DNR scraps clean water effort

By: - November 18, 2021 5:08 am

“Well” by Mamboman1 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

On Wednesday the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced it is abandoning its effort to develop regulations that would reduce nitrate pollution in drinking water caused by manure and commercial fertilizer runoff. 

“The statutory process and associated firm timelines established by the Legislature for rule-making do not allow adequate time for the department to complete this proposed rule,” Chris Clayton, DNR’s section chief for agricultural runoff, explained in a letter to the technical advisory committee charged with developing the new rule. 

The new regulations would have established “performance standards for agriculture and municipalities to protect human health and water quality,” Clayton wrote, including practices to avoid applying manure or nitrogen fertilizer on vulnerable soils during fall when there is no growing crop available to lock up the nutrients.”

Midwest Environmental Advocates immediately released a statement calling the news “a devastating blow for many rural Wisconsin families, especially those who live in areas of the state — including southwest Wisconsin and the Central Sands — where fractured bedrock and shallow soils have led to widespread nitrate pollution of groundwater.”

The environmental group blamed industrial agricultural groups and their allies in the Legislature for creating “obstacles — including arbitrary deadlines and cost limits — that significantly complicated, and ultimately derailed, the process.”

Among those was the requirement that blocks the rule if it imposes too high a cost to private industry. 

“A law that requires state government to make decisions based on the financial interests of industry regardless of the impact on the health and wellbeing of Wisconsinites is both outrageous and morally reprehensible,” said MEA Staff Attorney Adam Voskuil. “If these new nitrate rules had moved forward, the benefit to human health would have far exceeded the cost of implementation. Wisconsinites would have saved millions of dollars in direct medical costs for cancer, birth defects and other adverse health outcomes associated with nitrate in drinking water.”


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Ruth Conniff
Ruth Conniff

Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine where she worked for many years from both Madison and Washington, DC. Shortly after Donald Trump took office she moved with her family to Oaxaca, Mexico, and covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Trump. Conniff is a frequent guest on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, CNN, Fox News and many other radio and television outlets. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. She graduated from Yale University in 1990, where she ran track and edited the campus magazine The New Journal. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and three daughters.