By Lori Grant, River Alliance of Wisconsin
The “anti-degradation element” of the Clean Water Act requires states to keep their cleanest waters clean by limiting degradation of “high quality waters” and strictly protecting “outstanding waters.” The state of Wisconsin implements this requirement by classifying its most pristine waters as “exceptional” or “outstanding” resource waters, respectively. These classifications set a very high bar for any new sources of pollution, significantly limiting new point-source discharges and requiring careful evaluation for any in-stream work. In August, 2004, the River Alliance of Wisconsin, Midwest Environmental Advocates, and over 40 statewide and local conservation organizations joined together to petition the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to classify 100 rivers in northern Wisconsin as Exceptional or Outstanding Resource Waters. After review of all available stream data, DNR determined that 45 of the 100 rivers, totaling 1100 river miles, should be reclassified.
The proposal has passed muster at a series of public meetings, and as of August 24, 2006, no objections were raised by the Senate Natural Resources Committee. The Assembly Natural Resources Committee has yet to provide their blessing, but will be the final hurdle to increased protections for these 45 rivers. In addition to providing increased stream protections, the petition to DNR has leveraged action on a number of related issues. DNR’s response to the petition revealed they have little to no water quality data for many of the rivers and streams in the state, and they do not have a standardized process for evaluating rivers to determine their appropriate classification and regulatory regime. This has sparked interest within DNR to train citizens to help gather needed data, and they have begun revising their rules for river classification to create a standardized process and clear criteria for new classifications. Over time, with DNR-trained citizen stream monitors gathering data and a new process for river classification, the remaining 55 rivers and more could also enjoy the strong protections they deserve.
For more information: Lori Grant, River Alliance of Wisconsin PH: (608)257-2424 • E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org