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Wisconsin DNR scraps clean water effort

by Ruth Conniff

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.”

Wisconsin Examiner is part of the States Newsroom, a network of similar news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.

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