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In February of 2019, Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) is pleased to announce the 16 members of the bipartisan Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality. There are 12 Republican representative and senators and 4 Democrats. Representative Todd Novak-R-Dodgeville is the Chair and Representative Katrina Shankland-D-Stevens Point-Co-Chair.
The development of the special legislative committee commenced after Reps. Travis Tranel (R-Cuba City) and Todd Novak (R-Dodgeville) made a request to the speaker in reaction to a preliminary report showing widespread contamination in private wells in southwestern Wisconsin. Because of the great importance of the issue being studied, this task force will also include members of the state Senate.
“Wisconsinites deserve to have safe, clean and healthy water,” said Speaker Vos. “We’re beginning this essential work by gathering input from across Wisconsin. I’m pleased these legislators have agreed to take part in this statewide, collaborative effort.”
The task force has been asked to make recommendations on assessing and improving the quality of surface water and groundwater. Legislators will hold public hearings around Wisconsin to gather information on the specific concerns in the various regions of the state. The speaker’s office has already been contacted by dozens of groups including Wisconsin Wetlands Association, the UW Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences and the Wisconsin Conservation Voters. “The goal is to take input from everyone; stakeholder groups, individuals and local officials,” said Speaker Vos. “Every important solution starts with robust conversation.
The Task Force will be traveling to 11 Wisconsin cities to get input. Next week Mauston, Wisconsin will have their hearing on Wednesday, June 12, 2019 and La Crosse, Wisconsin will have their hearing on Thursday, June 13th, 2019. For more information, click here.
LWV Action on Climate Change: A Call to Arms, with lots of guidance, from Caryl Terrell (LWV Dane Co, WI) at the LWV UMRR Annual Meeting on June 1
The LWV US Tool Kit for Climate Action is an excellent resource for getting started. Take some time to explore this website - the menu on the right has links to a wide array of information, advice and examples.
The Nature Conservancy's big idea to protect the upper Upper Mississippi - talk by Matt Gladue on June 1
The upper Upper Mississippi is that part of the Mississippi that starts at the Headwaters and flows to the Twin Cities. Water quality in the upper Upper Mississippi River is very good. The river, especially in the furthest north reaches, is protected by extensive forests and wetlands. But threats to this river are growing - threats from land conversion and development. The river is in danger of becoming polluted, like the Minnesota, which would endanger the water supply of millions of Minnesotans as well as damage this invaluable natural resource.
Matt Gladue's talk at the Annual Meeting engaged the audience in understanding the value of the upper Upper Mississippi - in the heart and soul of Minnesotans, as the source of drinking water for millions, and as an invaluable natural resource for wildlife and recreation. The threats to the river are many, but it is within the power of Minnesotans to make a changes that will save the river.
The Nature Conservancy has a big idea for saving the river. They have identified critical conservation lands, about 2% of the land in the watershed, that if protected from development or restored to forest will help to protect the river. Matt talked about this project, and that The Nature Conservancy is working on doing grass-roots organizing to develop public support. They are also seeking organizations to partner with them in this effort. To learn more about TNC's big idea, click here.
The videos below are broken up in part because Matt provided discussion periods during his talk and in part due to technical difficulties that resulted in small gaps.
LWV UMRR Advocacy Update - and how you can get involved in comments to the proposed Clean Water Rule
The dual mission of League of Women Voters - to educate voters and advocate on issues - is exemplified in the work of the LWV Upper Mississippi River Region. We provide information on a variety of topics in this blog, through our newsletter, and in the educational meetings we co-sponsor with local Leagues. And we advocate, through taking and advocating for positions on key issues. This post provides an update on work we are doing in three areas; the Farm Bill, the Clean Water Rule and Foxconn.
Farm Bill: The conference committee report, which reconciles the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill, was released early today. The Senate has already approved it, and a vote is expected in the House tomorrow. Here's a link to a summary of the bill, from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. LWV UMRR has been participating in conference calls with this coalition, and on Dec 11 signed on to a letter to Congressional leadership urging final passage of the bill . The bill has many positive components, including continued support for income-based food support, strong and expanded conservation program funding, additional supports for dairy farmers and even a provision to ease restrictions on the growing of hemp. We will include more information on this bill in blog posts to come, so stay tuned. The full text of the bill can be read here.
Clean Water Act preservation and support: LWV US was very involved supporting the initial passage of the Clean Water Act in 1970. (Read the history of LWV Clean Water Act advocacy here.) We are continuing this work through advocacy in two areas where our current federal administration is seeking to roll back Clean Water Act protections. One rollback is the rewrite of the Clean Water Rule. This multi-part rulemaking revolves around the definition of "Waters of the US". Here is the US, EPA rulemaking page, proposed changes were just announced on December 11, and a 60-day comment period will soon begin. LWV UMRR will work with LWV US to participate in this rule making. If you are interested in learning more about this proposed rule, and helping LWV UMRR prepare comments, please email us at email@example.com. We will send you materials and set up a conference call to discuss possible comment areas. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: The Environmental Integrity Project has issued a report on the impact of this potential rule change on Chesapeake Bay - Read more about it here.
LWV UMRR and LWV US have also signed on to a letter to EPA, urging them to maintain the existing Clean Water Act 404(c) rules. These rules have been used by environmental groups to counter environmentally damaging projects. The sign-on letter was started by the National Wildlife Federation.
Click here to read the letter. Click here to see the list of organizations that have signed on to the letter.
Foxconn: LWV Wisconsin has lead LWV efforts to oppose the withdrawal of more than 7 million gallons per day of Lake Michigan water for this new industrial development near Racine. 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.
LWV UMRR will be traveling to southeastern Wisconsin for our February Board meeting. We will seek to meet with Leagues in the area to talk about the project, get an update and see how the recent change of administration in Wisconsin may affect things. Once the plans for this meeting are set, we will share them here on our 'Upcoming Events" page. There are three previous blog posts on Foxconn:
The Cedar Rapids Gazette has dedicated resources to reporting on the progress of the twelve states that have agreed to work toward a 45% reduction in the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus discharged to the Mississippi, with a goal of reducing the 'dead zone' in the gulf.
This is an excellent series of articles, and is highly recommended to be read in their entirety.
The Gazette keeps their content behind a pay wall, however, allowing only so many 'reads' for free, and then requiring subscription at the introductory rate of $.99 for the first month. Here's a link to the articles - well worth checking into.
All that said, now here on the blog we will attempt to provide a summary - or maybe a teaser - with quotes and illustrations from the Cedar Rapids Gazette. The main article looks at what's being done and where, and how little progress is being made despite lots of sound and fury and expense. We also add here some information on what is happening in Minnesota, the headwaters state, where implementation is incremental at best, and positive results seen only on a small scale while the larger problem grows.
The article starts off with a problem statement: "A government task force said in 2008 it would cut nitrate and phosphorus pollution 45 percent by 2015 — both to help the Gulf of Mexico, where the nutrients have created a sprawling dead zone in which wildlife cannot survive — and to protect the health and safety of Midwest waters. Now 10 years later, the dead zone is growing, the 45 percent goal has been shoved back 20 years and, although millions have been spent in nearly every state along the Mississippi River, it’s not clear any progress is being made, a four-month investigation by The Gazette found."
There has been no reduction in nutrients, and the 'dead zone' continues to grow. Illustrations from the Cedar Rapids Gazette articles.
“The Gulf’s oxygen-deprived dead zone, called that because fish and other organisms must swim away or die, has an average size over the past five summers of 5,772 square miles. That’s three times larger than the task force’s goal of about 1,900 square miles. The group established the 45-percent reduction in nitrate and phosphorus running into the Mississippi because that’s what scientists think is needed to shrink the dead zone.
The task force’s 2008 Action Plan, a 64-page document that doesn’t describe enforcement options, asked each of the 12 central U.S. states to develop their own plans for reducing nutrients. The states are Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana.
The Gazette reviewed all 12 state strategies, talked with dozens of state agency leaders and found the following:
In this article, Erin Jordan (author) contrasts the lack of progress in the Mississippi Basin with the work that is being done in the Chesapeake Bay, where reductions were mandatory and the water is getting cleaner. Click "Read More" below for more on Chesapeake Bay and information about voluntary and regulatory efforts to reduce nitrogen releases in Minnesota.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has an excellent blog post on this subject - check it out here: http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/2018-midterm-election/. The change in leadership in the House will definitely affect the Farm Bill, both in content and timing.
LWV UMRR thanks NSAC for their excellent reporting on this issue, and for their leadership in working for a strong conservation focus in the Farm Bill!
Here is some added speculation on how things may turn out, from Reuters news agency:
Stalled farm bill could move fast after House win: senior Democratic lawmaker: “Congress may swiftly resolve a drawn-out impasse on the U.S. Farm Bill now that Democrats are poised to retake control of the legislative body, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee said on Wednesday. Collin Peterson, ranking member and presumptive new chair of committee, said passing the crucial agricultural legislation was going to be his top priority, with a deal possible as soon as next week during the lame-duck session. “That’s going to be the number one goal,” he told reporters on a conference call. “My sense is this is going to get worked out (in the lame-duck session).” The Farm Bill provides funding for an array of programs important to farmers - a crucial constituency for Republican President Donald Trump - including crop subsidies and rural development. But the latest bill, passed in 2014, expired on Sept.30 after talks over its replacement broke down. At issue has been a provision in the new draft of the bill that would impose stricter work requirements for recipients of food stamps. The Republican-led House of Representatives passed the $867 billion bill in June with the tougher requirements, over the objections of Democrats. The Senate, meanwhile, passed its own bipartisan version that excluded the requirements. Now that the Democrats have gained control of the House in Tuesday’s elections, the deadlock could be resolved, Peterson said. “Most of the ideas are out there and drafted. It is a matter of putting them together. If that could get resolved this week, then we’d have a bill ready by next week,” he said. He added that he has held talks about the issue with other Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi, seen as a front runner to become House Speaker. “There’s no indication or idea on the Democrat side in the House that we would like to delay this thing,” he said. Food stamps are used by more than 40 million Americans, or about 12 percent of the total U.S. population, and the program’s inclusion in the Farm Bill has long been used as a way to get support from Democrats who represent urban districts.”
[Reuters, 11/8/18] https://goo.gl/wnBYRs
Post contributed by Lonni McCauley, LWV UMRR Action Chair
In 2017, the state of Wisconsin agreed to a $4 billion package of incentives to bring development to Mt. Pleasant that would serve as the North American manufacturing hub for the Taiwanese company, Foxconn. At the time of the initial agreement, this plant was to employ 13,000 people to make large LCD screens. Since that time, there have been changes to the plans and the scale may not be as grand as previously planned. Further developments from Foxconn indicate instead of the promised Generation 10.5 plant, Foxconn now says it will build a much smaller Gen 6 plant, which would require one-third of the original investment.
Mt. Pleasant is in southeastern Wisconsin, near Racine. Although it’s only six miles from Lake Michigan, the plant site is located in the headwaters of the Des Plaines River watershed. The Des Plaines River flows south into Illinois, feeding into the Chicago Ship Canal and then the Illinois River and eventually the Mississippi River – read more about the Des Plaines River here.
In addition to financial incentives, the state promised to make the permitting process less burdensome for Foxconn. The plant was approved by the Wisconsin DNR without an environmental impact statement. Additional exceptions from air, water and wetland permitting requirements were granted to the plant to expedite construction. Wisconsin DNR also granted permission to the city of Racine to use Lake Michigan water for this industrial development in violation of the Great Lakes Compact. Ground was broken in June, 2018, at a ceremony attended by President Trump. Construction is now ongoing.
Because of the environmental give-aways and concerns over the use of Lake Michigan water for industrial development outside the Lake Michigan watershed, this project was opposed by LWV Wisconsin, seven other Wisconsin Leagues, LWV Upper Mississippi River Region, and other organizations in states surrounding Lake Michigan. The LWV UMRR blog has a previous articles on this topic, here and here.
UMRR passed a resolution in June 2018, opposing the water diversion based on the Great Lakes Compact which states, in part, that water cannot be diverted from the Great Lakes basin and specifically not for uses other than personal consumption. The resolution specially states that this action would cause a precedent that would be hard to overcome in the future. Further, there is cause for concern that the plant’s chemicals will leach into watersheds flowing to the Mississippi River.
The reason for opposition rests in its environmental impact. The proposed plan would draw up to 7 million gallons of water from Lake Michigan daily for operations. That, and the impact that chemicals associated with the manufacturing process draining into surrounding watersheds would cause led to calls for a legal brief to halt the manufacturing plan. Recent developments see the legal brief, which is led by the LWV Wisconsin, stalled due to the lack of an attorney willing to donate time to this suit. A request to file a brief is due November 15. We will update you through this blog as we progress in these endeavors.
Some information used in this post has come from a recent article on The Verge – read the full article here. For more information on the Great Lakes Compact, visit the website of the Great Lakes Commission here.
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:
|LWV Upper Mississippi River Region||