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State says 'no' to stricter pollutant guidelines on Lac Courte Oreilles
COLA members vow to continue the fight

Courte Oreilles Lakes Association (COLA) members vowed to continue their fight for stricter water pollutant guidelines on the 5,039-acre lake after the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board on Jan. 22 failed by a 3-3 vote to approve a new "site specific criterion" (SSC) of 10 micrograms of phosphorus per liter of water in the lake.

The standard, which is stricter than the 15 parts per billion (ppb) statewide standard, has been recommended by state Department of Natural Resources staff, COLA and the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribe as necessary to protect the "two-story fishery" in the lake.

Lake LCO is classified by the state as an Outstanding Resource Water and is one of five lakes in the state that contain a "two-story fishery" of both warm-water fish and cold-water fish.

During the Natural Resources Board meeting, DNR Water Quality Bureau Director Adrian Stocks said the lake's water "is impaired with low dissolved oxygen due to one or more pollutants. This sometimes impacts whitefish during some of the warmer months."

The goal of this 10 ppb standard "is to protect habitat for Lac Courte Oreilles' two coldwater fish species, particularly whitefish," Stocks said.

Limiting factors for this type of cold-water habitat include the deep, narrow basins in the lake and warming temperatures over the past 40 years, Stocks said. "We've seen an increase of 3-4 degrees" in the lake water temperatures in the past 20 years.

Stocks added that "substances in the sediment are consuming some of the oxygen, and also phosphorus concentrations reduce some of the dissolved oxygen.

"We believe this site specific criterion can improve conditions in Lac Courte Oreilles to some extent. However we cannot result in the optimal whitefish habitat within the lake."

Based on input from the public and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), "We found that phosphorus in the range of 6 to 12 micrograms per liter could im-

prove habitat for whitefish during critical warmer months, enabling more survival in the east basin," Stocks said.

He added that the 10 ppb standard would not result in any new regulations. "That's because there are no permitted discharges to the lake. Voluntary phosphorus reductions may be needed. The main sources to the lake are nonpoint, which are not regulated by the Department."

"I don't know why we need to do this," said Board Chairman Dr. Frederick Prehn.

Following litigation initiated by COLA, the DNR was ordered by a Dane County judge to create a more site-protective criterion for the lake. As a result, DNR staff worked with COLA, the LCO Tribe and Environmental Protection Agency to develop the 10 ppb recommendation.

Board member Terry Hilgenberg questioned. "How do we strategically move forward to preclude other similar types of events that we have the Department going through these exercises that don't provide any outcome."

Leslie Freehill, a Madison attorney representing COLA, said the organization consists of more than 650 lakefront property owners and "devotes a significant portion of its funding to efforts to protect lake water quality. It's been more than four years since COLA first petitioned the DNR" for the 10 micrograms per liter standard, she said. Since then, COLA and the DNR "have both invested in significant science to establish" this standard.

She added that the standard "will complement a wide range of actions which COLA has been taking," including a comprehensive shoreline restoration program, a prohibition on lawn fertilizers on the lakefront properties, and inspection of all lakeside septic systems to ensure they are operational.

In addition, COLA has funded and produced a total nutrient discharge analysis for the lake's watershed basin based on this anticipated phosphorus standard, Freehill said.

The 10 micrograms per liter standard "has garnered wide-spread support from not only COLA and the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, but from the Hayward Area Chamber of Commerce, the Sawyer County Lakes Forum, Muskies Inc. and Walleyes For Northwest Wisconsin," Freehill added. "All recognize the vital impact that this lake's water quality has on outdoor recreation and tourism industries, which are the lifeblood of the local economy.

"The support for this is broad, the science is strong and the time is right" for adopting the new standard, Freehill said.

Bill Smith, Natural Resources Board member from Shell Lake, asked what COLA will do if the board doesn't pass the new standard. Freehill said their actions will "continue to be voluntary. COLA has invested significantly in this science and will work with the DNR. Having this 10 micrograms per liter goal would be a step in the right direction and have implications for whether the water body is ever listed as impaired."

Board member Bill Bruins asked what is the major source of phosphorus coming into the lake. Stocks responded that the contributing sources include lake sediments, incoming creeks and direct drainage areas. He said 35% is coming from the creeks, 37% from direct drainage areas, 11% from the cranberry bogs and internal loading from lake sediments, for which he did not list a percentage.

Stocks added that if a water body is listed as impaired under the Clean Water Act, "It's our responsibility to develop a restoration plan," which would apply only to permitted facilities. Groups could apply for a lake management grant to undertake voluntary best management practices.

Hilgenberg said his concern is "future lawsuits and the long-term implications of this" 10 ppb standard. "It seems as if the department has been required to expend a substantial amount of resources. What's the result, the gain, when we have plenty of work to do."

Bill Smith said, "Clearly, this isn't a crisis. But digging deeper into the problem, they've discovered there is a resource benefit to setting this standard, an aspirational goal. I don't think we can totally ignore that.

"Besides the whitefish and cisco, there would be benefits to other species," Smith said. "We're getting an outpouring of support from the Hayward community wanting to do this, sending a message to people who enjoy the outdoors and spending time in that area. Staff have shown there's a resource benefit to this. I'm unable to see any mandatory requirements, mandatory costs imposed on the community. My sense is, this is something we should support. I don't see a downside to this."

Board member Bill Bruins asked if any consideration has been given to mechanical harvest of plant growth to take out the phosphorus. "That would be doing something," he said.

Stocks responded that he's not aware of any such activities.

Board Chairman Dr. Frederick Prehn said he's afraid of a "free for all" from other lake associations wanting to set a new benchmark for phosphorus. "The 15 ppb standard has been stamped by the Department as being solid, good science for fishing in Wisconsin. Nothing's perfect. Now there's litigation and it's going down to 10. Katie hold the door, here they come. I say leave it at 15."

Board member Greg Kazmierski said, "Only the local community has the power to get it to 10. It's those neighbors on that lake that have to change their method of doing things. My concern is we're setting up a goal that will put that lake on the impaired list. From an economic standpoint, if I'm going up north to go fishing, am I going to go to an impaired waterway. That is a beautiful lake, the way it is right now."

Prehn concurred with Kazmierski that the key to fixing this is local efforts, saying "Nobody from the state is going to come down to the lake and change anything any time soon."

Smith responded that "From what we've heard, they are doing that. They've worked action voluntarily, working on their phosphorus. What they're asking us for is to agree with the science and allow them to set a goal."

Voting in favor of the 10 ppb standard were board members Bill Smith, Julie Anderson and Terry Hilgenberg. Voting "no" were Bill Bruins, Dr. Prehn and Kazmierski. With the 3-3 tie vote, the proposal failed.

COLA response

Responding to the board's action, COLA communications director James Coors said, "This is a real setback. COLA and the LCO Tribe have made such gains over the years. We've already done everything Prehn said we should do. We 'got up' decades ago, we've 'got around the lake' many thousands of times, we've taken care of septic systems, we've addressed the homeowner fertilizer problem, made some progress in restoring shoreline buffers and so much more from identifying erosion-prone ag and timber lands in the watershed to controlling aquatic invasive species, resisting zoning changes from forestry to more residential development, and restoring musky spawning habitat.

"We will take some more steps, other than those that Prehn recommends, that seem to be more in line with what LCO actually needs at this time," Coors added. "These are being worked on with great urgency.

"Rest assured, we won't give up," he said.

Snowshoeing for a cause

Trails are looking good

The online outlook from organizations tracking area trails — fat bike, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling — for the last week of January going into the February is very positive.

Fat Bike

As of Monday, Jan. 27, the Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association (CAMBA) reports its fat bike trails are still in pretty good shape in spite of recent warm weather, but points out there are "drifts in open areas."

"All trails will be groomed again this week, starting with Makwa and the Big Fat Loop today," reads the online report from CAMBA. "Seeley Pass and the Cable trails will be groomed on Tuesday. The other trails will be groomed as needed."

CAMBA reports the Seeley

Ski Club will be grooming its ski trails and helping to get those trails firm for the Seeley Big Fat race on Saturday.

"The Seeley Hills bike trails are in excellent condition and are expected to be very solid for the race," CAMBA reports.

Cross-country skiing

On Tuesday, Jan. 28, the Birkie reported the following: "The crew got out grooming last night and a light snow is falling this morning. Temps have dropped into the teens and it's beautiful out there. Duffy Road to Gravel Pit and the Hatchery Loops were groomed and the skate and classic trails from OO to Timber Trail were groomed."

A Birkie "Trail Conditions Map & Trail Cams" shows most of the Birkie trails have been groomed within the last 48 hours.

In addition, the Hayward Lakes Visitor & Convention Bureau (HLVCB) adds: "Our area trails have all received a bit of snow the last few days. They're groomed, tracked and reported to be in very good to excellent condition."


The Sawyer County Snowmobile and AVT Alliance (SCSAA) reports on Facebook that there is some logging on roughly one mile of Trail 8 north of Nelson Lake.

"There was a request to not plow all of the snow down low and to leave some," reports SCSAA. "If riding in that area please keep a headsup. Also if you go off of the trail on Big Round Lake and need to exit the lake near the Linden boat landing or ride to that bay, there was a road plowed for a fish house that goes out from the boat landing just to the north (left), so please ride with caution not to hit the edge left from the plow."

The HLVCB also offers an update on snowmobile conditions: "The trails have a fabulous base and lots of snow. The lakes have good ice and now in the last week with the new snow falls there is snow on the lakes."

The HLVCB reports Trail 6 from Ojibwa to Airborne Road is still closed and there is a detour in place and adds: "The crew did remove some down trees and determined grooming could resume from Airborne Road to the dam."

HLVCB also notes Lake Hayward is now staked.

More information

More information on winter ski, snowmobile and ATV trails is available at the HLVCB website: haywardlakes.com. Birkie ski trails updates are available at www.birkie.com/trail/#trailconditions-map-trailcams.

Other snowmobile and ATV conditions are available from the Sawyer County Snowmobile and ATV Alliance at sawyercountyalliance.com/.

Information on winter fat bike trails is available at www.cambatrails.org/trails/trail-conditions.

Health officials monitor coronavirus

This flu season yet another overseas respiratory virus is raising concerns worldwide and causing health officials to urge people to wash hands diligently, cover mouths when coughing and stay home if they are sick.

And importantly, if anyone has traveled to Wuhan in the Hubei Province of China, that person should call his or her health provider before seeking medical assistance. Those health providers are being asked to contact local and state health departments and forward fluid samples to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to determine if the person is suffering from 2019 novel coronavirus, the new virus that is making headlines everywhere.

So far in China, more than 1,000 cases of coronavirus have been identified, along with 106 deaths reported as of Tuesday.

In the age of international travel, a regional virus outbreak is no longer just a local concern as air travelers exposed to the virus can carry it around the world in just days.

In the last two decades there have been a number of repeated concerns with overseas respiratory viruses spreading within the United States, including H1N1, Ebola and Zika.

On Monday, Jan. 27, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services held a media briefing on the 2019 novel coronavirus. State Health Officer Jeanne Ayers said the CDC has 26 cases nationally under investigation, including six in Wisconsin.

Of the six Wisconsin cases, she said, one sample had re turned negative and the state is waiting on the results of the other five.

So far, Ayers said, the risk to the public is low, but the state is taking precautions. Ayers, along with Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer, and respiratory disease epidemiologist Taum Haupt, emphasized that the state is tracking cases of those who have been to the Wuhan area and are showing symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath.

Westergaard was asked if there is too much attention being put on this new virus versus the typical influenza virus impacting much of the state.

"It's very scary — the prospect of a new virus and not knowing how that is going to go," he said. "That is a concern that is getting an appropriate amount of attention. But when we talk of what is the imminent threat or the imminent risk in terms of those already infected and who have died, it is absolutely the case that the influenza virus at what we know at this moment is a much more imminent risk to healthy individuals in the state."

The state health officials said coronaviruses are not new, and the symptoms are similar to the flu, but the 2019 novel coronavirus is new. What raises the most concern is a sample sent to the CDC from an infected person who had had traveled to Wuhan region.

State health officials said Homeland Security is routing all individuals traveling from that region through five U.S. ports of entry: O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, San Francisco International

Airport, Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and Los Angeles International Airport.

All those disembarking at those screening sites are given notices reminding them if they have symptoms to contact their health provider.

Sawyer County Public Health Officer Julia Lyons said the DHS and CDC are following protocols used in other respiratory viruses. She believes the public is now accustomed to questions concerning international travel and is familiar with the need to be diligent and properly report symptoms to local health officials.

Lyons said no one in the Sawyer County being monitored for the new respiratory virus, but added that anyone reporting to a local hospital with flu-like symptoms will be asked about their travel history. If they have been to China, and Wuhan in particular, in the last two weeks that will raise concerns.

Like Dr. Westergaard, Lyons also said the threat of influenza virus is still a major concern and she encourages anyone who has not received the flu shot to do so.

"Wash your hands, practice good hygiene by covering your mouth when you cough and get vaccinated," she said. "It's not too late to be vaccinated."

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