Monticello's Phosphorous Reduction Project

What’s all that digging going on? And those mounds of dirt, brush piles, and torn out trees, what’s up with that?
The half a million-dollar answer is: streambank improvement for phosphorus mitigation and reduction in the Village of Monticello’s waste water treatment system.
And what is so important about phosphorus and all that? Why so expensive?
Questions, questions, and more questions.
The Village of Monticello, by implementing long needed and state-mandated clean water improvements, is addressing these issues that plague almost all Wisconsin communities. Clean water, reduced phosphorus, and an efficient waste water treatment facility is the answer.
According to the Wisconsin DNR’s website and other information on the subject, “Phosphorus has long been recognized as the controlling factor in plant and algae growth in Wisconsin lakes and streams. Small increases in phosphorus can fuel substantial increases in aquatic plant and algae growth, which in turn can reduce recreational use, property values, and public health.”
All state municipalities are required by law to comply with environmental standards set in 2010. Maximum thresholds for non-point phosphorus sources will be reduced by these methods, as well as the treatment plant construction project currently underway in Monticello. The dirt and brush piles are clear evidence this overall program.
If you can imagine drinking out of any stream or river, a reality for our ancestors, then you can embrace this goal.
In 2017, Wisconsin launched a 10-year process to help alleviate our phosphorus problems. Multi District Variances, or MDV’s, were legislated so that communities within each watershed can effectively combat nutrient runoff through the efforts of counties, municipalities, and other third-party stakeholders.
Clean water. How clean? Would you drink water from the Sugar River? How about the many feeder streams and creeks?
Trout are perhaps one of the best indicators of water quality in our waterways today. You may have noticed, if you travel some of our area back roads, the same kinds of streambank improvement projects going on. Most of these are joint efforts by counties, townships, landowners, and nonprofit environmental groups like Trout Unlimited, to clean the water and curb erosion and siltation.
“Now”, you may ask, “But at what cost?”
It has taken roughly two hundred years of clearing land, plowing fields, and introducing fertilizers and pesticides, both chemical and by spreading manure, to arrive at the present condition.
We could divide our $500,000 over 200 years, and also by the population of this relatively small watershed area, to get one possible answer. But is this a fair way to pay for the work with our taxes?
The average age of a Green County resident is only 45 and a half years. Besides, don’t the farmers bear the brunt of the non-point runoff?
Before jumping to any conclusions, keep in mind we all benefit from our farming families and their legacies of hard work. And fortunately, Monticello, like many rural communities, has received substantial grant money that will pay most, if not all of the projected cost. A big thank you to village engineers at Delta 3 for helping get this grant money!
“We are all in this together.” We hear it all the time. As well, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
Keep these ideas in mind when you drink clean tap water, flush your toilet, or go fishing with your kids and grandkids.
Those of us old enough to remember recall rivers catching on fire in the 1960s and 70s. Creating the EPA has helped us all breathe easier and live healthier in establishing the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. But more work must be done. This brings us back to all that digging.
Most of the existing phosphorus lies in sediment carried downstream and deposited in the watersheds. By excavating, shoring up the streambeds and streambanks, and increasing the waterways’ currents, the phosphorus and other unwanted pollutants will be removed from the groundwater, creating a cleaner environment and somewhat restoring the habitat.
But this is not final. There are constantly changing dynamics in all natural systems, some good, some questionable. New agricultural methods like no-till plowing and CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations); invasive species; monocultural farming are only part of a complex puzzle of rural Wisconsin life. And bottom-line economics drives the mechanism for the most part.
If you like clean water, air, and a safe and healthy country, the price is well within reach. Ask how you can participate in the process. Take some walks if you are able. Maybe become a friend of New Glarus Woods State Park, or a friend of the Sugar River or Badger State Trails. Talk to your farming family friends. Take a little time for yourself.
<i>Submitted by Bob LaBarre</i>