Water Quality Talk “Trending,” Even Where You Wouldn’t Expect

Oct 22, 2015 | Citizen Advocacy, Groundwater, Water Policy

You know pollution from agriculture is trending as an issue when the farmer-members Marathon County Farm Bureau put forth a set of resolutions calling for more scrutiny of polluting farm operations, bigger fines levied on violators, and eliminating a state subsidy (now required by law) for basic conservation practices.

Specifically, resolutions call for “appropriate, uniform and consistent regulation and increased fines across the state for farms that intentionally, willfully, or neglectfully allow manure to enter waterways or wetlands,” and “minimum state conservation standards without cost sharing.” “Farmer led coalitions for enhanced farmer-led water quality initiatives” are also supported.

We applaud this effort by the Marathon County Farm Bureau, and are watching as these developments go forward.

A coalition of representatives from five citizens’ groups from the very same river basin as the Marathon County farmers (the Wisconsin) have the very same issue on their minds. These citizens (pictured above) met with DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp and staff recently, to discuss—and show their support for (a rarity for the DNR these days)— DNR’s TMDL effort (a huge water quality study) to clean up the Wisconsin River. They applauded the work of the agency’s on-the-ground staff, who are working hard to ensure that the TMDL actually results in its stated goal—cleaner water. They also challenged DNR to grapple with the “elephant in the room”—reducing phosphorus pollution from agriculture.

TMDLs are quite effective at reducing phosphorus (and other pollutants) via wastewater permits, which are tightly regulated, but when it comes to polluted runoff, particularly from agriculture, there are no permits, or regulatory controls, except in the case of large industrial livestock farms. These citizens’ groups expect that DNR’s earnest efforts to clean up the Wisconsin River will come to fruition, and are prepared to be part of the solution. They should be commended for their dedication to advocating for clean water, and River Alliance is lucky to count them as partners.