Impaired Water Status

After five years of COLA and LCO Tribal effort, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), on June 25, 2014, declared Musky Bay to be “impaired water” under the federal Clean Water Act. The water quality in Musky Bay has been severely degraded over the years because too much phosphorus is being dumped into and is accumulating in the Bay that in turn is causing algae blooms and algal mat production, excessive aquatic plant growth and, when all this biomass dies and decomposes, it depletes the oxygen level in the water resulting in fish kills and disruption of muskellunge egg development. The overall result is that the recreational use (swimming, paddling, boating, and fishing) in Musky Bay is “impaired” and must be fixed according to federal law.

Sissabagama Lake (that eventually drains into Lac Courte Oreilles) has also been declared impaired by U.S.EPA because the phosphorus water quality standard set for the lake has been exceeded.

Water quality monitoring data collect by the LCO Tribal Conservation Department over the last fifteen years and in particular the last three years show that the waters of Stuckey Bay are being degraded by excess phosphorus and Stuckey Bay is close to exceeding the threshold for determination as impaired water. In addition, because the water in Musky Bay mixes with water in Stuckey Bay and the West Basin, the whole West Basin of LCO is headed for impairment status.

COLA and the LCO Tribe welcome the impairment news from U.S.EPA as a big step forward In their efforts to preserve and protect the LCO lakes because, with impairment status comes the regulatory/legal framework to implement the phosphorus reductions (see related article SSC/TMDL) necessary to restore and preserve LCO water quality. In addition, with impairment status comes access to federal and state grant monies to pay for phosphorus reduction improvements and restoration dollars to cleanup Musky Bay, Stuckey Bay, and the West Basin.