Thursday, May 12, 2016

Despite WI water quality setbacks, optimism

There was an inspiring program Tuesday evening in Milwaukee hosted by the public interest law firm Midwest Environmental Advocates, (MEA), to salute several Wisconsin water champions and raise awareness of the accelerating risks to state waters and the public's water rights.
UW-Madison Law School Professor Emeritus and MEA founding board president Arlen Christenson was recognized at the event for a lifetime of work to preserve the people's rights to Wisconsin waters - - our common basic resource and birthright that are held in trust for the public by state government.

That right to water in Wisconsin and the state's obligatory role as the people's water trustee now under attack by special interests and their ideological friends in all three branches of state government are little-known and under-appreciated, but they pre-date statehood and are embedded in the Wisconsin Constitution.

Read all about it before the "chamber of commerce mentality" leadership installed atop the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources by Scott Walker makes that information on the DNR's Public Trust Doctrine webpage go away.

Don't laugh: The DNR after Walker's election did that with much of the climate change information and links posted during the Doyle years.

MEA videotaped the Tuesday water program and I will post a link to the evening's  informative talks when it becomes available, but until then I am pleased to share with readers the heart of a concise and powerful talk about the state of the state's water by Gordon Stevenson, the MEA board secretary and one of the evening's preliminary speakers.

Stevenson, an engineer, worked at the DNR for 26 years before retiring in 2011. 

After reading the key paragraphs in his short talk, below, I will list links to some of the documents and realities which Stevenson referenced.
"During the transition between Governor Doyle and Governor Walker, I retired from a quarter century career with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. I now realize that I worked for the DNR during "the good old days." For the majority of my career, water policy decisions were based on the strong bond between law and science, the people in charge of making those decisions had conservation and environmental protection credentials, and my colleagues and I shared the belief that Wisconsin's true and sustaining wealth is its clean water.

"Much of that is now changed at DNR. Wisconsin DNR's water quality permit program has been found seriously deficient by the US Environmental Protection Agency. DNR is failing to protect downstream water from upstream pollution sources, they are allowing already impaired water bodies to get worse and they are suppressing the public's ability to challenge water quality permit decisions.

"Wisconsin DNR's authority to protect Wisconsin's water resources is delegated from EPA. Under the delegation agreement, DNR is obligated to administer the federal Clean Water Act. DNR is not doing so. On behalf of 16 Wisconsin citizens, Midwest Environmental Advocates has filed a Citizens Petition for Corrective Action with the US Environmental Protection agency to correct these deficiencies. The petition seeks to restore the credible water quality protection program that we once had in this state.

"We're arriving at an important crossroads in Wisconsin. We have our own version of Flint, Michigan in Kewaunee County where citizens cannot drink the water and we have our own version of the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone. A dead zone now also exists in Green Bay that runs from the City of Green Bay all the way up to Marinette.

"While I am alarmed, I am also encouraged . We are pleased to report that more than 70 people like me, DNR retirees, along with other credible scientist and partners have signed on to support the Petition for Corrective Action along with our original 16 Wisconsin citizen clients. And the number of people supporting the petition is growing daily.

"But in a larger sense. I am even more encouraged that so many Wisconsin citizens believe like I do: that water policy decisions should be based on the strong bond between law and science, that the people in charge of making water quality decisions should have the credentials to do so, and that Wisconsin's true and sustaining wealth is its clean water."
Here is a link to the Citizens Petition for Corrective Action.

Here is a link to the letter of support Stevenson referenced.

Here is a link to a story about the Kewaunee County water contamination.

Here is a link to the Green Bay dead zone.

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