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Dunn County group aims to slow watershed’s fertilizer runoff

CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. (AP) — A coalition of farmers, conservation groups and others in Dunn County is working to improve the water quality in a watershed encompassing 1,900 square miles in Wisconsin.

The Red Cedar Water Quality Partnership, which also includes members of University of Wisconsin-Extension and the University of Wisconsin-Stout, released a report that said problems with fertilizer runoff have caused a large amount of phosphorus and nitrogen to run through the area’s lakes and rivers, creating a dramatic increase in algae bloom.

Group coordinator Dan Zerr told the Dunn County News that the Red Cedar Watershed has some of the worst water quality in Wisconsin. The watershed includes 40,000 acres of open water and 4,900 miles of waterways.

Zerr said UW-Extension created a farmer-led council that engages in conservation efforts to slow the amount of phosphorus running through the watershed into Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin. Some of these efforts include farmers increasing their organic matter in soil, keeping cover crops on soil and reducing tillage.

About a half-million pounds of phosphorus runs down the Red Cedar River and into Tainter Lake every year, according to Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource water quality control manager Paul La Liberte.

Nels Paulson, an associate sociology professor at UW-Stout, said the economy in Menomonie was missing out on $36 million annually because of the water. Paulson suggests that the community use natural vegetation to absorb water, as well as rain gardens to control the water running into lakes.

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