Monday, October 22, 2007

Media Discovering Water Issues: An Indifferent Wisconsin Dawdles

It's hard to escape the sudden focus on water and drought.

Atlanta's reservoirs are disappearing. Lake Superior is falling. The Arctic is melting, as is the snow pack in the Rockies, the Andes and the Alps.

A warming earth, along with growing and demanding populations, suggests water shortages with profound consequences around the globe, and certainly in the US West - - summed up in a long magazine story in the Sunday (10/21) New York Times - - that will make the Great Lakes even more tempting to redistribute.

And despite the controversial remarks a few weeks ago by New Mexico's Gov. Bill Richardson that Wisconsin was "awash" in water to send to the parched West, our state's leaders can't muster the will to adopt a modest compact among the eight Great Lakes states to rationally manage the region's water and produce conservation programs.

Having worked in government, I understand that policy-makers focus on one thing at a time, and that the state budget, or lack of one, has consumed our leaders for much of the summer and early fall.

But the pending Great Lakes Compact was created for the region's legislatures to consider in December, 2005, and was four years in the making: Wisconsin, as 2007 ends, is the only Great Lakes state without a Great Lakes Compact implementing bill either adopted or under discussion.

This is primarily because a handful of legislators from Waukesha County have placed shortsightedly what they perceive as their communities' development interests ahead of other considerations - - while encouraging water-dependent sprawl, or "progress," as they like to call it, as normal, even virtuous.

Now it appears that there is an emergent state budget, so one leading justification for delaying action on approving the Great Lakes Compact for Wisconsin can be put aside.

So let the work begin, and end, quickly to adopt a strong, relevant and productive Great Lakes Compact.

We don't need to repeat the lost 2006-07 year at the Capitol when a study committee charged with drafting Wisconsin's Great Lakes implementing bill disbanded due to flawed leadership, phony property-rights' concerns and a host of other diversions thrown into the process by people more interested in watering down the Great Lakes Compact than in approving and implementing it.

Too many people on the committee shared the Rush Limbaugh vision of government and the environment.

We live in Wisconsin. We border two of the five Great Lakes. They drive our economy and define our history. We need policy inspired by Aldo Leopold, John Muir, and Gaylord Nelson.

As it exists now, the pending Compact is too loose on bottled water exports from the region.

And it is not strong enough on conservation performance and citizen inputs to guarantee that public interests are served first.

Another weakness: it's too permissive on diversions of water that can be piped out of the Great Lakes basin.

The bar needs to be raised so that diversions and other new losses of water from the Great Lakes are truly the exception and not won as easily sending in a coupon and a UPC label for a free prize.

Wisconsin needs a solid implementing bill that protects the state and region's water, and leads the other states to do the same.

Right now, Wisconsin is not a leader on the field. It is not even a follower. It is something of a spectator, and given our history and responsibilities, that is not acceptable.

The times are a-changin': legislation and practices for our communities and state must reflect the urgency demanded by what Nobel Peace Laureate Al Gore rightly calls a global emergency.

And if our elected officials refuse to keep pace with public opinion and modern science, then we need to replace them (Thomas Friedman makes much the same point in the Sunday Times about elections and energy policy, too) with people who will act as the stewards of the water we have, not as placeholders of the offices occupied.


Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. I don't think Wisconsinites fully understand the "water wars" going on in America. It is getting ugly very quickly. The citizens of Wisconsin need to take action - NOW.

Anonymous said...

Maybe all the hurricanes that algore and other "the sky is falling" alarmists said there would be, due to global warming, need to drench Georgia with rain. Or maybe we should tow all those ice bergs to drought states. Bergs melting in the arctic seems like a waste.

All the alarmists by "consensus," say gl is due to Man. How come no one is assigning by consensus how much nature is contributing?

Is Aldo Leopold Wisconsin's secular saint? Take heed, Richardson is a liberal Democrat, not a Rush Limbaugh conservative.

Anonymous said...

Another factor that I have not seen discussed in all of this is the conversion of freshwater to seawater. Whether we're talking about melting glaciers, extensive droughts or even increasing runoff of impermeable surfaces, it all adds up to fewer freshwater resources, more saltwater. Not good for life as we know it.

James Rowen said...

Yes - - those rising sea levels that are already occuring.