Wisconsin Waters: At a Crisis Point

James Rowen is an environmental policy blogger at The Political Environment. Rowen recently released a report on the critical state of water resources in Wisconsin.

Despite Wisconsin's Public Trust Doctrine and Native American treaties that Rowen cites as examples of legal documents declaring that "Wisconsin's Waters belong to everyone," current state politics threaten Wisconsin's water resources. "Partisan disdain for principles water policy, science and law emerged in the early hours of Governor Walker's administration," writes Rowen. The Governor's administration has helped developers avoid environmental reviews, encouraged building in wetlands, and allowed the expansion of high-capacity wells without assessing their cumulative effect on the ground water table. "Imagine if authorities were to allow developers to build multiple 10-story parking ramps without studying the cumulative impacts on traffic."

Walker is also enabling mountain-top removal in an iron mine in the same watershed as the Bad River, one that "would be upriver from public drinking water supplies and close to wild rice producing estuaries central to the survival of the Bad River Band of Ojibwe (Chippewa). [This] would allow, despite scientific testimony and other warnings, the dumping of millions of tons of acid-yielding waste rock across more than 3,000 acres and into streams and wetlands."

The report demonstrates not only how the commodification of water resources can lead to unjust distribution of costs and benefits or to unsustainable resource depletion, but also how it can corrupt policy and politicians when it comes to water issues. Even though Wisconsin is bordered by two Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, protection of water resources in the state is imperative.

A little fill here and there may seem to be nothing to become excited about. But one fill, though comparatively inconsequential, may lead to another, and another, and before long a great body of water may be eaten away until it may no longer exist.