Dan Mullen (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Series: Phosphorus In Wisconsin's Land And Water

Phosphorus is an essential building block of life, but it's also one of the world's most common and troublesome pollutants. Intensive agriculture unleashes excess levels of phosphorus in the form of manure and other fertilizers. What plants don't consume of this essential nutrient lingers on the ground or makes its way down into soil. Rain pushes this phosphorus into streams, rivers, lakes and groundwater. When too much enters a body of water, it can fuel blooms of noxious and sometimes toxic microorganisms — a frequent problem in lakes around Wisconsin and in the Great Lakes. Farmers, scientists, environmentalists, and state and local officials are struggling to reach a consensus about how to manage this nutrient pollution while maintaining a robust agricultural industry.
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Water quality in Madison's Lake Mendota is changing, and it turns out the sludge at the bottom of it can help explain why. Jake Walsh, a researcher who formerly studied the lake at the UW-Madison Center for Limnology, discusses what scientists are learning.
The vast majority of what happens under the surface of lakes goes unrecorded, meaning potentially important ecological stories are often lost to history.
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Wisconsin Life
Maintaining high quality water requires getting wet. That's why Sauk County conservationist Serge Koenig is standing in the rushing waters of a cool stream gathering samples.
Why exactly does Green Bay need saving? Because it suffers from too much phosphorus, which contributes to cyanobacteria, more commonly known as blue-green algae.
Human activities and intense precipitation drive nutrients into water sources that help support the growth of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae. Paul Dearlove of the Clean Lakes Alliance discusses some of its dangers and how to mitigate exposure.
It's never an easy conversation to have in Wisconsin: Phosphorus pollution afflicts bodies of water all over the state, and its primary source is agriculture.
All around Wisconsin, people are feeding a stinky, green and oftentimes toxic life form.
Phosphorus is a well-known culprit for water quality problems in Wisconsin, and an excess of this nutrient in soils impedes efforts to clean up lakes. Several groups of people play critical roles in reducing phosphorus pollution and improving lakes – farmers, policymakers and scientists, to name a few – but how does the "average" person fit in?
Federal officials are launching a two-year study to determine the best ways to convince farmers to help fight water pollution in the Great Lakes region.