In 2017, Sweet Water formed a Bacteria Work Group to study the problem of fecal pollution entering our waterways and recommend feasible steps to address this problem. These recommendations will help our area attain national and state water quality standards, protect human health, recreate safely and remove our waterways from the Impaired Waters List.
Southeastern Wisconsin continues to experience beach closings due to elevated levels of bacteria such as E. coli. These harmful bacteria are a result of human and animal waste entering our waterways and combining with a variety of water conditions to create a public health hazard--nausea, vomiting, diarrhea--when ingested by humans and pets.
Part of the challenge in addressing this water hazard is the fact that the exact location of sources of bacterial contamination infiltrating the Milwaukee River Basin have not been identified, with roughly 90% of all fecal pollution coming from unknown sources according a recent report from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR). While we know the types of sources of fecal pollution--sewage overflows, leaky sewer laterals and cross connections, leaky septic tanks, runoff from farm fields, wildlife, farm animals and domestic pets--more work is needed to pinpoint exactly where these contaminants are coming from so they can be prevented.
One way that Southeastern Wisconsin is working to address fecal pollution is through the use of Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs). A TMDL is the amount of a pollutant a waterbody can receive and still meet water quality standards. A recently drafted set of TMDLs for our area includes a focus on bacteria and will provide regulatory leverage to this problem. The TMDL is expected to focus and increase the interest and resources applied to this problem.
In 2017, Sweet Water formed a Bacteria Work Group to frame key questions and issues, identify potential solutions, and develop additional tools to address the problem. The Bacteria Work Group is comprised of members from Sweet Water’s Science Advisory Committee whose professional backgrounds and personal interests complement the Work Group’s scope of work. Members include individuals from local and regional non-profit organizations, scientists and water professionals from public and private sectors, engineers, land conservation departments, WDNR, and regional planning staff.
The Bacteria Work Group is working to identify recommendations for feasible steps that partners working to improve water quality can take now, as well as longer-term solutions that will require additional resources. One focus of the group has been outlining a protocol for identifying and prioritizing sources of bacteria loading in the Milwaukee River Basin. This work, as well as more general recommendations for how to address the problem of bacterial contamination in the Greater Milwaukee Watersheds, is on-going. If you would like to become involved the Bacteria Work Group, contact Janet Pritchard at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sweet Water’s 2018 Clean Rivers, Clean Lakes conference also included presentations relating to bacteria contamination and how to address this problem. Click here to access these and other presentations from the conference.
Sweet Water looks forward to continuing this work and sharing our findings and recommendations in coming months--be sure to stay tuned for updates!