Sunday, February 16, 2014

Time Running Out In WI To Protect Public's Waters

The Wisconsin Legislature, in room-service mode to big commercial water users at your expense, is just a few steps from giving away waters held in trust by the state for all the people.
And making it darned near impossible to do anything about it if your well level plummets, a favorite trout stream dries up, or your lake pier becomes a mud-flat relic.

In a state where drought has been a problem, and commercial water demands by big agriculture and sand mining interests are rising, a horrible special-interest attack on supplies of our most basic natural resource is just a few steps away from final approval in the GOP-led Legislature and Gov. Walker's signature.
Though the State Constitution defines access to plentiful and clean water as a Wisconsin right, legislative changes proposed to serve major corporate water users through AB679 (the companion bill, SB-302, has already passed a Senate committee) would require the DNR - - already understaffed - - to fast-track permit withdrawal reviews for big users so quickly that some could be approved automatically, remove from permit consideration a withdrawal's impact on other users, and treat withdrawals, once allowed, as essentially permanent.
AB679 could be soon be brought to the Assembly floor for a party-line OK, along with parallel action in the Senate, and Gov. Walker would no doubt sign it.
People need to know that the bill would operate to undermine this DNR explanation of Article IX of the State Constitution - - the Public Trust Doctrine - - and make irrelevant long-standing common sense and court precedent that now obligates the state, as the people's trustee, to regulate water on behalf of everyone:
The [state supreme] court has ruled that DNR staff, when they review projects that could impact Wisconsin lakes and rivers, must consider the cumulative impacts of individual projects in their decisions.
"A little fill here and there may seem to be nothing to become excited about. But one fill, though comparatively inconsequential, may lead to another, and another, and before long a great body may be eaten away until it may no longer exist. Our navigable waters are a precious natural heritage, once gone, they disappear forever," wrote the Wisconsin State Supreme Court justices in their opinion resolving Hixon v. PSC.
Additionally, the sops to industries in AB679 dovetail with an equally outrageous 2013-'15 state budget provision that goes into effect in June and will remove from Wisconsin citizens their ability to challenge a water withdrawal permit over water pumping's cumulative effects.
That should have been named the "Love Your Sinkhole" amendment.
Think about the impact of the restriction slipped late into the state budget process on farm neighbors, lake homeowners and municipal drinking water supplies close or downstream from big users.
The River Alliance of Wisconsin, a statewide conservation advocacy group which studies such things, and which has focused on plunging lake and stream levels in the Central Sands area, says this about the bill:
...lakes and rivers in the Central Sands are drying up. In some cases, entire lakes are so dry they are growing trees and grass. Scientists have been able to connect the dots showing that drying up surface waters is directly tied to excessive pumping.
The DNR was given clear authority in a 2009 unanimous Supreme Court decision that they needed to consider impacts of groundwater pumping to waters of the state. The groundwater bill SB302/AB679:
Removes the requirement from the agency to assess the cumulative impact of wells on lakes rivers and wetlands (other than the tiny sliver of them identified in the current groundwater law);
Limits the conditions they can put on a permit (like monitoring for impacts to surface waters);
Mandates that the agency figure it all out in 120 days or the permit is automatically granted.
Additionally, the bill turns a permit to pump water into a property right that is attached to that parcel of land forever.
The impact of this bill could be huge, as the limitations it places on DNR to regulate the use of the groundwater of Wisconsin would very likely result in pumping without regard to the capacity of an area to recharge its groundwater supplies.
Wisconsin citizens upset with their water rights disenfranchisement should call their Assembly members first thing Monday morning - - toll-free at 1-800-362-9472 - - and take their cues from this on-point letter to the editor in the Appleton Post-Crescent:
To ignore the importance of the cumulative effect of high-capacity wells is counterintuitive, anti-scientific and just plain stupid. Already, some Wisconsin agricultural and recreational interests have suffered from the effects of high-capacity wells. This legislation, if passed, will only make things worse.
Here is a comprehensive report on the bills and their potential impacts.


Anonymous said...

To the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: we need you to stand up for the people of Wisconsin. I beg you (yes beg you) to be a leader among your peers, and show them how it's done. History will not look kindly on those who stood on the sidelines and did nothing while the public trust was betrayed, and corruption was allowed to run rampant in our state.

Nathanael said...

The Wisconsin Supreme Court should declare this bill a violation of the state Constitution. But it's controlled by thugs in Walker's pocket, if I remember correctly...

Barring that, I believe federal courts have the right to enforce state constitutions, don't they?