Introducing the Mud Chasers, a new breed of stormwater investigators. These volunteers are taking nonpoint source runoff detection to a new level.

Everybody remembers the Ghostbusters, the 1980s film stars who tracked down ghosts in New York City.

But Mud Chasers?

It’s the name of a brand-new group now forming in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, and you might be hearing more about them in the months ahead. That’s because they will be out on the ground during rain events, helping the local treatment plant and watershed officials track down nonpoint source runoff.

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Using rain gauges, cameras and sampling bottles, the Mud Chasers will focus on specific impaired streams, helping to determine where sediment plumes are coming from.

“They’ll be our eyeballs on the ground,” says Tom Steinbach, operations manager at the Oconomowoc Wastewater Treatment Plant and program manager for the Oconomowoc Watershed Protection Program. “You can’t determine the source of runoff by standing on a bridge. We need to get out there during storms and see what’s happening, follow the mud back upstream.”

Mud chasing is Steinbach’s idea. He says it’s based on the fact that very little actual visual inspection is happening during storms at a field scale level to actually see or trace runoff. “Even when we do our event monitoring, we are presently only taking samples from bridges, and the timing is not always ideal to really see what’s happening.”  

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Starting early this summer, he began developing the concept and recruiting volunteers. He hopes to have the program in place by October or earlier. Since the watershed spans 49 miles from end to end, he plans to organize groups into specific geographic areas, so the Mud Chasers can become familiar with and focus on particular streams. The groups will be notified to spring into action by a phone call from the program director.

Where necessary, permission to monitor runoff will be sought from private landowners.

“To begin with, we envision four to five groups, with perhaps half a dozen members in each group,” Steinbach says. “We’re seeing interest from individual volunteers and from groups and civic organizations.”

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The Oconomowoc watershed program uses an adaptive management technique — approved by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources — to monitor and curtail nutrient pollution throughout the entire watershed. The program has received funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As many as 30 groups, businesses, lake associations and private landowners have signed on as program stakeholders, with the Oconomowoc treatment plant a major partner along with the Tall Pines Conservancy, the local Clean Water Association, and the consulting firm of Ruekert and Mielke.

“We saw real advantages to this approach in preserving our lakes and rivers, which are super important to our economy and quality of life,” says Steinbach.

”The group is implementing a range of agricultural projects and educational programs, as well as monitoring some 30 sites around the watershed.

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The area faces a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) limit of 0.75 mg/L phosphorus at the confluence of the Rock and Oconomowoc Rivers in the next 15 years.

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