News Feature | May 12, 2017

Wisconsin Bets On 'TMDLs' For Water Quality

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome

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Wisconsin is beginning a major new push for policies limiting phosphorus pollution in waterways.

The state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is developing a pollution budget for waterbodies in eastern counties rife with water-quality problems. It is holding meetings to explain the concept of a “total maximum daily load (TMDL) for Lake Michigan tributaries in Kewaunee, Manitowoc and Sheboygan counties,” Wisconsin Public Radio reported.

The TMDL standard, which takes four years to complete, quantifies the “amount of pollution a waterbody can receive and still meet water quality standards. A pollution budget is allocated for point sources like industrial pipes and non-point sources like farm run-off,” the report said.

The state has already completed TMDLs for four watersheds, while additional sets are in development, according to The Des Moines Register.

Here are the tasks the Wisconsin DNR must complete as it creates TMDLs: “Develop an inventory of pollution sources, draw plans for control of farm field runoff, and create barriers along stream banks,” the Register reported.

DNR's Brian Weigel conceded during a public meeting: “This is not a silver bullet.”

One of the big aims of TMDLs is to control the water pollution from farms along rivers. As Wisconsin seeks to clean up its waterways, stakeholders are debating how much burden will fall on farmers and how much will fall on sewage treatment plants.

State Rep. Joel Kitchens was optimistic about how farmers will receive the new water-quality effort, according to the public radio report:

State Rep. Joel Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay, is promoting the effort, saying it may help farmers pinpoint where they need to control phosphorus. "So if they know which fields they really need to focus on, and they can make efforts on those fields, I think that's where you can get a lot of benefit," he said. Kitchens said the effort is likely to stay voluntary, but he contends many farmers are eager to sign up for grants and other cost-sharing programs.

Sewage treatment pros says if farms do not do their part, more costs will fall on wastewater servicers.

“On the Lower Fox River, high phosphorus levels are flowing into Green Bay and have spurred a seasonal ‘dead zone’ of low oxygen levels. The Green Bay sewerage district estimated the cost to communities and industry, if there is no help from agriculture, at $800 million to $1.1 billion,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.

Image credit: "0426 wet fields," david morris © 2007, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: