Slowing The Phosphorus Charge

Phosphorous Regulation Deserves Adequate Time To Review

Volume 134, No. 45 Friday, May 7, 2010

The clock is ticking in Wisconsin as our state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) races to become the second state to apply water quality standards to the nutrient phosphorus, and turn those standards into limits on phosphorus output from farms, cities and businesses in watersheds throughout the state.

The focus for the dairy processing industry is new phosphorus limits in Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permits. Industries across the US face either state-level or federal NPDES permits to discharge effluent (e.g wastewater) to surface waters like streams, rivers or lakes. But Wisconsin is moving to be the second state, behind Florida, to advance water-quality based limits.

The outcome of these proposed regulations — such as the number of dairy processing plants affected — is unclear. The rules now drafted in Wisconsin were released in March and following a quick raft of public hearings in April, new final draft rules will be voted on by the state Natural Resources Board in June. State legislative committees would have the opportunity to hold hearings or ratify the rules this fall.

The Wisconsin DNR has set a goal of completing this work by the end of the year. Coincidentally, elections for state Assembly and Senate will take place in November.

The amount of phosphorus that any dairy manufacturing plant can discharge under the proposed rules will be based on a formula that includes the water quality standard for the target stream or river, as well as the volume of the water body, the volume of effluent, and other factors. The phosphorus limit in each dairy plant’s WPDES permit will be unique.

In some areas, limits will be based on a higher level of complexity caused by establishment of TMDLs, or total maximum daily loads that a water body can accept for a given nutrient such as phosphorus. TMDLs, established in the federal Clean Water Act, take a watershed approach to limiting nutrients by calculating the total nutrient load a water body can handle, then assigning a limit to farms, industry and municipalities in that watershed.

In state public hearings on these drafted rules, municipal water treatment facilities, food processors and dairy organizations including Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association (WCMA) noted that the speed of DNR’s rulemaking, and the inability to understand the cost impact on each discharge site, remain causes of great concern.

Specifically for dairy, the Wisconsin DNR’s proposed rule understates the impact of these regulations on the Wisconsin dairy industry. DNR projects that 35 Wisconsin facilities across the food processing industry, the paper industry and the dairy industry will be affected, but this figure is low.

Earlier this year, WCMA commissioned a report from The Probst Group LLC in response to Wisconsin’s proposed regulation. Their report, Potential Impact of Proposed Phosphorus Regulations on the Dairy
Industry of Wisconsin: A Technical and Economic Impact Review, states: “Based upon our knowledge of the numerous dairy sites in the state, we anticipate that 25-30 facilities with direct discharges will be impacted.”
In other words, Wisconsin’s dairy industry alone has nearly the entire number of sites noted by the DNR.

In addition, a great number of dairy plants discharge effluent waste to municipal treatments systems. The report from The Probst Group states: “Each of these facilities discharging to POTWs is likely to be asked, as high phosphorus dischargers, to bear substantial portions of the burden to upgrade the municipal systems to meet proposed limits or to install/upgrade on-site pretreatment systems.” The report estimates that 50-60 Wisconsin dairy plants discharge effluent waste to municipal treatment systems.

While each of these plants may not face lower limits for phosphorus in the new regulations proposed in Wisconsin, the state’s DNR has not taken the time to assess the impact of these new limits on industry and inform manufacturers of potential new costs and equipment needed to polish wastewater.

Today in Wisconsin, existing regulation requires industry to reach a technology-based limit of 1 mg/l phosphorus in their effluent moving to surface waters. The newly proposed water quality standards require levels of 0.1 mg/l or lower, depending on the water body.

Since 1992, the implementation and operation of Enhanced Biological Phosphorus Removal (EBPR) systems and chemical precipitation have allowed dairy plants to reach current limits.

But these technologies are not capable of providing treatment to the levels required to meet the Wisconsin DNR’s proposed new discharge limits. Adoption of these water quality standards and lower permit limits will require costly new technology, unproven in the dairy industry.

To consistently meet the proposed phosphorus limits, tertiary treatment systems specifically for phosphorus would be required. These “third-step” filtration systems are prohibitively expensive to purchase and install and are costly to operate.

Smaller volume dischargers in the dairy industry (150,000 gallons of effluent per day) could face construction and equipment costs for tertiary filtration systems of $1.1 million to $1.48 million and operating costs conservatively estimated at $26,200 per year, according to the report from the Probst Group LLC.

Larger volume dischargers in the dairy industry could face construction and equipments costs of $2.4 million to $4.3 million to install tertiary treatment systems and annual operating costs in excess of $90,000.

Without adequate study and information from Wisconsin’s DNR, Wisconsin dairy manufacturers must consider these systems as a potential new cost. WCMA and organizations representing other affected industries are asking Wisconsin’s DNR to slow the pace of these new proposals for further study and correction. Costly and complex regulation deserves adequate time for review. r

John Umhoefer has served as executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association since 1992. You can phone John at (608) 828-4550; Fax him at (608) 828-4551; or e-mail John Umhoefer at jumhoefer@wischeesemakersassn. org


Other John Umhoefer Columns

Upper Midwest Prospects in 2010
Upper Midwest Growth: Perspectives From The Farm
Blue Skies or Bust
Pushing Back Against A Tough 2009
Support Demand, Not Price
Dairy: A Good Bet in a Bad Economy
Wisconsin's Future: Growth
Keeping Sustainability Real
Nose Dive
Dairy Dives into 2009
Consider This...
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Implement Make Allowances ASAP
Security Reforms
Spring Forward
A Week of Clarity

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