Given its historic importance, economic relevance, unique beauty and almost mystical and poetic power, the Wisconsin River – the state’s “mother river” – deserves better than what it gets from piecemeal management, disregard of the many small insults that add up to major damage, and a lack of a consistent and clear voice for action.
The greatest resource for protecting this magnificent river is the community of people that live, play and do business on and along the Wisconsin River and its tributaries. The River Alliance gives these citizens the tools to become effective advocates for their rivers. In doing so, we are laying the foundation for a lasting Wisconsin River guardianship – a network of organized citizens whose engagement will shape the environmental policies that affect their river.
Nearly two dozen citizen groups, from north to south in the Wisconsin River system, act as the voice for tributary rivers and the big river itself. The passion of citizens—nearly all of them volunteers—drives these organizations. The River Alliance provides tailored support to these citizens and groups, offering technical assistance on issues of science, policy, advocacy, and organizational development. Some of the Wisconsin River groups we work with include Friends of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway, Petenwell and Castle Rock Stewards, Lake Wausau Association, Big Eau Pleine Citizens Organization, Friends of the Plover River, Lake DuBay Property Owners Association, Stewards of the Dells, and Valley Stewardship Network.
In partnership with the citizen group the Petenwell and Castle Rock Stewards (PACRS), we conceived of and organized “Pontoons and Politics,” by which elected officials and resource managers see – and smell – first-hand, by way of a pontoon ride, the scourge of algae blooms in the Wisconsin River. Thanks to this creative approach, we were able to jump-start (that is, get legislative funding for) the most comprehensive study and restoration plan for the Wisconsin River system ever initiated.
As part of our continued effort to educate and organize our citizen group partners, we organized and hosted this event in April 2013. Representatives from ten citizen and river friends groups learned about the state and local government apparatus that oversees agriculture and the pollution caused by farming —by far the biggest water quality challenge for Wisconsin rivers. Current and former agency insiders helped identify ways that citizens can effectively advocate for water quality improvement within those systems.
Our defense of the Wisconsin River has included opposing irresponsible riverfront development (as we did with the proposed Grand Cambrian project in the Lower Dells of the Wisconsin River), legally challenging wastewater permits that pollute the river (as we’ve done with permits on the Wisconsin that will contaminate the river with algae-fueling phosphorus), calling out bad agricultural practices that disrespect the land and water, and ensuring that the laws and institutions designed to protect our waterways do just that—no matter what political winds are blowing.