UPDATE: Study finds unsafe pollution levels in WI River - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

UPDATE: Study finds unsafe pollution levels in WI River

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Photo: Friends of the Lower WI River Photo: Friends of the Lower WI River

SPRING GREEN (WKOW) -- Experts are hoping to find ways to cut back on unsafe levels of toxic pollutants found in the Lower Wisconsin River and its connected waters.

Dave Marshall, an aquatic ecologist and former DNR biologist, was called in to conduct a study of water quality in the area. His research found chronic levels of nitrates and phosphorous in the bodies of water off the river, like sloughs. Those pollutants bring oxygen levels below state standards, harming wildlife.

Marshall says the Lower Wisconsin River is one of the most biologically diverse large river systems in the U.S. and it's important to find ways to protect the water and habitat for the nearly 100 species of fish and other wildlife living there.

"We're finding nitrates up to 20 parts per million. Anything above 2 parts per million can be toxic to many fish and other forms of aquatic life, so it's very alarming," says Marshall. "[The sloughs] are very important for providing habitats for waterfowl, popular sport fishes such as bluegills, large mouth bass, northern pike and many rare species." 
 
Marshall says they're not finding as many species of wildlife as were present about 10 years ago. 
 
The contamination is mostly coming from polluted groundwater in the area that affects both drinking wells and the sloughs nearby. Marshall says farmers need to better manage the nutrients used to grow crops, which end up polluting the waters.
 
Ecologists also suggest landowners in the area should plant conservation buffers, which are deep-rooted plants that can absorb nitrates and keep those pollutants from the water.

Doug and Sherryl Jones, who have lived along the Norton Slough in Spring Green since 2000, have planted nearly 15 acres of buffers. They've seen the slough taken over by algae.

"The water was pristine, [it] had lily pads blooming on it and in fact the first couple years I did swim in it. As the years progressed, the algae kept becoming more prevalent," says Doug Jones. "We thought we better get together with some folks and try to get the public in this area aware of the problem."

They joined FLOW, or the Friends of the Lower Wisconsin River, a group that aims to preserve and protect the riverway.

The family found they weren't the only ones in the area with unsafe levels of nitrates in their drinking water. It was a problem throughout the area. The couple installed a reverse osmosis system to purify the groundwater so they could still drink it but know that's not an option for everyone.

Marshall's report asks for the town of Spring Green to adopt a farmland preservation zoning code, to offer incentives to landowners who create buffer areas. He's also calling for a continuation of the study and additional monitoring of conditions.

Marshall says because the riverway is not meeting water quality standards, it should be added to the Environmental Protection Agency's 303(d) list of impaired waters. That categorization could bring federal funding to the region to try to restore water quality.

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SPRING GREEN (WKOW) -- A study of the Wisconsin River and connected waters has found high levels of nitrates and phosphorous.

The Sauk Prairie Eagle reports the study suggest the river should be placed on a national list of endangered bodies of water because of findings in some sloughs and ponds fed by the Wisconsin River. 

The study was requested by the Friends of the Lower Wisconsin River, a group working to protect and preserve the riverway.

Tonight on 27 News at 5 & 6, we'll hear from homeowners about conditions in the area, plus the researcher who conducted the study last year explains his findings.

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