Cowles introduces phosphorus legislation

Cowles introdcues phosphorus legislation
Cowles introdcues phosphorus legislation

GREEN BAY  - New legislation could make it more cost effective to remove phosphorus from our waters.

The plan could save you on your water bills, but clean water advocates have concerns.

From cheese makers to paper companies, businesses that are at the heart of Wisconsin's economy could soon be paying up to meet tougher state phosphorus guidelines.

“Either you have to build or you have to come up with some of other way to meet these very low limits,” said Paul Kent, the attorney for the Municipal Environmental Group.

Paul Kent and other water officials hope they have another way in the form of the Clean Waters, Healthy Economy Act. State Senator Robert Cowles of Allouez plans to introduce it in Madison next week.

“The current scenario is going to be very costly for Green Bay Metro, cheese factories, paper mills and get very little benefit,” said Cowles, a Republican.

For example, to comply with new phosphorus regulations Green Bay Metro Sewerage District would have to add new filtration facilities, costing more than $200 million. That money could come from raising your water bill.

“And in some cases the technology isn't even there to get those final drops,” said Cowles.

Instead of adding the pricey filtration, the new legislation would allow companies like Green Bay Metro to give money to a county program. The program provides incentives to farmers to try to lower phosphorus levels.

“For them to compete it requires different crops and different practices, so we're working diligently with the AG community to try to demonstrate what can be possible on farms,” said Jim Jolly, the director of Brown County’s land and water conservation department.

There are some concerns the legislation could delay meaningful drops to phosphorus levels by decades.

Excessive phosphorus has contributed to the Fox River's dead zone and an increase in algae.

“To the extent that we're starting to see people getting sick from algae and it's costing our state money because of tourism,” said Amber Meyer Smith of Clean Wisconsin.

Either way, the guidelines to lower phosphorus levels are here to stay. The fate of the new legislation will help determine the cost and who pays for it.

Shala Werner, the director of the Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter in Wisconsin, says her group will be opposing the legislation.

If the bill passes, the Environmental Protection Agency would still need to sign off on it.