Conservation efforts bringing down nutrient pollution levels

Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

Conservation efforts last year kept out of the environment at least 215,000 pounds of phosphorous and more than 95,000 pounds of nitrogen.

That’s according to an annual report from the DNR and DATCP. 

Phosphorus makes up 47 percent of all water pollution in the state, the report shows. And 46 percent of all water pollution in Wisconsin comes from many diffuse sources, as nonpoint source pollution. Rainfall or melting snow can carry pollutants over the surface of the ground into waterways. 

Report authors emphasize their findings only capture “a fraction” of the likely total reductions in pollution from last year’s conservation efforts, as not all impacts of those efforts are tracked by the data sources they used. 

The 2018 Wisconsin Land and Water Annual Report spotlights specific conservation efforts from last year in 15 counties, showing how farmers and others are working to mitigate their environmental impacts. 

Steve Dahlstrom, a beef cattle farmer in Burnett County, connected with DATCP in 2017 when he decided he wanted to prevent as much nutrient runoff as possible from a feedlot. Drainage from that lot would go into a ditch that brought runoff north into wetland areas. 

In hopes of reducing further nutrient pollution, Dahlstrom settled on building a partially enclosed concrete structure with a small manure storage space. DATCP conservation engineer Pat Schultz was brought on to help create a construction plan. 

A concrete base was laid in 2017 ahead of raising the new building. A patch of bare dirt in between the barn and the ditch was also seeded with grasses and other plants, to capture more of the water runoff. 

Starting in 2018, construction workers began building the covered feedlot, which has large pens for the animals as well as a bedding space. It also includes a large concrete-lined pit that can store up to three months worth of manure. 

In the DATCP report, Dahlstrom says the project achieved conservation goals as well as improving the health of his herd. 

“Anytime you take cattle off dirt and mud, especially in springtime when they’re calving, it’s going to help,” he said. “There’s no dirt on the teats, and you have very happy calves.”  

After work was complete, the site was used as a training site for regional conservation agencies. According to Schultz, the covered barnyard project was a novel concept. 

“We worked through how to design a floor to hold the roof, and how to work with an outside consultant,” he said. 

DATCP covered $17,000 of the $260,000 project, while Burnett County paid $4,400. Another $150,000 came from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program. 

The report shows the top three issues for county conservation departments were farmland preservation, groundwater quality and invasive species. 

In all, the state spent about $11.3 million last year on conservation efforts, with DNR and DATCP each shouldering about half that cost. About $3.1 million came from local funding sources, including county levies, lake district funds and donations for conservation projects. 

See the full report: