WHO WE ARE
The Wisconsin Water Alliance is a non-partisan, statewide organization whose mission is to help protect the state’s water resources and advocate for sound water policies that benefit current and future generations of Wisconsin families, cities, businesses, farmers and others. Wisconsin is blessed with an abundant supply of freshwater, including deep, replenishing aquifers, the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River, the Wisconsin River, many other rivers and streams and an estimated 15,000 inland lakes. At the same time, Wisconsin, particularly in the southeastern part of the state, is home to a variety of water technology companies and manufacturers involved in the business of water conservation. The region also is home to the Water Council, a non-profit organization that drives economic, technology and talent development to support the global water industry. A number of Wisconsin industries, including tourism, agriculture, pulp and paper, food products, advanced manufacturing and others, recognize the importance of water as a natural resource and rely on and help protect water as a key component to help grow the state’s economy. Through reasonable state and local policies, we can continue to rely upon our freshwater to help drive the state’s economic engine while at the same time protect this precious natural resource.
ISSUES HAPPENING AROUND WISCONSIN WATER
Wisconsin state administrative agencies are reviewing, and working to drastically change, water quality restrictions. In fact, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced a decision to curb the amount of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) to 20 parts per trillion — which is far more restrictive than the Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion. While these substances are no longer manufactured within the United States, they remain present in resources such as groundwater and soil, as well as household items like non-stick cookware and dental floss. To date, there is no research to support detrimental effects on humans. State action on PFAS could cost local governments significant resources, and the financial burden on compliance threatens to impact small businesses and job creators to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. This would hurt taxpayers and stifle economic growth. Any administrative changes must balance the need to protect our water resources while continuing to provide an environment that fosters a strong economy for Wisconsin families.
There is an ongoing statewide conversation about the installation of high capacity wells and their impacts on ground and surface waters. This is particularly the case in central Wisconsin, where a number of high capacity wells have been constructed over the past few years to support a thriving agricultural economy. In December 2015, a comprehensive report was compiled and published by the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association refuting many of the claims about the impact of high capacity wells. There is sound science showing that the claim that high capacity wells are drawing down surface waters has no merit, and the WWA believes this issue should be considered based on science and facts, not unfounded claims and rhetorical sound bites. Wisconsin’s multi-billion dollar agriculture industry and our rural communities depend on an abundant supply of fresh water, and any future rules and regulations should be based on the facts, include input from all impacted stakeholders and not add more layers of needless and unhelpful bureaucracy. Farmers care about maintaining our clean water supply as much as anyone, and their views and the facts need to be part of a discussion that is all too often dominated by fear, manipulation through stall tactics based on an antiquated administrative law system, and unsubstantiated soundbites.
Another issue often connected to water access and high capacity wells is the issue of CAFOs, defined as any animal feeding operation with more than 1,000 “animal units,” (e.g. 700 milking cows) confined on site for more than 45 days during the year. As smaller dairy farms begin to wane throughout the Midwest due to generational turnover, changes in the dairy economy and the competitive need for efficiency, more CAFOs are springing up as younger family farms combine operations to lower costs of production or expand to accommodate the next generation of Wisconsin farmers leading to more efficient operations and improved productivity. Larger dairy operations need access to more water and often require high capacity wells, which are strictly regulated. Some claim CAFOs cause water quantity issues and lead to runoff pollution into surface and ground waters. These claims are most often advanced by anti-agriculture groups whose efforts frequently are not grounded in fact or science, but rather are often motivated by social engineering outcomes, animal rights advocacy, and even a “not-in-my-backyard” mentality, leading to emotion-based positions rather than legitimate scientific points of view. Larger modern dairy farms are subject to regulations that do not apply to smaller farming operations. The efficiencies available to larger modern dairy farms give them access to resources to employ state-of-the art design and function, designed to be much more sustainable. CAFOs must meet strict regulatory standards and safeguards required for a high capacity well construction. For example, these operations have stringent water withdrawal limitations imposed as part of a permit approval and also must meet rigorous water quality standards both at the federal and state levels.
In 2010, the Wisconsin DNR significantly revised and enhanced the administrative rules defining Phosphorus Water Quality Standards. In 2013, the Wisconsin Legislature enacted Act 378, which directed the Wisconsin Department of Administration and DNR to investigate the impacts on Wisconsin’s economy associated with implementing the wastewater treatment necessary to remove phosphorus. Based on this study, the DOA/DNR made a determination that the costs caused substantial and widespread economic impact to the state, likely hurting workers, consumers and businesses. As a result, the state sought and was granted a variance from the federal government that provides more time to find a solution to this issue. How effectively this “variance” will be implemented remains to be seen and a long-term path forward must be planned to avoid the significant negative economic impact predicted by the study.
Water issues often pop up at the local level surrounding large dairy farms, industrial sand mining, non-metallic mining and other activities that require increased public education efforts to help make sure the discussion and decisions are based on science and facts to counter the often inaccurate and negative social media and regular media coverage generated by opposition groups. These are important issues and should be decided based on science, accurate information and a common sense approach, not a vocal minority that can dominate a public debate and intimidate public officials.
Wisconsin has an abundance of sand that is well suited for an oil and natural gas drilling method called hydraulic fracturing. Also known as fracking, this process involves the high pressure injection of water, sand, and other fluids into deep-rock formations that contain natural gas and petroleum. Hydraulic fracturing has led to the significant increase of natural gas and oil production in the United States and Canada, leading to greater energy independence for our nation and helping grow the economy in Wisconsin and elsewhere. According to a recent study conducted by U.S. Energy Information Administration, the U.S. is expected to become a net exporter of natural gas this year. Wisconsin is a key component in the hydraulic fracturing industry, and many sand mining companies are certified as Green Tier by the Wisconsin DNR. The northeastern and central portions of the state contain vast amounts of sand that are integral to the fracking process, and companies in Wisconsin have mined sand for more than a century. Known as “Northern White,” this sand is perfectly round and very durable, making it ideal for the hydraulic fracturing process. The sand mining companies are closely regulated, create thousands of jobs and make a positive impact on our state’s economy. Like large dairy farms, they are strictly permitted by local, state and federal rules and laws. The sand mining industry supports a common sense approach that helps protect water access and water quality and knows it cannot operate without a reliable source of water, so it takes its responsibilities for clean water seriously. Opponents of hydraulic fracturing have set their sights on the industrial sand mining industry, but offer little science, few facts and more rhetoric than anything. Some sand mines have operated in our state for more than a century and know the importance of making sure that economic growth and environmental responsibility work hand in hand. Objections based on science and facts warrant serious consideration. Emotional claims without a strong factual foundation should be viewed with skepticism. The sand mining industry supports reasonable rules that actually help provide protections. However, just as the case with large dairy farms and high capacity wells, inaccurate claims without concrete evidence should be rejected.