Efforts and Progress in Phosphorus Remediation

State Laws to Reduce Phosphorus
Wisconsin has passed many laws over the years to help keep phosphorus from the state’s water bodies. Two laws took effect in 2010. One restricts the sale of fertilizer containing phosphorus for use on lawns and residential areas, which will help decrease levels of phosphorus in urban runoff, a non-point source of this pollutant. The other law is a restriction on the sale of dishwasher detergent that contains phosphorus. This will help decrease the phosphorus loads going to waste water treatment plants, and also seeping through soil in the leach field of a septic system, potentially reaching groundwater.

Other laws have been enacted in the past designed to regulate phosphorus coming from point sources, which has greatly decreased due to such laws. An administrative rule (NR 217) that went into effect in 1992 led to a 58% reduction in phosphorus loading from point sources in the Red Cedar Basin compared to 1990 levels. There are also regulations in place that affect how those overseeing turf areas larger than five acres (such as golf courses and athletic fields) must manage the fertilizers and nutrients they use. The City of Menomonie also falls under a storm water permit program enacted in 1997 focused on decreasing storm water runoff from urban areas, and improving the quality of the water that does flow off the land in the city. Beginning in 2012, because of its increasing size and population, the City of Rice Lake was also required to have a storm water permit.

In 2002 agriculture performance standards went into effect in Wisconsin. These regulations prescribe a minimum of standards that agriculture operations need to meet to protect the waters of the state. While there are issues with delivery and enforcement of these standards, they give state and local officials some guidelines to work with when helping producers decrease their pollutant loads to rivers, streams and lakes. However, it’s becoming apparent that these minimum standards may not be adequate for certain impaired waters, such as those in the Red Cedar Basin.

Voluntary Cost-Share Programs
State and federal programs are in place in Wisconsin to provide cost-share money to producers to help pay for the cost of installing and maintaining agricultural practices that reduce pollutant loads, including phosphorus, to waters of the state. WDNR has contributed millions of dollars of state funds over the last few decades toward this purpose. Additional money through other state programs, as well as federal programs such as EQIP, have augmented this effort.

What Has Been the Result?
After all the above efforts, research and observation indicate that little if any improvement can be reported in either phosphorus levels in the waters of the Basin, or the frequency/intensity of algal blooms. Additionally, soil phosphorus levels in agricultural soils are still generally higher than what’s needed for optimum plant growth. It’s clear that while much has been done to curb phosphorus loads to the rivers, streams and lakes of the Red Cedar Basin, more work lay ahead.

A Comprehensive Strategy
In 2013 a group of stakeholders in the Red Cedar River Basin came together to begin to develop a comprehensive strategy to address phosphorus issues in the Basin. Representing a diverse background of government, non-profit, citizen, and bussiness interests, this group, known as the Red Cedar River Water Quality Partnership wrote a ten-year strategy that will focuses on reducing phosphorus inputs to the Red Cedar River and its streams and lakes. This plan, A River Runs Through Us: A Water Quality Strategy for the Land and Waters of the Red Cedar River Basin, was approved by DNR and EPA in January of 2016, and is now the guide for all efforts to improve water quality in the Red Cedar River Basin. (See the Watershed Projects page for more information on specific efforts.)

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