Skip to content

EPA approves Red Cedar Watershed TMDL plan to control phosphorus

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE  —  It has been 15 years in the making.

And now the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved a plan for the 1900-square mile Red Cedar River Watershed in West Central Wisconsin aimed at reducing phosphorus runoff to control toxic blue-green algae blooms in Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin.

Dan Zerr, a natural resources educator with UW-Extension, talked about the plan for the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) at the Dunn County Board’s January 20 meeting.

The EPA approved the plan just a week before the Dunn County Board meeting, Zerr said.

The soil in this part of Wisconsin is naturally high in phosphorus, so runoff from the watershed carrying soil high in phosphorus eventually makes its way to Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin, where the phosphorus fuels toxic blue-green algae blooms in the summer.

The toxins created by the blue-green algae cannot be removed by water treatment plants, Zerr said.

The blue-green algae can cause skin rashes and respiratory distress, kills fish in the lakes, and is bad for the economy because there are fewer people willing to boat or swim, he said.

In addition to farm fields, phosphorus comes from lawns, city streets, failing septic systems, barnyards, shorelines, and point sources upstream, such as wastewater treatment facilities, Zerr said.

The TMDL specifies the amount of pollutant, which is in this case phosphorus, that a body of water can take in and still maintain good water quality, he said.

The TMDL is a plan to help reduce phosphorus, but it is also a research document to describe the problem, Zerr said.

Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin were listed by the EPA as “impaired waters” in 1996.

The goal of the TMDL is to reduce phosphorus in the two lakes by 65 percent over ten years.

Tainter receives 506,000 pounds of phosphorus every year, and the goal is to reduce the phosphorus to 177,000 pounds.

Menomin receives 326,000 pounds of phosphorus every year, and the goal is to reduce the phosphorus to 150,000 pounds.

The TMDL is titled, “A River Runs through Us — A Water Quality Strategy for the Red Cedar River Basin.”

Now that the TMDL has been approved as meeting EPA guidelines, the project will be eligible for grant funding, Zerr said.

Members of the Red Cedar River Water Quality Partnership have been meeting monthly and include Dunn County Land Conservation, Barron County Land Conservation, Dunn County UW-Extension, Barron County UW-Extension, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Desair Lake Association, the Tainter Menomin Lake Association, the West Wisconsin Land Trust, UW-Stout, City of Menomonie, the Wisconsin Farmers Union, and 3M.

The TMDL aims to reduce phosphorus by a variety of methods, including 63,000 pounds from no-till farming practices; 18,000 pounds from cover crops; 31,500 pounds from nutrient management plans; 34,000 pounds from manure storage; and 11,000 pounds from traditional conservation practices.

Farmer-led water councils, such as the farmers’ council in the Hay River Watershed, will be enormously helpful in achieving the goals of the TMDL, Zerr said.

After ten years, the TMDL implementation plan for the Red Cedar River Watershed will be re-evaluated, and the plan will be updated every three years, he said.

Because the plan has been approved by the EPA, the Red Cedar River Watershed will be eligible for several hundred thousand dollars in water quality grants, Zerr said.

And because the plan has been approved, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will match any grants on a one-to-one basis, he said.

The grants and the matching funds from the Army Corps of Engineers could amount to $600,000, Zerr said.

Blue-green algae will always be an issue in manmade lakes like Tainter and Menomin, he said.

By implementing the TMDL, however, the frequency and intensity of the algae blooms can be reduced, Zerr said.

A Red Cedar River Watershed Water Quality Conference will be held at UW-Stout on March 10.