The Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD, or the District) operates a regional wastewater treatment facility that serves the City of Madison and many surrounding municipalities, including the City of Verona. Currently, treated effluent from MMSD operations is returned to two local streams: Badfish Creek (Outfall 001) and Badger Mill Creek (Outfall 005).

The District’s 2020 Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) discharge permit set lower limits for phosphorus for the Badger Mill Creek discharge. After considering several options to meet this lower threshold, the MMSD Commission opted to discontinue flow to Badger Mill Creek to comply with the new requirements.

On May 31, 2023, MMSD submitted a Final Compliance Alternatives Plan (FCAP) to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). As a final piece to proceeding with the selected alternative, MMSD is also required to pursue an amendment to the Dane County Water Quality Plan (DCWQP) administered by the Capital Area Regional Planning Commission (CARPC).

On Monday, June 10th, 2024, MMSD submitted final application materials for the proposed amendment to the DCWQP. The proposed amendment will be reviewed by CARPC and the Wisconsin DNR to assess the potential water quality impacts of diverting effluent flow from Badger Mill Creek to Badfish Creek. A public hearing took place at the July 11th CARPC meeting. CARPC Commission action will occur on August 8th, and a final decision by the Wisconsin DNR is anticipated in September.

In the early 1990s, the City of Verona operated their own wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) which discharged directly to the Sugar River in the Sugar-Pecatonica Sub-basin. Meanwhile, MMSD discharged effluent to Badfish Creek in the Middle Rock Sub-basin. Due to significant improvements needed at the Verona facility, the City of Verona ultimately proposed to decommission the Verona WWTP and transmit wastewater to MMSD’s facility. This required an amendment to the Dane County Water Quality Plan.

During that process, the Dane County Regional Planning Commission (DCRPC; predecessor to the Capital Area RPC) strongly supported the regionalization of wastewater collection and treatment but did have concerns about potential long-term adverse impacts from the “diversion of surface waters [from] the Sugar River Basin” caused by pumping groundwater in one basin and discharging it into another. This concern for interbasin water transfer, as it became known as, was shared by MMSD and the general public.

To mitigate concern for interbasin water transfer and reverse adverse hydrologic impacts already evident in Badger Mill Creek at that time, a proposal that provided for the return and discharge of highly treated effluent from the Nine Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant to the headwaters of Badger Mill Creek was ultimately approved. DCRPC passed Resolutions No. 738 (May 1995) and No. 796 (January 1997), and in February 1997, the Wisconsin DNR officially approved of the change to the DCWQP.1 Since 1998, the District has discharged a small portion of their treated effluent to Badger Mill Creek, alongside their historical discharge to Badfish Creek.

Since the 1990s amendments to allow Verona’s wastewater to be treated at MMSD’s Nine Springs Facility and discharged to Badger Mill Creek, changes to state statutes have significantly limited the authority of the Capital Area RPC and DNR with respect to amending the DCWQP. Wis. Stat. § 283.83(1m), imposes several limitations including the following:  

WDNR to base decisions regarding DCWQP amendments on “whether the proposed revision complies with the water quality standards under s. 281.15.”

[§ 283.83(1m)(a).] 

WDNR and any person contracting with WDNR, such as CARPC, “may not require information concerning a proposed revision to the [DCWQP] other than information that is reasonably necessary to determine whether the proposed revision complies with water quality standards under s. 281.15.”

[§ 283.83(1m)(b).] 

WDNR “may not delegate its authority to approve or reject proposed revisions” to contracted parties providing advisory services related to the review of proposed revisions to the [DCWQP].”

[§ 283.83(1m)(f).]

Per Wis. Stat. § 281.15, water quality standards and criteria shall be based upon the designated uses of the waters. These standards are established in Wis. Admin. Code Chapters NR 102-105. Section NR 102.04 lays out the different designated use categories as well as the water quality criteria necessary to meet the designated uses.  

Ultimately, the Wisconsin DNR decision must only be based on the effect of the proposed diversion of effluent flow from Badger Mill Creek to Badfish Creek as it relates to compliance with the water quality standards established in Wis. Admin Code Chapters NR 102 – 105 and within the framework of the applicable statutes.  

Although hydrologic concerns (including changing stream flow) were integral to the original decision to return effluent to Badger Mill Creek, such concerns are not defined criteria of the water quality standards established under Wis. Stat. s. 281.15. Change in stream flow may only be considered to the extent that it affects compliance with the water quality criteria required to meet the waterbody’s designated uses.

Through its capacity as an agent to the Wisconsin DNR, CARPC performs water quality management planning per the statutory requirements of s. 283.83(1m). Although the amendment to discontinue effluent discharge to Badger Mill Creek differs from the typical DCWQP amendments to allow growth in urbanized areas, CARPC will fulfill the same role in this process.

For the Badger Mill Creek amendment, CARPC will administer the application and public participation process, conduct a review of the provided materials in consultation with DNR staff, and prepare a staff analysis report and Water Quality Management Letter (WQML), including any conditions of approval that would address concerns or remove uncertainty about compliance with s. 281.15. The Wisconsin DNR will complete an administrative review and make the ultimate decision based on water quality standards.

Public participation is an integral part of CARPC’s DCWQP amendment process. To ensure open and equitable participation, we encourage the public to submit comments and relevant information to help us assess whether the proposed amendment will ultimately comply with the water quality standards described above. The formal public hearing was held on July 11th, 2024 (link to CARPC Meeting Information), but written commentary may be submitted at any time (refer to public hearing notice for contact info). We recommend that any information be clear, succinct, and include supporting documentation as appropriate. 

NameOrganizationDate ReceivedDisposition*Link to Comment
Larson, JJ / Rogers, CharlieVillage of Cottage Grove Utility Commission7/10/2024ForPDF
Szot, Shaun7/10/2024AgainstPDF
Lane, William7/10/2024NeutralPDF
Hutchinson, John7/10/2024AgainstPDF
Fries, Greg / Major Rhodes-Conway, Satya City of Madison7/10/2024ForPDF
Ramseier, Lizbeth7/10/2024AgainstPDF
Johncox, Jennifer7/10/2024AgainstPDF
Miller, Richard and Sally7/10/2024AgainstPDF
Jimenez, HeidiPines Bach LLP, on behalf of City of Verona7/10/2024AgainstPDF
Johnson, Kathy7/10/2024AgainstPDF
Wells, TopfSouthern WI Trout Unlimited7/10/2024AgainstPDF
Bohanan, RobertUpper Sugar River Watershed Association7/10/2024AgainstPDF
Perry, Ernie7/10/2024AgainstPDF
Nehls-Lowe, Henry7/10/2024AgainstPDF
Hess, Jim7/10/2024AgainstPDF
Wilson, TomMMSD Commission7/9/2024ForPDF
Musser, Steve Southern WI Trout Unlimited7/9/2024AgainstPDF
Krauskopf, Thomas7/9/2024AgainstPDF
Lane, William7/9/2024NeutralPDF
Christian, Brian7/9/2024AgainstPDF
Falk, Kathleen7/9/2024AgainstPDF
Williams, Paul7/9/2024UnknownPDF
Wells, TopfSouthern WI Trout Unlimited7/8/2024AgainstPDF
Eskrich, SaraMMSD Commission7/8/2024ForPDF
Sonzogni, William7/7/2024AgainstPDF
Norsetter, Jan7/7/2024AgainstPDF
Martens, Kara7/7/2024AgainstPDF
Kose, Brad7/7/2024AgainstPDF
Cook, Walt7/7/2024AgainstPDF
Hyer, Greg7/6/2024AgainstPDF
Rayment, Ivan7/6/2024AgainstPDF
Bergen, PatFriends of Badger Mill Creek Env Corridor; Ice Age Trail member7/5/2024AgainstPDF
Beecher, James7/5/2024AgainstPDF
Dutilly, Henri & KathyFriends of Badfish Creek Watershed7/1/2024AgainstPDF
Frank-Loron, Rhonda & Andrew6/25/2024AgainstPDF
Danky, JamesFriends of Badfish Creek Watershed6/13/2024AgainstPDF
Wells, TopfSouthern WI Trout Unlimited6/12/2024AgainstPDF
*Disposition, unless expressly stated in correspondence, is based on CARPC Staff’s interpretation of the correspondence.

Note: The references contained in this section were obtained from staff at MMSD. CARPC provides links here for informational purposes only.  

MMSD considered several alternatives to achieve phosphorus compliance in Badger Mill Creek before proposing discontinuation of flow. Preliminary options for compliance included tertiary treatment, adaptive management, water quality trading, development of site-specific criterion, facility-specific variances, and elimination or reduction of flow. See resources below for additional information. 

Early 1990sThe Verona WWTP discharges all effluent directly to the Sugar River in the Sugar-Pecatonica Basin. The Nine Springs WWTP discharges all effluent directly to Badfish Creek in the Lower Rock Basin.
1993DCRPC Resolution No. 670 is postponed and not adopted. The resolution had proposed to decommission the Verona WWTP and divert all wastewater from Verona to the Nine Springs WWTP.
1995DCRPC Resolution No. 738 amends the Dane County Water Quality Plan. Part of Verona’s wastewater begins to be pumped to the Nine Springs WWTP and discharged to Badfish Creek.
1997DCRPC Resolution No. 796 amends the Dane County Water Quality Plan. The Verona WWTP is decommissioned, and all wastewater from Verona is pumped to the Nine Springs WWTP. Highly treated effluent is to be discharged to Badger Mill Creek.
1998MMSD begins pumping treated effluent to Badger Mill Creek through a 10-mile force main.
2008The main branch of Badger Mill Creek is designated as a Class II Trout Stream. Source: WDNR Trout Stream Report of Sugar River Watershed 2020-2021
2010Wisconsin DNR adopts Phosphorus Water Quality Standards for surface waters.
May 2020MMSD’s renewed WPDES permit establishes a phosphorus compliance schedule. WDNR requires that MMSD must meet WQBELs for Total Phosphorus in Badger Mill Creek by 2028.
Jun 2022MMSD presents preliminary compliance alternatives to their Commission.
Oct 2022MMSD staff reports that some compliance alternatives are losing viability.
Jan 2023MMSD begins flow and habitat measurements to examine the potential impacts of discontinuing effluent flow to Badger Mill Creek and the Sugar River.
Apr 2023MMSD staff submits the Final Alternatives Assessment for Phosphorus Compliance Report (commonly referred to as the Final Compliance Alternatives Plan, or “FCAP” report).
May 2023MMSD Commission approves the discontinuance of effluent to Badger Mill Creek to meet permit requirements for phosphorus compliance in that waterway and approves $1 million in projects to support health and resiliency of Badger Mill Creek. MMSD forms the Badger Mill Creek stakeholder group to develop such projects.
Jun 2024CARPC receives MMSD’s final application regarding proposed amendment to the Dane County Water Quality Plan to discontinue effluent flow to Badger Mill Creek and send it back to Badfish Creek.
Jul 11 2024CARPC holds a public hearing to discuss potential water quality impacts caused by the discontinuance of treated effluent to Badger Mill Creek.
Aug 8 2024Anticipated: CARPC staff presents an analysis of MMSD’s proposal. Commissioners give a recommendation for the final decision on the proposal by the WDNR.
Sep 2024Anticipated: WDNR issues a final decision.

  1. Another resolution (Resolution No. 670) related to the decommissioning of the Verona WWTP and regionalization with MMSD was prepared in 1993 but was postponed until a more clearly defined management strategy that was acceptable to the District could be devised. ↩︎