• Northern Wisconsin lake

An editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel April 7, 2015 states:

“Once again, Gov. Scott Walker’s budget is taking Wisconsin in the wrong direction.  Instead of spending more to curb runoff pollution, the 2015-’17Image of algea budget actually cuts programs that address the problem. That not only weakens protections for the state’s waterways, it undercuts administration officials who say they’re committed to reducing runoff pollution.”

The governor’s budget cuts $5.7 million from programs needed to address runoff problems.  The cuts would reduce funding and staff at the county and state levels, diminish the university’s outreach, and cut funding to sporting organizations that work to improve water quality and habitat.  The cuts would affect programs designed to curb the runoff of fertilizers, manure, and other contaminates from entering Wisconsin’s lakes, rivers and streams, and ground water.

Wisconsin StreamThe quality of Wisconsin’s water due to polluted runoff is our most serious water quality issue. Excess water running from rooftops, hard surfaces such as driveways, roads and parking lots, construction sites, lawns and gardens, compacted soil, and farm fields are loaded with pollutants: manure, soil, vegetation, fluid spills from gas stations and service centers, detergents, fertilizers, to name a few.

Phosphorus is the largest contaminate.  Phosphorus and other pollutants washing from farm fields and other sources can cause algae blooms and dead zones.  A dead zone in a waterway is “an area so low in oxygen that it can’t support most aquatic life.”  In 1990, a dead zone in the Green Bay area of Lake Michigan lasted for about four days.  In 2014, the dead zone lasted 43 days.  In 2015, the dead zone is expected to be larger and last longer. The dead zone extends eight miles northeast of Green Bay for more than 30 miles.

In the Mississippi River Basin, the dead zone is about the size of Massachusetts.  The Environmental Protection Agency is requiring Wisconsin and 11 other states to reduce the amount of nutrients flowing into the Gulf of Mexico.

Cows out to pastureNinety percent of inland lakes are being degraded or threatened by runoff contaminated by pollutants. Manure spreading by large dairy farms along with runoff is impacting ground water quality in wells as well as streams.  One farm, Kinnard Farms of Casco in Kewaunee County, has been the subject of on-going investigations into ground water contamination.  A 2013 study noted that 51% of 38 private wells in and around the Kinnard Farms exceeded state standards for nitrate levels and were considered not safe. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources are working on possible remedies to the groundwater issues in Kewaunee County.

“Spreading massive quantities of liquid manure on fields vulnerable to groundwater contamination threatens public health and the environment, and wide spread drinking water near Kinnard is a major concern,” said Tarah Heinzen, an attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project.

What can citizens of Wisconsin do?

  • Contact your legislators to reinstate the $5.7 million cuts to the programs that address pollution runoff.
  • Join the Wisconsin Lakes Association. The Association “supports increased funding to implement polluted runoff programs and other policy initiatives that will reduce polluted runoff from agricultural and urban sources.”
  • Reduce the use of products—household detergents, lawn, and garden fertilizers–with phosphates.
  • Check and maintain your septic system.