Two pollutants eyed for more regulation

By Lee Bergquist of the Journal Sentinel Milwaukee WI
Nov. 23, 2009

Lawyers for several environmental groups notified the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday of its intent to file suit against the agency for failing to protect state water from two forms of nutrient pollution –  phosphorus and nitrogen.

The source of the pollution is farm fields, manure, lawns and municipal wastewater treatment plants.

Two law firms, the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center and Madison-based Midwest Environmental Advocates filed the notice with the EPA. The agency said in 1999 that would start to regulate the pollutants.

Environmentalists are working on similar cases across the country, but Wisconsin appears to be an early initiative. In Florida this summer, the EPA agreed to set limits for farm and urban runoff that was polluting the state’s waterways.

Nitrogen and phosphorus have been responsible for contaminating some lakes and streams and drinking water. They also contribute to the growth of potentially toxic blue-green algae, also known cyanobacteria.

Nutrients affect water quality in Wisconsin, the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. Pollutants from the Midwest also are believed to contribute the sprawling “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.

Albert Ettinger of the Environmental Law & Policy Center said that Wisconsin was selected because the State Department of Natural Resources has developed a good data base on phosphorus loadings in the state.

“The science is farther ahead in Wisconsin,” Ettinger said.

Todd Ambs, water administrator for the DNR, said that Wisconsin is working on regulations for phosphorus. He expected regulations setting the amount of allowable phosphorus in water bodies to come before the Natural Resources Board for public hearing early next year.

If lakes or river exceed that limit, then steps would have to be taken to limit new sources of pollution, Ambs said.