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August 14, 2012

MADISON - New economic impact studies required by the Legislature are done for new rules aimed at cutting phosphorus from wastewater dischargers and new statewide shoreland zoning rules aimed at protecting water quality and habitat.

The studies were conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison under contract with the Department of Natural Resources. "Statewide Minimum Shoreland Zoning: An Economic Impact Analysis" [PDF] and "Phosphorus Reduction in Wisconsin Waterbodies: An Economic Impact Analysis" [PDF] are now available online.

Background on phosphorus rules

Phosphorus has long been recognized as the controlling factor in plant and algae growth in Wisconsin lakes and streams. Small increases in this nutrient can fuel excessive growth of aquatic plants and algae, including toxic blooms of blue-green algae, which in turn can reduce recreational use and property values and put public health at risk.

DNR rules aimed at cutting phosphorus from municipal and industrial wastewater dischargers took effect Dec. 1, 2010, and were recently approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Under the new rules, DNR determines the phosphorus discharge limits a municipal or industrial wastewater discharger must meet based on the condition and quality of a watershed. Limits can vary depending on whether a waterway is already impaired by phosphorus, among other factors, according to Jim Baumann, of DNR's Water Quality Bureau.

DNR can include a compliance schedule in a discharger's Clean Water Act permits if phosphorus discharge limits are either new or more stringent than in the past. When the operators receive those permits, they are given time to evaluate compliance options and have a maximum seven to nine years to come into compliance with their phosphorus limits, Baumann says.

Traditional compliance options at municipal facility like upgrades and variances are available as well as innovative compliance options such as adaptive management and water quality trading. These novel compliance options are designed to achieve compliance with phosphorus limits in the most cost- effective manner possible, Baumann says.

Agricultural operators also are being required to cut phosphorus under revised runoff rules effective Jan. 1, 2011.

Background on statewide shoreland zoning rules

A second economic impact analysis looks at new shoreland zoning requirements aimed at reducing polluted runoff entering lakes and rivers and protecting fish and wildlife habitat.

The economic impact analysis predicts the expected outcomes of changes to minimum shoreland zoning standards that became effective Feb. 1, 2010. Wisconsin's original minimum statewide shoreland zoning standards were first set in the late 1960s, according to Heidi Kennedy, DNR's shoreland zoning coordinator.

The key changes analyzed by the UW researchers are a new requirement that hard surfaces such as driveways, roofs and other "impervious surfaces" constitute 15 percent or less of the property within 300 feet of the shoreline; an increase in protection for plants and trees within 35 feet of the shoreline; and a more consistent treatment of legal nonconforming structures.

In March 2012, Gov. Scott Walker and the Natural Resources Board granted approval to DNR to begin the rulemaking process again to further amend the shoreland zoning rules. The economic impact analysis did not analyze the impacts of any proposed changes that DNR will be pursuing to the rule revision effective Feb. 1, 2010, Kennedy says. The proposed changes will address concerns expressed by some local government officials with administration and implementation of the rule.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: on the phosphorus study contact Jim Baumann (608) 261-6425; on the shoreland zoning study contact Heidi Kennedy (608) 261-6430

Last Revised: Tuesday, August 14, 2012

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