Rule revisions are critical to cleaning up rivers, lakes and streams

MADISON — Over the last two weeks, farmers, municipalities, environmentalists and others came together at legislative hearings, showing support for two rule revisions and representing a united effort to mitigate a silent threat to Wisconsin’s waters: phosphorus.

“The cultural and economic importance of Wisconsin’s waters cannot be overstated,” said Amber Meyer Smith, program director at Clean Wisconsin. “That’s why it’s important to do all we can to keep phosphorus out of our waters, and these rules are critical to achieving that.”

Phosphorus is a nutrient that promotes weed and algae growth and enters Wisconsin’s waters when it runs off farm fields or is discharged from factories and sewage treatment plants. A single pound of phosphorus can cause 500 pounds of unsightly, foul-smelling algae growth. Nearly one-half of Wisconsin’s waterways are so polluted due to runoff that the federal government lists them as impaired.

“The impacts of excess phosphorus in our waters are real, affecting the lives and livelihoods of Wisconsin residents,” says Smith. “Fortunately, this is a problem we can do something about as a state, and it’s reassuring to see these rule revisions receive strong support.”

Adopted by the Natural Resources Board in June, the two rule revisions will strengthen existing policies aiming to reduce phosphorus pollution from its two major sources. The first, known as the phosphorus rule, limits the amount of phosphorus wastewater treatment plants and factories are allowed to discharge. The second rule revision strengthens NR151, an administrative rule governing the amount of phosphorus carried into waterways when fertilizer and manure run off farm fields.

These rules are the result of compromise; many stakeholders worked for years to find the most meaningful and cost-effective ways to protect Wisconsin’s waters.

“Wisconsin’s waterways long have been left vulnerable and exposed to the dangers of phosphorus,” says Smith. “These rules will achieve real improvements in quality, so Wisconsinites can enjoy cleaner, bluer waters for years to come.”