Changing practices and implementing pollution controls can be expensive. The benefits of these measures are broad, but the cost is often borne by a limited number of parties. How can this cost be shared across the watershed that benefits from the changes? The Great Lakes Commission is testing a market-based approach in the Western Lake Erie basin* – stewardship credits.
“Many organizations and individuals are concerned about the health of Lake Erie. Harmful algal blooms have, in recent years, impacted local water supplies and upset the significant tourism economy. Stewardship credits are generated by agricultural producers who implement conservation practices to reduce the amount of nutrients (including phosphorus) leaving their fields and entering nearby waterways. The amount of nutrients reduced is translated into “credits” that can be purchased by “stewards.” Dollars invested in the purchase of stewardship credits pays for farmers’ efforts to reduce phosphorus contributions to waterways that flow into the Western Lake Erie Basin. Revenue from the sale of stewardship credits allows farmers to continue or increase those conservation efforts in the face of decreasing farm revenues. Stewards that buy credits can feel good knowing they are helping to improve water quality in Lake Erie.” source - Great Lakes Commission factsheet “How the Erie P Market Works for Stewardship”
The market for stewardship credits is just opening - the first purchase by an individual was made by LWV Upper Mississippi River Region’s chair, Gretchen Sabel, for her grandson Isaac’s eight birthday. Isaac lives with his family in the Sandusky River Basin in northwest Ohio, and will benefit from cleaner water as he grows up. Of course, an organization purchasing a large block of credits would have a lot more impact than this single purchase. You can learn more on the Great Lakes Commission’s Lake Erie P Credits page here and purchase credits directly by clicking here.
How do these stewardship credits work? This is a Credit Calculation Example Scenario that the Great Lakes Commission provides in the Framework for Water Quality Trading in the Western Lake Erie Basin (see full document here):
“Farmer Brown lives in Defiance County, Ohio where he owns and operates a 100-acre corn and soy bean farm. After hearing about the newly introduced Erie P Market, Farmer Brown decides to improve his field management practices and make some extra money. Working with the local conservation district, he designs and implements a conservation plan that includes: (1) no-till (2) 4R nutrient management (3) the installation of a filter strip along the down-slope boundary of his property, and (4) planting 50-acres of cover crops. Using regional climate data, the results of his Mehlich 3 Phosphorus tests, and other detailed knowledge of his farm’s characteristics, Farmer Brown calculates his Credits to be traded on the Erie P Market as follows:
As you can see, the purchase of Lake Erie P Stewardship Credits helps farmers directly implement changes to reduce the loss of phosphorus from their fields. By increasing the pool of capital available to make changes, groups and individuals can help be part of the pollution solution!
*Map of Western Lake Erie basin from Great Lakes Commission website:
State officials are seeking public comment on a draft list of five water quality standards topics proposed as priorities for protecting Wisconsin’s lakes and rivers. Also under consideration is the development of standards for certain emerging contaminants that may need to be monitored and controlled to protect people and the environment.
Stakeholders are invited to comment on DNR’s draft priority list from August 28 to October 5, 2018. The draft report of the priorities, which includes the list and topic descriptions, is available on the DNR website here or go to the http://dnr.wi.gov and type in the search words “triennial standards review.” Comments on the triennial standards review process should be directed to Marcia Willhite by calling (608) 267-7425, e-mailing email@example.com, or mailing to Wisconsin DNR WT/3, PO Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707.
A public hearing will be held on September 21, 2018 from 10:00 to 11:00 AM. This hearing is for citizens to comment on or ask questions about the topics presented. Anyone who would like to participate is invited to join online through a webinar using the link posted on the DNR’s triennial standards review Web page, or in person at the DNR’s Madison office at 101 S. Webster St., Madison, in Room G27 after signing in at the visitor’s desk.
Text for this post was extracted from an August 30 email from Midwest Environmental Advocates.
LWV Upper Mississippi River Region is working with LWV Wisconsin and LWV Lake Michigan to question the proposed use of Lake Michigan water for an industrial development outside the Lake Michigan watershed. A recent post on this blog provides more background - click here.
Here is the most recent update on that project, from LWV Wisconsin:
Racine Diversion Challenge AdvancesLast week, the legal challenge to the City of Racine’s plan to divert Great Lakes water to the Foxconn industrial complex advanced. A pre-hearing conference is set for September 12 before an Administrative Law Judge.
The petitioners contend that the Wisconsin DNR’s approval of Racine’s request for a Great Lakes water diversion for the Foxconn development violates the Great Lakes Compact, an interstate agreement enacted to protect this economic and cultural resource. The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin is one of six organizations appealing the diversion permit issued by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The Compact strictly requires diversions of Great Lakes water be limited to public, largely residential, uses. Racine’s attempt to divert 7 million gallons per day of Lake Michigan water west of the Great Lakes Basin divide to serve the solely private industrial uses of Foxconn violates this rule.
The League believes that the Great Lakes Compact, signed into law in by President G.W. Bush on October 3, 2008, significantly supports the long standing League positions of an "environment beneficial to life through the protection and wise management of natural resources in the public interest," and that policies must consider the "environmental, ... and economic impacts of proposed plans and actions." Read more at the LWVWI website.
In Minnesota, LWV UMRR Action Chair Lonni McCauley has reached out to the Governor's office and the Minnesota DNR to urge Minnesota to engage on this issue through the Great Lakes Compact. We will provide updates here as things progress.
Groundwater is a critical resource for Minnesota - it feeds our streams, fills our lakes and is a (mostly) clean and reliable source of drinking water for about 75% of the population. Many areas have localized problems, some with natural contaminants like arsenic, man-made toxics from unsound disposal of industrial wastes and many areas with nitrate contamination at levels that are of concern. Here's a link to a video from an LWV UMRR meeting last October where Chris Parthun from the Minnesota Department of Health describes the problems with nitrate contamination in our water.
In 1989, the Minnesota Legislature passed a law aimed at increasing protection of Minnesota's groundwater resources. Click here to watch a video detailing Minnesota's 1989 Groundwater Protection Act. This act included a set of tiered actions to be taken to address everyday sources of groundwater contamination not addressed by programs like Superfund or the Leaking Underground Storage Tank program. This Act also established a groundwater protection goal of preventing degradation and reducing pollution where is has already occured.
One area where groundwater protection is particularly thorny is in agricultural areas, where nitrate contamination is affecting both public and private wells, and the levels are rising. As laid out in the Groundwater Protection Act, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture is responsible for developing and administering programs and laws to address this. This has not been an easy course, and the twists and turns abound. This link leads to a blog post on the Loon Commons Blog by Matt Doll of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership. Here, Matt describes the rule that the Minnesota Department of Agriculture proposed to address the growing problem of nitrate in groundwater.
The Minnesota Legislature introduced bills to stop this rule. LWV UMRR Chair Gretchen Sabel testified in both the House and Senate, on behalf of LWV Minnesota, in opposition to these bills. This link will take you to a copy of her testimony in the House. In the end, the bills were passed and Governor Dayton vetoed it. The Ag Committees in both houses have taken steps to use an administrative procedure to further slow the rule. Here's another blog post from Matt Doll on the topic.
The saga continues... the Minnesota Department of Agriculture is now in the process of finalizing the rule. Public comment will be taken until August 15 - read about it here. And comment! Clean water is important for all of us in the Upper Mississippi - Minnesota is the headwaters state, and this rule is just one part of the solution.
September 28 update - it looks like the 2014 farm bill expire - read more about it here on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition's very excellent blog update. We will have more on this site as events transpire...
September 23 update - The 2014 farm bill's package of programs and funding expires in one week, on September 30. The 2018 farm bill moved ahead, with bills passing both houses of Congress this summer. Conference committee met in early September, you can watch the video here. But then, Hurricane Florence caused Congress to evacuate and delayed further work, so now things are really down to the wire. The bill on the Senate side does a good job of maintaining a strong conservation focus, but the House bill is not so good in this regard. This makes the work of the conference committee crucial. Now is a good time to contact your Representative in Congress and tell them that our country needs a farm bill that is strong on conservation and protects our water resources!
THE FARM BILL IS A major legislative package that deals with U.S. Department of Agriculture programs ranging from food safety, trade, nutrition support and subsidies for farmers. Similar bills have been passed approximately every five years since 1933. The active version of the law, passed in 2014, expires on Sept. 30. (For more information on the content of the Farm Bill, read our blog post here.)
(Photo from Minneapolis Star Tribune Dec 17, 2017.
The 2018 Farm Bill is in the works. LWV UMRR is following this progress, and has signed on to letters urging Congress to improve the conservation titles in the Bill. This bill is at a pivotal stage now - read about it here on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition's blog. It's a good read, detailed and with clear explanations.
Timing is critical - conference committee members have been assigned and it is expected that they will meet before the August recess, with a goal of getting a bill to the President for signature before the end of the Federal fiscal year on September 30.
Foxconn Technology Group, a Taiwanese manufacturer of LED-screens, is coming to Wisconsin, with jobs, economic development and lots of questions.
Foxconn is building its major manufacturing facility near Racine, in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin. The company’s North American headquarters will be in Milwaukee and a research facility will be built in Eau Claire. The state of Wisconsin, under the leadership of Governor Scott Walker, has given significant incentives to land this development. Unfortunately, many of these incentives have been reduction of environmental permitting requirements, which is another story; click here for an interview with Dr. Peter Adriaens from the University of Michigan.
The facility in Mount Pleasant will need lots of water. For this, the City of Racine has requested permission from Wisconsin DNR to take 7 million gallons a day from Lake Michigan. Since Mount Pleasant is a ‘straddling community’ – part in the Lake Michigan watershed and part in the Upper Mississippi watershed – their request must conform to the standards set out in the Great Lakes Compact – see more information here. WI DNR decided that the standards were met and granted the withdrawal. An appeal to this permit was filed and an additional process of public comment and review gone through. On April 25, 2018, the WI DNR again approved the withdrawal.
Is this a bad thing? Inter-basin transfer of water (taking water from one major water basin, in this case the Lake Michigan basin, and sending it to another, in this case the Upper Mississippi) is troubling. Water shortages abound across the world, and many look longingly at the vast freshwater resources of the Great Lakes. The purpose of the Compact is to ensure that the water in the Great Lakes is not mined and that Great Lakes ecosystems are protected. Learn more about the Great Lakes Compact here.
WI DNR’s approval of the City of Racine’s application violates the Compact requirement that any water diverted out of the Basin must be used solely for “Public Water Supply Purposes.” The purpose of the City of Racine’s diversion, as identified in the City’s application, is exclusively to supply water to industrial and commercial customers in a newly-designated “electronics and information technology manufacturing zone” in the Village of Mt. Pleasant. The in the out-of-basin portion of Mt. Pleasant subject to the diversion request.
LWV has a position (here) that inter-basin transfer should not be allowed unless:
LWV Wisconsin has lead efforts to oppose the withdrawal. LWV Lake Michigan is party to the Petition seeking reconsideration by WI DNR. LWV Upper Mississippi has made a resolution in opposition, and will continue to find ways to work against this transfer. You can read the resolution here.
According to the Great Lakes Compact, the 8 states and 2 provinces that border the Great Lakes have a right to question decisions. LWV UMRR so far has undertaken these actions:
Addition: Minnesota Public Radio looked at who comes out ahead in the Foxconn deal on July 31 - you can read more about it and listen to the conversation here. - LWV UMRR Blogger, Gretchen Sabel
Final stats are in on Minnesota Water Action Day 2018. More than 700 people came to the State Capitol for this event. These citizen lobbyists took the message of water protection to their legislators through 145 legislative meetings, touching about 70% of the legislature. 75 youth attended a Youth Summit that was part of this event Overall, participants were highly motivated, especially on the issue of protecting wild rice.
Register now at this link so meetings with your legislators can be set up! Bus transportation provided from multiple sites outside the Twin Cities! The threats to Minnesota's waters are real this session - make your voice heard!
What are the threats? Read this from US News and World Reports: Bills on Wild Rice, Pipeline, Nitrates Advance at Capitol .)
What: Water Action Day 2018
Where: Christ Lutheran Church - 105 University Ave W, St. Paul, MN 55103 and the Capitol
When: Wednesday, May 2, 2018
Schedule: (Greater MN buses arrive throughout the morning)
- Complimentary breakfast: 8:00 – 10:00 am
- Citizen lobbying 101 (repeating sessions) 8:30, 9:25, 10:20 am
- Drop-in policy briefings (multiple topics): 9:00 - Noon
- Meetings with your representatives: throughout the day*
- Complimentary lunch: 11:00 – 1:00 pm
- Rally in the Rotunda at 2:00 pm
- Youth Summit with Governor Dayton: TBD
Why: Because now is the time to #ProtectOurWater!
* Our team will schedule small group constituent meetings with each legislator (House and Senate) to occur during the day. Participation in these meetings is highly encouraged for all Water Action Day attendees.
Bus transportation: Buses are being coordinated from multiple locations across Greater Minnesota, including Houston, Austin, Duluth, Detroit Lakes and more! Please reserve your spot on your preferred bus route when you register.
Parking: Parking information (both free and low cost) and transit information is included in your registration confirmation email.
Donations: Donations are gladly accepted to help offset the cost of this event. You may donate online by selecting the 'Donation Ticket' as you register, or day-of at the registration table.
Additional Information: Organizers will distribute additional information, including schedules, transportation options, policy highlights and more, to all participants in advance of Water Action Day.
The people of Wisconsin are concerned about what’s happening to their water. This concern was shown Monday night in Stevens Point, where more than 90 people packed the Pinery Room at the Portage County Library to hear Dr. George Kraft talk about the science and policy debate around high capacity wells – read more about this event here. Dr. Kraft’s presentation was captured in an informal video on Facebook live, visit the LWV UMRR Facebook page and look under”Videos”.
Dr. Kraft is Professor Emeritus from the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point. His work has focused on groundwater resource sustainability, particularly about profitable agriculture and water impacts, and is involved in work to modernize Wisconsin’s groundwater pumping management policy and laws. Wisconsin’s Central Sands region is where Dr. Kraft has spent much of his career, and was the focus of his remarks Monday night.
In his talk, Dr. Kraft first talked about groundwater hydrology; explaining the connection between ground- and surface waters. When groundwater levels drop, whether from lack of recharge in dry times or from pumping from wells, surface water resources are also affected. (If the water table drops eight feet, for example, spring-fed streams that intersect the water table will also go down to the same elevation as the water table. The actual amount of drop in surface water levels depends on their normal water level elevation.) Shallower streams like minor tributaries are often dried up, and deeper water bodies will drop in water level. When the amount of cold groundwater entering a stream diminishes, the water warms. Warmer streams longer support trout and other cold-water species, meaning that groundwater depletion leads to ecological change as well.
Dr. Kraft talked about the continued expansion of farm irrigation in Wisconsin’s Central Sands. The number of high-capacity irrigation wells in this area has grown significantly, and resultant drops in the water table level have been recorded.
What is the effect of this? Dr. Kraft showed pictures of lakes and streams where water levels have dropped, which is especially dramatic in dry years. This isn’t just happening in Wisconsin – Minnesota has similar geologic terrains and similar problems. Dr. Kraft talked about the approach that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is taking in the Straight River Groundwater Management Area- read about that here. A second project in Minnesota relating to water use and depletion was reported on in this blog earlier – the Little Rock Creek study.
So, will the irrigation wells run out of water, too? Dr. Kraft said that there’s probably plenty of water for irrigation wells for years to come. Central Wisconsin is a water-rich area, receiving more than 30 inches of rain a year. Groundwater is recharged by the rain, and the aquifers here are deep. The groundwater resource will sustain heavy pumping for the foreseeable future, but the impacts on surface water will continue. It is up to the people of Wisconsin to balance theses competing values.
While Dr. Kraft’s talk focused on water quantity, water quality is also an issue in central Wisconsin. Both are addressed by the Center for Watershed Science and Management at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point. Dr. Paul McGinley is the Director of this Center, Dr. Kraft is an emeritus member and Kevin Masarik, a doctoral student at UW Madison, is also part of the team. Another hydrologist will soon be hired to round out the team. Support for the Center’s staff comes primarily from UW Extension, so outreach to citizens, lake associations and others is a major part of their work.
Nitrate contamination is a real problem in Wisconsin, affecting more than 25% of all private wells. Here’s a video presentation where Kevin Masarik explains what nitrate is and explores the effects of nitrate on the environment, drinking water and groundwater. In this video, Masarik discusses data found in Wisconsin’s Well Water Viewer, which can be found at this link.
Wisconsin’s groundwater has been the subject of other posts on this blog. See “Protecting Wisconsin Well Owners and Providing Safe Water” at https://www.lwvumrr.org/blog/protecting-wisconsin-well-owners-and-providing-safe-water and “When it Hits the Fan – Groundwater Quality and Public Health” at https://www.lwvumrr.org/blog/when-it-hits-the-fan-groundwater-quality-and-public-health .
Did you know that lakes and streams dry up when groundwater levels fall? It's all a system, you know, and each supports the other. The LWV Upper Mississippi River Region April Board and educational meeting will be held in Stevens Point, WI, on April 2. LWV Stevens Point Area has set up Dr. George Kraft to talk about groundwater-surface water interactions, and what that means for both resources when people mess around with the system. This event in Stevens Point will help us understand how this works, and what it means in terms of policy options and decisions.
UMRR's Board meets at locations around the watershed on the first Monday of each even-numbered month. We partner with local Leagues to co-host an educational event with each meeting.
In October, we met at the Mississippi Headwaters in northern Minnesota, and had a speaker from the Minnesota Department of Health talk about nitrate in drinking water. December's meeting was in Dubuque, and a speaker from the Great River Museum joined us.
April 2 the Board will be meeting in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. The Board meeting will be in the afternoon at the Portage County Library. Our agenda will be posted on this website, and all are welcome. But the big show will be in the evening - Dr. George Kraft, UW Professor Emeritus, will talk about the science and policy implications of heavy groundwater use. This meeting is free and open to the public. Join us!
Many thanks to LWV Stevens Point for their work in setting this up!
Algae stinks. It clogs up waterways and secretes toxins that are dangerous to humans and our pets. It’s also a vital part of ecosystems, a necessary base of the food chain. When nutrient pollution, particularly phosphorus, increases in a water body, excessive algae growth occurs, which results in stinky, dangerous problems.
Algae blooms form dense mats on lakes, rivers and streams, affecting drinking water sources and water recreation. An 2014 algae bloom in Toledo, Ohio, (shown above) shut down their water supply, leaving the city of more than 400,000 people without water for several days. Circle of Blue, a website devoted to water issues, provides background information on toxic algae blooms. We wrote about that in this blog post in January 2017.
Rivers and streams in Wisconsin are affected, too. At the LWV UMRR Annual Meeting in May, 2017, Kim Wright from Midwest Environmental Advocates talked about excessive algae that chokes the Red Cedar River in Menomonie –read about what she said and see the video of Kim’s presentation here.
Thanks to the 2007 and 2016 “Pontoons and Politics” efforts of the Petenwell and Castle Rock Stewards an advocacy group in central Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Legislature appropriated funds for the Department of Natural Resources to develop a plan to address nutrient pollution, and the resulting algae blooms, on the river. This article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel provides more information on this work, as well as a video on the dangers of blue green algae.
This plan is now open for public comment. It calls for a significant reduction of phosphorus to the Wisconsin River, to be achieved over time. The DNR website for this project provides copies of the plan and information on how to comment. This work is mandated by Clean Water Act provisions requiring states to list water bodies whose use is impaired by pollution, detail its sources and suggest limits on future pollution.
|LWV Upper Mississippi River Region||