Wisconsin Water Agenda: we can protect our communities from floods

Dec 10, 2021 | Wisconsin Water Agenda

This week River Alliance of Wisconsin shared a new video about the Wisconsin Water Agenda that we hope will help Wisconsinites of all ages learn about the value of Wisconsin’s rivers.

We hope it inspires people to think about protecting Wisconsin’s water resources – in this case, from flooding – in a more systemic way. Some of our rivers have been altered. It’s taken many years and many decisions to create a situation where rivers, floodplains and wetlands don’t protect our communities from the damage of floods. However, we can undo the bad decisions of the past. There is a better way to manage Wisconsin’s water resources, and with the urgency of climate change, we need to make different choices for a better future.

This is going to take long-term and systems-change thinking. We need our state to make human health and environmental protection a priority. That’s why River Alliance of Wisconsin created the Wisconsin Water Agenda. With the help of partners and experts in environmental science and justice work, we’ve created an agenda that can be used to help our state achieve human and ecological health goals through comprehensive, watershed-wide management decisions.

The twelve elements of the agenda –  if implemented – are a guide to evaluate whether any proposals by state or local governments would make progress towards real solutions to our water problems.

Wisconsin’s water problems are very challenging and they have been decades in the making.

Rivers have been nature’s way of managing floods. Floodplains and wetlands guide heavy rains away from the land. But lots of decisions to fill in wetlands for development or farmland, to build housing on waterfront property, or to build dams add up over time. With the added heavy rains in a changing climate, floods that should only happen once every one hundred years are now too common. The Wisconsin Water Agenda can be a guide for managing water as it exists in nature and letting healthy rivers go back to their role in flood management.

We’ve seen time and again how we have allowed industry to use chemicals without first proving they do not cause harm to the health of people and our environment. This is problematic given there are between 80,000 and 100,000 chemicals used in commerce in the United States currently with a thousand or more new ones created every year. Standards measuring the limits to what’s healthy for our bodies or fish, water, and soil exist for only a minute fraction of these. Even the system we have is being eroded by the current state legislature and the legacy of the Trump administration.

Water is also intertwined with Wisconsin’s agricultural economy, which makes up 40% of the state’s land use. To protect our water and, ultimately, to protect our economy requires rethinking how both agriculture and industry do business in our state. Like other agricultural states, Wisconsin is involved in a global economy and is bound by a system set up by federal laws, like the Farm Bill, that create perverse economic incentives and legal challenges that cannot be ignored.

These are big, complex problems. But they can be solved with long-term, comprehensive thinking. Wisconsin has a long history of being a leader in environmental protection. In fact, throughout the history of the United States, the states have been viewed as laboratories for policy experimentation. Wisconsin can again be a leader in how we do better for the health of people and our environment. The Wisconsin Water Agenda can be a guide for better policy within a watershed basin and across the state.

Learn more about the Wisconsin Water Agenda and what you can do to help.