94 waterways may be reclassified
Critics say DNR move opens door to pollution
By LEE BERGQUIST
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The Department of Natural Resources is taking steps to
downgrade the status of 94 rivers and streams in Wisconsin
- a move that could allow more pollution into those waterways
and has angered environmental groups across the state.
The changes are part of a major rewriting of clean water
regulations by the DNR that will affect water quality
in Wisconsin for decades to come.
To environmental groups that have studied the proposed
rule changes, the DNR is giving up too quickly on some
waterways, including the Kinnickinnic River and Honey,
Lincoln, Underwood, Wilson Park and Indian creeks in Milwaukee
By changing their status, the DNR is using a "backdoor"
approach that will lead to more pollution while still
staying in compliance with the federal Clean Water Act,
They also say that the DNR has issued a storm water permit
that allows Briggs & Stratton Corp. to violate water quality
standards in Honey Creek.
"The laws we have are supposed to move us toward cleaner
water," said attorney Melissa K. Scanlan, who represents
more than a dozen environmental groups. "With these changes,
we are moving in the opposite direction."
The DNR in some cases disagrees with the environmentalists.
Water quality continues to improve in Wisconsin, said
Bob Masnado, chief of the DNR's water quality standards
Further, Masnado said that the DNR wants to upgrade the
status of another 100 or so waterways, meaning that businesses
and municipalities that have permits to dump effluent
would face stricter limits in the future.
He said his agency also balks at characterizations that
it is upgrading or downgrading waterways. Instead, he
said, the DNR is trying to change the classification of
some waterways to reflect the type of aquatic habitat
that they can support.
For example, decades ago, some rivers and streams were
lumped into a higher category by default because DNR staffers
never conducted an analysis of them. Now the agency has
had a chance to look at these waterways and is recommending
But the DNR also says it agrees with much of the work
by Midwest Environmental Advocates, a Madison-based non-profit
law firm that represented more than a dozen groups.
"There is a strong likelihood that we will make substantial
changes," Masnado said.
After taking public comments, Masnado said, the rules
will be rewritten. New public hearings will be held. And
then regulations would go before Natural Resources Board
and the Legislature for review.
As for some of the local waterways, the DNR is proposing
to lower the classification of Lincoln Creek and five
waterways that have concrete lining that has harmed aquatic
habitat - the Kinnickinnic River and Honey, Underwood,
Wilson Park and Indian creeks.
The environmentalists say the DNR wants to downgrade
the streams without making efforts to improve them.
But Masnado said that the Clean Water Act does not force
improvements in certain cases where waterways are lined
with concrete for flood control or when improvements would
require damage to the land of large numbers of property
In another case, the DNR has allowed Briggs & Stratton
to discharge water into Honey Creek in Wauwatosa at 129
degrees - instead of 89 degrees - a temperature limit
designed to protect sport fish. The water comes from runoff
and is not used in Briggs' industrial processes.
Masnado acknowledged that the DNR has allowed Briggs
to dump water that is warmer than the standard, but he
said DNR lawyers say a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision
casts doubt on whether such temperature standards are
Patricia Hanz, director of environmental compliance at
Briggs, said her company followed all proper procedures.
She also noted that water discharge permits are "a very
open process" that the public has a right to review.
The background for all of this is the federal Clean Water
Act, the primary federal law that protects the nation's
As part of the law, Wisconsin is reclassifying waterways
- many of which have not gotten a good look by the DNR
in more than a decade.
That lack of analysis has angered environment groups,
and the DNR's Masnado said the agency should have been
doing a better job in the past.
"I don't have a really easy answer for that," Masnado
said. "For the last 20 years, we should have been updating
this. We need to be more current."