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How do you keep all of the pollution in the Horicon Marsh under control and who cleans up all of the pollution?

In brief, the pollution problems for Horicon Marsh are non-point run-off pollution.  In other words, this comes from city streets, farm fields and other sites when it rains. There are no major factories on the marsh that cause direct pollution.  A local cheese factory does outlet its waste water into the Rock River which flows into the marsh and they are under permit to discharge only certain limits of organic waste.

The problem is that we do not have controls over the non-point pollution and poor land uses in the Horicon Marsh watershed do lead to tremendous inputs into the marsh.  Our most recent water quality monitoring data indicate that every years some 21 million pounds of top soil and tens of thousands of pounds of phosphorous come into the marsh creating serious problems.  The annual sediment loading would fill 3 football fields to a depth of 6 inches every year.

Since we lack the authority and laws to stop how people use the land we don't have effective controls over this form of pollution at this time. We are working with area landowners and others in the region to develop some demonstration plots to show how land can be used more wisely without resulting on losses of income from farming.

Cleaning up the pollution is not an option.  Once it is in the marsh the problem is already there.  It is in no means practical to try and remove all of this material from such a huge wetland as Horicon, so the only solution is prevention and we are doing a poor job of it at this time. This is not to blame DNR for this but the poor land use practices of hundreds of people who live around the marsh - many of whom aren't even aware of the problem.  For that reason education is a place to start.

The carp problem which we have been experiencing on the marsh is only the result of poor water quality I am including an article which I recently wrote which may answer some of your questions.

A Point About Non-Point

When the Clean Water Act was first passed, it called for fishable, swimable waters by 1985.  At that time it was obvious that discharge from factories and wastewater treatment plants were the number one problem in the US.  In an attempt to clean up the countries surface water we established pollution standards for all factory and municipal outlets.  In other words, any manufacturer or wastewater treatment plant that discharged water into lakes or streams was required to obtain a permit to do so and to monitor the quality of the water for various chemicals and other substances in order to meet these standards.

Over the years, literally billions of dollars were spent on pollution control equipment, new technologies were developed, staff were hired to test the country's surface waters and to monitor discharge water outlets. Many people were screaming that we could never afford to do this and that businesses would go bankrupt if the government were to force pollution standards on everyone.  The argument raged that we needed to make difficult decisions between a healthy economy or a healthy environment and that the two were utterly opposed to each other.

However, it has become clear through the past 30 years of experience that not only can we afford to control pollution, but that it created new jobs and saved us more costly problems in the long run.  If left unchecked the pollution wouldn't just go away, but would remain to affect drinking water and public health, wildlife habitat and endangered species, outdoor recreation and most aspects of our lives.

While the control of factory and municipal pollution has been a success story that fact still remains that many of our lakes and streams are not fishable or swimable.  Just look at recent events in Wisconsin with the summer closings of Lake Michigan beaches and those on other lakes due to algae blooms and bacteria outbreaks.  How about the cryptosporidium outbreak in Milwaukee's drinking water a few years back that killed over 100 people?  Just look at the Rock River that runs the color of chocolate milk and the other streams and creeks in our area that carry tremendous loads of pollutants resulting in poor water quality dense algae blooms in summer.

While "end-of-pipe" pollution - water discharged from manufacturers and wastewater treatment plants - has been regulated we still have a long way to go with polluted runoff. End-of-pipe pollution is also known as point source pollution.  In other words, there is one particular point where that water comes from; usually a discharge pipe that pumps the used water back into a river or stream.  This is easy to monitor and regulate. Simply take a sample of this water from time to time and test it for chemicals and organic pollutants to see if it is clean enough to meet pollution standards.

Polluted runoff, is also known as non-point pollution.  This kind of pollution has no one clearly defined source and is therefore harder to monitor or control.  Non-point pollution is the water that runs off of the land after spring snow melt or heavy rains throughout the year.  When water runs off of the land it takes with it the nutrients and chemicals that are on the land.  All water flows downhill and it carries with it all the pollution on the land to eventually end up in our rivers, lakes and streams. 

Following a spring rain the water washes off of the city streets taking with it the road salts from winter, the oil from cars and fertilizers and chemicals from lawns and farmland.  It also takes with it the organic waste coming from manure and pet waste and sediment - topsoil from bare ground, including plowed farm fields and construction sites.

In the mostly rural areas of Dodge, Fond du Lac and Washington counties most of the land is used for farming and housing.  There are few large industrial complexes in this part of the state and each of those is regulated under a wastewater discharge permit.  Most of the pollution entering the area rivers is coming from non-point sources.  Over the past few years, DNR and the U.S. Geological Survey have been monitoring the quality of the water entering the Horicon Marsh.  Automated water monitoring stations were set up on the east and west branches of the Rock River and at the outlet of Horicon Marsh.  This equipment tested for sediments and nutrients entering the Marsh and produced some astounding results.

In April of 1999 during a single 4 inch rain event, we monitored some 3 million pounds of topsoil and 10,000 pounds of phosphorous (an important nutrient for plant and algae growth) entering Horicon Marsh.  Over the years, results demonstrated that on average some 10,000 tons of sediment enter the marsh annually.  This is enough topsoil and solid material to fill 3 football fields 6 inches deep.

As a result, Horicon Marsh - like many other wetlands, rivers and lakes - is filling in and creating poor habitat for native wildlife and opportunities for carp.  This is one of the reasons that carp have come to dominate the marsh and cause their own problems for wildlife.  As most people know, DNR killed the carp last winter and restocked the marsh with native fish to balance the fishery in the marsh.  However, we haven't done anything to reduce the amount of non-point pollution (polluted runoff) from entering the marsh. 

One of the telltale signs I watch every spring is what I have come to call the Kekoskee "Foamball".  As polluted water flows downstream and over the dam it churns up the materials carried in it and creates foam on the water.  In certain years when we get a rapid melting of snow and the first heavy rain all the nutrients and other pollutants laying on the land wash off all at once and sweep downstream.  This results in a tremendous foamball which I have seen as much as 20 high and over 100 feet across.

If anyone has any doubts of how much of a problem this is for the marsh, just take a drive around the area and look at the color of the water in our rivers and streams following the next spring rainstorm.  Watch how it flows from lawns, city streets and plowed farmland.  Take a close look as it runs downhill from gutters and ditches to small rivulets and into the Rock River and eventually the Horicon Marsh.  Watch how it flows into your favorite lake where you may want to fish or swim later this year. 

So what is the solution to this hardest to control source of pollution? It lies with each of us to use the land more wisely and reduce the amount of fertilizers we use, to slow rain water runoff, to control runoff from city streets and move towards sustainable agriculture.  It won't stop raining and if it did we'd all have big problems.  So we need to find away that clean water washes our land and flows in our streams and into our wetlands and lakes after each storm.  Otherwise, we only pollute our own land and water and in the end our earth and ourselves.

Bill Volkert