Wisconsin officials are looking for advice on how to keep the state’s lakes, rivers and streams clean and safe for swimming, fishing and drinking.
The state Department of Natural Resources is evaluating surface water quality standards as part of a review done every three years as required by the federal Clean Water Act. Known as the Triennial Standards Review, the process allows the public to weigh in on how the agency should focus its resources to best protect public waters.
“There are lots of topics out there that we could work on,” said Kristi Minahan, water quality standards specialist with the DNR. “This lets us narrow down which are the most important.”
Scott Laeser, water program director for Clean Wisconsin, said in a state with 15,000 lakes it’s easy to become complacent, but there are still problems — like toxic algae blooms — that make some of those waters unsafe.
“People feel like our water resources are so abundant that we don’t have to worry about them. We take it for granted,” Laeser said. “At the end of the day, we still have a lot of rivers, lakes and streams that are polluted.”
Minahan said the DNR consults with other state agencies, such as health and agriculture departments, to get a full view of the issues.
Though not required by the Clean Water Act, Minahan said, “we like to involve the public in the process.”
While the process may seem daunting, Laeser said it’s important for people to have a voice, especially when special interest groups are pushing for less regulation.
“This is an opportunity for people to basically go to bat for the water resources we care about,” he said. “The DNR needs to hear from folks who care about clean water too.”
Water quality standards are based on topics such as goals for water uses — for example, people should be able to fish and swim — as well as criteria for individual pollutants, policies to prevent degradation and variances that allow polluters to exceed certain criteria.
Other topics — such as groundwater, dams, wetlands, shoreline zoning and feedlots — are outside the scope of the water quality standards review.
“Those types of topics often have to do with management practices,” Minahan said. “The department does focus a lot on those topics, they just aren’t part of this particular process.”