Policy & Politics:
“Mini Waconi” – Water is Life
By Joe Plouff
Answering a call for U.S. military veterans to go to Standing Rock and peacefully stand with Water Protectors was an easy decision for me to make. In the early 1970’s as a young man I took an oath to defend the citizens of the U.S. from harm. And this winter those Water Protectors were in harm’s way. While at Standing Rock something happened to me and it was not just the reemergence of my duty to protect citizens. It was also a reawakening of a responsibility I have felt for the preservation of water quality over many decades.
From my days as a boy scout earning conservation merit badges to sponsoring legislation ending sulfide mining as a state legislator, to working on a meaningful shoreland protection zoning ordinance as a member of the Dunn County Board of Supervisors, I’ve known we cannot live without good, clean and abundant water. Having made three trips to Standing Rock and spending a good share of the winter on the plains of North Dakota, I’ve had plenty of time to think about that most precious resource, our water.
Increasingly we humans put this valuable resource in harms way. Whether it is leaking oil pipelines, chloride contamination or simple overuse, for too long we have ignored the importance of our water and have taken it for granted. This is changing as more and more people question how this essential but limited resource is being used. That is the legacy of Standing Rock. The Water Protectors movement focused attention on water as a resource for all people. It reminded us of the importance to protect it for future generations.
In early December on my second day at Standing Rock we newcomers to camp were offered an orientation to native culture. This included background issues behind their stand at the confluence of the Cannon Ball and Missouri rivers of North Dakota. What was emphasized was that we learn from our experiences at camp and take it home with us. And at the forefront was the issue of who controls our water.
Within a week or so of being home I read that our state legislature was toying with the idea of changing the law regulating groundwater usage in the state. A change of law is a change of policy. Public policy is created to protect the public’s well being. When policy is changed it results in either the public’s good being strengthened or reduced. Law is not changed to produce the same results. It was time to pay attention.
The Senate version of the proposal winding its way through the legislative process is SB 76. This proposal would, according to the statewide association, Wisconsin Lakes, “…prohibit the state from reviewing a high capacity wells permit when it is repaired, reconstructed, replaced, or transferred. Because this would leave such wells with no time in which their permits are reviewed, the bill creates a virtual right to withdraw water that would never expire.” Wisconsin Lakes adds that by creating, “…a virtual right to withdraw for currently permitted high capacity wells, as this bill does, [the bill] creates a dangerous situation for Wisconsin’s waters. It makes it nearly impossible to manage water use if a well or wells are causing impacts to waterbodies, or for that matter, other wells of any capacity. As more pressure is placed on groundwater sources, it’s likely that at some point new wells would be disapproved for lack of water, even though current wells continue to pump while causing damage. Wisconsin deserves a reasonable groundwater management strategy that works for the benefits of ALL users – not just current high capacity pumpers…”
Science tells us that there is a direct link between groundwater and surface water capacity. Moreover, if we pollute our surface waters our groundwater is impacted. There are areas of this state where rivers, streams and lakes are drying up because of the volume of groundwater taken out of the earth by high capacity wells. There is a county in WI where 25% of the wells formerly used for drinking water are now unusable because of contamination by human and animal waste.
Serious choices are being made on our behalf. They will either protect our water resources or reduce those protections.
Who is behind this groundwater proposal that allows some businesses to take all the water they want without having to consider the impact on the greater resource? And, who is against it? In Wisconsin, lobby groups must register with the state Ethics Commission and inform the state what interests they lobby. That information is then made public. So the following is a list of all organizations that have registered in support or against SB 76. This proposal has passed the state senate and may appear on the state assembly’s calendar this coming Tuesday. You may want to give your state representative a call on this matter. You may want to make your stand on this issue known.
The following are the organizations that are lining up on the issue.
For changing the law: Aggregate Producers of Wisconsin Inc., Cooperative Network, Dairy Business Association, Greater Green Bay Chamber, Growmark, Inc., Midwest Food Processors Assoc. Inc., Wisconsin Agri-Business Association, Wisconsin BioFuels Association, Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association, Wisconsin Corn Growers Association, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, Wisconsin Independent Businesses, Inc., Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Wisconsin Pork Association, Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association, Wisconsin Soybean Association, Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association, Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association, Wisconsin Water Well Association Inc., Wysocki Produce Farm, Inc.
Against changing the law: Clean Wisconsin Inc., Dane County, League of Woman Voters, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Inc., River Alliance of Wisconsin, Sierra Club, Wisconsin Association of Local Health Departments and Boards, Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters (WLCV), Wisconsin Public Health Association
Remember, Mini Waconi, or, water is life.
Joe Plouff is the author of columns on public policy and politics relating to his experience serving on city councils, in the state legislature and on a local county board. You may read other columns he has written at his website: joeplouffpolicyandpolitics.wordpress.com.