Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Walker, GOP officials worsen WI water, wildlife crises. Part two

2018, an election year in Wisconsin, can be The Year of Winning Clean Water if people vote out the polluters. 

Which is why as 2017 is ending, I'm posting the second and final part of a series which began on this blog Monday organized around commentary and observation from advocates, experts and insiders exposing the sustained attacks by Republican politicians and state officials who choose to serve special interests and donors.

One activist noted in yesterday's installment that Wisconsin had become "a government run amok," and asked "what happened to Wisconsin's Public Trust Doctrine and the ideal of the commons?"

And a DNR staffer, separately, provided an answer: 
"Make no mistake, Wisconsin is being sold off piece by piece to rich individuals who... are stealing your water, polluting your air and compromising your health and wealth." 
So I'll start part two of this short series with a call for citizen action which is certainly timely, given:

*  The scheduling by the DNR of multiple permitting hearings on behalf of five big dairy cattle feeding/manure-producing operations in Kewaunee County - - the very county where so many wells are contaminated with agricultural runoff that the DNR has offered to give away bottled water.

Another officially reported large net increase in the number of waterways in Wisconsin declared impaired by pollutants;

*  Fresh movement at the local level to protect lakes, rivers and streams as acidic mining for metals in Wisconsin will soon begin anew at the behest of GOP politicians in thrall to out-of-state mining companies;

*  Hearings on November 30th in Sheboygan where a Walker donor is close to being allowed by the DNR to fill wetlands, bulldoze exceptional dunes and cut many acres of woodland in a nature preserve to construct a Lake Michigan shoreline golf course - - and be given exclusive use of state park land for road, building, parking, equipment storage and other private, non-park purposes.

The heart of today's installment is a detailed assessment and look forward by Todd Ambs, the former top administrator at the DMR's Water Division when the DNR had a stand-alone Water Division.

And which helped drive an authentic science, health and safety mission by a nationally recognized public trust agency that was far different from the 'chamber of commerce mentality' department that Walker has remade and wrecked.

Finally, the last word in this two-part series goes to the long-time prolific outdoors water and wordsmith Bill Stokes. 

"People want our natural treasures to be available for all."

From the Foxconn giveaway, to eliminating protections from mining pollution, to granting industry unlimited access to groundwater in the central sands, the story is the same. 

The Walker administration and allies in the legislature are working diligently to privatize natural resources: water, public lands, wetlands, all of it. They are chipping away at bedrock principles like the Public Trust Doctrine for the sole benefit of corporate special interests. 
The Little Plover River, close to large farms which heavily pump ground water
It mirrors efforts taking place on a national and global scale and there is only one way out: people need to find the energy and courage to take on special interests. Attend hearings, contact legislators, enlist local business that rely on clean water and a healthy environment to advocate for common sense protections. 

I’m optimistic given the energy and determination we’re seeing across the state from across the political spectrum. People want our natural treasures to remain available for all — not just the wealthy few. It is past time we demand it. - - Raj Shukla, Executive Director, River Alliance of Wisconsin

As the former Water Division Administrator for the Wisconsin DNR, I have watched with sorrow and dismay as the Wisconsin Legislature and the Walker Administration have dramatically reduced protections for the waters of our state – waters that are held in trust for all of us.

From passing a bill that actually prohibits the department from taking actions to protect public drinking water supplies to administrative actions in the department that have decimated the commitment to integrated water resource management, each action has been taken with a disregard for protecting the resource and a laser focus on making it easier for the regulated permit holders to conduct business without regard to the environment.

The latest legislative proposal to remove state protections for one million acres of wetlands in the state, ignores a basic fact. The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment. The third largest industry in Wisconsin is tourism. 

It sustains much of the state but in particular, the northern third of Wisconsin. We have world class resources in this state. On the water ledger alone, we find 15,000 lakes, 84,000 miles of rivers and streams, 5.3 million acres of wetlands and 1100 miles of Great Lakes shoreline. 

We have groundwater resources that are the envy of much of the world, let alone the nation, although they are not evenly distributed and in short supply in some areas. 

We have water resources that have historically provided the foundation for the tourism industry and a strong quality of life for the rest of the workforce in the state, because we had world class protections for these world class resources.

All of those protections and in turn, this economic driver for the state, are under continuing assault. 

For many years, the mission of the Water Division, which doesn’t even exist anymore, was four-fold:

* Fully enforce the Clean Water Act
* Uphold the Public Trust Doctrine
* Protect Drinking and Groundwater Supplies
* Maintain Outstanding Fisheries

Objectives and strategies were developed around those goals. Progress was measured against those priorities. We weren’t always successful and it wasn’t always as integrated and efficient as we aspired to be, but we knew what we were trying to achieve. 

So what is this DNR trying to achieve for the water resources of our state? I have seen no evidence of a natural resource based mission anymore. 

Yes, the DNR should always be working to issue permits in an efficient and timely manner. 

But if the driving force behind those permits is simply to issue them as fast as possible, then just move the whole operation to the Department of Regulations and Licensing and skip the pretense of natural resource protection. 

Finally, as many people have already pointed out, the real issue here may well be the sheer lack of resources to do the job. 

Perhaps we should start with funding. Our neighbors in Minnesota raised their sales tax through a state referendum. Voters overwhelmingly approved a tax that generates nearly $200 million a year for clean water, parks, and wildlife.

Why not something similar here? If users are supposed to fully fund activities they desire, such as the recent decision to fund state parks only through fees, then we should look to raise other fees as well.  

Some candidates should include:

* Waste water permits – these fees have not been raised since the 1990’s.

* High capacity well permits – last raised in 2004. 

* Permits for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations – fees for CAFO’s were last adjusted when we had a total of 40 of these large animal raising operations. We now have nearly 300 and have roughly the same number of staff to review and approve permits and make sure that these farms are operating in accordance with those permits.

The stakes here are high, not just for our natural resources but for our economy as well. Make no mistake. Each time we eliminate a protection for our natural capital, our resources, we reduce the ability to sustain our economic well-being as well. - - Todd L. Ambs was the Water Division Administrator in the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources from 2003-2010.
"I and my fellow Wisconsinites try to do our best." 

If you are fortunate enough to live a long life in Wisconsin, you recognize a sense of pride that is as much a part of your make up as your old bones and joints. And like those aging physical parts that continue to serve, the Wisconsin sense of pride also continues to do its job.

It doesn’t make a lot of noise: it doesn’t have to. It is just there as something to feel good about. Its message, more or less, is: I am part of something that in the chaotic scheme of things, where it is incumbent on homo sapiens to live as harmoniously and respectfully as possible with the other life forms and to avoid fouling the collective nest, I and my fellow Wisconsinites try to do our best.

Then comes an assault on that sacred Wisconsin pride.


Who could ever imagine a state leadership focused on money as opposed to morals and one that is seemingly ignorant of what it really means to be a Badger in a place that truly defines natural beauty?  It is like a Pearl Harbor sneak attack with the bombers fueled by outside money and flown by pilots-for-hire under the leadership of a professional con man.

Anger consumes energy, and when you are old you need to be careful about such things. So you try to get past it as you watch the unimaginable chipping away at the things that go to make up the Wisconsin pride, dumb, inconsiderate things that were once only the grumbling of bar-room loud mouths as the strength of the Wisconsin pride allowed the populace to ignore such drivel.

And then it comes to you: the eternal comforting phrase of the optimist: this too shall pass!.

Of course it will pass. But it will take some effort on the part of the pride protectors to get it done. And the Wisconsin pride will have scars, some of them deep, but not fatal. - - Bill Stokes, former newspaper reporter, outdoor writer, columnist and author of several books,
including Trout Friends and Other Riff-Raff 

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Unknown said...

AB 499 increases the level of mercury in state waters. More Mercury does not make America great again.

Rohrerbot said...

Thank you for writing this article. I really hope that things will turn around. We have watched corporations pick at the edges of protected waters. And now it looks like it's all starting to happen in a larger, more focused attack. I hope realize what they are going to lose. Wisconsin is a beautiful place to live. As my Dad say, it has the best tap water in the country. All of that will vanish if people aren't careful.