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DNR, non-profits work together to reduce Wisconsin River pollution

Published: Aug. 11, 2020 at 7:10 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - From the farm to the river, and then into the lakes. Run-off from farms can cause an issue of algae in Wisconsin waters. That’s why efforts are underway to clean it up.

The algae, caused by excess levels of phosphorus, makes it difficult for aquatic life to live, and people to swim in.

“We really can produce, or have some public health threats out there when we have really high algae,” Pat Oldenburg, the TMDL coordinator at the Wisconsin DNR, said.

Many times that seems like just an eyesore and nothing more. But it can be toxic.

“It can also be a public health issue, in terms of the toxins these algae will produce under certain circumstances,” Oldenburg added.

Algae is widespread at Big Eau Pleine Park, which is just one example of what the runoff can do. That’s why the DNR is trying to stop it.

They have established TMDL’s, which assigns a number for the maximum amount of pollutant water can receive before it becomes unsafe. This works in an effort to keep track of what is going into the water.

“This is how much that is coming in now. We’d like to dial that back on those man-made sources so we can meet our water quality goal,” Oldenburg explained.

Non-profits like the River Alliance of Wisconsin are trying to do just that.

Their Clear Water Farms program works directly with farms in the state to help them manage their resources better.

“There really isn’t any chance of improving water quality over time without engaging in agriculture in a productive and engaging way,” Michael Tiboris explained.

A large part of the run-off is in the fertilizer that is washed away by rain into the river. The River Alliance of Wisconsin educates farmers and encourages them to adopt better practices.

It’s engaged Miltrim Farms in Athens, which has been actively using conservation techniques for six years.

“If you’re not doing these practices and you’re constantly losing that topsoil year over year. Eventually, the soil is going to be so degraded and it’s going to be hard to work and hard to utilize,” Miltrim Farms General Manager David Trimner said.

They have adopted practices to keep the fertilizer in place during those rainy days.

In fact, although these efforts take time to see results, the DNR says they are already seeing preliminary results.

“Something is happening that is improving phosphorus in the river,” Oldenburg.

Significant change could take 10-15 years to see, but the early results are encouraging to Oldenburg. He says this is significant enough to be able to say that it is not a natural decrease in phosphorus, rather one due to their actions.

For more information on TMDL’s, you can go to this link. For information on what River Alliance of Wisconsin is doing, you can go to their website.

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