Dunes Lake Watershed




The Sevastopol Town Board

January 27, 2013

The Dunes Lake Watershed Ad-Hoc Committee has spent the past four months reviewing the findings of a study prepared by the Door County Soil & Water Conservation Department with collaboration and direction from the Nature Conservancy, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, the United States Geological Survey and numerous other contributors entitled Water Quality Evaluation and Planning for the Dunes Lake Watershed, Door County, Wisconsin 2008-2012, to be referred to as “The Study” throughout this report.

The Dunes Lake watershed encompasses an area of approximately five square miles. It is located down the center of an area bordered by County Hwy I to the north, County Hwy T to the south, State Hwy 42 to the west and Lake Michigan to the east. This area includes the southeast corner of the Town of Egg Harbor, the southwest corner of the Town of Jacksonport and the east-central portion of the Town of Sevastopol. The rural communities of Institute and Valmy are in the approximate center of the area. The surface water bodies of the watershed include Geisel Creek, Dunes Lake and Shivering Sands Creek. There are several wetlands located in the headwaters and downstream.

The Study presents the results, conclusions and recommendations for a plan of action based on a scientific investigation and evaluation of the Dunes Lake Watershed. It also provided opportunity for and encouraged the public to ask questions, discuss and provide input for the plan of action and a timetable to implement corrective action and complete the project.

In July of 2008, Sevastopol Town Board Chairman Leo Zipperer, who at that time also held the position of Door County Board of Supervisors Chairman, was requested to write a letter of support for the Door County Soil and Water Conservation Dept. in regard to an application for a Lake Management Planning Grant to obtain funding for an investigation into the deteriorating water quality of the Dunes Lake Watershed. That letter of support was sent to Mary Gansberg - Lake Coordinator, 2984 Shawano Ave., PO Box 10448 Green Bay, WI 54313 on July 24, 2008. That letter was also noted as item No. 8) under “Correspondence” in the minutes of the Sevastopol Town Board meeting of August 18, 2008.

The Town Board was notified in July, 2012 that the science-based investigation phase of the study was nearing completion and it was time to execute the public input phase. Included with the notification was a request that the Board consent to the call of two public meetings. The meetings would be a briefing of the science-based investigative phase with participation and discussion regarding recommendations and planning for the watershed.

The first meeting, July 30, 2012, was limited to core stakeholders: representatives from the Sevastopol Town Board, Sevastopol School, Sevastopol Sanitary District, local businesses and adjoining property owners. The second meeting, August 13, 2012, was an informational meeting open to the general public. At each meeting a power point presentation was presented by the Door County Soil & Water Conservation Department (DCSWCD), along with representatives from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Wisconsin Lakes. Discussion and questions followed. It was determined at these meetings that the Town become actively involved in future recommendation development and the implementation planning phase of the project.

At the September Town Board meeting, Chairman Zipperer submitted Resolution Number 05-2012 TB forming the Dunes Lake Watershed Ad-Hoc Committee. The resolution contained a list of issues to be addressed by the Committee. The resolution passed unanimously and the Committee held its first meeting shortly thereafter.

Not all Committee members came to the same conclusion in their interpretation of The Study. This summation attempts to reflect those diverse conclusions.

The Study indicates that Dunes Lake is in an escalated state of eutrophication, a natural, slow-aging process for a water body. But human activity sometimes greatly accelerates the process. The term “eutrophic” means well-nourished; thus, eutrophication refers to the natural and/or artificial addition of nutrients to a body of water and the effects of those added nutrients. When the effects are undesirable, as they are in Dunes Lake, eutrophication can be considered a form of pollution.

The Study’s findings of elevated levels of other elements and chemicals in the water, in addition to advanced eutrophication, indicate that Dunes Lake and its contribution zone, including Geisel and Shivering Sands Creeks, are being polluted. This pollution problem is far reaching going beyond just the surface waters of the Lake and Creeks. The Study indicated that these pollutants have penetrated the upper levels of our groundwater.

It is a fact that The Study was completed over a period of time in which Door County has been enduring one of the worst dry spells in recent history. This condition may have contributed to elevated numbers in the measurement of elements and chemicals associated with the condition of the lake. Nevertheless, a low water table does not negate the fact that the lake and our groundwater are being polluted and we have an urgency to find and correct the sources of that pollution. In fact, it reinforces the findings that even though the surface water has dried up the transport of pollutants continues and is now being conveyed by means of the  groundwater.

The Study was completed with time and resources supplied by DCSWCD and additional funding through grants and donations. The Department of Natural Resources supplied three grants over three years, 2008-2009-2010, totaling $29,942. These funds were used to purchase water testing equipment, miscellaneous supplies and pay water analysis costs. The Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association supplied two grants over two years, 2008-2009, at $2000 each for a total of $4000. There were also donations from Glidden Drive Association over three years, 2008-2009-2010, Door County Property Owners Association and Raibrook Foundation Inc. in 2008, The Nature Conservancy in 2008-2009-2010, and UW Oshkosh in 2009. Total donated funds equaled $16,000 over the three year period. Total grant funding equaled $33,942.75. Donations plus grants total $49,942.75. The DCSWCD monetary factor was not determined.

Additionally, the DCSWCD received a $529,400 Targeted Runoff Management grant for the Dunes Lake watershed for implementing agricultural best management practices in the May, 2012, period and an additional $100,000 amendment to that grant in the December, 2012 time frame. These two grants will provide cost share dollars for farms operating within the Dunes Lake watershed to implement best management practices in the years 2013-2014. To date, there has been no funding available for private landowners, homeowners or the Sevastopol Sanitary District to help with costs associated with implementing actions to aid in the reduction of nutrients and other pollutants contaminating the watershed. DCSWCD has committed to continuously be on alert for other grants, as needed, to assist the Sanitary District and landowners and, possibly, restoration type grants that will aid in the recovery of the lake.

The main goal indicated in The Study is to restore the lake to a viable resource. That goal should, in reality, take second place. The primary goal should be to stop the pollution of our groundwater which, in turn, will help immensely in restoring the lake. It is highly unlikely that the degradation of Dunes Lake can be reversed; after all, eutrophication is a natural process. However, we could have a high degree of success in slowing the process if we implement the recommendations indicated in the study.

Phosphorus is the main culprit identified in The Study. It is a naturally occurring element that is never depleted. It just moves on to a new location and, in most instances, at a higher rate of concentration. By eliminating the sources of excess phosphorus we could, most likely  to some extent, also eliminate the amount of other pollutants identified in the study such as aluminum, potassium, calcium, nitrogen, sulfur, chloride, sodium, boron, cadmium, zinc and organic matter. Other benefits would be the reduction of pharmaceuticals, e-coli, coliform and other viral pathogens.

There are four major sources of contamination that need to be addressed in this restorative project:

1.   The natural process of eutrophication;

2.   Agricultural practices within the zone of contribution;

3.   Contributing factors of the Sevastopol Sanitary District;

4.   Private onsite wastewater treatment systems.

There are other less significant sources of contamination that were not addressed by The Study.

As a consequence of the Study, a list of recommended actions to reduce nutrient levels was compiled for each of the contributing sources. Each Committee member was asked to rank these actions by importance and without regard to perceived cost to implement. The results of that exercise are included in the collation of actions identified under their respective categories.

Agricultural practices were the first source discussed in The Study. That is not to say that farming is the largest contributing factor, but to date, is where the majority of the funding is directed and where restorative actions are most likely the easiest to implement and produce a high degree of success. Following in prioritized importance are recommended actions that should be applied to agriculture:

1.   Rank all agricultural fields based on potential soil loss and potential phosphorus delivery to prioritize limited cost sharing for Best Management Practices

2.  Require tillage setbacks in accordance to NR 151.03 performance standards to prevent soil deposition and the attached or soluble nutrients associated with field runoff alon  twenty-five miles of streams and/or drainage systems that are currently adjacent to cropland

3.   Require Nutrient Management on all cropland acres within the watershed to address proper application of all nutrient sources as required under NR 151.07 performance standards

4.    Install required BMPs at all livestock operations to store manure and address direct runoff to waters of the state in accordance to NR 151.08 Manure Management Prohibitions

5.   Discontinue the practice of winter spreading manure within the groundwater and surface water boundaries of the Dunes Lake watershed

6.   Grow cover crops and utilize conservation tillage practices such as no till farming to reduce erosion and sediment delivery to water bodies

7.   Install tillage setbacks and/or stabilize existing rock or sinkhole openings

8.   Construct wetland restoration projects to further reduce sediment and nutrient loading

9.   SWCD staff coordinated community-wide education efforts

10. Require more than the minimum 151 standards to protect Dunes Lake

11. Increase forage crop production versus row and canning crops

12. Town Board /Committee coordinated community-wide education efforts

13. Sevastopol School coordinated community-wide education efforts

14. SWCD staff coordinated one-on-one education efforts

15. Increase SWCD compliance check frequencies with Nutrient Management plans (realistic yields, soil fertility balancing, manure application rates and values…) within the watershed

16. Town Board /Committee coordinated one-on-one education efforts

17. Sevastopol School coordinated one-on-one education efforts

The Sevastopol Sanitary District (SSD) No. 1 was our next topic of discussion. The SSD is permitted by the DNR, controlled by a local Sanitary District Board and operated by licensed personnel. Professional engineers and specialists are on call should any problems arise. The District must follow guidelines, run tests and file reports on a regular basis. It is not now nor has it been in violation of its permit. To its tribute, it has been credited as being one of the best sanitary operations in the State of Wisconsin.

The system was built well above the required standards in the 1970s according to tests and reports reviewed. It operates within all parameters required by the DNR.

Although modern testing indicates possible leakage from the holding ponds, the amount noted is well within acceptable limits set by the DNR. It was also noted that evaporation from the ponds’ eleven acres of open water may have been underestimated.

Although the system has never reached full capacity, the Sanitary District Board and its engineers realize that the system is aging and that some practices, albeit acceptable and within regulation, may need to change. Its operational permit is up for renewal in June, 2013. Any new or more stringent regulations that will be imposed by the DNR on the SSD are yet to be seen.   The SSD is currently, voluntarily taking action to reduce phosphorus from the effluent by: testing the effects and value versus the cost of treating wastewater with alum; working with engineers to evaluate the condition of the ponds; voluntarily agreeing not to discharge effluent into Geisel Creek when dry and evaluating feasibility of adding a third pond or wetland (reed bed) treatment cell. A letter or informational pamphlet is also being contemplated to be sent to all SSD users to inform them of the need to reduce nutrient levels, suggested means in which to achieve that reduction and to encourage them to pay more attention to what they introduce into the system.

On August 16, 2012, McMahon Engineers and Architects prepared a list of questions and comments on behalf of the SSD regarding the study and presented them to the DCSWCD. The slow response by DCSWCD to that list created some uneasy feelings between the two parties for several months. In October, DCSWCD responded with written answers and eventually held a meeting with the SSD representatives. As noted above, the contention has eased and progress is being made.

The Sevastopol Sanitary District is a state DNR licensed facility and any changes in its operation will require statistical evaluation from qualified engineers and approval from the DNR before they could be implemented.

Following, in order of importance are recommended actions that could be applied to the Sevastopol Sanitary No. 1:

1.   Discontinue discharge of effluent to a dry or losing creek to protect groundwater

2.   Evaluate liner performance and replacement costs

Note: 3 & 4 tied

3.   Install a third treatment pond

4.   Install a wetland treatment cell to absorb nutrients and where plant matter can be removed

5.   Evaluate solids removal systems for ponds

6.   Educate home owners on how to reduce phosphorus levels from homes within the district (waste avoidance)

7.   Encourage the DNR to require a lower ex-filtration rate according to NR 110.24(4)(b)2.2   due to the local karst topography and associated shallow groundwater aquifer

8.   Restore and/or enlarge existing wetlands along Geisel Creek downstream of the  treatment facility discharge point to Geisel Creek to add nutrient assimilation capacity  to the watershed and upstream of Dunes Lake

9.   Discontinue discharge of effluent to a flowing or gaining creek to protect Dunes Lake

10.  Treat wastewater ponds with alum prior to discharge to precipitate phosphorus and thus reduce total phosphorus levels in the discharge

11. Sanitary district phosphorus use reduction agreements

12. Replace liners to reduce pond leakage to groundwater

13. Remove accumulated solids and restore full treatment capacity

14. Truck the waste out and apply to agricultural fields

15. Evaluate connecting the Sevastopol Sanitary District to the city of Sturgeon Bay’s  Wastewater Utilities

16. Connect the Sanitary District to the city of Sturgeon Bay’s Wastewater Utilities

17. Truck the waste out to the city of Sturgeon Bay

Private Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (POWTS) were the next pollution source to be discussed. POWTS located in the zone of contribution were considered to be a concern since some were well beyond their useful life expectancy. Privately owned treatment systems within the watershed contribute nitrogen and phosphorus to shallow, fractured bedrock, which in turn contributes nutrients to Dunes Lake. The Door County Sanitarian’s Department has been systematically inspecting all private systems over the past several years and there are but a few dozen yet requiring inspection in this area. The project should be completed in 2013. All failing systems are required to be replaced. Depending upon the severity of the failure, in most cases the owner is allowed one year from the date of notice of failing system to accomplish the project with an approved and licensed system. New maintenance requirements must be adhered to. One in particular is having the system pumped and inspected every three years. All systems that passed initial inspection will continue to be monitored. Recommended actions to reduce nutrient levels from POWTS in order of importance are:

1.   County staff coordinated efforts to educate landowners on how to reduce phosphorus use in the watershed

2.   Sevastopol School coordinated efforts to educate students/families on how to reduce   phosphorus use in the watershed

3.   Implement an accelerated inspection of older home waste treatment systems within the  watershed using the Door County septic system inspection program. Deficient systems should be upgraded per county ordinance

4.   Town Board/Committee coordinated efforts to educate landowners on how to reduce phosphorus use in the watershed

The final source of pollution is the lake itself. The prolific growth and decay of vegetation in/on and around the lake continue to increase the amount of sediment in the lake.

Several suggestions were presented that were thought to be viable solutions to help clean up the lake. Damming the Shivering Sands outflow to increase water levels was suggested. This may dilute the pollutants, but would not eliminate them. It would also flood more land spreading those pollutants over a larger area.

Dredging sediment and blasting or burning vegetation were also suggested. Dredging would not solve the problem nor would removal of vegetation. It may open a path for the lake to flow more freely into Lake Michigan but allowing the pollution to moving from one location to another is not the answer. Before the DNR would allow any such action on the lake, it would be require that the source of pollution be corrected and the levels of pollutants in the lake be reduced.

Presently, the best course of action would be to correct the sources of pollution and let “Mother Nature” take care of the lake.

The restorative plan of action can be broken down into several parts. Each part would have a different controlling agent. There are simple actions that the Town could implement without state or county government control. For example: create an ordinance banning the use of phosphorus; print and mail educational information; obtain or produce informational series for use over our PEG TV channels; encourage environmental groups to give presentations at the Town Hall.

Funding and direction for some actions have already been granted to the DCSWCD and already being planned or implemented at this time without further involvement from the Town. Yet some actions will take more investigation and approval on the part of the DNR.

The responsibility to take corrective action falls on everyone’s shoulders. Geisel and Shivering Sands Creeks and Dunes Lake are considered to be navigable waters of the State. If we are looking for a chain of command, it would look like this:

State of Wisconsin/ Dept. of Natural Resources

County of Door/ Door County Soil & Water Conservation Dept.

Towns of Sevastopol, Egg Harbor, Jacksonport/ Boards and Committees

Local citizenry/ Associations, Organizations, Individuals

There are numerous other departments of state and local government that could become involved should conditions warrant or the problems escalate.

Education was an important plan of action that came up in each phase of the restorative plan. The public needs to be made aware of the fact that groundwater contamination is no longer just a perceived threat. It is happening now. Several ways of informing and educating the public were discussed: public meetings, informative pamphlets, direct mail and school curriculum. School curriculum was perceived to achieve the highest rate of success but would have the lowest immediate effect. Young children would not have much control over the actions of their parents. But, hopefully, early education would produce lasting results.

Not all members of the Committee feel as I do that the adult and young adult populations need to understand that if they do not voluntarily change their ways now, they may be required to do so in the near future and that these requirements could come with a higher price tag. It is thought that it would be much more difficult to get that point across to these groups.

The Dunes Lake Watershed Ad-Hoc Committee recommends:

1.   The Town of Sevastopol should continue to be involved in this project by forming a standing committee if we wish to have a say in the plan of action and the outcome of  the project. However, the project will continue with or without the Town’s support.

2.   An initial plan of action has been determined as outlined in the study. The Committee has ranked the proposed actions by importance and DCSWCD is moving forward with  those actions for which they have already received funding. We recommend full support  of these efforts.

3.   Cost share grant dollars have been obtained for recommended actions to reduce nutrient levels from agricultural non-point pollution sources. That plan of action should  proceed as planned.

4    The Door County Sanitarian’s Dept. is in the final stages of compilation of the POWTS  inspections within the watershed. We should encourage the DCSD to complete the inspections in this area as quickly as possible. The recommended actions to reduce nutrient levels from POWTS should be implemented with the funding that is now  available.

5.   The Sevastopol Sanitary District should be allowed without hindrance to continue to evaluate their operation and efforts to reduce their effect on the watershed.

6.   The educational phase of the plan of action for the Sanitary District should accelerate in  2013.

7  The Town should explore the use of ordinances to control excess phosphorus use and other sources of pollution within its borders and work with neighboring communities that are located within the zone of contribution.

Finally, as Chairman of the Committee, I believe that if we all work together we will have a positive effect on the quality of the water and the lake. Each agency involved has rules and regulations that need to be addressed. Cause and effect will continue to control what will be accomplished and when it might happen. Another huge factor will be financial support. Without the dollars needed to implement the plan of action, we will be unable to complete the project satisfactorily. Resistance is expected in all phases of the plan. The farming community will not approve of removing acres from production. Possible increased costs to POWTS and Sanitary District users will not be looked upon favorably. Spending to dredge the lake or killing off vegetation will most certainly cause an up-roar.

As stated earlier, locating funding sources for this project will continue to be ongoing. It is imperative that all agencies, municipalities and organizations collaborate together.

In closing, I would like to thank all Committee members, Sevastopol Sanitary District personal, Door County Soil and Water Conservation Department personal, and all who have contributed to this project for their efforts and contributions to this cause.

Submitted by:

Chuck Tice,

Dunes Lake Watershed Ad Hoc Committee Chairman


This page will be updated as events occur.

For additional information on the Dunes Lake Watershed study, go to the Door County Soil & Water Conservation Department website at http://map.co.door.wi.us/swcd/.  You will find a very comprehensive "Dunes Lake Technical Report" as prepared by that Department.