Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Some progress on cleaner WI water; Dem leaders must grab the momentum

There are some signs that Wisconsin is getting serious about finally confronting the widespread contamination of rural drinking water near industrial-scale concentrated cattle feeding operations, or CAFOs.

Those are big operators which were encouraged to expand and multiply when Gov. Walker, his corporatized DNR and Attorney General Brad Schimel were calling the shots.

A worsening public health crisis in rural Wisconsin including an infant's death linked to contaminated drinking water are among the consequence of Walker's eight-year war on the environment, documented issue-by-issue, and connection-by-connection, in a series which ran on this blog late last fall to explain what can happen when a one-dimensional, self-interested, donor-driven Governor is allowed to turn the land, water, air, public agencies and policies over to 'chamber of commerce mentality' management under one-party rule.

But now some good things are happening, and a reinvigorated, refocused, freshly-dedicated Governor's office, Department of Justice and DNR freed from eight years of servitude to big business need to keep the ball rolling.
* In 2017, the Walker administration had approved a groundwater pollution rule so blatantly one-sided that Big Ag openly turned a cartwheel:
The DNR has settled a power play lawsuit on terms favorable to the special interest that brought it - - Big Dairy - - which means there will be more muck flowing from big CAFOs already running amok.
The dairy interests claimed that the DNR was over-regulating them even though state auditors had found multiple problems with DNR enforcement actions, and the term "nitrate nightmare" has shown up in recent new reporting in La Crosse.
In case you don't think the settlement was on Big Dairy's terms, read no further than the headline on the industry's reaction:
Dairy Business Association wins victory in settlement of lawsuit with state regulators 
So citizen and environmental groups sued, and earlier this week scored a major win:
A judge has ruled the Department of Natural Resources improperly rolled back state legal protections for water quality in 2017 when it agreed to the demands a dairy industry group made in a lawsuit.
The judge’s ruling restores the DNR’s full authority to enforce water-quality standards by requiring large dairy operations to prevent pollutants from running into lakes and streams from areas where feed is stored and where calves are housed.
I assume there will be an appeal, but the handwriting should be on the dairy barn wall: it's time for the DNR to exercise the authority it has to keep growing pollution out of Wisconsin's already-heavily contaminated waterways and guarantee citizens' access to poison- free drinking water. 

These are basic Wisconsin, American and human rights. No more looking the other way. And consider what rights the DNR's webpage on the constitutionally-guaranteed and defined Public Trust Doctrine says extend to the public and "all Wisconsin citizens:" 
...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)
Yor can't enjoy those rights if the well water or stream water water is brown.

* On Sunday I posted some links along with a guest op-ed by water activist Nancy Utesch about litigation over CAFO herd sizes and water quality monitoring practices and responsibilities in Kewaunee County - - litigation which has been stalled, diverted and otherwise delayed for years.

Now that case has been moved to the State Supreme Court - - so at least the logjam has been broken. 
A legal battle over expansion of Kinnard Farms will have statewide implications and should be handled by the state Supreme Court, according to a request issued Wednesday by the state’s 2nd District Court of Appeals. 
At issue is legislation approved during Gov. Scott Walker’s administration that effectively limited the state Department of Natural Resources’ authority to limit Kinnard’s herd size or require the farm to monitor groundwater as part of state permitting.
I know the State Supreme Court has a conservative majority, but I also know that Justices read the papers as well as the briefs, so stay tuned.

From the Sunday posting and the Utesch op-ed: 
Data show what people in Kewaunee County and the Central Sands region who live near the industrial-scale Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, already know:
Their drinking water is contaminated
And, yes, new litigation has been filed by dozens of residents in Juneau County - - but did you know that a delayed and diverted 2012 case brought against a Kewaunee County CAFO was successfully re-routed by former Attorney General Brad Schimel through the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court to Waukesha County...
And if those politics saturating this public health crisis in Wisconsin were not deep and blatant enough, GOP Assembly Leader Robin Vos thinks now is the time for a task force

Where was his concern in, say, 2015:

One-third of wells in Kewaunee County unsafe for drinking water
Nancy Utesch, a long-time Kewaunee County clean water activist, sent along some comments and an update...

We asked the US Environmental Protection Agency for an investigation into the cause and source of well water contamination in our 2014 Safe Drinking Water Act petition, but the EPA has yet to address it. 

Central Sands has the Wysocki CAFO. We have 16 CAFOs. Wisconsin should long ago have stopped acting confused as to the cause and source of known, widespread contamination and moved instead to protect Kewaunee County residents and water resources of people statewide. 

While we are elated over the attention being focused by the grassroots work of our Central Sands comrades, we are baffled by the lack of response to two infant hospitalizations in 2004 and 2014, respectively, and to persistent water borne illnesses regularly documented at our local health department...

When will the US EPA region 5 and our Wisconsin DNR do real investigations into the causes and sources of Kewaunee’s water contamination? And enforce solutions in the public interest?

We have waited long enough.
Let's hope that Wisconsin is on its way to reclaiming its status as a state managed by respect for science, public health and programs that will keep rural Wisconsin clean, safe and viable for farming operations smaller than the CAFOs to whom the Walkerites let run wild.
Manure flowing from a Kewaunee CAFO.

1 comment:

nonquixote said...

Another change just noticed is that the Assembly Committee on the Environment is the simplified title for 2019. Ms Utesch's 1st Assembly "Representative," Kitchens(R-Sturgeon Bay) is the chair.

Don't hold your breath to avoid the stench of CAFO dairy-air waiting for Kitchens to take any action, not even a statement to support the public interest over dairy business interests in two cases now coming before the WI Supreme Court.

Similarly, don't expect Kitchens to suggest to Vos that naming another commission on water quality is essentially a waste of time, considering the news about contaminated wells in SW WI. Another committee named by Vos, under the purview of Rep Todd Novak (R-Dodgeville) amounts to nothing more than a ploy to delay, divert and diffuse any remedial action to actually improve water quality as Novak is already a member of the Assembly Committee on the Environment. Why another committee is needed will not be questioned by GOP leadership.

Kitchens will be glad to avoid taking any real action in NE WI that might be in opposition to dairy business interests. He has actually asked his constituents how much pollution that they are willing to tolerate. Rep Scott Krug,(R-Nekoosa) is also a member of Kitchens' committee and is the unquestioning and loyal chore boy for Wysocki Dairy. The three stooges driving this GOP clown car doesn't bode well for any state environmental remediation any time soon.