Wisconsin emissions trading and adaptive management for phosphorous OK’d

The US Environmental Protection Agency has approved an innovative program for phosphate discharges to surface waters in Wisconsin, many of which are unacceptably polluted with phosphorous, a pollutant which can cause blooms of algae, loss of dissolved oxygen, and death of aquatic species.

The Wisconsin program is intended to reduce costs of phosphorous control in the state. Under adaptive management, operators of facilities which discharge phosphorous will be able to partner with other dischargers of phosphorous, for example, farmers, to reduce phosphate discharges by an equivalent amount as would otherwise be required from the primary source. The rules also contemplate emissions trading between watersheds in an effort to reduce overall phosphate discharges to the Great Lakes. Many facilities will be required to optimize their wastewater treatment plant to increase the removal of total phosphorus.

The program considers:

  • Adaptive Management and Water Quality Trading are two compliance options for phosphorus. These options are similar in that they both strive to achieve compliance with phosphorus in the most economically efficient manner possible. This typically includes reducing nonpoint and/or other point source pollution in a watershed. Despite this similarity, there are several differences between Adaptive Management and Water Quality Trading.
  • Potential Pollutants: Trading may be utilized for many pollutants of concerns; Adaptive Management was created solely for phosphorus reduction in Wisconsin..
  • Trading and Adaptive Management have different end goals: Adaptive Management focuses on achieving water quality criterion for phosphorus in the surface water; Trading focuses on attaining compliance with a permit limit.
  • The Scale of Adaptive Management and Trading: Adaptive Management focuses on reduction strategies in a watershed; Trading only allows upstream reductions typically.
  • Calculating Offsets: Trading offsets require trade ratios and margins of safety; Adaptive Management does not.
  • Timing: Trading credits must be generated before use; Adaptive Management focuses on permit cycles.
  • Monitoring: Adaptive Management requires in-stream monitoring and annual reports; Trading does not.
  • Eligibility requirements under Adaptive Management and Trading are different.

Wisconsin has also restricted the sale of fertilizer containing phosphorus and has limited the phosphorus content in automatic dishwater detergents.

The EPA approval, including details of the program is at http://www.epa.gov/region5/water/wqb/pdf/20120725-wisconsin_phosphorus.pdf  A more readable description of the new program, which was just approved by US EPA but which came into effect in December 2010, is available at http://dnr.wi.gov/org/water/wm/wqs/phosphorus/

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