Summer 2023 newsletter
Enjoy River Alliance of Wisconsin’s Summer 2023 WaterWays newsletter. To get a copy of WaterWays, become a River Alliance member or pick up a print copy at local events with our partners across Wisconsin. Download a PDF copy of the full newsletter.
Summer 2023 | Volume 29, Issue 2
Saturday, August 26 – Baraboo River, in partnership with the Friends of the Baraboo River
Saturday, September 9 – Fox River, In memory of longtime River Alliance supporter and board member Richard Schoenbohm
Saturday, September 16 – Menominee River, in partnership with the Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River
Wednesday, September 27 – Estate Planning Webinar with River Alliance of Wisconsin, Gathering Waters, and estate planning attorney Johanna J. Allex of Stafford, Rosenbaum LLP
by Allison Werner, Executive Director
We’re halfway through our 30th anniversary year, and we have a lot to be grateful for.
It’s been wonderful to see the folks who have taken the River:30 pledge spending more time with Wisconsin’s waters. Some have pledged to visit 30 bodies of water in our state. Some are hiking along 30 miles of shoreline. Others are determined to catch 30 fish, while some folks are planning to simply enjoy 30 minutes of a sunset over their favorite summer lake. How folks interpret the River:30 pledge is up to them, but it’s ultimately about the decision to have a direct experience with the water people have worked to protect for generations and knowing that our future completely depends on clean, abundant water.
We have spent a lot of time looking forward into River Alliance’s future. We dove deep into a strategic planning exercise that will guide our actions for the next five years. We had discussions with our staff, board, and friends who offered their insights into what River Alliance can uniquely offer. You can expect us to dig deeper into local group engagement, climate resilience, state and local policies, new community-centric ways of building support for clean water, and diversifying our board, staff, and supporters.
While we continue to experience a political logjam and a deep partisan divide on the legislative front, your demands for action on PFAS have been heard. Now our state leaders need to improve the proposed PFAS legislation so it truly makes progress for water protection. Read on for an update from Bill Davis on what we gained and what we lost in the state budget negotiations, including how those decisions affect our ability to organize on a county-by-county level to put Clean Water Now advisory referendums on voters’ ballots. That work will shift gears in the future.
As always, the best way to keep in touch is by subscribing to our Word on the Stream e-newsletter to get news, event invitations, action alerts, and inspiring stories.
The state budget and Wisconsin’s water
by Bill Davis, Senior Legal Analyst
On July 5, Governor Evers signed the state budget. The good news is that it included a $125 million fund to tackle PFAS contamination. Negotiations around separate legislation on how to spend those funds are still ongoing, but River Alliance of Wisconsin is working with partners to be a voice for clean water. We hope that by fall, legislators will make changes needed to SB 312 to ensure that our Department of Natural Resources has the power to enforce our state’s Spills Law and hold polluters accountable.
However, we lost the ability to hold issue-based advisory referendums in the shared revenue bill. On June 20, Governor Evers signed Act 12, a deal to update the state’s shared revenue system. While the law provides financial support for local governments and helps the City of Milwaukee avoid financial trouble, Republican legislators added a provision that dramatically limited advisory referendums and avoided the Governor’s veto pen.
River Alliance has helped ten politically “purple” counties in the last three years use advisory referendums to let voters show their support for clean water. The result was over 110,000 Wisconsin “yes” votes for the question that read as follows: Should the State of Wisconsin establish a right to clean water to protect human health, the environment, and the diverse cultural and natural heritage of Wisconsin?
It got people around the state talking about groundwater quality. It was a step forward that we did the study, released the results, were transparent about resources, and raised consciousness. It got communities interested. There was, and still is, disagreement about pollution sources and solutions, but it raised the local understanding of groundwater vulnerability and inspired some legislation.
Clean Water Now vote breakdown
In the spring of 2021, voters in Marquette County (73%), Portage County (77%), and Wood County (76%) approved referendums.
In the spring of 2022, voters in Eau Claire County (79%) and La Crosse County (86%) approved referendums.
In the fall of 2022, voters in Adams (79.7%), Bayfield (80%), Green (84%), Juneau (79.6%), and Outagamie (79.5%) Counties approved referendums.
River Alliance is not the only group that has used this tool. Voters used advisory referendums to speak out against dirty money in politics. In the last 12 years, 80 municipalities and 12 counties passed referendums supporting amending the U.S. Constitution to state that corporations aren’t persons, and money isn’t speech. Most importantly, 32 counties and 21 municipalities passed a fair maps referendum demanding an end to the gerrymandering that reinforces a system where noncompetitive elections allow politicians to continue to choose their voters rather than voters choosing their leaders.
It’s a shame that legislators took away advisory referendums just because they don’t want to hear voters’ opinions. But we know that the people of Wisconsin can unite around clean water, and that push is helping to make progress on things like PFAS relief.
Protecting northern waters from sulfide mining
by Johnson Bridgwater, Water Advocates Organizer
During our 30-year history, River Alliance has stood with water defenders all across Wisconsin to push back against proposals to bring sulfide mining to our state. We’re remembering the big win to stop a proposed open-pit metallic mine in the Penokee Hills ten years ago as well as the 20th anniversary of the purchase of the Forest County land by the Mole Lake Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa, which ended the Crandon Mine controversy.
Unfortunately, despite past victories, the threat of mining hasn’t gone away; fortunately, neither have we.
Right now, there are three main mining fronts we are focused on. All are former Aquila Resources projects. In partnership with local groups and two mining coalitions, River Alliance is closely engaged in following these developments:
Gold Resource Corporation “Back 40” project – Menominee County, MI
Colorado company Gold Resources Corporation plans to explore zinc, copper, lead, gold, and silver deposits in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, north of where Menominee, Michigan and Marinette, Wisconsin straddle the Menominee River. The project would be a massive 80-acre open-pit sulfide mine in an environmentally sensitive area just 50 yards away from the Menominee River and on land that is sacred to the Menominee Tribe.
Green Light Metals – Taylor County and Marathon County
Canadian company Green Light Metals plans to explore mineral deposits in the Bend deposit in Taylor County in the Chequamegon National Forest near the North Fork of the Yellow River. Soon after Green Light acquired the mining rights of Aquila Resources in 2021, the company began to apply for metallic mineral drilling permits. The Bend deposit has copper sulfide ore with some gold and silver. The company has received exploratory drilling permits with conditions from the Department of Natural Resources, though the plans they sent to the U.S. Forest Service are still under review.
Green Light is also eyeing the gold in sulfide and quartz rock in the Reef deposit near the town of Easton in Marathon County near the Eau Claire River. The company has filed a notice of intent to drill with the DNR, and they have begun engagement with Marathon County.
Mining for critical minerals
The newest mining threat to our water comes at the federal level, as economic incentives to mine for “critical minerals” are considered an answer to our need for clean energy. Be on the lookout for an increase in “green washing” by mining companies making false claims about their mining activities. And to be clear, neither gold nor copper nor silver are “critical minerals.” Clean energy is important, but not at the expense of our water.
A recent push to have copper designated as a U.S. critical mineral, which would have implications for mining in Wisconsin, has failed, and the USGS has declined to add copper to the U.S. Critical Minerals List.
Common myths about mining
Time after time, we have witnessed mining companies making false claims about supporting rural economies. The shuttered Flambeau mine taught us that the risks of mining are too high if mining pollutes our water for mining companies’ short-term profits.
Myth #1: Mining creates jobs
Most contemporary mining jobs are filled by skilled and trained specialists for short-term projects. Mining does not sustain rural economies in the long term and is not a solution to our workforce needs.
Myth #2: Mining can be done with little or no impact to the environment
There has never been a metallic mine that didn’t pollute water. Even with close scrutiny by state and federal government agencies, sulfide ore mines pollute. The mining industry and its proponents uphold Wisconsin’s Flambeau mine as a model example, but the reclamation of the land has not been successful. Even though the mine is closed, a stream that feeds into the Flambeau River continues to be polluted with copper and is on the EPA’s list of impaired waters.
Myth #3: Mining in Wisconsin is essential to find minerals needed for a green economy
The top sulfide ore mining projects that threaten Wisconsin’s water are focused on for-profit gold mining, plain and simple; they are not critical mineral projects.Wisconsin is a water state, and our clean water is more valuable than trace minerals found in sulfide ore. Our robust outdoor and tourism economy depends on clean water and is more sustainable than the boom-and-bust economics of mining.
Forming strong coalitions has always been the way to win
To protect our water, we work in coalition with tribal and local leaders to research, strategize, monitor proposals, and support the people who would be most directly impacted by mining pollution.
Tribes are particularly powerful leaders in resisting mining. Many mining proposals target land within ceded territory and threaten water that is essential to fishing and growing manoomin (wild rice). By working in coalition with tribal governments as sovereign nations, we can be strong allies in defending the preservation of their culture and traditions.
Grassroots groups like the Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River are composed of local residents who would be directly impacted by the threats of mining pollution. They are the eyes and ears of the community. They vote for their local government officials. They are the most credible voices to say that no clean water means no healthy families, no healthy economy, no tourism, and no future.
We hope you can join the Coalition to SAVE the Menominee River for its third Water Celebration on Saturday, September 16th, 11am to 7pm, at the Menominee Marina on First Street in Marinette, Wisconsin. River Alliance of Wisconsin will co-host a paddle event on the Menominee River with the Coalition in the morning preceding the Water Celebration. We will share registration details in our Word on the Stream e-newsletter.
Stay up to date on mining issues in Wisconsin. Subscribe to our mining updates to get action alerts and learn about what’s on the horizon: wisconsinrivers.org/get-updates.
River:30 paddle trips celebrate River Alliance’s anniversary
By Stacy Harbaugh
On June 11, despite the rain and cold temps, over 400 people floated down Madison’s Yahara River for the Fools’ Flotilla, and hundreds more watched from the shoreline. We were joined by avid paddler and recently-retired NBC 15 journalist John Stofflet.
The event began many years ago as a fun neighborhood event during the Marquette Neighborhood Association’s Waterfront Festival. River Alliance continues the tradition, and we welcomed paddlers and riverside onlookers to help us celebrate our 30th anniversary with one of the largest Fools’ Flotilla to date.
On June 24, two dozen paddlers and more friends of River Alliance of Wisconsin gathered near Ontario, Wisconsin to enjoy the scenic beauty of the Kickapoo River.
Midway through the paddle, we took a break at Wildcat Mountain State Park, where we were treated to a phenomenal lunch of Menominee manoomin and mushroom paella, watermelon, and cheeses pro
vided by River Alliance board member Luke Zahm, co-owner of the Driftless Cafe and host of Wisconsin Public Television’s Wisconsin Foodie. Luke shared his story of growing up in the Kickapoo Valley region and witnessing the impact of local efforts to protect the river through the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, where he also serves as a board member.
We also heard from Bill Schulteis, who traveled from Milwaukee to share his experience of fighting – and winning – the contentious debate over a major dam project that would have turned the Kickapoo River into a lake and destroyed the deep ecological value of this rare and unique river.
Join us as we visit places around the state to experience the rivers that have been long protected by grassroots organizations, conservation advocates, and tribal leaders who share an ethic of defending our clean and abundant water. Visit the events page on our website to learn about upcoming paddles, or take the River:30 pledge to spend more time with Wisconsin’s water this year.
Search for invasive species on Snapshot Day
Join us on August 19 for Aquatic Invasive Species Snapshot Day, a free, statewide effort to protect Wisconsin’s waters.
Snapshot Day is a statewide, one-day event where volunteers search for aquatic invasive species. It’s a great way to get hands-on community science experience in looking for and documenting invasive species in local waterways. With 26 locations around the state, there’s likely to be a group you can join that’s close to home.
Youth are welcome! Snapshot Day is recommended for ages 8 and up, and minors must be accompanied by an adult.
Sign up online at wateractionvolunteers.org/events.
Tenth annual photo contest is on
Show us your favorite river in River Alliance of Wisconsin’s tenth annual photo contest!
We’re looking for photos of breathtaking landscapes, vivid plant and animal life, diverse human experiences, as well as threats to our rivers. Whether you’ve been taking photos for years or are a new shutterbug, send us high-resolution images of the places you love, and help us show more people how beautiful Wisconsin’s water life can be.
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