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Pollution standards could pinch businesses

By Sean Ryan

Utilities and businesses are claiming the state is digging too deeply into their wallets to prevent polluted water from entering lakes and streams.

The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board next month will consider two rules: one targeting phosphorus from industrial and wastewater plants, and another requiring municipalities and farms reduce runoff.

But wastewater utilities and businesses facing expensive projects to satisfy the phosphorus rule argue the state is better off targeting overall runoff rather than individual operations.

“I’m actually for it,” Jeff Pippenger, Eau Claire water utility manager, said of water regulations. “But I think we need to look at other means of how we fund it and how we go about getting more bang for our buck.”

Wastewater utilities, he said, oppose the phosphorus rule and, in its place, want the state to create a system by which water utilities share the cost of regional runoff projects. That strategy, Pippenger said, would cost less and capture more runoff and phosphorus than individual projects.

Industrial companies already have spent a lot of money on projects, such as filtration systems, to capture phosphorus, said Scott Manley, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce environmental policy director. More work based on higher pollution-control standards could cost as much as $20 million for larger plants, he said.

Manley said wastewater and industrial plants account for only 20 percent of the phosphorus in state waterways, with general runoff accounting for the remaining 80 percent.

“The approach that they’re taking right now is that we’re going to ratchet down on a very small portion of the population,” he said, “and money is no object.”

Focusing on trapping runoff from municipalities and farms would be a more cost-effective way to reduce phosphorus, Manley said.

“I would say that you need to find a more equitable way to regulate than to keep going back to the folks who have already done their part,” he said.

But Paul Zimmerman, executive director of public affairs for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, said finger-pointing will not help. Small farms are unlikely to swallow huge costs for the runoff rules, but larger operations that, for example, must build new manure containment sheds will receive bills in the tens of thousands of dollars, he said.

State regulators are trying to target all of the contamination, said Jim Baumann, special assistant in the DNR Bureau of Watershed Management.

“Phosphorus comes from many different sources,” he said, “and to be successful in meeting our water quality goals, we have to have some plans for dealing with each.”

Pippenger said there is room for compromise between businesses and farms, but the state needs to kick in more money for whatever projects need to be built.

“I think we need to find some kind of dialogue between our two groups,” he said.

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