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Falls agrees to partner with DNR for new clean watershed permit

But trustee says the city of Milwaukee is not doing as much as suburbs

Oct. 2, 2012

Menomonee Falls - The village of Menomonee Falls agreed Monday to participate in a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' watershed-based permit to discharge stormwater.

All communities, such as Menomonee Falls, Germantown and the city of Milwaukee that are regulated under a municipal separate storm sewer system discharge permit lying wholly or partially within the Menomonee River watershed are being asked to participate in a group project to clean the water ways and eliminate pollutants discharged into the water.

Everyone participating in the permit has to complete at least one watershed project for every five-year term. The projects can be completed in a joint effort with other municipalities or individually. Menomonee Falls already ensures clean water is pumped back into the river. The village maintains 100 percent segregation between water and sewage, Menomonee Falls Director of Utilities Jeff Nettesheim said.

The permit is a new effort that started more than a year ago when the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District was awarded a $100,000 cooperative agreement grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The funds went to developing a watershed-based permit for the Menomonee River.

Large group of participants

This project is being conducted in collaboration with the municipalities within the watershed, MMSD, Sweet Water, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the USEPA, 1,000 Friends of Wisconsin, Midwest Environmental Advocates and the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center.

After eight stakeholder meetings, the Menomonee River Watershed-Based Permit was developed. In this approach, permits were developed based on watershed boundaries rather than jurisdictional boundaries.

"How do we make it general enough to apply to political boundary while making it specific enough to apply to Menomonee River watershed?" Bryan Hartsook from the Wisconsin DNR said. "We built from existing planning documents, learned from the existing permit cycle and we hope we provided features that are beneficial, meaning we will be targeting water quality so when a dollar is spent hopefully we'll see a better reaction in the water itself. It's not spending less money among municipalities, but placing our dollars in a better position to be more effective."

He said a list of all of the participating municipalities has yet to be identified; however, they hope to have them lined up by mid-October.

Milwaukee needs to step up

Though the Village Board unanimously agreed to participate in the program, trustees did have concerns that the smaller communities were taking on the brunt of the work to clean the river. Trustee Michael McDonald said the DNR was ignoring the elephant in the room: the city of Milwaukee.

"It's clean water going into dirty water if Milwaukee doesn't do anything because what we're emptying into isn't clean, which is the biggest problem I have in this situation," McDonald said.

He said the smaller communities will continue to pump clean water into the river, but ultimately the clean river water is filtered into contaminated waterways owned by Milwaukee.

"I'm not opposed to what you're talking about, but I think as time has gone on we've embraced a lot of these things to do our fair share and we are doing all the heavy lifting in the small communities and the city of Milwaukee isn't doing anything," McDonald said. "We want to have clean water for the people in the community. I just want to make sure that you take the message back that there are those of us doing our fair share, but it's time the city of Milwaukee starts stepping up to the plate and taking care of some of their problems as well."

In 1972, Congress passed the Clean Water Act that is administered by the DNR. The DNR then began to issue permits to clean water ways. The initial focus was on sewage outflows. By 2000, the water quality did not improve as much as expected, Hartsook said.

Menomonee Falls and seven other municipalities received the initial five-year permit to participate in cleaning the outflows in 2007. Because of the grant from the EPA, the new permit was drafted to create a more flexible approach to implementing municipal stormwater runoff permit requirements to meet water quality goals.

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