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May 5, 2015

MADISON -- Industries and municipalities facing restrictive phosphorus compliance costs may soon have another tool to comply with phosphorus regulations.

Point source discharges may soon be able to apply for a multi-discharger variance, which extends the timeline for complying with low-level phosphorus limits. In exchange, point sources commit to step-wise reductions of phosphorus within their effluent as well as helping to address nonpoint sources of phosphorus from farm fields, cities or natural areas by paying $50 per pound to implement projects designed to improve water quality.

Wisconsin's Legislature authorized the concept of the multi-discharger variance in April 2014 through the approval of Act 378. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also acknowledged that wastewater permit holders affected by similar technical and economic challenges may be considered for a multi-discharger variance process.

Since passage of the state law, the Department of Administration and Department of Natural Resources have been working to quantify the economic impacts that would occur without flexibility in managing phosphorus, said Ed Eberle, administrator of DOA's Division of Intergovernmental Relations. The preliminary conclusion of DOA's analysis is that complying with phosphorus limits causes substantial and widespread social and economic impacts to Wisconsin.

DOA and DNR will hold a public hearing on the economic determination on May 12 in Wausau.

The determination recommends a two-step approach to determine whether individual permit holders qualify for the proposed multi-discharger variance. If a point source qualifies, this compliance option can be compared to other existing compliance options, such as facility upgrades, water quality trading, adaptive management and individual economic variances, to help point sources select the most affordable compliance option practicable.

Before including individual permit holders in the statewide multi-discharger variance option, information such as engineering analyses and financial information would still be required, said Michael Bruhn, DNR's assistant deputy secretary. Individual companies would be able to request inclusion in the statewide variance upon renewal of Wisconsin Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits.

Phosphorus has long been recognized as the controlling factor in plant and algae growth and in December 2010, Wisconsin became one of the first states in the country to adopt phosphorus water quality standards for lakes, reservoirs, rivers and streams. DNR has been implementing these standards in WPDES permits since this time.

The multi-discharger compliance option provides Wisconsin an opportunity to achieve marked improvements in water quality, but in a much more economically viable manner, Bruhn said.

A public hearing on the determination by DOA and DNR for the multi-discharger variance process will be held from 1 to 6 p.m. May 12 at Stoney Creek Hotel and Conference Center, 1100 Imperial Ave., Rothschild, Wis. Written comments should be sent by June 11 to Attn: Phosphorus, Division of Intergovernmental Relations, Wisconsin Department of Administration, P.O. Box 8944, Madison, WI 53708-8944 or by e-mail to: A legal notice on the preliminary determination and hearing can be found at: (exit DNR).

Following the public hearing and comment process, DOA and DNR will respond to comments and make a final determination. If this determination is affirmed, the multi-discharger variance option will be submitted to EPA for review and approval.

To learn more, search the DNR website,, for "statewide phosphorus variance."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Michael Bruhn, DNR assistant deputy secretary, , 608-266-5375; Jennifer Sereno, DNR communications, 608-770-8084,

Last Revised: Tuesday, May 05, 2015

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