The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board has approved rules proposed by the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) that are designed to improve water quality in Wisconsin. For farmers, that means changes to the rules known as NR 151.

Department of Natural Resources Secretary Matt Frank says the changes address phosphorous and other nutrient pollution as well as erosion and sedimentation that degrade water quality.

“These rules will reduce pollution that contributes to the algae blooms and excessive weeds that foul our beaches and our waters,” Frank says. “Restoring healthy watersheds means cleaner beaches, more swimmable lakes, improved public health, healthier fisheries and wildlife habitat. Wisconsin’s beautiful lakes and streams support our economy, our recreation and our great quality of life.”

According to the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, a coalition of farm groups supports changes to Wisconsin’s nonpoint runoff rules following the implementation of practical farmer input.

The rules approved by the board address both “point” and “non-point” sources of pollution, including factories, municipal water treatment systems, agricultural sources, and urban and suburban storm water run-off. The standards now feature science-based numerical water quality standards for phosphorous.

Farmer input prompted the DNR to make a number of changes to the original rewrite of NR 151 that was proposed earlier this year. Those changes include:

  • Requiring tillage setbacks of 5 feet instead of 20 feet on farm fields adjacent to surface water.
  • Modifying the definition of a feedlot so that farmers who do supplemental feeding of livestock in pastures do not fall under rules designed for feedlots.
  • Containment provisions for processed wastewater (milkhouse waste and leechate from stacked feed) are aligned with other state regulations. 
  • A phosphorus index (PI) of 6 is established for cropland. The accounting period for a field’s phosphorus index would not be retroactive as originally proposed. Also, the phosphorus index will be codified and date-stamped, and the maximum one-year phosphorus index is increased from a PI of 10 to a PI of 12 to accommodate the unique needs of various crop rotations and agricultural practices.   

In addition, two previously proposed changes to the rule that farmers found unacceptable were eliminated. The DNR will not seek to base nutrient management planning on the potential delivery of nutrients to surface water. Rather, nutrients will be managed in accordance with the needs of a crop.
 
Also, the DNR will continue to follow the administrative rulemaking process in cases where the agency determines that additional performance standards are needed to control nonpoint source pollution in order to meet surface water quality standards. 
 
“Given the modifications and deletions of these six provisions, members of the agricultural community are in the unique position of supporting the NR 151 changes and will not be seeking modifications,” says Paul Zimmerman, Executive Director of Public Affairs for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation. “We appreciate the method the DNR took to this process and are pleased that other environmental groups are supporting the changes as well. The rewrite of NR 151 is both workable for farmers and will help protect the environment.”

Frank adds, “This comprehensive approach means that we will identify and work pro-actively with all sources that contribute to poor water quality in a watershed. We will rely on solid data to take actions that achieve maximum environmental benefits in the most cost-effective manner possible. These rules strike a good balance between creating a solid path to cleaner water and providing flexibility in implementation.”

“We appreciate that Secretary Frank and his staff listened to input from hundreds of farmers on which provisions needed changes and modifications, and which ones were simply unworkable on Wisconsin farms,” says Zimmerman.