Wisconsin has taken an important step in reining in the
phosphorus pollution that fuels toxic algae, excessive weed growth
and murky water in many lakes and rivers as comprehensive pollution
measures go into effect this month, the state’s top natural
resources official says. The phosphorus rules were passed by the
Natural Resources Board in June, 2010.
“Wisconsin’s lakes and rivers are the foundation for our
economy, our environment and our quality of life,” says DNR
Secretary Matt Frank. “Stakeholder groups came together to preserve
that foundation by addressing phosphorus pollution comprehensively.
Under this rule, Wisconsin can look forward to cleaner beaches,
more swimmable lakes, improved public health, healthier fisheries
and wildlife habitat.”
“Cleaning up waters polluted by excessive phosphorus is crucial
to protecting our $12 billion tourism economy and our $2.75 billion
fishing industry. Reducing phosphorus will protect private property
values and local tax base, as shown by state and national research
linking higher property values with water clarity,” Frank says.
“Cleaning up phosphorous pollution is good for the environment
and the economy,” Frank says. “We have designed an innovative,
cost-effective and flexible approach that will allow us to meet
federal requirements for phosphorus reductions and deliver the
clean, healthy lakes and rivers that Wisconsin citizens
Frank notes that the rules were developed after years of
research and public input, including extensive stakeholder input
from farmers, municipal water treatment systems, manufacturers,
food processors, local governments and environmental groups.
Organizations that supported passage of the rules included the
Wisconsin Farm Bureau, the Dairy Business Association, the Potato
and Vegetable Growers Association, the Wisconsin State Cranberry
Growers Association, the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association, the
Wisconsin Pork Association, the Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association,
the Municipal Environmental Group (representing local wastewater
systems), Clean Wisconsin, Midwest Environmental Associates, the
Wisconsin River Alliance, Wisconsin Environment, and the Sierra
Frank added, “We are currently working with all stakeholders on
implementation guidelines as well as the design of a pollutant
trading system that will lower the cost of compliance even
Comprehensive approach, state and federal funding help key to
Changes to Chapters NR 102 and NR 217 of the Wisconsin
Administrative Code that apply to wastewater dischargers go into
effect Dec. 1, 2010. Changes to Chapters NR 151 and 153 that apply
to farms and construction sites go into effect Jan. 1, 2011.
Central to the rule package are numerical levels set for the
amount of phosphorus that can be allowed in different categories of
waterbodies and still support fish and other aquatic life.
Different numerical levels are set for five categories of lakes and
reservoirs, for rivers and streams, and for the Great Lakes.
For wastewater dischargers, those numerical levels will be
reflected in permits issued in 2011. Many industrial and municipal
wastewater treatment plants may not need additional efforts because
they’ve already done a good job reducing phosphorus. Other plants
may need to make upgrades, but the rule includes flexible options
to give dischargers longer than usual compliance schedules, and
modified limits for dischargers who work with upstream nonpoint
sources to reduce larger sources of phosphorus pollution.
For farmers, the rule changes mean they must limit phosphorus
potentially coming off their fields to an eight-year average that
factors in land slope, phosphorus levels in their soil and average
precipitation levels. An estimated 80 percent of cropland already
meets this standard, based on UW-Madison research. The rule changes
— and new technology developed by UW-Madison — give the state the
tools necessary to identify and address those farms contributing
excess phosphorus and leave the rest alone.
Wisconsin will become the first state to put in place an
adaptive management approach that promotes cooperation among point
(end-of-pipe or stack) and non-point (run-off) pollution sources to
find the most cost-effective means to reduce phosphorus and other
pollutants on individual watersheds.
Changes to related rules, Natural Resources Chapter 153, now
allow DNR to steer grant money to those farms that need to make
changes. Clean Water loan funds are available to municipal
wastewater treatment systems. And the rules provide for variances
in those cases where surrounding communities would suffer undue
economic hardship in meeting the phosphorus limits.
172 lakes already listed as polluted by phosphorus
Phosphorus, a basic nutrient essential for human, plant and animal
growth, has long been recognized as the controlling factor in plant
and algae growth in Wisconsin lakes and streams; 172 Wisconsin
lakes and streams are listed as impaired due to documented
phosphorus pollution, decreasing their recreational use, waterfront
property values and local business revenues; dozens of waters
statewide experience harmful algal blooms fueled by the nutrient,
and last year, 35 people in Wisconsin reported human health
concerns and the death of at least two dogs due to blue-green algae
to the state Department of Health Services.
In recent years, Wisconsin has enacted a ban on phosphorus-based
lawn fertilizer, a new phosphate ban for dishwasher detergents,
rules curbing urban stormwater, and rules to further reduce
phosphorus runoff from large-scale farms and feedlots known as
CAFOs, particularly during rain and melting snow. Those build on
older measures that directly or indirectly cut phosphorus
For more information on the new phosphorus rules, including a
timeline of phosphorus reduction efforts, see the Reducing
Phosphorus to Clean Up Lakes and Rivers media kit on the DNR