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Please Help Lac Courte Oreilles 

Attend or send comments regarding WDNR’s Hearing on November 8 to Support Strengthening the Protection of Water Quality in Lac Courte Oreilles

The Courte Oreilles Lakes Association (COLA) asks that all who live near and enjoy Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) attend the November 8 hearing by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR). This hearing is focused on setting a lower phosphorus limit for the LCO lakes. It is critical that WDNR hear from as many as possible that a new, lower protective standard of 10 parts per billion (ppb) be applied to the lakes.

 Unfortunately, much of the language used by WDNR involves arcane terminology that obscures what is happening. In WDNR’s terms, the hearing is to “revise ch. NR 102, relating to the establishment of a site-specific criteria for Lac Courte Oreilles…” Please don’t turn away in frustration – what is being proposed is that the phosphorus upper limit for LCO be lowered to 10 ppb from the current 15 ppb. (If you want the full NR 102.06 revision, click here).

 Lac Courte Oreilles has faced phosphorus pollution for decades. In 2014, Musky Bay was designated by the EPA and WDNR as an impaired water body because of high phosphorus concentrations. In 2018, all of Lac Courte Oreilles was listed as an impaired water body because of low dissolved oxygen – a result attributable to high phosphorus concentrations. 

 Lac Courte Oreilles is designated an Outstanding Resource Water and also a unique, two-story fishery. It is one of only five such lakes in Wisconsin with a narrow layer that is cold enough and with enough oxygen to support both cisco and whitefish, which are the primary food source for walleye and musky. Preserving this habitat is essential to the lake ecosystem. 

 Until recently, WDNR claimed the upper-limit of 15 ppb phosphorus as adequate for a two-story fishery lake. The 2018 averages were 23.1 ppb for Musky Bay, 22.2 ppb for the West Basin, 15.1 ppb for the East Basin, and 11.8 ppb for the Central Basin of LCO. In 2018, three of the four sections of LCO already exceeded the 15 ppb currently in effect. 

 In 2015 and 2016, Lac Courte Oreilles experienced extensive whitefish and cisco die-offs. COLA compiled extensive evidence showing that high levels of phosphorus led to oxygen depletion in the critical habitat layer. After exhaustive scientific evaluation, COLA determined that an upper-limit of 10 ppb of phosphorus was essential to preserve the two-story fishery and presented the evidence to WDNR. 

 WDNR did not act, so COLA and the LCO Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa Indians (LCO Tribe) joined in legal action brought in Dane County Circuit Court to force the agency to set an appropriate phosphorus standard. In 2017, WDNR settled with COLA and the LCO Tribe and agreed to set a new standard. 

 But after five months, WDNR reneged on the settlement and instead again claimed that the existing 15 ppb phosphorus limit was adequate for Lac Courte Oreilles. The Court did not appreciate WDNR’s disregard of its rulings, and, after WDNR’s protracted series of appeals, the Court demanded on July 2, 2019 that WDNR develop an appropriate phosphorus standard for Lac Courte Oreilles.  

 WDNR finally (if reluctantly) proposed that a lowered limit of 10 ppb be established for LCO as demanded by the Court. But, and this is a big but, they included an option for the new rule – maintain the current 15 ppb!! This is unprecedented and indicates that WDNR has not yet moved beyond the last eight years of environmental neglect. We cannot let this continue any longer.

 Property values are jeopardized – every one-meter decrease in water clarity leads to an eight percent decrease in property value. Recreational uses – fishing, swimming, boating, and the simple pleasure of enjoying a clean lake – are threatened by toxic blue-green algae, mats of aquatic vegetation, and invasive plants. This cannot be allowed to happen.

 COLA has done everything it can to preserve Lac Courte Oreilles. Examples include leading the effort to inspect/upgrade septic systems; instituting a shoreland restoration program; controlling invasive aquatic species, re-stablishing musky habitat in Musky Bay; mapping erosion-susceptible agricultural and forest lands; and promoting reasonable and effective zoning.

 Now we really need your help. Here are two ways to preserve LCO’s water quality.

  • Attend the November 8, 2019 hearing, scheduled for 10 AM, Bass Lake Town Hall

    If you plan on attending, please let COLA know (

  • Email, call, or send a letter directly to:

Kristi Minahan  (608) 266-7055

Department of Natural Resources

Bureau of Water Quality WY/3

101 South Webster Street

PO Box  7921

Madison, WI  53707

Sample email/letter (yet to be written)

Thanks so much for your help!

For more information contact:  

Jim Coors, COLA Communications