Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Proposed phosphorous standards aimed at reducing algae growth in surface waters

Public hearings to be held around state in April

MADISON – Public hearings start statewide in mid-April for proposed rules aimed at reducing levels of phosphorus, a key nutrient fueling excessive algae growth on many Wisconsin lakes and other water quality problems on rivers statewide.

The proposed rules would affect industry and municipal wastewater treatment plants that release phosphorus in their discharges to Wisconsin water bodies. The proposed rules complement changes now being finalized to rules aimed at reducing phosphorus in water runoff from farms and urban areas, as well as other measures targeting phosphorus. These include the April 1 start of a statewide ban – with a few exceptions -- on selling, displaying and using phosphorus-based fertilizer for grass.

“We recognize we have phosphorus-related water quality problems across the state – it’s evident in nuisance algae blooms on lakes, cladophora] along Lake Michigan beaches, and low levels of dissolved oxygen in streams that endanger the survival of fish and other aquatic life,” says Jim Baumann, the Department of Natural Resources water quality official who led development of the proposed rules.

“There are many ways that phosphorus reaches our waters. We’re working on the biggest sources first, through these proposals that address wastewater discharges and our parallel proposals to revise runoff rules for ag and urban sources of phosphorus.”

The proposed rules would set the highest levels of phosphorus that could be expected in lakes, rivers and the Great Lakes and still support the fish and other aquatic life they were capable of supporting. Different numerical levels would be set for five categories of lakes and reservoirs, for rivers and streams, and for the Great Lakes, Baumann says.

Wisconsin’s proposed rules would also establish the procedures for setting limits on the amount of phosphorus permitted facilities could discharge.

All states are required to establish such water quality criteria, or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can set it for them. A national state-EPA task force has concluded that the amounts of phosphorus and another key nutrient, nitrogen, entering U.S. waters over the past 50 years has dramatically escalated. “Nutrients now pose significant water quality and public health concerns across the U.S…” concluded the report, “An Urgent Call to Action (exit DNR; pdf).”

Phosphorus is an essential nutrient that controls the growth of plants and animals, but too much phosphorus entering lakes, rivers and other waters can spur excessive aquatic plant and algae growth. The sources of phosphorus pollution to a water body depend on the prevailing land use activities that discharge water to a particular water body.

Public hearings on the proposed rules will all begin at 1 p.m. and are set for the following dates and locations:
  • April 15, Rhinelander, Quality Inn, 668 W. Kemp St.
  • April 20, Green Bay, Green Bay City Hall, Green Bay City Hall, Council Chambers, Room 203, 100 N. Jefferson, St.
  • April 21, Oconomowoc, Olympia Resort and Conference Center, Crown Room, 1350 Royale Mile Road.
  • April 27, Eau Claire, Ramada Inn, 205 S. Barstow St.
The proposed rule revisions and supporting documents, including the fiscal estimate may be viewed and downloaded and comments electronically submitted at the Wisconsin Administrative Rules Web site. Click on the Search tab, enter "phosphorus" in the Search field and select "Department of Natural Resources" as the agency to do a simple search that will lead to the phosphorus rule revision information.

Written comments on the proposed rules may be submitted via U. S. mail to Jim Baumann, DNR-WT/3, PO Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707-7921 or by e-mail to james.baumann@wisconsin.gov. Comments may be submitted until April 30, 2010. Written comments whether submitted electronically or by U. S. mail will have the same weight and effect as oral statements presented at the public hearings. A copy of the proposed rules and supporting documents, including the fiscal estimate may also be obtained from Jim Baumann, DNR-WT/3, P.O. Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707-7921, or by calling (608) 266-9277.

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