Wisconsin officials come under fire for lax enforcement of phosphorous reduction rules

Officials in Wisconsin are under fire for their seeming lax enforcement of phosphorous regulations that aim to bolster algae removal initiatives.

Wisconsin passed legislation more than 18 months ago that backers said would help curtail phosphorous levels in state waterways. Phosphorous, among other nutrients such as nitrogen, is a common ingredient in fertilizers. However, elevated concentrations of phosphorous help fuel the growth of blue green algae blooms, which are toxic to both human and animal life.

Municipalities in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the U.S. have employed myriad techniques as they sought to support environmental campaigns. Some cities have used alum in wastewater treatment to help fight rising phosphorous levels, while others have treated affected lakes, rivers and streams with nutrient removal chemicals and sodium aluminate, among other strategies.

Wisconsin lawmakers said increasing phosphorous removal efforts would help slow the growth of toxic blue green algae blooms in state waterways, but critics affirmed the state has done little to enforce the stringent regulations. WSAU News reports that environmental and public health advocates are continuing to pressure the state to ratchet up its enforcement of the rules, as they argue that oversight agencies have done little to respond to wastewater treatment plant operators' requests for exemptions from the laws.

An investigation conducted by a number of Wisconsin newspapers found that only 19 discharge permits have thus far been issued under the new phosphorous reduction requirements, according to the news provider. The rules took effect in fall 2010, and environmental experts said they were initially hopeful that the state would have done more to restrict phosphorous discharges into state waterways.

Moreover, according to the recent study, there are more than 201 municipal wastewater treatment facilities in the state that have permit applications pending. An additional 155 industrial facilities are also waiting to hear from the state regarding permits they filed, the investigation also revealed.

Hundreds of other wastewater treatment facilities in Wisconsin are also poised to file permits that would exempt them from the rules. Environmental and public health experts said that the state's slow response has hurt the water quality initiative and exacerbated blue green algae infestations in lakes, rivers and other waterways across Wisconsin.

Officials from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said that they are working as quickly as they can to process requests. They said that they were originally limited in their ability to enforce the rules because of an order from the state's governor that delayed implementation. However, they said that they are working to overhaul their approach to enforcing the rules.