Thursday, July 14, 2016

Record rains shows problem with WisGOP's condoning of pollution

You may have heard that the area in Wisconsin near Lake Superior has taken quite punch from Mother Nature this week. As I type, 8 counties are under a State of Emergency after up to 10 inches of rain hit on Monday, with many main roads washed out, and at least 2 deaths resulting from the floods and rushing streams.

Bayfield County officials are estimating that the damage to their roads could be as high as $2 million. And the washed-away roads aren’t the only problem to deal with in the storm’s aftermath. NBC 15 in Madison talked to UW Professor Patty Loew, who is on the Bad River Reservation in nearby Ashland County for a Native American outreach program, and Loew said other types of infrastructure were deteriorating in the area.
"There was a gas rupture and now there's no gas to any of the residences or businesses in Bad River."

To add insult to injury, they also lost power.

"The lodge and casino have emergency generators but nobody else has electricity.

Then the sanitary system maxed out.

"There's some parts of the reservation where people are telling me that there's raw sewage bubbling up from their basement," says Loew.
This sounds like a massive cleanup project with after-effects continuing well after the flood waters have subsided. The local governments are hoping for disaster assistance from both the Feds and the state government, but those funds will merely help offset what is damaged today.

The Northwoods weather disaster reminded me of another story that appeared in the news from that part of the state this week. In a unfortunate bit of irony, this article appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio news Monday, before the torrential rains came. It dealt with the local government of Bayfield County being blocked by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources from implementing regulations on a massive proposed Combined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) near Lake Superior.
The ordinance was intended to anticipate potential pollution issues related to livestock operations. Bayfield County residents are divided over the 26,000-hog operation Iowa based Reicks View Farms wants to establish in the town of Eileen. Opponents of the proposal are concerned this CAFO would endanger drinking water in the watershed of South Fish Creek, which flows into Chequamegon Bay in Lake Superior.

The creek currently has elevated phosphorous levels, which researchers attribute to existing farms in its watershed. But the impact of this pollution also extends to the over 9,000 residents of the city of Ashland who rely on Chequamegon Bay for their drinking water.

In July 2016, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources rejected Bayfield County's ordinance. County officials are appealing the decision, and are working with the DNR to see if they can revise the ordinance to make it acceptable to the state….

[Wisconsin] law's prevention-oriented language might have been the rationale for striking Bayfield County's ordinance. The DNR's reasoning basically comes down to this: The ordinance isn't necessary to achieve water quality standards because there isn't a CAFO currently contributing to pollution in the South Fish Creek watershed."
Yes, because why would we want to stop pollution of waterways before the runoff and other complications start? What’s the statewide interest in that?

And it’s not like we don’t have recent evidence of what kind of runoff damage to the streams happens due to these CAFOs and other mega-farms. We just saw it last week in northeastern Wisconsin after they got hit with a downpour.
A manure runoff in a northeast Wisconsin killed fish in a nearby creek after employees of Shiloh Dairies spread thousands of gallons of manure on a hay field, then heavy rains washed much of it into the creek.

It's impossible to tell how much manure got into the Plum Creek, which runs into the Fox River in northern Calumet County, but anytime there's a fish kill, it’s a serious incident, said Ben Uvaas, a state Department of Natural Resources agricultural specialist.

"Most of the fish species that are dead, you're looking at suckers, minnows, shiners, those kind of species," Uvaas said. "We estimate that the fish kill in the most heavily impacted stretch of this creek is going to be a pretty high percentage of the creek."

Both Calumet and neighboring Kewaunee counties have high concentrations of concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Some families in the area can't drink the water from their wells….

Shiloh Dairies will face some level of enforcement, but the DNR must first finish an investigation, Uvaas said. Shiloh Dairies is working with the DNR to clean up what manure it can from Plum Creek.
For more on the runoff problems with Shiloh Dairy and other areas of the 920, and the crookedness that goes with it, read MAL's excellent rundown of the issue.

Which goes to a bigger point. How can we be surprised by this situation when Attorney General Brad Schimel’s Department of “Justice” constantly sides with big agribusiness (donors) over the needs of everyday Wisconsinites? The Wisconsin State Journal’s Steven Verburg had a long, front-page article this week discussing how the Environmental Protection unit at the DOJ is now down to 6 people from 10 in 2008. Not coincidentally, the state is handing out a lower number of fines and taking fewer actions against polluters in recent years, even with the news of several atrocities similar to last week's manure spills.
The DNR sent between 105 and 179 violations to environmental protection unit lawyers annually between 1989 and 2009, according to data compiled by DOJ, but the number has topped 100 only once since then.

Last year, total fines against polluters dropped to their lowest point since at least 1994, falling below $1 million for only the second time during that period, the data show.

“It is very apparent that there are very few major violations being referred to the Department of Justice,” said Carl Sinderbrand, a Madison lawyer who once worked in the environmental protection unit and has since represented the DNR and private groups in regulatory lawsuits and served as mediator in pollution cases the DOJ filed against companies.
Last week’s major rains in Northwestern Wisconsin are sadly becoming more common, as there have been record floods in many areas of the state over the last 10 years (remember when I-94 was closed between Madison and Milwaukee for several days in 2008?). This makes it all the more critical to have drinking water kept clean and potential hazards such a manure runoff from CAFOs reduced.

Instead, Brad Schimel and the rest of the Wisconsin GOP have looked the other way, and allowed the dangers to increase by giving a wink and nod to their donors allies in CAFO agribusinesses. And we shouldn’t need to wait for the next natural disaster to be reminded that clean water shouldn’t be a concern in the 2010s- it should be a RIGHT, and something that should be a constant, top priority of any government. It is not these days in Wisconsin, and that is a dereliction of duty that must be fixed ASAP.

1 comment:

  1. I can't figure out why the Wisconsin Dems haven't come up with a unified state campaign. Republicans are practically writing it for them.