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Forget girl power, how about cow power

By Ann Knoedler

The dangers of phosphorous have long been recognized as bad news for our lakes and rivers. Algae thrives on it, which in turn prevents the healthy, native plants from growing and kills fish and other aquatic life by depleting the oxygen.

Slowly, but surely the march to ban phosphorous from household products is moving across the country.

Phosphorous was banned long ago from laundry detergent, and in April a Wisconsin law went into effect severely restricting lawn/turf care products containing phosphorous. The current movement is to bring dishwasher detergent on board.

Last spring, Dane County issued a request for proposals for a cow manure digester system to reduce phosphorous runoff into the Yahara Lakes Watershed, which includes the beautiful Mendota and Monona lakes in Madison. A little more than a year later, the $12 million Cow-Power Project is being realized.


Three town of Vienna dairy farms in the Waunakee area have signed up for the project, and in June the Dane County Board gave its stamp of approval.

The development team is comprised of Clear Horizons LLC of Milwaukee and its “strategic partner,” SCC Americas. The partnership will design, construct, partially finance, own and operate the digester system.

Dane County will provide $6 million tax-exempt Recovery Zone Facility bonds and the Wisconsin Legislature approved $3.3 million for the project. Plus, Alliant Energy will buy the estimated $2 million worth of electricity generated by burning the methane gas the digester process will produce each year.

Farm management practices controlling manure runoff (and generating electricity) have been around for a while and are an important component in the fight to restore our waterways. An even though the phosphorous issue has been drummed into our heads for many years now, it’s easy to forget that it’s still affecting this beautiful state of ours.

Ann Knoedler is the lead data reporter at The Daily Reporter. She can be reached at (414) 225-1822.

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