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Dane County lakes added to 'impaired waters' list

  • Associated Press
  • December 14, 2013 - 6:05 PM

MADISON, Wis. — The state is adding Dane County's chain of lakes to its list of "impaired waters" because of pollution from surrounding farmland that has caused excessive weed growth and foul-smelling algae blooms.

The waterways include the four Yahara lakes — Mendota, Monona, Waubesa and Kegonsa — in which the level of phosphorus exceeds standards that were established in 2010, the Wisconsin State Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1bFuKZa ).

State law requires the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to establish priority rankings for waters on the lists, and to track the level of pollutants in each waterway.

Some county officials say the "impaired" designation isn't necessary. Melissa Malott, a spokeswoman to executive assistant to County Executive Joe Parisi, says it will just bring negative attention.

"We are working with the farmers as never before," she said. "I don't understand exactly why (the state) would be doing this now."

But others, including Parisi's chief of staff, say the listing could help increase the sense of urgency in stemming the runoff of manure from farm fields, a key culprit in phosphorus pollution.

The latest list will include 703 bodies of water that don't have an adequate cleanup plan and 152 that do, said Aaron Larson, who manages the impaired-waters list for the DNR.

The county has already undertaken steps to limit increases in pollution. Officials have planted vegetation on stream banks to reduce erosion, restored wetlands that slow runoff and imposed measures to reduce improper spreading of manure on farm fields.

Many of the measures are accomplished through cooperative agreements with farmers and others, said Josh Wescott, Parisi's chief of staff. However, heavy rains swept an unusually large amount of nutrient-rich manure into the water last year, so the county toughened its ordinances after consulting with farmers, he added.

Wisconsin's dairy farms produce millions of gallons of manure. The waste is often stored in lagoons whenever the ground is too wet for vehicles to operate in fields, or when spreading poses a high risk of runoff that can kill fish and befoul lakes.

However, storage facilities can fail. A pair of spills from storage tanks in the Lake Mendota watershed each released 300,000 gallons of animal waste this year.

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