By Tim Kowols
Recent test results from the East Twin River has caused the Kewaunee County Land and Water Conservation committee to ask the Department of Natural Resources to place the aquatic life survey of the waterway as a priority. The Kewaunee County Board unanimously approved the aquatic life survey of the East Twin River back in October following the DNR’s approval of a permit for the Agropur cheese plant in Luxemburg to increase the amount of chloride they are allowed to discharge. Committee member Lee Luft says new information gathered downstream from the plant showed acute chloride levels in the water where aquatic life could not survive. He says that triggered a new letter to the DNR to be written.
There are over 1,000 impaired waterways in the state of Wisconsin, including four in Kewaunee County.
DRAFT LETTER FROM KEWAUNEE COUNTY LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION MEETING
Mr. James Zellmer, Deputy Administrator Environmental Management Division
State of Wisconsin
Department of Natural Resources
101 S. Webster Street
Madison, WI 53707-7921
Dear Mr. Zellmer,
Thank you for your timely reply to our Kewaunee County Resolution Requesting the Wisconsin DNR to Immediately Initiate A Water Quality/Aquatic Life Survey of the East Twin River and Unnamed Tributaries To The East Twin River In Kewaunee County (Kewaunee Water Quality Survey Resolution). Mr. Zellmer, in your November 30th response to this unanimously approved Resolution from the Kewaunee County Board of Supervisors; you indicated that the Wisconsin DNR “will nominate the East Twin River as a potential monitoring project for the 2017 field season.” Today, we as the members of the Kewaunee County Land and Water Conservation Committee would like to reply to your letter and offer our rational for the very near-term monitoring of the East Twin River and its Tributaries.
Mr. Zellmer, while we appreciate having our one-time Cold Water Community- Class I, Class II Trout Waters, and Exceptional Resource Waters e.g. the East Twin Watershed, as a nominee for a potential monitoring project, we are hereby formally requesting a true commitment to an immediate aquatic life survey and the establishment of the appropriate EPA-approved TMDL. Please allow us to present the reasons for this request for immediate action on the part of the Wisconsin DNR:
- In the Wisconsin DNR’s “Water Report to Congress – 2016” the DNR notes that only about half of the State’s waters have been assessed for water quality. Of the one-half of the waters that have been assessed, the State’s Report to Congress indicates that “1,321 waters were found to not meet water quality standards and are included on the Clean Water Act Section 303(d) list (i.e., impaired waters list).” Of the state’s [1,321] impaired waters, 134 (10%) have EPA-approved TMDLs. Therefore, in Wisconsin we have 1,187 waters that do not have a TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Limit) and are known to the DNR not to meet the current Clean Water Act standards. Zellmer, based upon your letter of November 30th, we cannot be certain if your proposed nomination will place us as number one in the queue for testing or at one thousand, one hundred and eighty-eight (not including all the waters yet to be assessed). For all the reasons that now follow below, we find this uncertainty to be unacceptable.
- Also included in the DNR’s “Water Report to Congress – 2016” is the attached chart (page 87) which clearly indicates Kewaunee County is experiencing major increases in Chlorides, Nitrates and Phosphorus. This DNR report supports the findings we cited in our Kewaunee Water Quality Survey Resolution indicating a major increase in contaminants to our already impaired waters.
- In the Wisconsin DNR’s “Water Report to Congress – 2016” the DNR rightly highlights the work of the Water Action Volunteers (“WAVs”) and we are proud to note that Kewaunee County has a very active group of WAVs. We ask that you please note the very recent testing of the East Twin waters by our Kewaunee County WAVs (significant tabulated data are attached). These WAV data were analyzed by Dr. Gerald Pellett who is a NASA Environmental Scientist (DRA) who resides in Kewaunee County during a good portion of each year. Please note that Kewaunee County’s 2016 WAV data for Chloride and Total Phosphorus have already met the DNR’s data requirements for inclusion in Wisconsin’s 2018 water quality assessment cycle for a biennial report to Congress and uploading to the DNR’s SWIMS data base. Zellmer, as you will see from the data and the resultant attached chart, the Chloride concentrations downstream from the Agropur cheese plant you cited in your letter to us are beyond the acute levels. As you know, freshwater aquatic life cannot survive for any length of time in waters with this kind of acute toxicity. These data further support the anecdotal evidence being presented by Kewaunee County citizens who have lived for many years along the banks of the East Twin River and its tributaries. Clearly the need to act now to understand the scope of the on-going Phosphorus and Chloride contamination of the East Twin waters is critical. While we await your decision to act, aquatic life in these waters is being damaged and destroyed.
- In your letter of November 30th, you mentioned the trout survey of the East Twin River of 2015. As you may know, this survey was taken JUST PRIOR to the DNR’s permit approval to allow the Chloride inputs from the cheese plant into a tributary of the East Twin River to increase by 252% or up to 599 tons per year. This is the equivalent of one 40,000 lbs. semi-trailer truck of Chloride being placed into this small East Twin River tributary every 12 days. While we agree as you indicate in your letter that the DNR may have “followed the law and regulations governing development of these limits”, can there be any doubt that this kind of additional Chloride contamination of a waterway already impaired by Phosphorus is causing significant damage to what remains of the aquatic life downstream of the cheese plant?
- In granting the approval for this massive increase in Chloride effluent into an already impaired waterway, the DNR based its assertion that the “The permitted chloride mass limit (for the Agropur Cheese plant) was calculated in accordance with our regulations to prevent a significant decrease in water quality.” While this may be true under some conditions, the water flow in the East Twin River and its tributaries is known to vary widely based upon seasonal weather conditions. What might possibly be a safe level of Chloride in rainy periods, may be wholly unsafe in times of dry weather. Yet, no matter what the weather conditions, 1.64 tons (3,282 lbs. of Chloride can be added to this once Exceptional Waterway every day and the Kewaunee County WAV testing and a good deal of anecdotal evidence clearly indicate that this level of contaminant effluent is NOT able to prevent a significant decrease in water quality.
- In our Kewaunee County Land and Water Conservation Committee meetings with Agropur, we learned that the DNR has not required any third party testing of the effluent entering the East Twin River and its tributaries from the Agropur plant. It is therefore entirely the responsibility of the entity that could be required to reduce the flow of contaminants into these waterways to report on these releases into the waters of the State. For verification purposes alone, there is a clear need for the DNR to conduct the requested water quality and aquatic life survey.
Mr. Zellmer, based upon the above information, we as the Kewaunee County Land and Water Conservation Committee, acting on behalf of the entire Kewaunee County Board, hereby ask you to complete the requested aquatic life/water quality survey of the East Twin River in Kewaunee County and its tributaries before the end of 2017 and subsequently to establish a TMDL for these waters with a schedule of compliance and enforcement steps. We want to be able to assure our Kewaunee County citizens that the damage being done now, (thoroughly documented by our WAV’s) will cease and all reasonable efforts to restore this compromised waterway to its former Exceptional status will begin in earnest before the end of this year.
We look forward to your timely and affirmative response to this request. Thank you again for your earlier (November 30th 2016) response.
Kewaunee County Land and Water Conservation Committee Members
Cc’s to all parties who received the Kewaunee County Water Quality Survey Resolution