Plan seeks buffers, different tillage
A proposed Marathon County Land and Water Resource Management plan calls for conservation tillage and installing 35-foot buffers around creeks, rivers and streams across the western half of the county in order to meet water quality goals laid out in the Department of Natural Resources’ Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the Wisconsin River Basin.
Conservation, Planning and Zoning Department land and water program director Paul Daigle said the proposal, recommended by a seven-member local advisory committee, has been presented to the county’s Environmental Resources Committee (ERC). The plan, he said, will be debated over the next several months, and hopefully sent to the county board for its approval and shipped to the state’s Land and Water Board by February 2021.
The 10-year plan is required for the county to obtain roughly half a million dollars in annual grants and routine funding for staff from the Department of Natural Resources and Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
Daigle said the proposal would require the state legislature and Gov. Tony Evers to approve targeted agricultural performance standards for much of western Marathon County farmland, including the Upper and Lower Big Eau Pleine and Big Rib River watersheds. Current standards require farmers statewide to lose no more than six pounds of phosphorus per acre per year. The plan would drop that phosphorus cap to 2.5 pounds per year. In addition, the plan would require 35-foot buffer strips along waterways in areas subject to farm run-off. Daigle said, based on computer modelling of farms in the Fenwood Creek Subwatershed Project, buffers will lower phosphorus run-off from a 2.5 pound level to seven or eight tenths of a pound.
The TMDL calls for phosphorus reductions of around 80 percent across western Marathon County to meet water quality standards in local rivers, but also in the Big Eau Pleine Reservoir, Lake Petenwell and Lake Castle Rock.
This newspaper contacted the offices of Sen. Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon City), Rep. John Spiros (R-Marshfield) and Rep. Pat Snyder (R-Wausau) to find out whether they would support the county’s draft proposal.
Snyder’s office alone responded, but the representative was noncommittal. “Rep. Snyder wants our community to have excellent water quality and supports efforts to promote increasing water quality in the Wausau community and throughout the state,” said a spokesperson. “Before committing to supporting the plan, he would need to see the legislation and hear from the public and stakeholders, as he would do with any legislation.”
An effort was made, as well, to obtain a comment from the local advisory committee, but none of the members responded. They include Randy Fifrick, Kronenwetter; Mary Kate Riordan, Wausau; Peter Arnold, Edgar; Meldon Maguire, Mosinee; Tom Mueller, Athens; LeeAnn Podruch, Hatley; and Wayne Breitenfeldt, Wausau.
Daigle said farmers will need to use conservation tillage, cover crops, longer hay rotations and managed grazing as ways to lower their phosphorus run-off and meet the goals of the plan, if adopted.
The program director said the plan will identify goals, but not necessarily how the county will achieve them. He said he would give the ERC another two years to decide whether to pursue the TMDL water quality goals through regulation or voluntary programs. Also to be decided, he said, is whether state and local taxpayers should cost-share the cost of the proposed conservation tillage and buffers. He said state grants to the county are currently $700,000 short to fund annual requests for costsharing on conservation projects.
Daigle noted that the county has used Multi-Discharge Variance money paid in by municipal wastewater treatment plants to reduce phosphorus run-off on farms in the Fenwood Creek Subwatershed Project for $17 a pound.