Friday, September 21, 2018

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State undermines clean water law, residents tell EPA officials

They say state hasweakened effortsto fight pollution

Summer of stench. 

The title, which Menomonie resident Jim Swanson came up with, was earned by a monthlong period of stinky air from algae that covered the north side of Lake Menomin about five years ago.

“If you imagine taking a bunch of dirty, soiled baby diapers and putting them in the car for about a month, letting them sit in the car, that’s what it was like,” Swanson said.

Swanson relayed his experience to two representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday night, saying that local efforts to clean the lake were quashed by the state, and he urged swift federal intervention.

Swanson was among a chorus of voices from across the state demanding better oversight by the EPA concerning state officials’ treatment of the Clean Water Protection Act — some speakers said budget cuts and attention to special interest groups have undermined the law.

Taking notes on speakers’ comments at Chippewa Valley Technical College were Robert Kaplan, an EPA acting regional administrator for several Midwestern states, including Wisconsin; and Chris Korleski, EPA water division director.

“We are here to listen, and we want to hear your concerns to the fullest extent possible,” Kaplan told the crowded room of about 100 people. “If we knew them, we probably wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t appreciate them as well.”

Likely anticipating pressure to comment on the cold shoulder given to environmental issues during the election debates, Kaplan distanced himself from politics and insisted he can’t make predictions of how the incoming administration will impact the EPA.

“As far as asking for prognostications on the direction and things that are going to happen, I can’t say a lot about it because we just don’t know,” he said.

Speakers at the forum included representatives of a coalition that sponsored the event, including the Sierra Club, Clean Wisconsin, Citizen Action Organizing Cooperative of Western Wisconsin and Sustain Rural Wisconsin.

Mary Dougherty traveled from Bayfield to Eau Claire to bring attention to what she said is a threat to the state’s fresh water by concentrated animal feeding operations, defined as farming operations that discharge manure or wastewater into waterways, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“What I’m asking you to do is explore the outer reaches of your authority in order to help us, the people that live in the state, make sure we have clean water,” she said. “We’re asking you today to throw us a lifeline — something that says clean water and clean air is more important than cheap bacon and milk.”

But Jamie Mara, the director of public relations for the Dairy Business Association, countered that concentrated animal feeding operations are “among the most progressive when it comes to stewardship of our natural resources.”

During his address to the EPA, he shared that farmers are coming up with programs to “raise the bar on environmental stewardship.” Additionally, he said farmers running large operations have resources to invest in environment-friendly technology, listing anaerobic digesters, water recycling and precision manure application as examples. 

Everyone has a responsibility to the environment, he said, noting that farmers take that job seriously. 

“(Farmers) often go above and beyond regulations to ensure they are doing everything they can to protect our natural resources,” he said. “Just as their non-farming neighbors do, farmers need the land, air and water to be safe.”

Criticizing the DNR’s role in regulating the widespread use of high capacity wells was Will Stahl, conservation chairman for the Sierra Club John Muir Chapter and a delegate for the Fox Valley group. 

Excessive phosphorus that remains unaddressed in the state’s freshwater resources was another point of contention for Stahl. 

“The EPA can help reverse these trends by using its oversight authority to require the state of Wisconsin to administer and enforce the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water acts to protect the citizens of Wisconsin and its environment,” he said. 

Contact: 715-833-9206,, @EDohms_LT on Twitter

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