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City declares snow event, enacts alternate side parking rules

In response to the winter storm that belted the region Sunday night and today, the city of Eau Claire has announced alternate side parking rules.

The rules, which follow a snow event being declared, are in effect from 12:01 a.m. today through 5 p.m. Wednesday. They are enforced between midnight and 5 a.m. each day of the event.

On odd-numbered dates vehicles should be parked on the side of the street having odd-numbered addresses.

On even-numbered dates vehicles should be parked on the side of the street having even-numbered addresses.

According to the National Weather Service, the winter storm is expected to drop 5 to 9 inches of snow between Sunday night and today.

Farmers urged to prepare for the unknown

MENOMONIE — From weather and trade negotiations to the priorities of the new Congress and delaying implementation of the 2018 farm bill, there are plenty of unknowns for agriculture heading into 2019.

But that doesn’t mean farmers can’t be prepared, AgDay TV news anchor Clinton Griffiths told dozens of producers attending a recent conference in Menomonie.

In a talk titled “Grit and Grease,” Griffiths encouraged farmers, in the year ahead, to fine-tune their management, diversify, consider niche markets and get creative. Forecasts peg 2019 U.S. farm income at about the same levels as 2018.

“A lot depends on where you live and your year-to-year situation,” said Griffiths, a father of three who farms in northwestern Indiana.

Despite ongoing cash-flow concerns in the industry, he said, he’s optimistic about agriculture. Those who succeed this year will have persistence, passion and the ability to push aside distractions in the normal day-to-day of running their business.

“It’s not necessarily about making big changes, seeing big wins. Sometimes, it’s just about getting up, going out and doing the work,” he said. “Don’t forget to be around for people. ... This year, encourage each other.”

John Deere recently indicated it’s bullish about 2019, he said, and the industry tends to follow their sales. The El Niño weather pattern calls for a wetter and warmer year than normal, and commodity prices likely will be steady.

Griffiths said trade is the big wild card for agriculture this year, and it has the potential to have the biggest impact. Negotiations continue with the European Union, United Kingdom, Korea and as part of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. A March 2 deadline has been set for negotiations between President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi JinPing. China is the world’s largest soybean buyer, and the U.S. traditionally has been a major supplier.

But “my expectation is that can gets kicked a little further down the road,” Griffiths said of China trade talks.

Turmoil here and China’s slower economic growth have put downward pressure on the U.S. economy, he said, so “I think there’s incentive on both sides to get something worked out here.”

Uncertainty lies ahead, but Griffiths said there’s one thing he does know: “This is not the 1980s; we are not in a 1980s farm crisis.”

Defaults have been manageable, he said, and land prices are holding. Working capital loans are on the rise, and decent yields have helped farmers overcome some of their issues related to low commodity prices. Real estate values are stabilizing. One red flag is that non-real estate debt is the highest it’s been in 16 years, according to Griffiths. A big concern of many ag bankers is operating interest expense.

Those in the dairy industry will want to keep close watch of changing consumer trends, he said. Research has shown that Generation Z (those born between 1994 and 2012) is 550 percent more likely than baby boomers to choose dairy-free beverage options. By 2025, Generation Z will make up about a fourth of all U.S. consumers, so the dairy industry must adjust to that.

“The market has changed some, and (producers) will have to deal with that,” he said. “The dairy industry realizes those shifts and is working on ideas.”

Evers promises clean drinking water; what now?

MADISON — Democratic Gov. Tony Evers pledged to clean up Wisconsin’s drinking water in his State of the State address, promising to work to replace lead pipes across the state and improve well water quality during what he dubbed the year of clean drinking water. Here’s a look at the extent of pollution in Wisconsin, how lawmakers are dealing with it and Evers’ promise.

What’s the problem?

It’s twofold, starting with private well contamination. A survey conducted by county health departments between 2007 and 2010 found that 47 percent of nearly 4,000 wells used by low-income families with pregnant women or young children had levels of contaminants that exceeded water quality standards. The contaminants included nitrates, which come from fertilizer and manure and have been linked to adverse health effects, including thyroid disease.

A November survey by the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Geological Survey found 42 percent of 301 randomly selected wells in Iowa, Grant and LaFayette counties exceed federal standards for bacteria.

A third of the wells in Kewaunee County tested in 2015 had unsafe levels of nitrates and bacteria. The La Crosse County Health Department warned 2,000 households last spring that their wells could be contaminated with nitrates.

Meanwhile, at least 176,000 Wisconsin homes and businesses get water through lead service lines. More than half of those pipes are in Milwaukee. Lead from the lines can flake off into water and cause permanent brain damage in young children. Replacing a single line can cost thousands of dollars.

Contamination’s cause?

Polluted well water has been an issue in Wisconsin for decades, according to Kevin Masarik, a groundwater specialist with UW-Stevens Point and UW-Extension. Some areas of the state, such as eastern Wisconsin, have thin top soil and porous bedrock, which allows runoff from manure and fertilizer to more easily seep into groundwater. Agriculture has been expanding, turning forest and grassland into farm fields and some farms may not have enough land to disperse manure evenly, Masarik said. Some groundwater contamination has been traced to faulty septic systems too.

Are state officials doing anything about it?


The state Department of Natural Resources adopted contentious restrictions on manure spreading in 15 eastern Wisconsin counties, including Kewaunee, last year. The limits vary according to the depth of each farm’s topsoil and carve out zones around wells where manure can’t be spread. Factory farms won’t have to comply with them for years, however. The restrictions won’t be imposed until they renew their permits, which last five years.

Former Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill from Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, last year that allows public utilities to provide grants and loans to customers to replace lead pipes. Municipalities must pass ordinances allowing utilities to provide the money and utilities must get approval from the state Public Service Commission, however. So far only Kenosha’s water utility has been approved, according to the PSC. Manitowoc and Menasha have applied for commission approval.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, announced earlier this month he will create a task force to study water quality issues at the request of Republican Reps. Travis Tranel of Cuba City and Todd Novak of Dodgeville. They represent portions of Iowa, LaFayette and Grant counties.

What did Evers promise?

The new Democratic governor called 2019 the year of clean drinking water in his State of the State speech Tuesday. He cited the 2013 DHS study that found 47 percent of tested wells didn’t meet health standards. He also mentioned the 176,000 lead pipes, saying it could cost more than $2 billion to remove them.

He pledged to sign an executive order to designate someone at DHS “to take charge on addressing Wisconsin’s lead crisis and to help secure federal funding for prevention and treatment programs.”

He didn’t elaborate and he didn’t say what plans, if any, he has in store to alleviate well pollution. His spokeswoman, Melissa Baldauff, didn’t respond to emails and a voicemail seeking more details.

The GOP reaction?

Guarded. Evers’ water remarks did draw Republican applause but it was tepid compared with Democrats’ standing ovations. Novak said he was glad Evers mentioned water pollution in his speech but he doesn’t know what to expect since Evers was short on specifics. He said Vos’ task force will watch what the governor does. Cowles said in an email that he was happy Evers and Vos want to work on cleaning up drinking water. He said he hopes both Evers and Vos will work with him on some “major water initiatives” he’s crafting, including a bill that would shift the full $345 annual factory farm water pollution permit fee to the DNR. Currently $95 goes to the agency for permit enforcement and $250 goes to the state general fund.

Environmentalists’ view?

They’re ecstatic. Jennifer Giegerich, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, said her organization is “thrilled” with Evers’ year of clean drinking water declaration. Wisconsin has never had a governor that made removing lead pipes a priority, she said. She added that Evers should form his own water quality task force. Clean Wisconsin lobbyist Amber Meyer Smith said her group is excited to see Evers emphasize lead pipes and hopes that declaration will focus attention on all water pollution problems.

What about farmers?

They’re waiting and watching. Karen Gefvert, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, noted that the lead pipe issue is unrelated to well contamination but without any specifics from Evers it’s too early to comment. John Holevoet, a lobbyist for the Dairy Business Association, which opposed the manure spreading rules last year, didn’t immediately respond to voicemails. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group, also opposed the manure restrictions. WMC spokesman Nick Novak declined comment since Evers hasn’t offered any specific proposals.

Aide says Trump OK with second shutdown over border spat

WASHINGTON — Two days after the record-long shutdown ended, the White House made clear Sunday that President Donald Trump is prepared to shutter the government again without a border wall deal from Congress.

The president’s standoff with Democrats on Capitol Hill is far from over and the clock is ticking — the spending bill Trump signed on Friday funds the government agencies that had been shut down for 35 days only until Feb. 15.

It’s unclear if the Democrats will budge. Trump seemed girded for battle, sending out a series of online messages that foreshadowed the upcoming fight with lawmakers. “BUILD A WALL & CRIME WILL FALL!” he tweeted.

Is Trump prepared to shut down the government again in three weeks?

“Yeah, I think he actually is,” acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said. “He doesn’t want to shut the government down; let’s make that very clear. He doesn’t want to declare a national emergency.”

But Mulvaney said that at “the end of the day, the president’s commitment is to defend the nation and he will do it with or without Congress.”

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, a member of the Democratic leadership in the House, said his colleagues are looking for “evidence-based” legislation.

“Shutdowns are not legitimate negotiating tactics when there’s a public policy disagreement between two branches of government,” he said.

The linchpin in the standoff is Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for his prized wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, a project Democrats consider an ineffective, wasteful monument to a ridiculous Trump campaign promise.

California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the leading Republican in the House, said Democrats have funded border barriers in the past and are refusing this time simply because Trump is asking for it.

“The president is the only one who has been reasonable in these negotiations,” he said.

Mulvaney wouldn’t directly answer whether Trump would take less than $5.7 billion but indicated the president was willing to negotiate.

“The president has already gone to the Democrats and said, look, it’s not a 2,000-mile sea-to-shining-sea wall.”

Trump has asserted there is a “crisis” at the southern border requiring a wall, blaming previous presidents and Congress for failing to overhaul an immigration system that has allowed millions of people to live in the U.S. illegally.

Last month, he put that number at 35 million, while on Sunday he pegged it at 25.7 million-plus — figures offered without evidence. “I’m not exactly sure where the president got that number this morning,” Mulvaney said.

Both are higher than government and private estimates.

His homeland security chief cited “somewhere” between 11 million and 22 million last month. In November, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center reported 10.7 million in 2016 — the lowest in a decade.

The president also tweeted Sunday that the cost of illegal immigration so far this year was nearly $19 billion; he didn’t cite a source.

Compare that with research in 2017 from a conservative group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for less immigration: $135 billion a year or about $11.25 billion a month — a figure that included health care and education, plus money spent on immigration enforcement.

In coming weeks, a bipartisan committee of House and Senate lawmakers will consider border spending as part of the legislative process and may seek help from outside experts.

Jeffries said that Democrats are willing to invest in additional infrastructure, especially at legal ports of entry where the majority of drugs come into the country.

“We’re willing to invest in personnel. We’re willing to invest in additional technology. ... In the past, we have supported enhanced fencing, and I think that’s something that’s reasonable that should be on the table,” he said.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. said he thinks a compromise is possible.

“The president went from talking about a wall along the entire southern border at one point during the campaign ... to let’s have barriers where they work and let’s have something else where barriers wouldn’t work as well,” Blunt said.

The partial federal shutdown ended Friday when Trump gave in to mounting pressure, retreating from his demand that Congress commit to the border wall funding before federal agencies could resume work. The bill he signed did not provide the money Trump wanted for a barrier, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called “immoral” and has insisted Congress will not finance.

Mulvaney said Trump agreed to temporarily end the shutdown because some Democrats have stepped forward, publicly and privately, to say they agree with Trump’s plan to better secure the border.

Mulvaney said they told Trump they couldn’t split with Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, and work with the White House if the government remained closed.

“Everybody wants to look at this and say the president lost,” Mulvaney said. “We’re still in the middle of negotiations.”

Mulvaney appeared on “Fox News Sunday” and CBS’ “Face the Nation.” Jeffries and McCarthy spoke on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Blunt was on Fox.