Posted on

DNR takes step toward new rules on lower groundwater nitrates

The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board voted 5-1 on Dec. 9 to approve the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ scope statement related to decreasing nitrate pollution in areas of the state with highly permeable soils susceptible to groundwater contamination.

Along with the scope statement -- a broad outline of a rule -- the vote also conditionally approves the public hearing notice and notice of submittal related to NR 151 and 243 targeted performance standards and prohibitions to abate nitrate pollution in groundwater in sensitive areas.

Approval of the scope statement allows the department to develop detailed rules that require final approval from the Legislature. The process takes approximately 30 months.

“This process is going to take us a couple of years and is going to have all the stakeholders at the table,” said NRB Chairman Dr. Frederick Prehn. “It’s a step in the right direction. Hopefully, it’s a quantitative step that changes the water. The public wants solutions, and (agriculture) wants to be a part of that.”

Nitrate is Wisconsin’s most widespread groundwater contaminant. Approximately 90 percent of nitrate in groundwater originates from agricultural sources such as land application of fertilizers and manure.

The majority of nitrate in groundwater comes from fertilizer applied to cornfields. The use of nitrogen fertilizer has been increasing for decades. Elevated nitrate can cause miscarriage, congenital disabilities, elevated cancer risk and other disorders.

During their September meeting, the board directed the DNR to expand public input regarding the department’s process in developing rules relating to the state’s water quality standards. Additional public hearings were held in Fond du Lac, Hancock and Janesville.

To achieve water quality standards required by state statute, NR 151 establishes statewide runoff pollution performance standards, prohibitions and practices for agricultural facilities. The rule also sets performance standards for nonagricultural facilities and transportation facilities.

By law, if the statewide performance standards and prohibitions do not achieve state water quality standards, the DNR may develop targeted performance standards.

Immediately following the vote, Secretary- designee Cole expressed his gratitude to the board for their hard work and commitment to safe, clean drinking water.

“We’ve done it before a hundred times over, and we will do this with transparency and openness from this administration,” Cole said. “It will be a long, difficult road, but this board is duly appointed to deal with some of the most troubling issues, and, quite frankly, I can’t think of a better group of individuals to work with.”