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Wetlands find role in removing pollution
Wastewater treatment
Crim views constructed wetlands POWTS
THIS CONSTRUCTED WETLANDS POWTS, currently being installed by a private landowner in northern Crawford County, recently garnered statewide attention from Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) Secretary Dawn Crim. Crim traveled to Crawford County to view the installation, and to talk with county zoning and sanitation staff on Tuesday, August 10.

CRAWFORD COUNTY - At the Tuesday, August 10 meeting of the Crawford County Land Conservation Committee, Land Use Concerns, County Conservationist Dave Troester announced that something exciting was happening. Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) Secretary Dawn Crim had travelled to Crawford County to view a Private Onsite Wastewater Treatment System (POWTS or septic system) installation that involved use of a constructed wetlands.

“Secretary Crim traveled to Crawford County to view a constructed wetlands POWTS installation, which was privately funded by the owners,” Wisconsin DSPS Communications Director Jennifer Garrett said. “Our agency regulates POWTS, and Secretary Crim is a hands-on secretary who likes to learn from our team in the field. This was a good opportunity to see a system going in and to talk to the professionals responsible for designing and installing it.” 

Constructed wetlands have been garnering attention in the Driftless Region since U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) employee Cissy Ma kicked off a study of their potential use in the region to address problems municipal sewer utilities are facing with mandated phosphorous reduction rules.

The installation review attended by Wisconsin DSPS Secretary Dawn Crim was also attended by Crawford County Zoning and Sanitation Technician, Jake Shedivy, who has been tasked with spearheading the county’s new POWTS ordinance in recent years.

According to USEPA, “natural wetland systems have often been described as the ‘earth’s kidneys’ because they filter pollutants from water that flows through on its way to receiving lakes, streams and oceans. Because these systems can improve water quality, engineers and scientists construct systems that replicate the functions of natural wetlands. Constructed wetlands are treatment systems that use natural processes involving wetland vegetation, soils, and their associated microbial assemblages to improve water quality.”

 Not only can constructed wetlands help to keep phosphorous and other nutrients out of surface water, but they can also potentially help to keep those same nutrients out of the groundwater aquifers that feed private wells, reduce flood flows from extreme rain events, and help municipalities and private landowners meet state and federal standards for clean water in general. Constructed wetlands have the potential to offer a win-win-win-win scenario for the Driftless Region.

Regarding the possibility that future infrastructure funding coming down the pike from the state and the federal government could potentially assist homeowners with installation of these kinds of systems, Garrett had this to say:

“Our staff is trained, willing, and ready to work on these projects. We don’t currently see a high volume of constructed wetlands POWTS, but it is my understanding that they are very effective at removing phosphorous from water,” Garrett said. “There is a cost difference between the two kinds of systems [standard septic systems versus constructed wetlands systems]. We are not aware of any upcoming incentives, but funding to offset the cost difference would likely increase interest in and adoption of constructed wetlands POWTS.”

Garrett said the system was installed for the private landowner by Mike Havlik of Coulee Soil Testing, Excavating, and Plumbing.

County budget process

These are great examples of why citizens should support the request of the Crawford County Land Conservation Committee for increased funding for the Zoning and Sanitation sub-department. Counties all over Wisconsin are currently assessing the best means to position themselves for future infrastructure funding about to be approved by the U.S. Congress.

At the Vernon County Land Conservation Department Conservation Observance Day, Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) Secretary Designee Randy Romanski addressed the crowd assembled to honor the State Conservation Farm Family of the Year, Kevin and Carolyn Parr.

“While many things in the latest state budget process were less bipartisan than could be desired, land conservation wasn’t one of those things,” Romanski said. “In the latest state budget, increased funding was approved for county land conservation staff in order to pump up the presence of ‘boots on the ground,’ which is crucial in our efforts to combat the impacts of climate change on agricultural operators in our state.”

Matt Krueger, Executive Director of Wisconsin Land+Water, the agency that oversees county land conservation departments, spoke at the same event.

“Wisconsin Land+Water is grateful to state legislators for approving this vitally important funding,” Krueger said. “We will continue to work toward leveraging increased awareness and support of county conservation efforts into sufficient and sustained funding for the important work performed by our members.”

As Crawford County Conservationist Dave Troester pointed out at the July 13 meeting of the Land Conservation Committee, “the state budget just signed by the Governor has increased funding for county conservation staffing which will result in an additional $25-30,000 extra coming into our department. This combined with the increased revenues coming from administration of our POWTS ordinance should more than cover the cost of supplying increased assistance to our Zoning and Sanitation sub-department.”

At the August 10 meeting of the Land Conservation Department, Troester informed the committee about recent Crawford County Personnel Committee action on the Land Conservation Department’s staffing increase request.

“Two weeks ago, the Personnel Committee tabled the position description and salary recommended by this committee,” Troester said. “The bulk of the meeting was conducted in closed session, and upon returning to open session, no motions were made.”

Troester went on to inform the committee that department employee Myrna Stevenson would be out for a month, and that members of his team would be stepping in to help Shedivy where they could.  

Crawford County septic system owners are under increasing pressure to remedy any defects in their POWTS, or document the three-year inspection/pumping compliance, before the county’s deadline of the end of 2021 comes around. After this date, landowners with non-compliant systems will begin to face sanctions and penalties. Fielding the large number of landowner questions and concerns has overwhelmed county zoning and sanitation staff as the deadline approaches. Safe to say, landowners and county staff are looking for any assistance they can get in facing this deadline.