Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Rural WI water cleanup has murky future

The policy board which oversees the Wisconsin DNR has approved a first step which could eventually strengthen rules that prevent harmful contaminants from running off farms into rural wells.

The vote to set up the scope of the process was 5-1

Sounds great. Finally, right?

But wait: the chairman of the DNR policy board chairman is a Walker appointee, and he put the lone dissenter who is also a Walker appointee in charge of that scoping process:
[Dentist and cranberry grower Frederick] Prehn appointed board member Bill Bruins, a dairy farmer and the lone member to oppose approval of the scope statement, to oversee the process for the board.
(A DNR link to the policy board members and their terms is here.)

In fact, only one board member right now is an Evers appointee, given how the board six-year terms are staggered, and Walker had time to reappoint some.

There is a vacancy on the seven-member board which Evers can fill, after an initial appointee of his resigned, believing that his position as executive director of a non-profit environmental science policy group might present conflicts of interest.

More bad news on the rural water front: the Legislature which would eventually receive any new board-approved rules is likely to remain controlled by gerrymandered Republicans, and they are beholden to many of the same special corporate interests which already oppose stronger runoff rules.

In other words, the deck is stacked against substantive solutions to a known and persistent public health hazard.

Note also that the GOP-run State Senate recently took the rare step of firing Gov. Evers Ag department Secretary after he tried unsuccessfully to begin a different rule-making process also designed to reduce the release of pollutants from some ag operations. 

The groundwater crisis in rural Wisconsin has been a frequent topic on this blog:

There is a surplus of documentation about Wisconsin's rural well water nitrate contamination crisis - - examples, here and here - - and ad infinitum back to at least 2015:
Nitrate in water widespread, current rules no match for it
In fact, The New York Times came to rural Wisconsin  and posted this story a year ago come this Sunday:
Rural America's Own Private Flint; Polluted Water Too Dangerous to Drink
ARMENIA, Wis. — The groundwater that once ran cool and clean from taps in this Midwestern farming town is now laced with contaminants and fear. People refuse to drink it. They won’t brush their teeth with it. They dread taking showers.
Rural communities call it their own, private Flint — a diffuse, creeping water crisis tied to industrial farms and slack regulations that for years has tainted thousands of residential wells across the Midwest and beyond. 
Kewaunee County has seen numerous manure discharges from large animal feeding operations concentrated there.
As Kewaunee County clean water activist Nancy Utesch explained nearly a year ago, people have waited long enough for relief.
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.
Bottom line: without a change in the make-up of the CAFO-loving Legislature, substantive relief is still years away.

Because Walkerites continue to have an outsized role in Wisconsin government a year after they lost all five statewide Constitutional officers' elections, as I've noted before, and are able to prevent Evers from successfully implementing programs, including his clean water agenda.

As if blocking that is a good idea.

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