SPECIAL REPORT: Phosphorus continues to trouble state waters

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From International Desk - Special Reports

Wisconsin is not fully enforcing strict phosphorus limits adopted two years ago to reduce lake-algae blooms that make people sick, a Gannett Wisconsin Media review has found.


Search Wisconsin waters troubled by phosphorus


That’s despite the Department of Natural Resources secretary’s alarm at foul conditions in at least one Wisconsin lake last summer.


The state Legislature in 2010 approved DNR regulations intended to cut down on the amount of phosphorous running into waterways, where it causes algae to grow so thick that the water turns to green soup. The regulations are aimed at wastewater treatment plants, paper mills and factories — which are required to reapply for permits at five-year intervals.


But as of last week, only 19 permits with stricter limits have been issued since September 2010. The DNR still is evaluating applications from 201 municipal facilities and 155 industrial facilities, while hundreds more must apply for permits in the coming years.


That means boaters, swimmers and anglers on waters where the annual algae bloom is particularly bad, can expect little change this summer as phosphorous continues to pour into the water. Once in lakes and streams, the chemical helps algae grow uncontrollably, robbing it of oxygen, harming fish and other plants and sometimes leaving those who come in contact with it ill.

Lake Winnebago has seen an influx of invasive weeds and blue algae like these clogging the south shore at Fond du Lac in 2010.

“On a very practical level, the DNR is so behind and permits are sitting out there not being reissued,” said Melissa Malott of the environmental group Clean Wisconsin, which pushed for the rule. “It’s not that the DNR isn’t trying, but they just don’t have the staff to do all the things they’re supposed to be doing.”


Lake Winnebago

Lake Winnebago is one of more than 300 waters across the state in which high phosphorous levels cause problems.


Extreme amounts of weeds and algae frustrated lake users in 2010, but the situation improved in 2011. It is unknown what the 2012 season will bring.


Chuck Fitzgibbon, Department of Natural Resources water resource management specialist, said conditions last year — and from all indications this year — are more normal with regard to plants and algae.


Courtesy:  fdlreporter

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