Grafton chips in for phosphorus-reduction program

Village is first municipality to contribute to county farm group’s effort to reduce Milwaukee River runoff pollution
Ozaukee Press staff

The Village of Grafton has contributed $20,000 to the Clean Farm Families program to reduce phosphorus runoff in the Milwaukee River and potentially reduce the cost of modifications to its wastewater treatment plant. 

Grafton is the first Ozaukee County municipality to make such a donation and make use of an “adaptive management” technique to reach state phosphorous limits.

Clean Farm Families is an effort promoted by the Ozaukee County Land and Water Management Office to encourage farmers to utilize no-till techniques and plant cover crops to reduce the use of fertilizer, increase the amount of water absorbed into the soil and reduce runoff into streams and rivers.

County Land and Water Management Director Andy Holschbach said his office will work with landowners on how the funds will be spent.

“We have had the money in the budget since 2016 but never actually spent it,” Grafton Public Works Director Amber Thomas said. “It’s been our plan to use the funds in this manner; we finally just decided to go with the adaptive management approach.”

The state Department of Natural Resources imposed tougher phosphorus restrictions on municipalities and other “point sources” in 2010. 

The state Department of Administration has estimated that businesses and municipalities would have to spend at least $3.45 billion statewide to comply.

In 2016, the DNR concluded that 41 percent of more than 7,700 waters in the state violated standards for phosphorus contamination.

“Point sources” of the pollutant include factories, sewage treatment plants, fertilizers, manure, grass clippings and other organic sources. 

High levels of phosphorus cause algae to bloom in lakes, streams and rivers. One pound of phosphorus can cause 500 pounds of algae to grow, environmentalists say.

Communities can spend millions to upgrade their treatment plants to employ “tertiary filter” systems.

Communities also can take an “adaptive management” approach like Grafton, which allows a point source to reduce other sources of phosphorus pollution within a watershed, thereby improving water quality, before it reaches the treatment plant. 

“The idea would be to reduce investment in their wastewater treatment infrastructure,” Holschbach said. 

In May, Thomas recommended to the Village Board they pursue the adaptive management approach because it offers more flexibility.

“If adaptive management is chosen, the village, at any time, can choose to change to treatment plant upgrades (tertiary filters),” she wrote in a memo to trustees.  “Consequently, if treatment plant upgrades were chosen now we could never change to adaptive management.

In addition, an adaptive management approach extends the time frame for compliance from five to 15 years, she said.

In addition, communities upstream from Grafton, such as Saukville and Fredonia, also are dealing with the phosphorus issue, which can work to Grafton’s advantage, she said.

“Upstream communities are currently strongly considering tertiary filters and those improvements will lower the concentrations of phosphorus in the village compliance area as well,” she wrote.  “With adaptive management the village would take advantage of any up-stream improvements.”

Holschbach said he hopes other communities will consider Grafton’s approach.

Fredonia Public Works Director Roger Strohm said his village has two years before having to make a final decision on its plan to reduce phosphorus discharges.

“Our analysis to date indicates that we can meet our phosphorus limits by continuing with our current treatment,” Strohm said. 

For the one or two months a year where Fredonia might exceed  limits — limits change month to month — the village is  best off to use a state variance to make a payment to the county.

  “Adaptive management can be a cost effective tool if you need to add additional processes to your treatment. However it requires continued monitoring of the river to see if it is effective and if not effective you may still be required to construct a new process,” he said.

“For us, it is more cost effective to implement the sure thing for several thousand dollars per year,” he said.  “I do think the Clean Farms program is on the right track and likely to make improvements to the water quality.”



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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