Winter 2023 newsletter
Enjoy River Alliance of Wisconsin’s Winter 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.
Winter 2023 | Volume 29, Issue 1
Wild & Scenic Film Festival
March 2, 2023, 7 p.m. — Madison
Tickets are on sale now ($18 advance/$21 day of show) at barrymorelive.com. Contact Development Director Karen Anderson at [email protected] to be a sponsor.
The Big Share
March 7, 2023 — Statewide
The Big Share is an online day of giving hosted by Community Shares of Wisconsin for 70 local nonprofits dedicated to building an equitable, just community and protecting our environment. Visit thebigshare.org to learn about the campaign.
March 10-12, 2023 — Madison
Canoecopia is the world’s largest paddlesports expo and is geared for consumers to get inspired for paddling season, learn about techniques and trends, and get access to the latest gear. Visit the River Alliance of Wisconsin table. Learn more at rutabaga.com/canoecopia.
by Allison Werner, Executive Director
Thanks to the Clean Water Now referendum campaign efforts in 10 Wisconsin counties, 120,000 voters said yes to clean water in Wisconsin.
The question read, “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?”
The typical size of statewide polls is 600-800 people. Pollsters are confident that those several hundred voters represent the voices of Wisconsinites. When 120,000 voters agree on something, we think that should send a clear message.
We can also point to Clean Water Now referendum results to find strong bipartisan support for clean water protection. Voters supported the advisory statement by larger margins than any particular partisan politician.
The counties that have voted on the referendum since April 2021 are Adams (80%), Bayfield (80%), Green (84%), Juneau (80%), Outagamie (80%), Marquette (73%), Portage (77%), Wood (76%), Eau Claire (79%), and La Crosse (86%).
We’ll carry these results into this legislative session and budget process. Learn more about our clean water policy wish list on page three.
As we begin our 30th year of protecting Wisconsin’s rivers and all of the waters connected to them, we are hopeful. Our hope comes from knowing there is widespread support across the state to do what is needed to provide clean water for people, plants, and animals. It doesn’t matter if you live in Milwaukee or Bayfield, unfortunately every corner of this state has a water challenge. Every community also has an abundance of water advocates who continue to step up to protect our waters locally and at the state level. We are honored to work alongside them and provide the training and support they request to be successful.
You have many ways to get involved. Join your local watershed group, contact your elected officials, and, of course, support River Alliance’s work across the state.
We also invite you to help us celebrate our 30th anniversary by taking a pledge to make a 30-river commitment this year. See page four to learn why longtime supporter Lindsay Wood Davis has pledged to visit 30 rivers.
Finally, we want to see your river photos! Find inspiration for this year’s photo contest by checking out the 2022 contest winners. Since we were founded in 1993, we’re interested in seeing vintage photos of you paddling in the 90s. If you’re a longtime River Rat supporter, show us your throwback photos this year.
Q&A with Ken Bradbury
Each month, River Alliance talks with someone who has made a significant impact on the protection of Wisconsin’s water. We share those interviews in our Word on the Stream e-newsletter to inspire more clean water advocates to learn from each other’s work and success stories.
We recently spoke with retired state geologist Ken Bradbury. Ken reflects on his career and forecasts what challenges he sees in the next thirty years of our waters’ future.
Share an example of a community that had success in using science-driven data to protect their water.
One example is the work we’ve recently completed with the Southwest Wisconsin Geology and Groundwater study on groundwater quality in Grant, Iowa, and Lafayette Counties. I was part of a research team that collected over 800 samples from private water wells in the three-county area and found a large percentage of wells didn’t meet water quality standards for nitrate or bacteria. That happened around the time Tony Evers was elected Governor. When the results were published in the newspapers, that got a lot of attention. It helped inspire Evers to declare the Year of Clean Drinking Water and the Legislature to put together the Speaker’s Water Quality Task Force.
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.
Knowing what you know, what do you predict will be the top concerns for Wisconsin’s water in the next 30 years and what do you think can be done to prevent problems.
Nutrients, especially nitrate, will continue to be a difficult problem in our agricultural regions. We simply can’t meet groundwater standards and continue to grow corn and other crops at the yield rates we’re doing now. That doesn’t mean we can’t grow corn. But our current best management efforts are incremental changes that just nibble around the edges of the problems. People aren’t facing the problem. We cannot meet nitrate standards and maintain current crop yields. So we need to decide what’s more important: water quality or agricultural production.
Kenneth R. Bradbury is an emeritus professor (retired) and former Director and State Geologist at the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey in the UW-Madison Division of Extension. He is a hydrogeologist who has over 40 years of experience working on groundwater issues in Wisconsin.
There is more to Ken’s story, which you can find in full on our blog. Be the first to get our next water champion story in your inbox by subscribing to our Word on the Stream e-newsletter.
River Alliance of Wisconsin’s clean water policy wish list for 2023
by Mike Tiboris, Clear Water Farms Director
The new legislative session brings new opportunities to make big changes now in the name of our waters’ future. This is something that not just River Rats care about deeply. During the last election, which brought in this batch of legislators, Wisconsinites in 10 counties voted overwhelmingly in favor of a right to clean water on county referendums.
But we can’t stop at pointing out that there’s a broad bipartisan consensus that protecting and restoring Wisconsin’s water is a top priority.
We need to keep it that way, and there’s a lot our governor and legislators can do right now to make it a reality. We’ve got the resources. We’ve got the consensus. We’ve even got lots of ideas. What we need now is action.
Here are the top policy items from River Alliance’s perspective. Look them over and let us know what you think. Find your priority, and make it known to those who make the decisions.
We need protection from PFAS contamination. Tell your legislators you want them to act to prohibit PFAS chemicals (as peer states like Minnesota do) and to enforce existing laws to hold polluters accountable.
We should expand the Contaminated Well Compensation Program. Ask you legislators to support permanently updating the eligibility requirements for the program so that more people can get help now. Raise the income threshold to $100,000, consider contaminants beyond nitrate, and don’t limit it to wells used to water livestock.
We must be aggressive about reversing nutrient pollution of surface and groundwater. Ask your legislators and county executives to support more private well testing – especially for schools and daycares – and to allocate incoming federal infrastructure funding to help utilities pay for adequate water treatment. Tell them you want the money spent on agency staffing so that our existing laws are adequately enforced.
We need to protect the public lands that make Wisconsin unique. Insist that we repeal 2017 Act 134, which stripped protections from wetlands and allows mining companies to escape responsibility for cleaning up environmental damage.
We have to plan ahead for flood resilience. Tell your legislators 1) not to weaken the state floodplain management standards and 2) to lower the match for the state municipal flood control grant program to 25% so that smaller and rural communities can get access to funding.
We can end lead contamination of drinking water in Wisconsin if we choose to. Tell legislators to use a small portion of the state budget surplus to subsidize or fully cover the cost of lead lateral removal. It’s a rare problem that could be completely solved forever with adequate investment.
We need to reinstate a fair administrative rules process. Remind your legislators that a clean environment is an investment and that poor public health is a cost to the whole community. They have the power to decide whether rules and regulations or arbitrary timelines and cost assessments prioritize the health and safety of Wisconsinites.
This is just a start. Many of our current legislators participated in the 2019 Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality. They know it’s important to us; however, we need to be clear about what we want. River Alliance advocates for these changes directly, and we amplify the voice of our members for policymakers.
Be sure you’re subscribed to River Alliance of Wisconsin’s Word on the Stream e-newsletter. When we learn about opportunities when your ideas and comments will be most impactful, we will send you an action alert.
Lindsay Wood Davis aims to visit 30 rivers this year
by Stacy Harbaugh, Communications Director
To help River Alliance of Wisconsin celebrate our 30th anniversary, Lindsay set a goal to visit 30 rivers this year. Through his years of leadership and involvement with River Alliance, he’s learned that one of the best ways to value our rivers is to experience them, protect them, and invite others to be inspired by their beauty.
We asked Lindsay why he has made this commitment to spend his time visiting 30 Wisconsin rivers.
“For me, all sorts of reasons! This year marks the 30th anniversary of the founding of the River Alliance of Wisconsin, an organization of which my wife and I have been members for 25 of those years. Because of that membership and involvement, we’ve seen rivers across the state. I’ve paddled over 125 of them, and seen or heard about so many more!
“There are rivers that I so want to return to paddle again. Rivers that I’ve wanted to experience for the first time. Rivers that friends have been egging me on to paddle with them for years. Special places, new places, scenes of great river restoration, and rivers where restoration efforts could use some publicity.
“So what about you? Will you make 30 river visits this year?”
Next month, River Alliance will share more ideas of ways you can make your 30-river commitment. Whether it’s paddling 30 miles, hiking 30 miles along a riverside, fishing off of 30 accessible piers, or even visiting the same spot on a river 30 times to take in the change of seasons, everyone can be a part of celebrating our anniversary with us.
Congratulations to our ninth annual photo contest winners
Last year we asked you to send us your jaw-dropping photos of Wisconsin’s waters and environment. You came through in a big way!
Very special thanks to past photo contest winners Jon Beers, Cynthia Hoffman, Matt Oehmichen, Tina VanZile, and Jonah Westrich for volunteering to be judges in the 2022 photo contest. Here are the judges’ favorites.
Eau Claire Dells Rapids
Best in Show
Tomorrow River Brown Trout
Dave’s Falls, Pike River
Strophariaceae Mushrooms, Lake Fallison
Category: plants (yes, including fungi)
Waukau Creek tires
Freezing in Time Elk Creek
River Alliance celebrates our 30th anniversary this year. We’re looking for photos of past River Alliance events, adventures, and advocacy efforts. Whether you’ve been a member for 30 years or the last three months, send us your favorite River Rat photos! Contact [email protected].
Save the date for The Big Share
Save the Date: the next great time to support River Alliance or get your friends to join is during The Big Share on March 7. Challenge your fellow water protectors and paddling buddies to support River Alliance in honor of our 30th anniversary year. Visit thebigshare.org to support your favorite Community Shares of Wisconsin member organizations.
Welcome new board members
Brenda Coley is the co-executive director of Milwaukee Water Commons. She has served in various positions in the non-profit and academic sectors and brings a long-standing commitment to social justice and community organizing. She has been a non-profit director, research coordinator and project manager with expertise in leadership development and organizational capacity building.
Francie Rowe is a retired Edgewood College educator and longtime water advocate. She serves as the board chair of the Pleasant Lake Management District and has been involved in the district for over 20 years. She also serves as the Waushara County Lakes Watershed Council Board Secretary and has been involved with the Central Sands Water Action Coalition, the Edgewood College Board of Trustees, and the Central Sands Basin Project.
Ron Schoepp is the owner and operator of Schoepp Farms in Lodi, a third generation farmstead overlooking Lake Wisconsin. He uses regenerative farming techniques to raise dairy cattle and crops using conservation tillage and cover crops to protect the soil and prevent erosion. Ron is active in the farmer-led Sauk Soil and Water Improvement Group.
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