By Sam Warp Jr.
Wastewater Plant Superintendent
Is progress measured by what we have, or is progress measured by what we no longer have?
The new phosphorus regulations coming down from the Environmental Protection Agency will directly affect the city of Marshfield. Because of a phased-in approach, it will be five years before it affects the residents of Marshfield, whereas communities like Marathon City are at the point of spending millions of dollars. We could voluntarily start early, but waiting for technology to catch up to the regulations will save the city millions of dollars.
We are at this point because environmental groups have sued — or threatened to sue — the EPA over the quality of the water in our lakes in rivers. This is specific to Wisconsin, not the surrounding states, region, or nation. These groups want our waters of the state to be clean, and that is why the national regulations are only applied to our state and not all 50 states.
Should we have clean water in our rivers and lakes? Yes, of course we want to have access to clean water for recreation, drinking, public, and private use and to simply enjoy for sunsets. The issue is money. Who pays for the cleanup?
The beauty of phosphorus and Mother Nature is that it will slowly clean itself up. It is a very essential nutrient in life and will get cycled through plant and aquatic life. The first move is to stop the source of excess phosphorus entering the water. In Wisconsin approximately 80 percent is from the agriculture community. That has been proven many times over by every group that has ever sampled and studied the issue. The percentage varies in each part of the state.
Why are cities and villages paying to clean up an issue when they are not the main contributor? It is because the EPA and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have no authority over common farming practices. There simply are no laws on the books that give the EPA or DNR the right to make the agriculture community change its farming practices. All communities and large industries are regulated by the EPA or DNR, made to pay annual fees, can be fined for not following the regulations, and industries can even be shut down in extreme cases.
The laws have not changed and probably will not in the future. The fact is that clean water will only occur if all people work together to solve the problem. Everyone has made improvements since the 1970s with industry and municipal groups making the greatest improvements. The path is laid for agriculture to voluntarily make changes, which are funded by residents in the cities and villages.
So is progress measured by the quality of the water or by the quantity of money spent?