The battle emerging in Madison this week over proposed changes to phosphorus rules is a familiar one.
A bill was introduced to delay state phosphorus rules. Businesses and municipalities incurring the costs of waste water management support the delay. Environmental groups advocating for clean water oppose it.
Business vs. environmental groups. Economic development vs. a healthy environment. It’s the old cliché that has defined every environmental conflict since the invention of the steam engine: You can have a vibrant economy, or you can have clean air and water, but you can’t have both.
But what if there was a third way? What if we could rev the engine of the economy by cleaning the air and water?
At GreenWhey, we’ve already found this sweet spot between business and sustainability. At our anaerobic digester facility in Turtle Lake, we collect waste water from cheese makers and other food producers at rates at or below the standard for the destructive practice of land spreading. We then extract biogas to produce electricity, using the proceeds to pay for a treatment process that removes phosphorus and nitrates, leaving nothing behind but clean water.
It’s a formula that works. Food producers get a reliable and cost-competitive way to treat their waste. Renewable electricity capable of powering 3,000 homes goes to the grid. And algae-causing pollutants stay off of fields and out of lakes and streams.
This isn’t some pie-in-the-sky scheme; the results are real and documented. Every day, we’re removing an estimated 850 pounds of phosphorus from effluent waste streams. This is phosphorus from six separate facilities that was previously spread on area fields, free to run off into bodies of water.
And there’s plenty of room for more. With our facility operating at half capacity, we have room to accommodate the needs of virtually every food processor in our region, providing year-round waste water treatment that saves businesses money and keeps waterways clean.
With that in mind, we can’t help but think that the age-old battle raging in Madison is not an inevitability. We live the solution every day. If we are looking for ways to ease the burden on business while keeping the environment safe for families, we need look no further than Turtle Lake.