gets an 'F' in water quality
Advocacy group says water policy muddy, but DNR thinks it's
doing a good job
By Monique Balas
Green Bay News-Chronicle
A Madison-based public interest group gave Wisconsin got
a failing grade in its water pollution enforcement policies,
but the agency that enforces those policies thinks it's
On Tuesday, Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group
released the report, "Clean Water Enforcement Report
Card: How Nine States' Regulations Measure Up." It
rates a cross-section of states based on how closely their
water quality enforcement regulations follow the 1972
Clean Water Act, which set initial pollution control standards
for water quality permits.
"One-third of the facilities in the state are in
violation of their Clean Water Act permits, but only 4
percent are being prosecuted," said Anthony Pizer,
a Clean Water specialist associate with the group.
One reason for the discrepancy is that state law calls
for only two options if a facility is in violation: negotiation
for penalties or taking the matter to court. Pizer said
negotiation often allows the facility to get off the hook
too easily because the facility can propose its own penalty,
and litigation is usually a lengthy, costly process that
might end up being dropped.
A review of Wisconsin's reporting, inspections, assessment
of enforcement actions and public accountability categories
all received a failing grade in the study.
Pizer blamed heavy facility self-reporting and inconsistent
DNR inspections to allow a dangerous level of pollution
by into the states' waterways, making them unsafe for
fishing and swimming.
"The DNR is the only one between us having clean
water and having arsenic, lead, benzene - those are the
three big ones - and also zinc, chlorine and formaldehyde,"
He said major cuts to the DNR's Water Division have impeded
its ability to adequately inspect facilities.
But the agency has not suffered too much, said Todd Ambs,
the DNR's water division administrator.
"We're pretty comfortable with where we are,"
Ambs said. "We have the lowest permit backlog in
the Upper Midwest and we handled those pretty efficiently.
We've got excellent water quality in the state and made
Ambs said the biggest threat to Wisconsin's water quality
comes from nonpoint pollution, which comes from agricultural
runoff, construction and erosion.
The report's call for more specific monitoring requirements
across the board doesn't make sense, because the DNR considers
the size and scope of the facility when it determines
inspection frequency, said Duane Schuettpelz, chief of
the DNR's wastewater permits and pretreatment section.
"The failure they cite is a failure of the statutes
to specifically mandate the requirements, but in actuality
the department does inspections on a periodic basis,"
he said. "Like the State Patrol on our roadways,
there is not a patrol car at every intersection to determine
if we're stopping at every stoplight."
The state is actually progressive in some of its water
policy laws, according to Paul Thormodsgard, executive
director of the Green Bay Metropolitan Sewerage District.
For one thing, the DNR has made regular annual inspections
for the past 20 years, since he has been with the district.
Plus, Wisconsin's Compliance Maintenance Annual Report,
a rule the agency put in place, serves as an example for
municipalities around the country.
"What it tends to do is it informs the DNR regarding
the status of municipal wastewater facilities," Thormodsgard
said. "It gives in effect an early warning if there
are difficulties in compliance."
He said the agency has consistently been thorough in
its facility inspection and records review.
"My experience with that is it's always done thoroughly
and the letter we get from the DNR just reflects that
they take their responsibilities very seriously,"
Thormodsgard said. "I guess I would acknowledge the
DNR is having to balance priorities because of budget
issues, but all in all I think they do a pretty good job."
Michigan and Georgia also received overall Fs on their
water policies. New Jersey won a "B+", Washington
received a C and Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania