Monday, August 31, 2015

Milwaukee oil train bridge to be reinforced, risks remain

[Updated] That rusty, 99-year-old rail bridge just beyond the Third Ward in downtown Milwaukee which carries volatile oil train shipments is going to get some upgrades.

That's good to hear, but the danger to a heavily-populated area still remains, as you can see in this photo I shot last winter. These trains approach from the west, run through Wauwatosa and south to Illinois.

That's the Wells Fargo bank tower in the background.

The Bakken crude oil train in this March flaming derailment near the Wisconsin border in Galena, IL, had likely passed through Wisconsin, officials said at the time.
EPA monitors have detected airborne particles typically associated with fires, but no chemicals, from burning rail cars near Galena.
The train was headed for Chicago, and risks along the route were noted by Illinois media:
 Records show that oil trains routinely pass within a quarter-mile of protected wetlands, drinking water reservoirs and other waterways, including the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. 

WI wall-building underway as we speak

Could this be the prototype, the inspiration for the Great US-Canada Wall? Walker's community of Wauwatosa, WI is just a few blocks to the right (north) of this wall going up on I-94. I shot this on the way to the Waukesha water hearing last week.

IL moving forward, WI backwards. Again

We know that Illinois regional rail connections got part of the $800 million Scott Walker blocked for Amtrak expansion between Milwaukee and Madison, and wind farm development has relocated south of the border after Walker, serving real estate and fossil fuel interests, slowed Wisconsin wind farm development to a crawl, too.

A summary posting, here.

And while Walker's latest budget proposal tried to completely strip bike and walking trail installations from statutory inclusion on certain new Wisconsin road projects - - the Legislature substituted instead a complicated approval 'process' that may or may not enable anything to get done - -  Illinois continues to better understand urban commuting and city revival movements by repurposing an abandoned rail line into a long, graceful urban trail similar to the High Line in Manhattan.

Embracing Denali

Restoring the name Denali to Alaska's tallest mountain is long overdue. Great move by President Obama.

And, yes, I know it does not solve all the problems that began when Europeans and others arrived in 'the new world' and began expropriating whatever they wanted, but the substance and symbolism of the renaming is significant, sets the stage for similar restorations, and puts a different cast on all the talk about immigration and sovereignty these days, as I see it.

So a Seattle gold prospector born in New Hampshire named William Dickey came out of the Denali mountain wilderness in 1896, heard that the Ohioan William McKinley won the GOP presidential nomination and named Denali Mt. McKinley.

Glad that Alaskan natives are getting this piece of their country back.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Groups raise justice objections to Waukesha water diversion

[Updated from 8/28-29] Take a look at the substantive comments about the City of Waukesha's application for an out-of-basin diversion of Lake Michigan water that were forwarded last week to the Wisconsin DNR about racial and economic justice by Wisconsin justice groups.

The link above includes a connection to the full comments, with charts, data and related items in a very complete legal analysis of the application.

Also remember that as the DNR moves deeper in a review of the application, the Wisconsin Legislature never produced rules to define an application's design and content, and the public's role in the DNR's review as called for in the 2008 state law that implemented the Great Lakes Compact in Wisconsin - - a failure I began documenting in 2009:
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has twice this year declined to answer requests from Milwaukee officials who wanted the agency to carry out rule-making prior to accepting and reviewing Lake Michigan diversion applications - - shirking stewardship responsibility over water resources held in trust for the public.
And has sat on the sidelines in the year since the Great Lakes Compact and enabling legislation for Wisconsin were approved without beginning to draft and approve crucial administrative rules needed to make sure diversion applications, hearings and related matters create a process that is open, fair, complete and appealing legally and environmentally to the other seven Great Lakes states that will have to approve out-of-basin applications for the good of the shared resource - - the Great Lakes watershed, too.
I'd also asked and noted on this blog in July, 2009:
Many months have elapsed since Wisconsin approved the Great Lakes Compact, yet the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources shows no inclination to begin the rule-making process spelling out how a Wisconsin municipality would go about writing an application for a Great Lakes diversion under the Compact. 
This is a rather big question, as Waukesha has announced its intention to apply before the end of the year for a diversion. 
Without the rules in place, it is not clear what should be in the application. 
No doubt there will be information in the application, along with water conservation plans and goals, but it is up to the DNR to decide whether the application is complete - - yet without rules in place, it's a gamble that those plans, goals and pledges meet best practices. 
And Wisconsin law. 
And tradition. 
Why the hesitancy?
There was talk at the time that producing those rules would have taken 2,000 hours of DNR staff time, basically one year - - though just how that estimate was reached is not clear - - but we're now seven years out from the implementing legislation's adoption, and if two or three DNR staffers, and/or lawyers borrowed from the Department of Justice part-time had been used to write the rules from the get-go, we're talking about an easily-doable task if the administrative will were there to do it.

Hardly back-breaking, and, given the importance of the integrity of the Great Lakes Compact, the need for Waukesha's precedent-setting application to hit the highest legal and scientific marks, and the obligation of the state to follow the law - - mandatory. 

But here is the heart of the justice argument:
“Thus far, the environmental impact study has utterly failed to address, much less resolve, the needs and concerns of communities of color,” said Karyn Rotker, Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Wisconsin. 
“Allowing a Lake Michigan water diversion to enable continued unrestrained sprawl and job migration will have the inevitable effect of perpetuating racial and economic segregation in the region, to the clear disadvantage of persons of color, especially African-Americans,” added Fred Royal, president of the Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP."
Many, many items on this blog since its 2007 inception about these issues.

Here's one:


Milwaukee's Economic Segregation Keeps The City Poor, Suburbs Rich

Another posting with links to data, studies and op-eds, here.

Also, this posting tracks similar concerns - - as water, development, housing, jobs and transportation spending are inexorably linked in Southeastern Wisconsin - - which have been raised repeatedly about our region's public spending priorities and taxpayer-paid planning spending that sets certain plans and outcomes into motion.

A Federal court settlement last year required WisDOT - - which was implementing a highway-focused $6 billion regional transportation plan written by the area's public planning agency to add some bus services to a piece of the plan already underway.

Background here - - as more than $1 billion of highway spending on just one large interchange was unfairly benefiting motorists to the exclusion of low-income and minority area residents:
US District Court Judge Lynn Adelman has ruled that plaintiffs raising economic justice and procedural objections to the way the state conducts highway planning and public spending at the expense of transit riders and low-income residents can continue to sue over the Zoo Interchange project. 
The plaintiffs explain, here
This is a step towards genuine transportation program balance in a state where highway planning is getting billions for expansion and transit systems are being starved - - with severe consequences to low-income residents in their search for jobs and housing, as the ACLU of Wisconsin and others have repeatedly noted. 

Citizens say public land, water risked by Sturgeon Bay hotel

[Updated from 8/29] The list gets longer.

To citizen activists in Sheboygan County, Waukesha County, Milwaukee County, Adams County, Kewaunee County, Dane County, La Crosse County, Northwest Wisconsin near Lake Superior and Western Wisconsin towards the Mississippi River fighting to protect the water and their rights to it - - and where in the heck is the state DNR?, oh wait, never mind - - now add folks taking action and responsibility in Door County.

They are organizing and spending their own money, hoping to stop developers and local government from embarking on a waterfront construction project that could put public land and water, and the state's principal water protection law - - the Public Trust Doctrine - - at risk, media report:
A newly-formed group opposed to a controversial Sturgeon Bay waterfront hotel hopes to raise $80,000 to stop the project...claiming that the location of the proposed hotel is on public land.
Updates - - Some background by an environmental legal group, and also a longer story with in the Green Bay Press Gazette:
Tensions over the city of Sturgeon Bay’s west waterfront Planned Unit Development and the proposed Lindgren Hotel are rising to the point of legal action.
Different locale - - Door County - - and different players - - The Friends of the Sturgeon Bay Waterfront - - and a different obstacle - - a hotel, not an iron mine, or a 26,000-pig farm, or industrial-scale cattle feeding and aerial manure spraying, or runaway sand mining, or an insurance company vying for control of a Milwaukee downtown lake bluff park, or a golf course that would include some state park land along Lake Michigan near Sheboygan, or an expanded north-south pipeline to carry more tar sand oil  - - but the same story in regressive Wisconsin:

Government enabling corporate interests to put the public's ownership and appreciation of water at risk, leaving citizens to bear the cost of keeping open and unspoiled what they already own.

We'll keep an eye on this project, and the others, and efforts to put justice in the phrase "environmental justice" when water is part of the conversation.

Milwaukee getting notice as regional water industry hub

The biggest newspaper in upstate New York comes to Milwaukee for a visit and finds the city's water-based research and development sector is the Great Lakes leader:
In dozens of interviews with government officials, economic development experts, business executives, water researchers and environmentalists, a portrait emerges of some Great Lakes communities beginning to realize that their plentiful water supply represents a new selling card to reverse decades of population losses or stagnation. 
Great Lakes communities can boast of an asset that other parts of the country – and world – can only dream of: a water resource that can be tapped for new, high-tech manufacturing, agriculture, food processing, cooling computer server “farms,” power generation and recreation. 
Milwaukee appears to be the furthest along in embracing this concept.

Predicting wall-to-wall coverage for Gov. Wallker today

Read on, as other wall proposals are trumped by thousands of miles:
Walker says wall on Canadian border worth reviewing
His remarks were on Sunday's "Meet the Press" program on NBC. Here is a link to the full show.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Amazing water news

Pure, ancient water has been found beneath Wind Cave National Park in Western South Dakota. We had the cave tour a few years ago, unaware, of course, that this unique water source deep below the caves was yielding some secrets:
WIND CAVE NATIONAL PARK — Hundreds of feet beneath the Black Hills, a team of scientists and researchers snake through dark, narrow and silent corridors of ancient rock to reach their goal: what is thought to be some of the purest water on Earth. 
The crew of National Park Service scientists that’s anchored by microbiologist Hazel Barton travels sporadically to the lowest reaches of South Dakota’s Wind Cave National Park to study a series of underground lakes, which were discovered in the 1960s and aren’t home to any animal life or even easily detectable microscopic organisms.
Again underscoring the heart of this blog, which is that all water is precious, and needs respect, because, basically, it's all connected, as we are, too.

Friday, August 28, 2015

New data show relatively mild traffic Milwaukee congestion

[Updated] The authoritative, annual Texas A&M Transportation Institute study into traffic congestion costs and trends finds Milwaukee pretty far down the lists.

As guest blogger Steve Filmanowicz noted here eight years ago:

The Texas Transportation Institute just issued the latest update of that authoritative study, the 2007 Urban Mobility Report, and it indeed confirms that Milwaukee is already one of the nation's leading traffic success stories — even with its supposedly inadequate 1970s-era highway system. 
Even before spending a dime on the $6 billion enhancement/expansion plan...
Milwaukee's ranking in delay per traveler hovered around 40 for much of the 1980s, hit 39 in 1999 and has been heading down towards 59 since then. 
So wouldn't it be better to spend more money repairing the roads we have, and upgrading our disconnected and starved transit systems that mitigate congestion, than pretending we can build our way out of a comparatively mild problem with more than $6 billion in so-called freeway capacity in and out and near the city?

*  Milwaukee is 54th in travel time.

*  And 57th in commuter stress.

DC, LA and other big metropolitan areas, we are not, the study finds.

Sheriff who bailed on Obama protection has new security 'idea'

Remember when Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, Jr. pulled his deputies from their share of presidential motorcade protection duty to make some sort of statement about his county budget?

Well, Clarke has another idea about presidential protection, and no, this is not a headline and story from The Onion:
Milwaukee County Sheriff Challenges Obama: 'Forego Your Secret Service Protection'
I don't deny that there are serious crime and violence issues in Milwaukee, and elsewhere, and Clarke isn't the only law enforcement official who's ever had a beef with other officials who put together the budget, but I don't see his ''ideas' adding much to solutions. 

Wisconsin sky won't fall, but could be cleaner

[Updated from 8/26] You may remember that a few months ago, business leaders - - aided by Walker's appointees at the corporately-dominated Wisconsin Public Service Commission and Department of Natural Resources agencies of his makeup - - were fretting about new federal clean air rules under discussion.

Now we learn that big business is about to flood the airwaves in Wisconsin with propagandizing TV ads predicting economic doom and gloom should pending federal cleaner air rules be rolled out on a reasonable path to implementation - - just as these doomsayers have wrongly claimed the economy and the sky would fall after the US Clean Air Act went into effect, to our benefit, decades ago.

Ad infinitum.

Big business in Wisconsin even fought federal clean air improvements sought by the Bush administration, too, as this posting on my blog more than eight years ago points out:
Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce argues in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel op-ed that Wisconsinites should breathe dirty air. 
The Bush administration's Environmental Protection Agency wants to impose tough clean air standards on about one-third of the state, including Milwaukee, Waukesha and Dane Counties, because our air is not healthy, yet could and should be cleaner. 
And the WMC objects. 
And tells us the sky is falling: 
"Manufacturers, many of whom are facing intense global competition, would be forced to cut jobs to pay for the higher cost of electricity and additional regulatory burden," says the WMC's Scott Manley. 
"The ozone non-attainment stigma that helped cause economic expansion to stagnate in the southeastern part of the state would spread to other counties."
Manley repeated the argument in 2010.

So, two questions:

How can the Walker administration oppose cleaner federal air standards when it has done everything imaginable since 2011 to block local and state initiatives to clean Wisconsin's air and put us, as a state - - one people, one population, one economy - - closer to meeting the achievable and commonsense goals in the federal rules?

The Walkerites, catering to the WMC and other business and conservative ideological interests, have:

*  Blocked wind turbine projects.

*  Added new fees to solar installations.

*  De-emphasized state and DNR focus on global warming and climate change.

*  Put barriers in front of Milwaukee's streetcar planning.

*  Killed highway-congestion mitigating programs and projects like Amtrak service between Milwaukee and Madison, all regional transit authorities statewide - - while trimming funding for local transit services.

*  Enabled oil pipeline expansion.

*  Raised the maximum speed limit.

*  Expanded road-building, but ended support for bike transportation and closed off the addition of bike and pedestrian paths along new state roads.

So who's keeping the air as dirty as possible in Wisconsin, thus having the least moral authority to complain about a push from the feds for cleaner air?

And another question:

Don't these business groups, and the state government officials working together to resist cleaner air for the rest of us have among them members or employees or family members or friends with asthma, heart, lung and other ailments that would be lessened with cleaner air, one breath at a time, that deposits less ozone?

Figures published by the Walker administration show asthma alone afflicts hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin citizens, kills one Wisconsinite every five days, costs the economy $100 million annually and fails disproportionally on minority communities.

Do all these anti-regulation, pro-industry movers-and-shakers, along with their government allies, get special dispensations from their share of problems that dirty air makes worse?

They can't all live in 24-hour, air-conditioned and filtered bubbles far, far away from ozone pollution.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Coastlines - - and climate change deniers - - could be washed away

President Obama went to Alaska earlier this week talk about climate change as the federal government targeted about $50 million - - a literal drop in the bucket - - to begin moving one village among many inland because rising seas will swamp them.

Though Wisconsin makes it harder for people to get good information about such things, new data show the rise is steeper and faster than predicted.

The next many US presidents and leaders worldwide better talk tougher to the deniers and get the public ready for what people along coastlines worldwide are going to need:
(CNN)It was less than two years ago that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its all-encompassing assessment on the current state of climate change research and made projections for the future climate of our planet.  
According to the latest from NASA, however, the projections the panel made for a rise in global sea levels of 1 to 3 feet may already be outdated. 
According to Steven Nerem of the University of Colorado, we are "locked into at least 3 feet of sea level rise, and probably more."
11 ways climate change affects the world
Nerem said experts now think a rise in sea levels toward "the higher end of that range is more likely, and the question remains how that range might have to shift upwards..."  
Many climate experts say temperatures are rising faster than at any point in our known history and that it is largely because of human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels...  
The data gathered reveals that sea levels have already risen nearly 3 inches since 1992. If that doesn't sound like much, remember that a good rule of thumb is: For every inch of sea level rise, you see 100 inches of run-up inland on the coast. 

In-depth look at Enbridge, its record & Straits of Mackinac pipeline

I'd posted a bit about this the other day, but here's a far more comprehensive piece about an aging oil pipeline running beneath the Great Lakes:
Oil and water: Searching for truth on the Mackinac pipeline
Note that this is the same firm which got an exemption from Dane County insurance requirements for  expanded Superior, WI to N. IL pipeline capacity tucked for the company's benefit into the recently-approved State of Wisconsin budget.

Comment to WI DNR now; it's your land, air and water

[Update from Wednesday, 8/26.]

Deadlines loom:

There are comment opportunities expiring soon on environmental and public health issues in Wisconsin. 

Participating gives you a chance to help create the record, strengthen the public input process and exercise your citizen rights, since it's your air, land and water that the Department of Natural Resources is managing despite its continuous corporatization and ideological direction since 2011, including:

*  Waukesha's proposed diversion of Lake Michigan water. Comments are accepted until the end of Friday.

*  A statewide rollback of some air emission rules which governing frac sand mines and other potential polluters. Comments are accepted until the end of Thursday.

Two more things:

*  You can sign up for email notices from the DNR about upcoming and pending matters on which you can comment.

Here is that information, and a list of items.

*  Additionally, it was recently disclosed by The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the DNR intends to sell substantial trout spring pond acreage in Langlade County. 

I'd written about the issue and related matters, here.

Though the formal comment period on the land sales has expired, the agency told the Journal the plan was open to changes, and the agency's oversight board still needs to give its OK, so it sounds to me like you can still get involved because the sale is not a done deal:
Doug Haag, deputy bureau director in charge of land sales and acquisitions, said the properties must still be reviewed by DNR field staff, including fisheries experts.
He acknowledged some fisheries staff have already raised objections to selling land where ponds are located. The Natural Resources Board will review the final list in December or January...
The agency is just starting to hear from the public, and the spring ponds in Langlade County are generating the most concerns, according to Haag...
Haag said the DNR could add language that the agency would still manage fisheries resources and assume other oversight.
*  Here are links through the DNR website about agency land sales if you are interested in weighing in now. What do you have to lose?
Contact information 
For more information, see: 
Real estate contacts

Well, scratch that righty talking point

Jeez: What's an Obamahater to do, if it's still "the economy, stupid?"
Revised GDP indicates more robust growth for U.S. economy
American households, bolstered by gains in employment, rising home prices and cheaper fuel costs, will probably continue to spur the economy
Oh, I know: Iran!!! 

Downside for El Nino '15-'16: less volume for Great Lakes?

The projected El Nino weather and storm pattern originating in the Pacific Ocean could make a dent in the Western US drought - - or add misery in the form of flash flooding - - but I was curious about what the forecast has in store for our neck of the woods.

So the way I read this:
Wisconsin starts off slow this winter with warmer temps & dry weather for December. Temps are still slightly above normal for January but the snow starts to pick up by the end of the month. February could be the busiest month for snow and colder temps so yeah it's a delayed winter ahead. Overall expect a milder winter than last winter and not as much snow.
- - is more perhaps evaporation from the Great Lakes without major snows as recharge.

Anyone following this as Waukesha looks for a precedent-setting water export from Lake Michigan, with some shipped further out to some neighboring small towns which have not asked for it?

Waukesha's Great Lakes bid makes media waves

In a country freshly sensitized to a warming climate, weather extremes and sustainability's value, Great Lakes water is a hot topic:

And Ohio.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

WI DNR wants to ease emission rules governing sand mining

I know it's hard to keep track of what the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is doing to our state as it implements Scott Walker's anti-science, "chamber of commerce mentality" across the agency, yet there is another example:

The DNR is considering exempting from regulation a certain kind of dangerous air emission - -  very small emitted, so-called fugitive dust particles - - to further help businesses, especially the fast-growing frac sand industry which the agency has previously treated gently.

From the DNR:
 “PM2.5 emissions will not be estimated in an air permit review for fugitive dust sources, mechanical handling, grain handling, and other low temperature particulate sources.”
The DNR would omit frac sand mines as a source of these particles; in 2014, the DNR estimated there were 135 Wisconsin frac mines, processing plants and rail operations.

An earlier blog posting about this issue is here:
To 'Fugitive Dust' In WI Sand Mining, Add Fugitive Enforcement
There is a comment opportunity on the issue that expires at the end of the day tomorrow, Thursday, so weigh in before the deadline.

Below is information from Clean Wisconsin and a form to fill in, or simply email your objection to the DNR at one or both of these email addresses:

John Roth

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Kristin Hart

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Take Action with Clean Wisconsin
There are already too many things in our air and water that can affect our health. We don’t need any more.
Right now, the Department of Natural Resources is considering new guidance that would exempt many facilities and operations from limiting their PM2.5 fine particulate emissions. Less than one-twentieth the width of a human hair, PM2.5 pollution particles can get deep in our lungs, even our bloodstreams, harming our respiratory systems and increasing the risk of lung and heart diseases. Children are particularly vulnerable to health impacts from PM2.5 pollution.
Under the proposed guidance, one huge exemption would be frac sand mining operations. These operations, which leave our landscape littered with dust, silt and other pollution, already push the limit for the maximum allowable PM2.5 pollution. If this change goes through, the amount of PM2.5 they put out would no longer be regulated to make sure that the surrounding air stays safe.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

What runoff pollution is doing to Lake Erie

In an earlier compilation posted today of threats to the Great Lakes watershed, I overlooked Lake Erie and a massive algae bloom there which could harm drinking water supplies for the second year in a row:
 An arm of the hazardous algal bloom in the west-central basin of Lake Erie is expected to drift southeastward by Wednesday, according to forecasts by NOAA's GLERL. 
Note also that similar circumstances have created a big dead zone in Green Bay, with no DNR solution in sight. 

Comment until 8/28 on Waukesha diversion - - here's how

This is the latest news from the Compact Implementation Coalition regarding Waukesha's Lake Michigan diversion application.

Submit Your Comments Online & Be Heard!

Protect Our Great Lakes by Telling the DNR to Deny Waukesha's Attempts to Divert Great Lakes Water!
There's still time to act!  

All three of Wisconsin DNR’s public hearings on the Waukesha water diversion (Waukesha, Milwaukee, and Racine) were packed this week with people speaking about Waukesha’s application to divert Great Lakes water.

Representatives from the Compact Implementation Coalition were at all three public hearings to make sure the voices of thousands of Wisconsin residents we represent were heard.

While the public hearings were well-attended and the public’s message was certainly heard, there’s still work to do!

The DNR is accepting comments until this Friday, August 28, 2015 at 11:59pm CST.

There is still time to speak up and make your voice heard!
Click to send your message to the DNR!
Watch our video or read our fact sheets to learn more about our concerns.

The Compact Implementation Coalition believes it’s vital Wisconsin make the smart decision in refusing Waukesha’s request for water and lead our region in protecting our Great Lakes. 

Follow us on our CIC Facebook page and Twitter (@ProtectGLwater) and visit to stay up-to-date on the latest information! 
The Compact Implementation Coalition, collectively representing tens of thousands of Wisconsinites, has a long history of working on the Great Lakes Compact. From ensuring the adoption and implementation of a strong Great Lakes Compact to aiding the Department in the promulgation of administrative rules to implement the Compact, it has consistently advocated for the strongest protections available for the resource, in keeping with the spirit and the letter of the Compact.
Copyright © 2015 Compact Implementation Coalition, All rights reserved.

Concerns over Waukesha's proposed Great Lakes diversion are not new

If you read today's story in The New York Times about Waukesha's proposed diversion of water from Lake Michigan - - a link to the item and a bit of commentary, here - - you might be interested in how many of the concerns over the extent of the planned and problematic diversion beyond Waukesha's boundaries have been raised for years.

Here is one 2013 posting with some of that history, with links, letters and more documentation:
Waukesha Water Plan Raising Questions - - Some Old, Some New

NY Times looks at Waukesha's water diversion plan

A big picture, national story. And it contains the first comment of note I've seen from another Great Lakes Governor:
In a wetter era, the city’s plan to build a $200 million pipeline to tap into Lake Michigan might have fallen on more sympathetic ears. But it faces a daunting obstacle now: historic drought in the West, which has made officials in the Midwest more protective than ever of their increasingly valuable resource.
“Obviously I have concerns about the usage of the Great Lakes in any capacity,” Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan said in an interview, adding that he was closely watching the Wisconsin city’s request and had yet to decide how he would vote. 
A single governor can veto a diversion of water. “To some degree it’s like, where do you draw the line?” Mr. Snyder said. “It shouldn’t be done just as an ad hoc thing or a political thing. It should be based on sound science and good economics and what’s best for the long term. 
There is also discussion in the story of one problematic piece of the plan by Waukesha - - sending send some of the diverted water outside of its boundaries to neighboring communities which have not demonstrated a need for it - - a point raised on this blog since 2010. 

I'm glad I'd been blogging heavily about Wisconsin and Great Lakes water lately. Here's one post from yesterday with several items for context.

All the water needs the same respect

Because it's all essentially connected, and we to it, hence the continuing focus on this blog:

Lake Huron, and the Great Lakes watershed.

Lake Michigan and its watershed.
Milwaukee River near Cedarburg, Photo Courtesy of Milwaukee Sweetwater Trust.
Milwaukee River near Cedarburg, Photo Courtesy of Milwaukee Sweetwater Trust
Including Lake Michigan water sought for people and growth in the Mississippi River watershed across the subcontinental divide.

Lake Superior and its watershed.

And the groundwater as it rises to become trout streams or drinking water.

Milwaukee, The Water City

I don't know even half this stuff. I'm impressed.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Land sales editorial lets DNR's Stepp off the hook

[Updated from 8/22.] 

The Journal Sentinel said in an editorial posted Saturday that it was "a bad idea" for the Department of Natural Resources to propose selling acreage up north that includes trout spring ponds. 

The paper's news side had earlier disclosed the potential sale:

The state Department of Natural Resources has identified more than 1,000 acres of state-owned land in Langlade County that could go on the auction block — a move that has angered trout anglers because the properties contain a cache of ecologically significant spring ponds with native brook trout populations.
The ponds, gouged by glaciers thousands of years ago, are fed by rich sources of groundwater that sustain the fish and neighboring streams, rivers and lakes.
The DNR recently posted 13 properties in Langlade County on its website that contain the small ponds. They are among 118 parcels, covering approximately 8,300 acres, the DNR could sell to private parties or other units of government.
I had noted the story a few days ago, and it was good that the editorial board followed through on the important reporting, but let's note four more things:

* The editorial says it was the Legislature that mandated the DNR sell off 10,000 acres, thus giving the DNR a "thankless job."

True that the Legislature put the land sale policy into law, but I don't remember Stepp, the former developer, resisting it, as the sales fit with her boss Scott Walker's commitment to a a purportedly smaller government, and a laissez-faire agency run with a "chamber of commerce mentality."

When selling DNR land was raised in 2011 before the Legislature codified it, Stepp told a dairy industry meeting that she was all for it so long as the parcels were not environmentally sensitive:
MADISON - Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp said Nov. 29 she would listen to a proposal to sell DNR-owned land as a way to infuse cash into the agency's budget.
Speaking at the Dairy Business Association's Business Conference, Stepp responded affirmatively to a proposal by Emerald dairy farmer John Vrieze, who suggested that DBA members across the state should come up with a list of properties that are not environmentally sensitive that the DNR could sell and return to the tax roll.
So what happened to the idea that environmentally sensitive land shouldn't be sold, and why does the newspaper, as it did on DNR staffing levels, keep cutting Stepp so much slack?

*  The DNR also seems to be pushing land sales that put internal, bureaucratic interests above those of the public or the environment's - - and let's agree that the public interest and the environment's interest are one and the same in this case, as per usual. 

This is from a 2014 statement on the agency website about land sales' requirements, goals and policies:

"We have four years to meet our statutory requirement" said [DNR official Kurt] Thiede. "We want to complete this work in an open and transparent manner and in a time frame that is manageable for staff and the Natural Resources Board. The sale of these public lands will allow us to re-purpose surplus lands and divest in lands that don't serve an important role for DNR land management objectives, or public access."
At least let's have a discussion and get some answers from Thiede, promoted in March to DNR Deputy Secretary.

*  Additionally, the DNR could be barred from selling those parcels because cornerstone US law - - the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 - - 

that honors and elevates the public interest in water above narrow or special interests has been incorporated into the Wisconsin Constitution as Article IX as The Public Trust Doctrine, and has affirmed by the state courts, too.

Look at how strongly the DNR defines on its own website the state and agency crucial and historic regulatory role - - and I have written about this 133 times on this blog from 2007 to just last Thursday - - as guarantor of "primary" constitutional public rights to water quality, quantity, access and enjoyment for the people in Wisconsin: 

Wisconsin's Waters Belong to Everyone
Wisconsin lakes and rivers are public resources, owned in common by all Wisconsin citizens under the state's Public Trust Doctrine. Based on the state constitution, this doctrine has been further defined by case law and statute. It declares that all navigable waters are "common highways and forever free", and held in trust by the Department of Natural Resources... 
Assures Public Rights in Waters
...the public interest, once primarily interpreted to protect public rights to transportation on navigable waters, has been broadened to include protected public rights to water quality and quantity, recreational activities, and scenic beauty.(1) 
All Wisconsin citizens have the right to boat, fish, hunt, ice skate, and swim on navigable waters, as well as enjoy the natural scenic beauty of navigable waters, and enjoy the quality and quantity of water that supports those uses.(2). 
Wisconsin law recognizes that owners of lands bordering lakes and rivers - "riparian" owners - hold rights in the water next to their property. These riparian rights include the use of the shoreline, reasonable use of the water, and a right to access the water. However, the Wisconsin State Supreme Court has ruled that when conflicts occur between the rights of riparian owners and public rights, the public's rights are primary and the riparian owner's secondary.(1). 
Wisconsin's Public Trust Doctrine requires the state to intervene to protect public rights in the commercial or recreational use of navigable waters. The DNR, as the state agent charged with this responsibility, can do so through permitting requirements for water projects, through court action to stop nuisances in navigable waters, and through statutes authorizing local zoning ordinances that limit development along navigable waterways.
The 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.(2)
Here is another DNR description of the primacy of the public's access to the state's waters.

*  We don't know yet precisely how or why the DNR came up with the particular property sales list that includes the trout ponds, but I wish the Journal Sentinel would have put the land sales into a fuller context and, given Stepp's earlier comments about environmentally sensitive acreage, held her feet to the fire.