Updates on Wisconsin Water Issues, May 2019

May 15, 2019 | Agriculture, Citizen Advocacy, Water Policy | 1 comment

On May 8th the Water Quality Task Force held their first public hearing in Lancaster, WI. About 150 people attended and 31 people provided testimony after the invited speakers. Watch the hearing on Wisconsin Eye.

Themes of the Day

River Alliance attended the hearing in Lancaster. What stood out to us was the agreement that Wisconsin is facing a water quality crisis. Many people acknowledged the fact that agriculture plays a large role in creating water quality problems and needs to be part of the solution.

There also seemed to be agreement that the state needs to provide funding for county conservation staff, farmer-led councils, and manure management. Many people who testified noted that policy solutions should be regional because one-size-fits-all cannot address the diverse topography and soils in Wisconsin.

However, we also observed finger pointing at scapegoats such as septic systems and well heads. We heard the continued drum beat for more testing, science and data. While it’s true that there are many sources of water pollution, is has been well documented that agricultural runoff is the primary source of nonpoint water pollution in a large portion of the state (especially in rural areas).

Of course we should continue to collect data, especially on residents’ drinking water. But, we already have ample information that shows the problems that need to be addressed. People and our rivers are getting sick. It is time to move forward with real solutions, and with urgency.

Highlights from Citizen Testimony

We appreciate the many individuals who appeared to share their personal stories and water concerns at the Water Quality Task Force hearing in Lancaster. River Alliance will continue to document testimony at the upcoming hearings across the state.

Here are a few examples from Lancaster’s hearing (time stamps indicate when testimony appears in the Wisconsin Eye video recording):

Charles Horn | Retired DNR Conservation Warden (4:14)
“…Wisconsin had a strong reputation for being one of the leaders in environmental protection… A [manure] incident killed all the trout in trout stream. I’ve had to install a reverse osmosis system to make my water safe to drink. This was done at my own expense. My late wife was diagnosed with brain cancer. Establish more stringent requirements for manure storage…”

Donna Swanson | Lives near a CAFO, (4:11)
“…40% of WI residents depend on private wells for their drinking water…The issue we keep coming back to is how do we attain and ensure [clean drinking water]. There should be no sacred cows—excuse the pun—in this situation… I do like to eat food, but I also like to drink the water from my faucet and I don’t think I should have to choose.”

Angie Mitchell | Grant County resident (5:15)
“Water quality is a public health issue… this is not a partisan issue, this is not an urban vs. rural issue, this is not an ‘Ag is good’ or ‘Ag is bad’ issue, this is a human issue… 1.8M Wisconsinites get their drinking water from wells, 94,000 households are drinking from nitrate contaminated well… 900 wells in Grant County are contaminated… Grant County is my home county, we are one of the most at-risk counties in the state for water pollution due to our karst geology, cold water springs, our unique rivers… but please understand this is a statewide crisis, we must act now… this is a right for all people in Wisconsin to have clean drinking water.”    

Mark Sethne | Grant County resident (5:33)
“I am a private well owner. The only term I haven’t really heard today is tourism. I was camping last summer, we pulled into the camp ground… and went to fill up our water jugs and there is a sign that says, ‘you can’t drink this water.’ What good is the campground if I can’t drink the water that is there?”

Your Voice is Needed

Wisconsinites are sounding the alarm to let elected officials know that we must address the sources of our water pollution. We must do a better job managing manure and fertilizer. This includes providing funding incentives for farmers and providing enough county (and state level) staff to support farmers and to verify that nutrient management plans are being implemented.

The next Task Force hearing is on May 29th in Janesville. The meeting location and invited speakers have not been announced yet. If you would like to receive updates from River Alliance about the Task Force hearings, please complete this quick form & River Alliance will send you customized information & tips for taking part in a hearing near you!

Additional Water Quality Task Force Hearing Materials (from 5-8-2019)
Groups invited to speak by the Task Force (click to see available presentations):