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Baraboo River

The Baraboo River is shown in this December 2017 photo.

Three Sauk County villages are challenging restrictions that a state agency has placed on their wastewater discharge into the Baraboo River.

The villages of Rock Springs, North Freedom and La Valle filed lawsuits Jan. 16 in Sauk County Circuit Court against the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, asking a judge to reverse provisions the agency included in their wastewater treatment facility permits.

The lawsuits claim the DNR used an overly restrictive formula to regulate the amount of phosphorus the villages can discharge into the Baraboo River, which flows southeast through Monroe, Juneau, Sauk and Columbia counties into the Wisconsin River.

The state agency is in the process of developing a new phosphorus limit formula, and the villages argue it should have waited until after the new formula is approved to reissue the permits.

“Once that’s approved, these communities are likely to get different phosphorus limits,” said attorney Vanessa Disbrow Wishart of Stafford Rosenbaum, the Madison law firm that is representing the villages.

The new permits, which the DNR granted in December, require the villages to meet a number of milestones, including treatment facility upgrades.

Disbrow Wishart said the phosphorus limits that are in development are likely to be less restrictive and allow a broader range of compliance that may not require such investments.

Phosphorus is a nutrient found in wastewater that increases plant growth. Although it’s good for food crops, too much of it is bad for water systems. It can deplete them of oxygen, leading to problems such as fish kills and algae blooms.

Disbrow Wishart said the villages recently were granted petitions that will allow the challenges to go before the Division of Hearings and Appeals, a quasi-judicial entity within the Wisconsin Department of Administration.

Asked for comment Friday afternoon, a DNR spokesperson did not respond before deadline Sunday.

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