Badger Mill Creek Project PLUS

Home / Phosphorus / Badger Mill Creek Project PLUS

Phosphorus Limits & Updated Solutions for Badger Mill Creek

Excess phosphorus is harming Wisconsin waters, making water quality standards increasingly restrictive. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) enforces these standards through the federal Clean Water Act and the state’s Phosphorus Rule, established on December 1, 2010. These rules set maximum thresholds for phosphorus in Wisconsin’s surface waters and set procedures through permits designed to help curb the growing issue.  Due to Phosphorus Rule requirements, Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District must develop a compliance solution for Badger Mill Creek, one of our discharge streams, through Project PLUS (Phosphorus Limits & Updated Solutions).  

What is Project PLUS?

Reducing phosphorus pollution requires continual, long-term strategies, but all citizens can take action to protect our lakes and streams. Through technical assessments, community engagement and ongoing partner conversations, PLUS has three goals: 

  • Achieve phosphorus compliance standards.
  • Minimize harm to the biology of the stream.
  • Maintain fiscal responsibility to ratepapers and owner communities.

KEY Updates AS OF March 23, 2023

The assessment phase for Project PLUS will soon be complete. The District will then take the learnings and apply them to our compliance options, including tertiary treatment, modification of flow and water quality trading, with heavy consideration of the environmental, social and economic impacts of each. 

On Thursday, April 27, the team will present a summary of assessments, activities and findings to the Commission and its initial recommendation for a phosphorus compliance solution. In addition, summaries of the stream flow and treatment engineering studies will be made available for public review before this meeting.

The District’s goal remains to ensure the public’s ongoing interest and feedback in the initiative will be heard. The District began collecting project feedback and holding conversations with the community in 2022. Additional opportunities to respond continue to be available.

  • Written comments will be accepted from April 27 through May 8 and shared with District staff and Commission members.
  • In addition, a public hearing will be held on Thursday, May 11, at 8 a.m. and accessible for in-person and online attendees.

Additional information on submitting a written comment and attending the public hearing will soon be shared in an email and posted on this page.

On Thursday, May 25, the Commission will approve the final option. The decision must meet the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources compliance schedule deadline on Wednesday, May 31.

The District remains committed to recommending a fiscally responsible and sustainable solution that minimizes harm to the biology of the stream and meets the regulatory compliance set forth by the Federal Clean Water Act and the state’s Phosphorus Rule.

    FAQs On Phosphorus and Project PLUS

    What is phosphorus? Is it bad?

    Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for plant and animal growth. 

    However, excess phosphorus will encourage undesirable plants and algae to grow sometimes causing algae blooms that can reduce recreational use and property values, create problems in our waterways and drinking water, and impact public health.    

    Where does phosphorus come from?

    Excess phosphorus can come from our yards via fertilizer or yard waste, agriculture run-off, cleaning products, septic systems, appliances, pets, and domestic wastewater (i.e. from our diets, household products). 

    Why is Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District concerned about phosphorus?

    When wastewater enters a wastewater treatment plant, the amount of phosphorus must be reduced to prevent excess phosphorous in the discharge that can be harmful to waterways. The District’s wastewater treatment plant discharges and drains into local rivers and streams that flow into the Mississippi River before moving to the Gulf of Mexico. When in excess, nutrients like phosphorus accumulate and become harmful pollutants for people, aquatic life, and watershed environments.  

     Because of this, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources requires all wastewater treatment plants to meet specific standards for the amount of phosphorus in their discharges per the federal Clean Water Act and Wisconsin’s Phosphorus Rule.   

    Does the District remove or recycle phosphorus?

    Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District removes over 96% of the phosphorus from incoming wastewater. In addition, the District removes this phosphorus through phosphorus harvesting technology, the Yahara WINS adaptive management project​, community awareness campaigns and pollution prevention education​, and most recently with the initiation of Project PLUS at Badger Mill Creek. The district also manages phosphorus on the landscape with improved application techniques for biosolids that are recycled on area farm fields.  

    What is Badger Mill Creek Project PLUS?

    To comply with the District’s Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit, the District must achieve phosphorus compliance in Badger Mill Creek, a stream in which the District discharges treated wastewater.  Badger Mill Creek PLUS (Phosphorus Limits & Updated Solutions) is the initiative supporting compliance. Project PLUS will help identify a phosphorus compliance recommendation.  

    Who is involved in Project PLUS?

    A variety of experts and individuals are actively working on Project PLUS, including District staff, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Geological Survey scientists and technical staff, and engineering/environmental experts. The District is also having conversations with community partners and stakeholder groups. The teams have been searching for a solution that aligns with scientific feedback, data, project goals, and shared community interests for achieving phosphorus compliance in Badger Mill Creek.   

    What compliance solutions have been considered?

    In June 2022, we presented preliminary compliance alternatives to the Commission, including watershed adaptive management, modification of the flow, water quality trading, site-specific criterion, variance and tertiary treatment. Staff continues to evaluate solutions and has engaged specialized consultants to assess the biological impacts of flow modification and engineering feasibility of tertiary treatment. A final compliance solution has not yet been determined as engineering and biological evaluations, and an environmental, social, and economic assessment will be in review through May 2023.   

    How is Project PLUS different than Yahara WINS?

    The Yahara Watershed Improvement Network, known as Yahara WINS, is a groundbreaking initiative to achieve clean water goals, reduce phosphorus loads and meet more stringent water quality standards in the Rock River Basin. With Yahara WINS, a reduction from all watershed sources (agricultural and urban stormwater runoff) is required to address impairments caused by phosphorus and total suspended solids. Compared to Badger Mill Creek, the initiative has many different factors contributing to its design. 

    One significant difference for Yahara WINS is the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) assessment conducted by Wisconsin DNR and approved by U.S. EPA. The TMDL provides a roadmap for the reductions needed to meet Wisconsin’s water quality standards, including specific regulatory requirements and the identification of responsible entities. The TMDL also triggers a regulatory requirement that point sources must reduce runoff to meet surface water standards.  

    Without a regulatory driver, such as a TMDL for Badger Mill Creek, the District is the only required agency to contribute resources and lead phosphorus reduction activities. With the District as the only regulated entity required to pay for phosphorus reductions, there is a significant difference in the number of pounds of phosphorus that need to be reduced to reach water quality goals compared to other options being considered. 

    When faced with a choice to meet regulatory requirements alone or collectively, in the case of Yahara WINS, point sources chose to pool resources and work collaboratively. Along with non-point sources like agricultural producers and land conservation agencies, Yahara WINS partners work together to aim to reduce runoff in the watershed to improve water quality and meet required regulations.  

    In addition, a 20-year commitment from a significant geographic span of landowners would need to be obtained to apply adaptive management practices for reducing excess phosphorus in Badger Mill Creek. This only adds to the challenge of meeting water quality standards without a regulatory driver. 

    What types of answers will District assessments provide?  

    The District has hired two consulting firms to assist with two critical studies to help inform a final compliance recommendation. The first study focuses on understanding the influence of the District’s treated effluent on the stream flow, depth and habitat. To do this, we are focused on answering two key questions:  

    1. What is the depth and flow of the stream with and without the treated effluent discharge? 
    2. What is the impact of any changes in depth and flow on in-stream habitat?  

    The second study is focused on an engineering feasibility assessment to determine how the flow to the Badger Mill Creek outfall could be separated for tertiary treatment at the Nine Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant. The assessment is meant to be as holistic as possible. It will provide the District with hydraulic and pumping information, operations and management of the system, a construction footprint, cost information and energy use of a tertiary treatment system. These answers will be provided upon assessment completion and included in a project report available to the public in late April. 

    How is the District assessing the impact of effluent on streamflow and stream habitat?

    With WDNR guidance and consultant assistance, the team began flow and habitat measurements at various site locations along Badger Mill Creek and the Sugar River in January 2023.  

    The assessments occurred under two scenarios.  

    Scenario 1: District effluent being discharged as normal per the District’s permit 
    Scenario 2: District effluent not being discharged 

    The before-and-after study design allows the District to understand the impact of the effluent flow on the stream under current climatological and hydraulic conditions. In consultation with the DNR and using historic USGS hydrograph data, this specific assessment’s timeline aligned with the winter months. This was done to understand further the impact of treated effluent on the stream when flow and depth are historically at their lowest. 

    Is it possible a solution would create changes in Badger Mill Creek?  

    The District has a shared interest in keeping Badger Mill Creek healthy and an enjoyable resource for the community. The District is committed to minimizing harm to the biology of the stream.  

    Will the District be sharing reports and scientific findings with owner communities?   

    The District will continue to listen to concerns, hold meetings with interested individuals and groups, provide information as available, and work with community members and public entities as it seeks a compliance solution. In addition, project updates will be shared on the District website and with Commission members.   

    When will a final phosphorus compliance plan be shared, and with whom?  

    The public will be informed of the findings and proposed compliance solutions in May 2023. There will be an opportunity for the public to provide comments and feedback before the compliance deadline. In May, the District’s Commission will vote on the recommended phosphorus compliance solution. A Final Compliance Alternatives Plan will be submitted to the DNR after that decision in May 2023.    

    How can the community stay informed on the project?  

    The District led two public listening sessions in 2022. Community attendees had the opportunity to learn about Project PLUS through a District-led presentation. Participants then shared comments, asked valuable questions, and voiced concerns in small break-out groups with District staff. View the event wrap-up and presentation

    To stay informed on the project, continue to visit this project page at and follow the District on social media @madmetrosewer. By subscribing to our newsletter below, you can also sign up to receive email updates.  

    How can the community get involved with creek observations and data reporting?

    To provide a way to engage with a consultant-led biological assessment of Badger Mill Creek, we have created a digital report form and are asking for interested citizen scientists to keep tabs on their favorite area(s) of Badger Mill Creek and/or the Sugar River through February. The data submitted by citizen scientists will help provide additional information as the ongoing stream assessment is underway.

    STay Informed and Involved

    We are committed to keeping a dialogue flowing about this critical project. Sign up here to stay informed via email on how phosphorus is impacting our communities or follow us on social media.

    * indicates required fields

    This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

    Struvite Harvesting

    See how we successfully recover struvite, a form of phosphorus, from wastewater for reuse.

    Yahara WINS

    Learn about a program that works with landowners to reduce phosphorus runoff across the watershed.

    Reduce Pollution

    Read the blog article “Simple ways to reduce phosphorus pollution” for tips for your home or business.

    Phosphorus Rule

    Get an overview and summary of Wisconsin’s Phosphorus Rule from the Department of Natural Resources.