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September 18, 2012

Sept. 26 meeting open to all; pre-registration advised

MADISON - State, federal and local officials will meet in Madison Sept. 26 with agricultural, industrial, municipal and environmental groups to develop a strategy to more effectively reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.

Nitrates contaminate up to 30 percent of private wells in some Wisconsin counties and excess phosphorus can fuel algae blooms in lakes and rivers and along Lake Michigan shorelines and contribute to the Gulf of Mexico dead zone.

Blue-green algae
One of the goals of a state nutrient reduction strategy under development is to reduce the excessive phosphorus levels that fuel blue green algae, like this shown here in a Wisconsin lake.
WDNR Photo

The meeting is part of an effort underway in Wisconsin to better coordinate and focus existing programs, and to identify gaps and find cost-effective ways to reduce the nutrients phosphorus and nitrate entering state waters. Anyone interested is welcome to attend the meeting; people are encouraged to register in advance.

"Excess nutrients entering our waters are a growing national problem and a problem in Wisconsin," says Jim Baumann, the Department of Natural Resources water resources engineer coordinating the effort. "We want to get ideas from stakeholders on how we can improve what we're doing collectively now, identify priority areas where the problems are the worst, and focus on cost- effective approaches to reduce the phosphorus and nitrogen reaching these and other state waters."

Baumann says the partnership to develop a nutrient reduction strategy responds to a federal requirement and that the finished strategy will put Wisconsin in a better position to maintain and seek new federal grants to help control nutrient pollution.

The partnership effort also offers Wisconsin an opportunity to recognize progress already made.

"Since 1993, we've reduced phosphorus from point sources by 67 percent," Bauman says.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as part of its response to the Gulf dead zone, has called on each state contributing to the problem to develop a nutrient-reduction framework. About two-thirds of Wisconsin drains into the Mississippi River system. The nutrients that Wisconsin and the other 11 states send down the river have resulted in oxygen levels so low in a Gulf area the size of Massachusetts fish and other aquatic life can't survive.

Wisconsin wants its strategy to first address nutrient-related surface water problems in Lake Michigan and in many lakes and streams in Wisconsin. This in turn will help mitigate the causes of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, Baumann says.

And the strategy will also serve to address the growing nitrate contamination of Wisconsin groundwater and private and public wells. About 10 percent of all private wells in Wisconsin exceed the state and federal nitrate drinking water standard of 10 parts per million statewide, with rates higher in agricultural areas.

The state health department recommends that nitrate contaminated water not be fed to infants under 6 months and that people of all ages avoid long-term consumption of water with a nitrate level above the standard as research suggests it may increase the risk of thyroid disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer.

"The strategy we intend to develop is an opportunity to pull together in one place a complete picture of all we do in Wisconsin to reduce nutrients," Baumann says, noting that the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service, state agriculture department, DNR and local conservation departments all have long had programs aimed at keeping soil and manure on the land and out of state waters by offering financial incentives to farmers to adopt best management practices.

New phosphorus rules that set standards for the amount of phosphorus allowed in different categories of lakes and streams took effect in December 2010, as did related rules allowing for those limits to be incorporated into municipal and industrial wastewater permits. A month later, new performance standards took effect for farmers requiring them to curb phosphorus potentially coming off their fields.

Wisconsin's 2010 phosphorus rules, and answers to the following questions, will help guide development of the nutrient-reduction strategy in coming years, Baumann says.

The meeting runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 26 at the Lussier Family Heritage Center, 3101 Lake Farm Road near Madison. People interested in participating in the meeting are asked to pre-register online. (exit DNR)

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Jim Baumann (608) 261-6425

Last Revised: Tuesday, September 18, 2012

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