In 2010, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources set strict guidelines for phosphorus dumping in fresh water sources, which has been identified as a central environmental issue in the state.
Under a new bill passed by the Assembly and Senate, businesses and wastewater plants will be able to exceed these limits for the next 20 years.
The bill would grant special privileges to businesses and wastewater facilities that have complained that immediately upgrading their operations to meet state phosphorus standards is too costly.
The bill also grants point-polluters, businesses that discharge phosphorus directly into state water sources, 20 years to comply with the DNR water standards, but includes a provision that progressively reduces the maximum amount of waste that can legally be dumped into fresh waters every five years.
A provision in the bill calls for the Environmental Protection Agency to read over and approve the bill regarding the extended deadline before it can become law.
Former Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison, highlighted the importance of keeping Wisconsin water clean. Black was a longtime proponent of limiting phosphorus pollution when he was a legislator.
“Wisconsin waters are our crown jewels, and the single biggest threat to our waterways is phosphorus pollution,” Black said. “Waterways form the bedrock of the Wisconsin tourism industry, and it is tremendously diminished by this pollution.”
Phosphorus pollution has long been seen as an important environmental issue, and the EPA works with the Wisconsin DNR to enforce laws regarding phosphorus.
According to the Wisconsin DNR website, when phosphorus is dumped into fresh water sources it can fuel rapid algae and aquatic plant growth, which in turn can harm the waterways by impairing recreational use, property values and public health.
The DNR has reported that dozens of Wisconsin waterways produce harmful algae blooms as a result of phosphorus pollution. Over the past three years, 98 people have reported health concerns relating to these blooms, which are harmful to livestock, pets and humans, the website said.
David Hunt, a spokesperson for Clean Wisconsin, said the group’s official position on the bill is neutral, but identified phosphorus pollution as a major issue in Wisconsin.
“Many businesses are already moving forward to reduce phosphorus pollution and we believe this extended timeline will help groups that are currently struggling to adapt,” Hunt said. “We are concerned, however, that this bill may undermine current efforts to reduce phosphorus pollution and this extension may allow groups to procrastinate clean-up efforts.”
Hunt also said in a state with as many waterways as Wisconsin has, residents should be more aware of the implications of phosphorus pollution.
The hazardous algae, which Hunt refers to as the “green monster,” can often be found in the lakes surrounding Madison during the summer months.
Black said increased phosphorous pollution controls are critical and should not be delayed.
“Wisconsin has not done enough to control phosphorus pollution and we must be stricter when it comes to this kind of thing,” Black said. “This is an issue that we can’t prolong cleaning up.”
The bill will go to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk for final approval.