Madison (DNR News Release) - 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 expect."

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 Club.

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 further."

Comprehensive approach, state and federal funding help key to solution

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 pollution.

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 website.