Ephraim Board to Consider Supporting Softer Phosphorus Rules

Correction: The first edition of this article incorrectly stated Ephraim’s phosphorus discharge limit as 0.7 ppm. Ephraim’s actual phosphorus discharge limit is 0.6 ppm.

The Ephraim Village Board will consider signing onto a letter in support of easing Department of Natural Resource (DNR) regulations concerning phosphorus discharge from municipal wastewater treatment plants. The regulation that the League of Wisconsin Municipalities (LWM) is opposing in a letter to Congress has no effect on Ephraim, but Wastewater Committee members felt an urge both to support other municipalities and act preemptively against possible regulation in the future.

Phosphorus is universally recognized as the primary contributor to debilitating algae growth in Green Bay and its watershed. In 2010, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) enacted The Phosphorus Rule, which limits the amount of phosphorus that can be polluted into different waterways by wastewater treatment plants and other polluters.

Despite the Brown County Phosphorus Committee concluding that stormwater and agricultural runoff (nonpoint pollution) continue to be the greatest sources of phosphorus in Green Bay, regulations on point sources (such as wastewater treatment plants) are stricter.

“We have emphasized that state legislators over the years that the stringent regulations on wastewater treatment plants only address a small percentage of the problem,” said Curt Witynski, assistant director with the LWM. “The other part of the problem is not being addressed by the state – in that agricultural runoff is the main source of phosphorus load.”

The LWM is opposing a part of the rule that requires wastewater dumped into streams not to exceed 0.075 parts per million (ppm). Since Ephraim’s wastewater system discharges into Green Bay, the amount of phosphorus sent to the bay is not as tightly regulated (0.6 ppm), which the village has not exceeded except for one reading around July 4, according to Ephraim wastewater treatment plant manager Russ Salfi. Permit discharges are calculated on a monthly basis, and despite the high reading, the plant still reported below the allowable monthly average. 

“This is a limit that does not apply to our plant,” said Salfi. “Our new permit does not expire until 2020 and there will be no change in our phosphorus limit at this time.”

The 2010 Phosphorus Rule provided some time (typically seven to nine years) for a plant to come into compliance with phosphorus discharge. Those deadlines are running out and a 2015 Economic Impact Analysis by the DNR and Department of Administration estimated it will cost municipalities $3.45 billion to come into compliance ($7 billion including the cost of financing).

The Ephraim committee felt signing onto the letter would support other municipalities and make a statement about further restrictions in the future that could affect the village.

Bruce Nelson supported signing on but expressed concern the letter did not mention nonpoint pollution.

“We’ve done what we reasonably can in the treatment plant industry and not much with the agricultural and nonpoint,” said Nelson. “This letter does not address that part of the issue at all.”

Witynski recognizes nonpoint as the primary source of pollution and hopes lifting phosphorus rules at wastewater treatment plants will require the state to look at reducing phosphorus discharge from nonpoint sources.

“This letter was focused more on the narrow fact that there are these stringent numeric water quality standards that apply to wastewater treatment plants,” said Witynski. “This won’t be the only communication.”

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