Fighting CAFOs & Hi-Cap wells

Last week, in my role as Chair of the Goose Lake Watershed District, I attended a meeting of the Central Sands Water Action Coalition (CSWAC) Steering Committee, which was held in the barn at the Fresh for Life Organic farm in Central Wisconsin.

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CSWAC Chair Skip Hansen runs a meeting of the Steering Committee

CSWAC has been waging a battle to preserve Wisconsin’s precious groundwater for the past few years as huge corporate agri-business interests have pressured Wisconsin’s Governor and legislature to pass legislation allowing those concerns to drain Wisconsin’s groundwater through the use of high capacity wells. Sadly, despite overwhelming grassroots opposition to the legislation, and scientific concerns about how those wells drain Wisconsin’s aquifers and lower lake levels, the legislature passed SB 76 and the Governor signed the bill now known as 2017 Wisconsin Act 10, which among other things allows high capacity well permits to remain perpetually renewed even if a well goes bad or the land is sold.

Undaunted, CSWAC will continue to fight these water draining corporate activities, and is doing so in court. In addition, with its membership of nearly 70 lake and river associations, lake districts and conservation groups, representing over 50,000 members and their families, in a unanimous vote of the nearly 50 members of its steering committee present at last week’s meeting, CSWAC agreed to sign onto a moratorium of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) proposed by Sustain Rural Wisconsin.

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CAFO pictured on Sustain Rural Wisconsin’s website

The moratorium proposal states:

Wisconsin citizens’ right to clean water, clean air and a good quality of life is endangered by water pollution frequently caused by industrial agriculture. Wisconsin’s industrial animal factories generate more manure than crops can safely use as fertilizer leading to excess phosphorus and nitrate levels in the soil and groundwater. As a result, our local streams, lakes, and waterways are quickly becoming damaged beyond repair.

Therefore, we call upon Wisconsin to declare a temporary moratorium on the permitting and construction of new and expanding Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Before Wisconsin allows new construction or expansions of CAFO facilities, the state must provide a solution for our existing manure overload problem.  No facility should be allowed to pollute local waterways and groundwater without a set enforcement policy addressing the cleanup of contamination if a problem should arise.

Sustain Rural Wisconsin explains the rationale for this moratorium as follows:

Water Quantity – In certain areas of the state, primarily the Central Sands, lakes, streams and wells are drying up due to large-scale agriculture. A solid body of research shows that this loss of surface water is directly related to depletion of groundwater aquifers by high capacity wells. The depletion of groundwater not only impacts water loss but presents a public health risk as drinking water sources dry up and any pollutants such as nitrates and bacteria become more concentrated.

Phosphorus & Nitrate Overloading – Agricultural practices of CAFOs are a significant source of sediment and phosphorus in Wisconsin due to high erosion rates and high phosphorus levels in agricultural soils.  Croplands supply 76 % of the sediment and 65 % of the phosphorus load in Wisconsin runoff. Nitrate is the most widespread groundwater contaminant in Wisconsin and, on a statewide basis, about 90% of the nitrate detected in groundwater is from agricultural sources (fertilizer, manure, and legumes).  Phosphorus and nitrates contribute to algal blooms in rivers, streams, and lakes and have led to hypoxic areas (dead zones) in our estuaries, Great Lakes, and Oceans.

Human Health & Welfare – Industrial agriculture can emit toxins that cause a host of illnesses for neighbors and workers (asthma, headaches, nausea, diarrhea, burning eyes, other respiratory problems) and can cause mood problems (depression, confusion, fatigue, tension) for people living and working near factory farms. In addition, the overuse of antibiotics in CAFOs facilitates drug-resistant bacteria, which is a grave danger to people.

Economic Impacts – Counties with more CAFOs trend toward lower income growth, fewer business, and less commercial activity. In addition, property values can decrease near factory farms resulting in decreased property tax revenue to support local services such as road construction and maintenance, recycling, emergency medical services and police/fire protection.

I will bring this moratorium to the next meeting of the Goose Lake Watershed District to propose that we join the dozens of organizations and communities that have already signed onto it. You can ask your local unit of government or any other organization interested in preserving Wisconsin’s environment to join the CAFO moratorium by signing on here. Individuals can sign on here. After all, if we cannot preserve plentiful clean water for all of us to enjoy, what kind of future are we leaving for our children and grandchildren?

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

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Why Small Local Government Matters

One of the many hats I wear is that of Chairperson of the Goose Lake Watershed District (GLWD).  The GLWD is a small governmental body which has 5 members, 3 of whom are elected by the 157 property owners in the watershed district, 1 is appointed by the Town of Jackson, and one is appointed by Adams County.  We have the power of taxation and those taxes bring in about $18,000/year.  Those funds are used for the care and maintenance of Goose Lake, including combating invasive species, weed control, aeration, and beach maintenance.

The GLWD was formed about 4 years ago when it became clear that neither voluntary efforts nor other, larger governmental units, were maintaining the necessary environmental quality of Goose Lake.  Last summer, after watching the GLWD’s initial success, I decided to put my hat in the ring when a vacancy opened up, and I was unanimously elected Chair at the annual meeting.

The GLWD operates remarkably free of partisan politics, as we all have the same goal in mind, improving the quality of Goose Lake for all to enjoy.  One of our biggest challenges involves how to deal with the privately owned Gilligan’s Island which has a deteriorating boardwalk and bridge leading from the mainland to the island.  It presents unique challenges because there are 17 co-owners of the island and it cannot be sold without all owners agreeing to its sale.

To deal with this challenge, the GLWD sent a survey to the island owners and discovered that they were also frustrated by the island’s deteriorating condition.  After the survey results were in, the GLWD invited the island owners to a meeting to discuss how the GLWD could potentially buy the island and fix or remove the deteriorating boardwalk and bridge.  While this process is far from concluded, these initial cooperative steps show promising signs as we agreed to put together a committee to develop a plan to improve the island.

At its last meeting, after much investigation, the GLWD also signed a contract to buy a used lake weed cutter, which over time will allow us to maintain the lake in better condition for less money.

While the GLWD is strictly non-partisan, it does not mean that it does not express its views to the Wisconsin legislature.  Earlier in the Wisconsin state budget process, we wrote our legislators and sought restoration of state funds for lake conservation staff. Our State Senator, Luther Olsen, sits on the Joint Finance (budget) committee, and agreed with our position, and successfully restored that funding.

At our last meeting, we agreed to write Gov. Scott Walker to request that he veto the policy provision which is in the budget recently passed by the legislature that eliminates the right of citizens and Lake Districts such as GLWD to challenge high capacity well permits.  I just sent that letter to Governor Walker and I hope it influences his decision in favor of vetoing this non-budgetary anti-environmental provision.

The GLWD is an excellent example of how a few dedicated citizens can have an important impact at the local level.  Policymakers would be wise to support the success of local governmental units, rather than limiting their ability to succeed through unnecessary restrictions.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.