Thursday, August 13, 2015

Wisconsin manure politics

[Updated from 8/12] 

Add this context and documentation provided by the MAL Contends blog about the struggle against a mega-dairy in Wood County to the manure contamination issues in Kewaunee County to which the DNR is belatedly offering a tepid response.

I explained the Kewaunee/DNR matter in a Wednesday posting, below:


I'd written this today:
Wisconsin DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp minimizes the elimination of the agency's crucial water division, rationalizes the elimination of science staff which she supported and overlooks already-weakened wetlands, shoreline, mining. manure control, parks' management, public land acquisition, pollution inspections and enforcement laws and procedures which Walker and the Legislature have systematically been easing.
Note the reference to "manure spreading," a frequent topic on this blog:
As our self-absorbed and wandering Governor heads for yet another California soiree with the Koch brothers, and has slashed the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, here's a snapshot of the people and state he disregards: 
Northern Kewaunee County wells are polluted
Where is the official concern for these people - - Wisconsin citizens, taxpayers?
Later today, a DNR official acknowledged the manure spreading issue and called for self-regulation to address it:
A Department of Natural Resources official acknowledged Wednesday that the system of spreading manure in certain regions of Wisconsin isn't adequately protecting drinking water supplies and said the state will recommend new application methods in coming months...  
The agency for now isn't suggesting new regulations, which would mandate limits on how much manure could be applied on land where animal waste and other pollutants are polluting groundwater supplies, [Russ] Rasmussen said. 
Instead, he said, his agency, the state agriculture department and other groups are developing voluntary recommendations... especially in northeast Wisconsin, where water and manure are known to flow quickly through fractured bedrock and potentially taint the groundwater.
Interesting, yes. Awareness is good.

But people with manure-tainted wells have been frustrated with the DNR's go-slow approach, and the DNR, avoiding aggressive problem-solving, is years late to the manure runoff problem - - here's a 2013 posting by a citizens group in about one big dairy's ten-year record of runoff violations - - so I wouldn't put much stock in the voluntary approach which has pleased the ruling corporate party while leaving citizens with contaminated wells.

Note that Russ Rasmussen, the DNR official speaking today was not long ago touting the agency's new pro-business approach:
Wisconsin DNR trying to be more business-friendly
I am told that in actuality, Rasmussen no long has direct supervisory authority as water division administrator, having been shifted to the Secretary's office - - a more political environment.

And note also that the DNR has just shifted water and environmental staff and programs after a reorganization and big round of science layoffs into a new business support and external services division - - a bad, sad step, according to Todd Ambs, a former DNR water division administrator.

So - - voluntary solutions from the DNR to solve the manure runoff/drinking water problem?

I'm not seeing it.


lufthase said...

Thanks for keeping the spotlight on this.
I found this passage from the article particularly interesting:

"Rasmussen said it's premature and he did not rule out regulations at some point in the future. "Right now, we are not in a position to push out any more regulations," he said.

The DNR under the administration of GOP Gov. Scott Walker has rarely, if ever, pushed stricter environmental rules to address pollution issues."

"Not in a position" to regulate is a strange choice of wording. Wonder what specific conditions would have to be met for the DNR to ever be "in a position" to regulate in the future. The absence of Walker and Stepp would obviously help, but I can't imagine that's what he's driving at.

Gma Sue said...
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old baldy said...


You should check out Russ R.'s claim regarding Cabelas wetland mitigation. I don't think it was ever completed.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...
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James Rowen said...

To Old Baldy: Where did Russ make the claim?

lufthase said...

James, think he's referring to this:

"[Rasmussen] cited the development of a Cabela's store near Lambeau Field as an example of the outdoor retailer getting to build its new mega-store but with a net increase in acres of protected wetlands."

I seem to remember a Bass Pro Shops proposed near Lambeau in the very early days of the Walker administration. As I recall they got special dispensation from Stepp/DNR to fill in wetlands for the development, but then they backed out of the project because their angler customers care about water and wetlands and it wasn't going to be good for business. Did it just get switched to a Cabela's and go ahead anyway?

As I understand it, all wetlands in WI are protected. So, if the Cabela's resulted in "net increase" in wetland acreage that probably means they filled some in at the store and then built some man-made wetlands someplace else. Never understood the idea of building man-made wetlands. Wetlands are wetlands because the watertable is at the surface, and that supports very unique plant communities that develop over a long period of time. It's easy enough to make dry land wet, or even plant wetland plants, but how do you do it in away that it will stay wet for yrs going forward? It's not like there's a machine that can raise the watertable on demand. Waukesha would certainly have bought a few of those already.

Anonymous said...

They can restore filled wetlands but the diversity in plant life can't be restored.

old baldy said...

The Bass Pro project started under Doyle. They backed out after the initial fuss about wetlands. Cabelas entered the project in the early Walker administration. Once Cabelas cut a deal with Stepp et al, she lied to staff in Green Bay several times saying no wetlands would be affects, then saying that the wetland on site would be enlarged/enhanced. Later that turned out to be off-site mitigation. But I don't know if that was ever completed.

We can have a discussion about the merits, successes/failures of wetland mitigation at another time.

Anonymous said...

Bass pro started under Walker.

old baldy said...

anon Aug 14th:

Sorry, but the Bass Pro permit was approved by then DNR water leader Bruce Baker under the Doyle administration. I don't have the date, but I did complain vigorously against the permit. Bass Pro backed out under pressure from groups like TU.

The Packers recruited Cabelas and the rest is history. I could name more names involves but they are still employed by DNR, and Stepp is a vengeful secretary. .

James Rowen said...

I think the permit was approved under Doyle, but an appeal was short-circuited under Walker.