seattle and Portland, Ore., but they’re hard to find in towns like Edmonston, which has no stormwater filtration system.

Decatur Street has already won its admirers. The Chesapeake Bay Trust, which provided the initial $25,000 grant for the Edmonston project, plans to announce eight other green-street initiatives in Southeast Washington and the Baltimore area Wednesday, said Associate Director Jana L.D. Davis.

“If this can be replicated, many of these surprisingly inexpensive features can really help the environmental health of the bay,”  she said.

It’s nothing new; everyone knows that the Great Lakes are polluted. However, researchers have recently found pharmaceutical byproducts in Lake Michigan and Lake Erie which raise new concerns about the potential health risk for more than 40 million people who rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water.

The drugs are only a small part of the contaminants that make up the chemical soup stretching from Minnesota to New York. 

A new study by Alliance for the Great Lakes looks at existing data on chemicals and chemical byproducts in the lakes and the impact it may have on the Great Lakes.  “Exposure to some of these chemicals…is cause for consternation for people and concern over fish and wildlife impacts,” writes lead author Dr. Rebecca Klaper, Shaw Associate Professor at the Great Lakes WATER Institute in Milwaukee.

What’s in the chemical soup?

The study shows that there several emerging contaminants in the Great Lakes today including flame retardants, modern pesticides, pharmaceuticals, the antibacterial and antifungal agent Triclosan and the insect repellant DEET. The now famous bisphenol A (BPA)  used in a  large variety of plastics including baby bottles and food packaging, was found in more than half the water samples analyzed to date.

The conclusion

 There’s too little data  and not enough understanding about the emerging contaminants to know how they’ll affect the health of the Great Lakes organisms and the people who live around the lakes. Due to the flawed U.S. system for managing chemicals, exposure to some of these manmade and naturally occurring chemicals, in  water, land and air, is unavoidable. 

The Alliance is calling for a national comprehensive plan to address gaps in research regarding emerging contaminants’ potential harm to public health and the environment and to identify which chemicals may be the most damaging.

Heavy flooding, snowfall or even a hard rain often create stormwater runoff  in some communities around the country. Excess water becomes an issue when it flows over the ground;  hitting a driveway, street or sidewalk which prevent  water from soaking into the ground. Instead, the water often picks up dirt, grass clippings, hazardous chemicals and other pollutants before it flows into a storm sewer system, which carries it untreated into a water shed.  The following tips can help reduce pollution runoff around your home.

Auto service: Have a mechanic check your cars for fluid leaks. Make sure to recycle your used motor oil and not pour it down the drain.

 Car wash: Take your car to a car wash where dirty water will be recycled and properly disposed.

Lawn fertilizer & treatment: Find organic methods to maintain your lawn and flowerbeds; use mulch and stones from the local recycling center for weed and moisture control.

Gutter replacement & repair: Direct downspouts away from paved surfaces; consider a rain barrel or creating a rain garden to capture additional runoff.

Landscaping:  Plant native plants and grasses that are drought and pest resistant to help runoff and erosion. Depending on the type and grade of your yard, consider a retaining wall or permeable pavers.

Plumbing: If you think your sewer or stormwater line maybe damaged and leaking pollutants, ask your plumber for a video inspection of your pipes.

Pooper scoopers/dog walking: Pick up after your dog so harmful bacteria isn’t washed into local water systems.

Septic tank: Get your septic tank pumped and inspected once a year. Poorly maintained systems can release bacteria.