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TMLIA working to improve water quality; Dunn County reports highest number of algae-related health complaints

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE —  For anyone who has seen the green algae blooms on Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin in the summer, it probably will not be surprising that Dunn County has reported the highest number of algae-related health complaints.

Ron Verdon, president of the Tainter Menomin Lake Improvement Association, reported on the organization’s efforts to improve water quality in the two lakes at the Dunn County Planning, Resources and Development committee’s July 22 meeting.

Algae in the lakes can cause skin rashes in people and can kill pets who drink the lake water.

According to Verdon’s report, Dunn County reported 26 cases of algae-related health complaints between 2009-2011, compared to 20 cases in Adams County (central part of the state), 12 cases in Dane County (Madison area) and seven cases in Winnebago County (eastern part of the state).

Phosphorus is the nutrient that fuels the algae blooms, and run-off containing phosphorus that enters the 1,900 square mile Red Cedar Watershed has been increasing from 1977 to 2010, Verdon said.

In 1974, the Environmental Protection Agency assessed the phosphorus level in Tainter Lake as being nine times as high as it should be, he said.

Last year, Dunn County adopted a shoreland protection ordinance, and now other surrounding counties are looking at Dunn County’s ordinance as a model, Verdon noted.

In the Red Cedar River Bank Stabilization report, 60 erosion sites north and south of Colfax have been identified. The banks along the Colfax wastewater treatment lagoons are among the worst of the erosion sites.

The study area includes the banks of the Red Cedar River from just north of the Dunn County/Barron County line and south to Tainter Lake.

The delta on Tainter Lake is moving out 35 feet per year, Verdon said.

Over the last five years, 16,000 acres have been taken out of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in Dunn County, which has contributed to erosion problems and run-off containing excess phosphorus, he said.

TMLIA is recommending that — to increase the visibility of the importance of water quality —  the Dunn Land Conservation office should be called the Dunn County Land and Water Conservation Division, Verdon said.

TMLIA also is recommending that Dunn County should add a water quality conservationist position and that the county should create a sustainable water quality fund, he said.

A number of grants are available to help with water quality improvements, Verdon said.

The U.S. TMDL 319 Funding requires a 40 percent local match. A new USDA-NRCS Conservation Partnership program requires a 50 percent local match, Verdon said.

One grant is available strictly to help municipalities: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Emergency Bank Protection Grant requires a 35 percent local match and provides up to $1.5 million per project, he said.

The Army Corp of Engineers grant could be particularly useful for the Village of Colfax in correcting the problem with erosion into the Red Cedar River by the wastewater treatment lagoons, Verdon noted.

One estimate received by the Colfax Village Board for fixing the banks by the lagoons placed the cost at around a half million dollars.