Sunday, November 15, 2015

Media focusing on Wisconsin's lax water stewardship

[Updated, 3:52 p.m. Friday, 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Sunday, 10:03 a.m.]

It was clear from the beginning that when it came to Wisconsin's water - - a public trust resource, says the state constitution - - that Scott Walker was going to favor corporate interests over the common good. 

(Saturday update - - A Wisconsin judge ruled that a factory dairy farm cannot be compelled to monitor and document its well water withdrawals to help ensure downstream well owners who also have a right to water. Sunday updates - - Fresh investigative reporting details how weak laws and oversight in Wisconsin allow dangerous levels of nitrates from fertilizer and manure runoff to contaminate well water for close to 100,000 Wisconsinites. More about that lax regulation, here, and why it's crucial to do the kind of monitoring near big cattle feeding operations that WI legislators and courts are now blocking.)

Walker told us so, putting developers and trade group executives with a "chamber of commerce mentality" atop the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and moving administratively and legislatively within days of taking office in January, 2011 to allow a campaign donor to fill and build in a wetland near Lambeau Field where the Green Bay Packers play before the permitting process had run its course.

Since then, development has been allowed to more freely encroach on wetlands and shorelines statewide, the number of water table draining frac sand mines and big animal feeding operations has exploded, pollution investigation and enforcement actions have receded, and corporate demands on the Legislature for ground water control have become brazen, leaving it to everyday citizens with a sense of public purpose to carry out water stewardship and public advocacy the DNR is supposed to do for all the people of the state.

Even to the point of asking the US Environmental Protection Agency to push the DNR to enforce federal water standards and law which the state has neglected for years, as the public interest law firm Midwest Environmental Advocates has documented.

Media are taking greater notice of this untenable and unsustainable resource and policy situation in Wisconsin just as state legislators are moving to speed up the giveaway of public water and its oversight to private interests:

*  The award-winning investigative and environmental writer Ron Seely focused on the unthinkable:  an outrageous lack of clean drinking water for some Wisconsin citizens:
Lynda Cochart’s water from her private well was so poisoned by salmonella, nitrate, E. coli and manure-borne viruses that one researcher compared the results from her Kewaunee County farm to contamination in a Third World country. She suspects the problem is related to the county’s proliferation of large livestock operations, although testing did not pinpoint the source.
*  Aljazerra is running a three-part series about many of the same issues:
Editor’s note: This is part two of a three-part series examining industry’s effects on Wisconsin’s water resources. Part one looks at the politicization of the Department of Natural Resources. Part three explores agriculture's effect on Kewaunee County's drinking water 
WAUSHARA COUNTY, Wis. — For the Trudell family, Lake Huron in north-central Wisconsin is a little slice of paradise. 
But the Trudells can hardly recognize the lake they have spent summers on since 1988. It has lost about 11 feet of water since 2000, said Dan Trudell, and water levels are continuing to drop. It’s a fate Huron shares with other lakes and streams in Wisconsin’s Central Sands region — a six-county area north of Madison. Some residents and researchers are pointing to the proliferation of high capacity wells — largely used to irrigate crops in the area — as the cause. 
Among the waterways that are threatened is the Little Plover River, a renowned trout stream that was listed as one of America’s most endangered rivers in 2013. The nonprofit organization American Rivers, which identifies the most endangered rivers in
And a few from this blog:

A 2013 post about the seeds of the crisis:

Through complacent, shortsighted and partisan behavior, these politicians are disconnecting wetlands from their ecosystems and also disconnecting Wisconsin from imperative local-to-international water conservation planning.
Turning these disconnects around begins with absorbing the common sense conclusion of the 1966 Wisconsin Supreme Court Hixon case ruling that informed water-related decision-making for decades:
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 of water may be eaten away until it may no longer exist.
An even earlier Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling in the 1914 Husting case also emphasized the importance of unfettered public access to water:
The wisdom of the policy which, in the organic laws of our state, steadfastly and carefully preserved to the people the full and free use of public waters, cannot be questioned. Nor should it be limited or curtailed by narrow constructions.
One recent summary keyed to giveaway legislation:
Readers of this blog know its principal environmental focus is the endangered state of Wisconsin's waters. 
The culprit isn't climate change or bad luck.
We're facing a wholly-unnecessary crisis created by conservative politicians and their industry-obeisant bureaucrats who are working hard and effectively in lockstep with donors and other friends to grant special interest favorsundo pollution regulations, end guarantees of vital and fair downstream water sharing and eliminate citizen ownership and management of live-affirming and public waters.
 When the state sides with Big Ag, away goes the water:
Updated] Two groups are challenging a recent decision by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources that willfully disregards a judge's order and sets the stage for massive manure spreading by an industrial-scale cattle feeding operation.
More of the legal nitty-gritty is here
I've been saying for sometime that the fight to enjoy clean, accessible water in Wisconsin - - long guaranteed by the state constitution and case law - - is the signature environmental struggle right now in a state increasingly obeisant to conservative special interests and corporate power - - and this case heading for further litigation in the public interest is making the point: 
Two environmental groups Monday filed an appeal challenging the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) decision on Sept. 11 to grant a water pollution permit to Kinnard Farms to expand its large industrial farm to more than 8,000 animal units... 
Last month, the DNR approved the Kinnards' permit, allowing them to spread 70 million gallons of liquid manure and wastewater annually from their dairy operation in the Town of Lincoln on 8,000 acres of land in the towns of Lincoln, Red River and Casco, as well as land in Brown and Door counties.  The permit was issued despite a October 2014 administrative law judge's decision that said that the DNR had authority under state law to impose a limit on the farm's animals and require off-site groundwater monitoring operations by the dairy.
With big cattle CAFO's expanding with the state's approval, huge pig CAFO's might be next, like this one: 

Huge hog farm on tap near Lake Superior in NW Wisconsin

[Updated 4:43 p.m.m June 25, 2015] Remember that giant hog operation which Iowa producers wanted to locate in Northwest Wisconsin close to Lake Superior?

Well, that plan to build "Badgerwood" is proceeding, the Journal Sentinel reports.

Update: It was reported last year that Wisconsin's DNR, under Scott Walker's "chamber of commerce mentality" direction, had only eight inspectors available to monitor 258 large animal feeding operations, or CAFO's. Walker's current budget greatly reduces DNR science and other operations.


Anonymous said...

The time has come for Walker and his Republican legislature to break from WMC and quit letting them set the business legislative regulation policy in this state and give the DNR the legal authority to enforce the Public TRUST DOCTRINE AS PART OF OUR CONSTITUTION and protect our water resources and all our resources from corporate misuse and abuse. It's time for them to stand with the people of Wisconsin instead of the corporate donors to whom they've sold this state. How about just once in 5 years people are put before profits and need before greed!

Anonymous said...

The Al Jazeera articles are amazing. Wisconsin water is an international topic.

Joshua Skolnick said...

We need to look at framing language. The folks described by you as "conservatives" are far from that most innocuous of descriptions. They aren't conserving anything, even the status quo which the conservation of actually defines conservatism. Rather the correct descriptions to apply are radical reactionaries, regressives or market nihilists, or maybe even the F word to describe the merger of corporations and the state. Conservatism is far too timid a term to describe the beggar thy neighbor crony capitalist enablers who want so much as to return Wisconsin to the Gilded Age and the corrupt frontier politics of the time that spawned Wisconsin Death Trip.

Anonymous said...

"The water that supplies aquifers and wells that billions of people rely on around the world is mostly a non-renewable resource that could run out, a new Canadian-led study has found.

While many people may think groundwater is replenished by rain and melting snow the way lakes and rivers are, underground water is actually renewed much more slowly.

In fact, just six per cent of the groundwater around the world is replenished within a "human lifetime" of 50 years..."