May 7, 2015Client Alert

Wisconsin Seeks Public Comment on Proposed Multi-Discharger Phosphorus Variance

On May 5, 2015, the State of Wisconsin announced that it will hold a public hearing on May 12 at the Stoney Creek Inn in Wausau to discuss the long-awaited preliminary determination that compliance with the state’s low, numeric water quality standards for phosphorus will result in “substantial and widespread adverse social and economic impacts.” Many wastewater treatment plants in both the public and private sector require the installation of large, costly, capital-intensive improvements to meet the low standards, which were adopted by the State in 2010. The preliminary determination released on May 5 was required under Wis. Act 378, signed by Governor Walker in April of 2014, and is an important step toward developing a multi-discharger variance for affected sources. 

What were the basic conclusions in the Preliminary Determination?

The Preliminary Determination documents the Department of Administration (WDOA) conclusion that “implementation of the Wisconsin water quality standards for phosphorus will cause substantial and widespread social and economic impacts to the state.” In this material, the WDOA then requests that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) request approval of a multi-discharger variance from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the purposes of meeting phosphorus requirements. Without this variance, the study finds:

  • Almost 600 Wisconsin businesses will be impacted, just as they continue to recover from the recent recession. 
  • Wisconsin communities will be expected to bear the costs of at least $3.4 billion in capital expenditures that will rise to nearly $7 billion when adjusted to include the interest paid on borrowing for those expenditures. 
  • Annual costs of operations & maintenance (O&M), along with annual debt service burdens, will cost an additional $708 million annually.
  • Additional costs are expected by 2025, when the full impact of regulatory costs will finally reach all sectors. This is predicted to result in the loss of:
    • 4,517 jobs
    • $238.3 million in foregone wages
    • $616 million in gross state product
    • 11,000 residents

What do you need to know about the upcoming hearing?

  • The hearing will be held from 1:00-6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 12, 2015, at the Stoney Creek Hotel & Conference Center, 1100 Imperial Avenue, Rothschild, WI  54474.
  • Written comments may also be filed before June 11 via email to: or to Attn: Phosphorus, Division of Intergovernmental Relations, Wisconsin Department of Administration, PO Box 8944, Madison, WI  53708-8944.
  • The hearing will be on the preliminary determination, prepared by the WDOA and WDNR, that attaining the water quality standard for phosphorus through compliance with water quality based effluent limitations by point sources that cannot achieve compliance without major facility upgrades is not feasible because it would cause substantial and widespread adverse social and economic impacts.
  • This hearing is required under s. 283.16(2)(c), Wis. Stats., the codification of Wis. Act 378, which directs the state to develop this preliminary determination, hold a public hearing and then apply to EPA for the approval of a multi-discharger variance. 
  • This variance is not available to provide relief to eligible sources unless and until it is approved by the EPA.

Additional Resources:

We will be following up with more analysis of the more than 450 pages of documents released with this hearing announcement. However, at this time you can access additional information via the following sources:

Economic Impact Analysis for Phosphorus Standards: WDNR’s webpage with information on the materials developed in response to Act 378:

Substantial and Widespread Adverse Social and Economic Impacts of Wisconsin’s Phosphorus Regulations: A Preliminary Determination: (85 pages) Prepared by the WDOA and the WDNR, this document outlines the basis for the state’s preliminary determination that compliance with the phosphorus standards will result in substantial and widespread adverse social and economic impacts.

Economic Impact Analysis presented to the Wisconsin Department of Administration and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources: (244 pages) Prepared by the state’s consultants (ARCADIS, Sycamore Advisors, and University of Massachusetts Donohue Institute), this document provides the analysis of the state’s program, its costs – both current and projected – and the impact of compliance.

Addendum to the Economic Impact Analysis; Statewide Economic Impacts: (123 pages) Prepared by the State’s consultants in response to comments from the EPA, this document provides numbers adjusted to reflect assumptions requested by the EPA. 

Phosphorus: WDOA’s webpage with information on the hearing, the legislation that drove the development of the preliminary determination and the press release that accompanied the May 5 release. 

Wis. Act 378: A link to the legislative history of Act 378, signed into law on April 23, 2014. This includes the memorandum prepared by the Legislative Council, the fiscal analysis and the text of the bill. 

The Public Hearing Notice: Consistent with the requirements of s. 283.16(2)(c), the WDOA provides this notice of the hearing in Rothschild and invites written comments as well as public testimony.

Press Release: This press release gives information about the program and provides additional contact information for interested parties. 

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