Individual actions can keep our state waters clean and safe this summer
MADISON – It’s Lakes Appreciation Month and with parts of the state teetering on the edge of a drought, the importance of protecting Wisconsin’s waters grows ever greater.
“As Wisconsinites lay in wait for rain this summer, it becomes more important than ever to protect our lakes, streams and waterways,” says Melissa Malott, Water Director for Clean Wisconsin. “Water is one of the state’s greatest treasures, especially when we’re only experiencing a few raindrops here and there.”
One of the biggest ongoing threats to the state’s lakes, rivers and streams is phosphorus. Phosphorus runs off lawns and farm fields and is discharged from other sources — when it gets into the water in excess, it produces harmful, unsightly algae blooms. Drought can cause lower lake levels and stagnant waters that allow algae to flourish.
“Wisconsin is known nationally for having a Phosphorus Rule that sets safe limits,” Malott says. “A new pilot project in Dane County is designed to make it easier on farms, factories and other large-scale phosphorus emitters to meet those requirements.”
While the Dane County project is a large, collaborative effort, homeowners’ individual actions are just as impactful. To get started, here are three easy ways to take a stake in our lakes every day, not just in celebration of Lakes Appreciation Month:
1. Choose lake-safe detergents and cleaning products. Most water treatment facilities can’t remove many of the toxic ingredients found in common household cleaners, so choose safer substitutes like vinegar, Borax, baking soda and the like. Phosphate-free detergents are the way to go for laundry and washing dishes since they won’t cause harmful, smelly algae growth in our waters. Also, don’t dump cleaning products into storm sewers; these flow right into our lakes and rivers!
2. Wash it right. Washing a car in the driveway may seem more cost-effective, but it can use 50 gallons to 120 gallons of water for one wash, and the sudsy runoff will head straight into nearby storm drains, polluting our lakes. Hit the carwash instead or park outside when the rain finally comes!
3. Leave your lawn be. Just because your lawn is brown doesn’t mean it’s dead; it’s just dormant due to the heat and lack of rain, so skip the watering and fertilizing. Fertilizer can run off yards when it rains (or when homeowners water excessively) and contaminate our waters. Generally, only new lawns require phosphorus for root growth.
“Phosphorus is a huge blight on many of our precious bodies of water,” Malott said. “I hope that while everyone is boating, fishing and spending time outdoors this month, they keep the health of our waters in mind, knowing that problems like drought and algae affect all of us.”
Clean Wisconsin, an environmental advocacy organization, protects Wisconsin’s clean water and air and advocates for clean energy by being an effective voice in the state legislature and by holding elected officials and polluters accountable. Website: www.cleanwisconsin.org.