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EPA to kick off Kickapoo River Watershed Integrated Management Study
Cissy Ma leads watershed meeting in Readstown in 2019
Cissy Ma, research engineer with U.S. EPA Office of Research and Development in Cincinnati, Ohio, has announced a kick-off meeting for a ‘Kickapoo River Watershed Integrated Management Study.’ The project was first explored at a meeting held in Readstown in 2019.

KICKAPOO WATERSHED - Cissy Ma, research engineer with U.S. EPA Office of Research and Development in Cincinnati, Ohio, has announced a kick-off meeting for a ‘Kickapoo River Watershed Integrated Management Study.’  The project was first explored at a meeting held in Readstown in 2019.

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U.S. EPA now has most of things in place (funding, contractors, quality assurance project plans, etc.). The kick-off meeting will discuss more on the goals and the plans of the project.  Ma’s colleagues from region 5 and Office of Water will be part of the effort, as will other experts.

The virtual meeting will take place on the Microsoft Teams platform, and can be accessed as follows:

Or call in (audio only)

+1 513-769-4574,,349745908#   United States, Cincinnati

Phone Conference ID: 349 745 908#

Project overview

Efforts by states and tribes to manage nutrients to comply with water quality criteria to prevent adverse impacts due to eutrophication [excessive richness of nutrients in a lake or other bodies of water, frequently due to runoff from the land, which causes a dense growth of plant life and death of animal life from lack of oxygen] lead to more stringent water quality-based effluent limits. 

Compliance with these limits puts even more pressure on small, often rural communities because of the financial and technical challenges. Additionally, the increased flood risk results in sewer overflow in wastewater treatment plant and infrastructure damage, agricultural field runoff and riverbank erosion, causing worse water quality downstream.   

End-of-pipe treatment upgrades alone may not achieve the required effluent quality improvement outcome and can impose an economic burden to individual rural communities that cannot afford it.  

This project proposes to investigate the potential for small, rural municipalities to comply with water quality requirements by applying regionalization and integrated watershed approaches to address nutrient requirements while also providing other water quality benefits at the watershed scale (sediments, habitat, flow, aquifer recharge).  

This approach may also substantially reduce administrative costs and improve the distribution of the cost burden, therefore providing both economic and ecological resiliency in watersheds. The data and analyses generated through this project will support the development of a holistic tool for the communities to evaluate a suite of options, including watershed scale projects such as construction and restoration of wetlands, native vegetation and regenerative agricultural practice, hydrological connectivity, in their decision making for meeting new permit requirements for nutrients.  

This proposed research will initiate the efforts to fill the data gap of scientifically defensible estimates of multiple types of credits to promote more holistic resource improvements that was called for in the Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Water David Ross’s Memorandum on 2/6/2019 regarding Upgrading the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Water Quality Trading Policy to Promote Market-based Mechanisms for Improving Water Quality.  The project watershed is Kickapoo River Watershed in southwest, WI, involving eight to ten communities’ wastewater treatment and discharge.

This multi-benefit research will explore the feasibility of a framework to support market-based strategies to maximize environmental outcomes with lowest overall cost by targeting 1) point source compliance (water quality), 2) non-point source runoff reduction (water quality), 3) flood risk mitigation (water quantity) and 4) enhance aquafer recharge (water quantity).  The rising tide of phosphorus variances for small communities in this region and other regions indicates the urgency and requires the development of more effective, lower cost solutions to alleviate eutrophication in water body.  The integrated assessment metrics provide holistic quantification of environmental, economic, and health risks outcomes. 

Study phases

Research to be investigated – The study is divided into two Phases. Phase I will provide the        comprehensive system analysis comparison of upgraded systems required for compliance and market-based approach (water quality trading (WQT), or adaptive management plan (AM), or the hybrid of the two) to identify pollution reduction credits of various ecological services use in the NR 151 or NR 217.18 permitting.

Phase II will expand beyond POTWs and compliance issues and conduct hydrological and hydraulic valuation of the geographic trading area, ecological modeling of ecosystem services, topography, water quality, water quantity, soil, land use and flooding mitigation and aquafer recharge potential, as well as eutrophication potential trade-offs and the impacts to the downstream river such as Wisconsin river and Mississippi river.    Multiple metrics will be used to evaluate environmental impacts. Watershed costing economic models and non-monetary models will be applied.

The comprehensive integrated system analyses will explore the potential of transformative next generation solutions to environmental challenges from system perspectives that not only are environmentally sound with preserved resources and assets, and reduced pollution, but also economically viable with increased sustainability and resiliency.  The study will provide the quantification understanding and help catalyze the transition of the wastewater industry into a new cost effective, more sustainable productions. 

Demonstration case

Benefits to the Collaborator – Kickapoo River Watershed Project potentially serve as a demonstration     case for long-term research and development of integrated management concepts and strategies.  They will be the pioneers to help promote and advance the concept of One Water and the application of market-based mechanisms in transitioning the wastewater industry into a new cost effective, more sustainable productions.  Through this collaboration, Kickapoo River Watershed will have direct access to our technologies and expertise, and test the applicability to reduce overall cost, maximize the community benefits and natural resources, and improve overall watershed efficiency.  

Benefits to EPA – Through the collaboration, we will be able to apply system metrics tools to promote system analysis in watershed management, push paradigm shift and achieve more sustainable outcome.  Such changes will not only address the traditional complex environmental challenges, but also provide a holistic, cross-media solutions to a suite of problems.  Although none of the individual components of the proposal (nutrient removal, aquifer recharge, etc.) are truly unique, it is unique to see them reach this level of integration. EPA may have an interest to see if a real‐world integration of these ideas will result in economic and environmental benefits vs. business as usual. The demo will also serve as an example for other utilities, communities, and watersheds to adopt such practice. The engagement of communities, government agencies, academics and other stakeholders to carry out the project will increase public acceptance and help implement the needed changes at a faster pace.

Relationship to RAP – This collaboration on its resulting development and activity complements the research being conducted under the Safe and Sustainable Water Research (SSWR) National Research Program ( and