Friday, June 27, 2014

Getting Down to Business

Algae beginning to form on the surface of Lake Menomin

It was 9 am on Tuesday morning when everything finally clicked. My hands were cramping from my tight grip on my pen and my handwriting was illegible from my furious scribbling. Most of the LAKES group was in attendance at the Total Maximum Daily Limit (TMDL) Implementation Plan team meeting at the Dunn County Agricultural Services Center. We were sitting in chairs along the back walls of a small conference room watching the group of around 15 people from various state and local agencies, NGOs, and corporations providing updates on the work they’ve done toward planning the implementation of TMDLs.

Some quick background information: Lake Menomin is on Wisconsin’s List of Impaired and Threatened Waters and under the Clean Water Act, the State is responsible for developing TMDLs for those water bodies. A TMDL is a calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that a water body can receive and still safely meet water quality standards. Phosphorus is the targeted pollutant in the TMDL for Lake Menomin and targets have to be set for the reduction of the pollutant. The State is required to submit TMDLs to the EPA for approval and then must prepare a plan for implementation.

I knew all of this. I spent hours poring over the decision document for Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin’s TMDLs, and digging through Wisconsin’s Administrative Code and city ordinances in order to understand the political structure of phosphorus mitigation governance. When the group members introduced themselves one by one at the beginning of the meeting, I was excited that I was able to place a face to many of the names I recognized from the contact list Rachel and I built for our research.

When the updates began, I wasn’t prepared for my reaction. My head was spinning as I attempted to keep up with the conversation in front of me while simultaneously trying to not feel overwhelmed by the name-dropping of dozens of organizations, departments, people, and acronyms. I remembered my former self, comfortably shuffling through pages of official documents, writing notes, and jotting down questions to myself and I felt a little out of my element. Though I’ve always been content to do research in the form of literature reviews I do recall memories of feeling a fleeting sense of skepticism after finishing a paper, often wondering “But what did they actually do?”

As I listened to the members of the TMDL Implementation Plan Team describe their meetings with other officials, workshops held and informative conversations with community members and farmers, I was finally able to understand the action involved in the planning process. The difference between me reading about plans and actually seeing the process of implementation unfold in front of me was such a breath of fresh air. This is what I’ve been missing. Toward the end of the meeting someone made a comment saying that despite EPA’s expectations of a formal TMDL implementation plan, the group has already taken steps toward implementation, saying, “We can’t look at it like ‘Now I have this document, now I know what to do.’”

Moving forward, I still expect to experience many more hours staring at my computer screen, digging for information in the form of papers and official documents. However, the TMDL Implementation Plan meeting served as a sneak peek into the deliberate local collaboration behind those documents that I have and will continue to review. 

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