Polluted Runoff


There are many types of polluted water affecting rivers. Some dirty water comes from the pipes of factories, sewage treatment plants or cities (known as “point source” pollution). A whole lot comes from farm fields and city streets (known as “non-point” pollution).

The component of polluted water making the biggest problem for rivers is phosphorus and the dirt (or sediment) that carries it. Though phosphorus comes from many places, far and away the most significant source of phosphorus is farming, and it presents the greatest challenge.


Algae-choked water has emerged as one of Wisconsin’s worst water quality problems. Blue-green algae blooms are caused by an excess of nutrients from polluted runoff and wastewater. Rivers and streams suffering algae blooms are not only disgusting to look at, they also can cause serious illness and can harm aquatic plants, animals and fish. Not to mention how bad water is bad for business –waterfront restaurants, boat rental concessions, beer makers, and paper mills all need clean water for their businesses.

Our Job

Successfully implementing the phosphorus rules depends on the participation of the individuals and entities affected by this problem.

The role of the River Alliance of Wisconsin is to:

  • Ensure the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources shows the way for polluters to use the new regulatory tools available to them under the new phosphorus rules.
  • Engage and inform citizens affected by bad water and help them organize to be effective and powerful advocates for their home rivers to policy makers.
  • Conduct public education campaigns to, well, educate the public: what are the real causes of pollution? Who’s behind it? Who has the power to change it? How can citizen power affect the outcome of what are often contentious and intractable water quality problems?
  • Rally our members to get actively involved and advocate for clean water, but do it sensibly, strategically, civilly and with gusto.

Learn more about the new Clear Water Farms program.


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