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Common sense amendments needed to high capacity well bill

Posted by Criste Greening
Criste Greening
Small business owner, public school teacher, and now citizens water activist. A
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on Friday, 24 March 2017
in Wisconsin

The Senate Committee on Labor & Regulatory Reform is voting on SB 76 (high capacity well bill), Tuesday March 28th.

Chairperson Nass has instructed his committee to vote by paper ballot blocking the ability of committee members to discuss, debate, or offer amendments to this bill. Nine hours of public testimony was offered on March 15th and will not be acknowledged by open discussion by our State Representatives.  They have from 10:00am-1:00pm to vote yes or no to SB 76 on a paper ballot, from their offices. Their votes will be recorded and published. This is very poor public process.


Citizen Water Coalition recognizes this bill in its current form was crafted by agribusiness interests. Experts suggest it will have a negative impact to Wisconsin water resources as well as a detrimental impact to citizens and the small and medium sized farmers of Wisconsin.

The following amendments should be considered and acted upon on behalf of Wisconsin constituents and citizens.

  • One size fits all legislation regulating, reviewing, and permitting high capacity wells in Wisconsin is unacceptable.  This bill should be amended to show the following:

    • Create a map of Wisconsin that clearly outlines areas that are impacted/not impacted by over-pumping from high capacity wells.

    • Periodic review of a high capacity well in areas of Wisconsin currently demonstrating no significant impact from over pumping is unnecessary when a well requires maintenance or reconstruction.

    • Periodic review MUST be mandatory for all high capacity wells located in areas already demonstrating significant impacts due to over pumping, such as the Central Sands Region

  • Automatic transfer of a high capacity well permit with the sale of property without periodic review is unacceptable, amendments should be made as follows

    • Transfer of property (ownership) between family members with the  same purpose and estimated pumping rates of the property’s high capacity well, when in an area that is not identified as an area of concern due to over pumping, does not require a periodic review.

    • Transfer of land from property owner to another entity which plans to pump in excess of previous records of well pumping or is in a region where high capacity wells are already demonstrating impacts MUST require a periodic review.

  • Drilling of a well to fill an impacted lake should be removed from this bill completely

    • DNR representative Adam Freihoefer, as well as Hydrologist George Kraft, testified that waters in the Central Sands are inter-connected (surface water is impacted by groundwater).  Both stated plans for refilling lakes within the study area outlined in the bill do not make sense and would be of no benefit.

  • Wording denying citizens right to request a contested case hearing MUST be removed in its entirety

    • This clause is in complete contrast to the democratic process

    • Current law only allows citizens the right to contest a decision AFTER impacts and property rights have been affected.  Citizens should have the right to contest the decision before a permit holder is allowed to operate, based on studies or evidence that shows the potential risks

    • No legislation should ever hinder the citizens rights to fair and appropriate actions through our court system

  • Sensitive resource study area outlined in the Central Sands region requires further consideration

    • Study areas identified do not incorporate the already highly impacted areas of the Central Sands, instead targets 3 random low impact areas. Highest impact areas must be included in study

    • Because of the unique geological conditions involved, study and groundwater modeling should incorporate the entire Central Sands region and not limited areas

    • Temporary suspension on new high capacity wells should be implemented in the Central Sands region already showing the highest amount of impact due to over-pumping of high capacity wells

    • Temporary suspension should remain in place until completion of the new study AND corrective actions are put in place legislatively to address the critical area and over pumping occurring

In conclusion Citizens Water Coalition feels much time and effort is needed on this legislation to ensure all stakeholders interests are recognized.  In its current state this bill provides a carte blanche check to the Industrial Agricultural Industry to continue to compromise Wisconsin water resources with no checks and balances to their actions.

The Public Trust Doctrine states the waters of Wisconsin belong to everyone.  It is the Legislature's  job as elected officials to represent both the citizens and industry interests in a FAIR and JUST manner by bringing both groups to the table to work on an acceptable compromise.

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Are Waters in Wisconsin Meeting Water Quality Standards?

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
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on Tuesday, 21 March 2017
in Wisconsin

wastewater-treat-manitowocMissed reports, staff reductions, and a lack of enforcement actions call into question the DNR's Wastewater Permitting and Enforcement efforts as 350 industrial and 650 municipal permittees and about 250 large farms, mostly CAFO dairies, add to potential problems.

MADISON - “The bottom line is: Are waters meeting water quality standards?” George Meyer told the Audit Committee at a recent hearing.

“[Wisconsin is] adding hundreds of impaired waters every year,” Mr. Meyer added. “It’s because of discharged nitrates and phosphorus.”

“Regulations and laws are only as good as enforcement.” Mr. Meyer said. “In the last few years [there has been] a substantial reduction in enforcement actions both in the wildlife area and the environmental area.”

Mr. Meyer knows about enforcing laws to protect our natural resources. For eight years, he served as the DNR Secretary under Governor Thompson. His 30-year DNR career also included ten years as head of the department’s enforcement efforts. He now runs Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, a nonpartisan coalition of nearly 200 conservation groups.

cafo-dairyThe Audit Committee was examining the findings of the Legislative Audit Bureau’s review of ten years of permitting, monitoring and enforcement of wastewater discharge. DNR is responsible for monitoring water discharged from about 350 industrial permittees and 650 municipal permittees and about 250 large farms (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs) – mostly dairies.

Inspections and permits are supposed to make sure those who discharge into our waterways do so following the rules.

The DNR has long followed a “stepped enforcement” process, which means working with those violating the rules to find ways to bring them into compliance with the law. DNR staff notifies potential polluters through a Notice of Noncompliance and a more “stepped-up” Notice of Violation that lists problems and penalties if rules are not followed. When DNR makes a referral, the Attorney General enforces penalties on those who continue to violate the rules.

From 2005 through 2014, LAB Auditors found DNR did not issue either a Notice of Noncompliance or a Notice of Violation in 84% of cases for which a Notice of Violation should have been issued to an industrial or municipal permittee.

In addition to not notifying polluters of violations, DNR did not refer any municipal or industrial permittee cases to the Attorney General for enforcement action in 2013 or 2014. DNR Secretary Stepp described the current DNR approach as “creating a safe space” and “getting people into compliance.”

But we don’t know if industries, municipalities and CAFOs are actually becoming compliant. There is ample evidence of inconsistencies, overlooked reports, incomplete or missing inspections. From 2005 through 2015, the DNR never met its goal of issuing 90% of industry permits on time. The backlog was blamed on a lack of staff.

With regard to missing inspections, in 2010-2011, only two of every ten major industrial permittees were inspected according to DNR’s goal of inspecting major industrial permittees at least once every two years.

CAFOs are required to send in annual reports including any manure spills and required testing. Auditors found almost 98% of the required 1,900 CAFO reports were not electronically recorded as being received. This lack of oversight meant the DNR had no way of knowing or tracking emerging problems. DNR staff said they were too busy with other duties to thoroughly review the reports.

With the problems attributed to staff shortages, one would expect Secretary Stepp to request more staff. According to former Secretary Meyer, DNR staff levels dropped from a high of 3,300 to a current workforce of about 2,500. The Governor proposes eliminating another 43 positions in his budget.

Secretary Stepp acknowledged the problems created by staff shortages. The committee also heard how long it takes DNR to train staff for the very technical jobs of issuing wastewater permits and conducting inspections. Despite the problems and expense created by staffing issues, the Secretary refused to ask for additional staff or resources to retain staff saying, “The private sector doesn’t have the luxury of hiring additional staff.”

Audit Committee members were clearly worried about staff morale and the department’s ability to complete its mission as required by state law. Lawmakers talked about efforts to hire and retain the best and the brightest, increasing salaries, and valuing workers. However, the Secretary offered little assurance the work environment at DNR would change.

Mr. Meyer captured worries about the future of water protections when he mentioned that changes in the federal Environmental Protection Agency could result in “a substantial reduction in oversight of the states.”

Oversight at the state level is something Wisconsin waters need right now.

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More Accountability Needed for Taxpayer Funds at King Nursing Home

Posted by Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Madison) - A former radio personality and legisla
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on Friday, 17 March 2017
in Wisconsin

veteran-olderFunds provided by families and the federal government for the care of our nursing home residents should be used at the veteran nursing homes first.

MADISON - Caring for our veterans is one of the most sacred duties we work to achieve as a state. We have been entrusted by the Federal government to care for elderly and disabled veterans and their spouses at our veteran nursing homes. These facilities should have the gold standard of care. Unfortunately, like many other operations of the state, infrastructure and maintenance delays and failures have affected the lives of those in our nursing homes, most notable at the Veterans Home at King. This is NOT a money problem. Even when state finances were tight just after the recession, the veteran nursing homes have been building surplus of funds.

While the federal government has decided not to limit how states can spend surplus revenues, we can still make the right choices here in Wisconsin and invest in our veteran care with money that was paid to care for veterans. The first step in that process is taking back control of transfers out of the veteran nursing home surplus fund. Currently about $35 million of revenue sits in this surplus fund. This money can be transferred out of the fund at any time not by the Legislature, but by a political appointee, the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The only way the Legislature even knows about the transfers are because of a statutory required annual report to the Legislature on the Veterans Fund.

Why does the veteran’s nursing Home fund have a surplus? These revenues are derived from an exemption from the nursing home bed tax, the federal per diem paid to facilities for the care of veterans, federal service related disability payments made for the care of disabled veterans, the higher state rate for reimbursement for Medicaid, and private payment from veterans and their families.

The 2013 budget included language that allowed for unlimited transfers from the veterans nursing home fund into the Veterans Fund without Legislative approval. The Legislature added JFC passive review, but the Governor vetoed it. DVA can now transfer, at any time, surplus from our state veteran’s nursing homes facilities. Unfortunately, turning back the clock and granting facility upgrade requests is not an option. $18.5 million in facility improvements in the last state budget were zero funded by Governor Walker. Our only choice as a Legislature is to move forward. That is why I am proposing a bill to reestablish Legislative oversight of all funding for the veterans homes. The DVA will transfer a total of $21 million away from the Veterans Nursing Homes just this biennium. Passing the buck on financial oversight is wrong.

A state that supports their veterans spends state money for programs for veterans and does not use money meant for the care and comfort in nursing homes for agency administration and rent. Funds provided by families and the federal government for the care of our nursing home residents should be used at the veteran nursing homes first.

For more information on the Veterans Fund please contact my office at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 608-266-6670 or 888-549-0027.

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Broadband Expansion: Rural Wisconsin Needs the Real Deal

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 14 March 2017
in Wisconsin

internet-ruralThe internet, like the waterways, railways, and highways before it, has become the road to participation in the 21st century economy. Wisconsin ranks last in the Midwest in both rural and urban broadband, and neither the Governor’s proposed budget funding or a bill authored by Sen. Marklein provide rural areas with the investment necessary to make us competitive.

NORTHWESTERN WISCONSIN - “All we seek is help to get the basic broadband services that you all take for granted,” Justin Fortney from Clifton Township in Pierce County wrote to me. “It has been frustrating for us families to watch the digital revolution pass us by…We often…pack the family into the car and drive to a relative’s house or commercial business to use their Internet.”

According to the federal government’s most recent information, Wisconsin ranks last in the Midwest in both rural and urban broadband access with only 44% of rural folks accessing download speeds of 25 Mbps.

Both federal and state governments responded with grant programs to expand broadband but there are problems with assuring that residents actually receive the promised services.

With much fanfare, Governor Walker recently announced his plan to add money for broadband to schools and rural areas. Later, Senator Marklein released a different bill. The Senator’s bill was voted out of his rural affairs committee and is headed for final passage soon.

Sen. Marklein’s bill is false advertising. The bill is neither “rural” nor “broadband.” As now written, nearly every Wisconsin county would be eligible for expansion grants. “Broadband” for awardees is defined at the “turtle-slow” speed of 5 Mbps download and .6 Mbps upload. In addition, such a paltry amount of money is used for grants that would not cover my small rural county with broadband even if we used all the statewide funds.

More problems exist with the federal grant programs.

Mr. Fortney described the problem in his email. He refers to one federal program known as “CAF-II.”

“Our area is CAF-II Subsidized Area, but still no Internet. These limited funds are being used by the…company to further increase the speed of areas that already have broadband.” Mr. Fortney described how both large companies near him said they have no plans to provide services to him. Yet both companies received large grants to expand broadband.

The two large companies mentioned by Mr. Fortney sent representatives to a community meeting I attended last year. Neither company would commit to expanding service in Pierce County. In the words of one company representative, “I don’t want to promise you fiber where fiber is not going to come…It’s not a great business investment to put in copper or fiber,” and “We’re not going to go trenching through a bluff…[we are looking for] where can we grab the low hanging fruit.”

What can Wisconsin do if these large companies do not intend to use federal dollars to bring the 21st Century to rural Wisconsin?

First, we should agree on WHAT IS broadband. The federal definition – 25 Mbps download speed and 3 Mbps upload is a good place to start. Unfortunately, Senate Bill 49 (the bill speeding for hasty passage) will award grants to those providing much less.

Second, money for “Rural” broadband should go to rural areas. Senate Bill 49 – and the current state grant program – makes nearly the entire state eligible for awards. The Public Service Commission has broad latitude to send the money to just about any county in the state. This should change.

Third, Wisconsin must invest enough money to actually make a difference in the problem. To date, the state awarded 42 grants totaling approximately $3.9 million. This money is not enough to provide broadband for just my small home county. In comparison, Minnesota appropriated $65.5 million and Governor Dayton is proposing spending another $100 million.

Finally, Wisconsin should independently verify that companies keep their promises to the state (in their grant applications) and to consumers. I frequently hear of companies promising one speed and delivering another, of broadband maps that show an area as served and it is not, and of companies using poor service in an area to apply for a grant and then not delivering services to the neighbors.

Broadband is the 21st Century equivalent of electricity. Someday most of us may plan a visit to a rural area or are going to need to contact someone in a rural area. All of us are going to eat something grown in a rural area and these days you need broadband for farming. We need to make sure the promised “Rural Broadband” bill is the Real Deal for rural Wisconsin.

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Ready to Help Wherever Needed

Posted by Janet Bewley, State Senator Dist 25
Janet Bewley, State Senator Dist 25
Janet Bewley, State Senator Dist 25 was elected to the Senate in the fall of 201
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on Saturday, 11 March 2017
in Wisconsin

girl_scoutsOn National Girl Scouts Day, March 12, 2017

ASHLAND, WI - One of the things I enjoy most about being a State Senator is visiting local schools to talk with fourth graders about state government. I always try and include time for questions and answers. Fourth graders can be very curious. I get lots of questions about my family – do I have children, did I have brothers and sisters – and my preferences – what’s my favorite color, do I like dogs, cats, or lizards? (I like turtles.)

Sometimes you get a question you’re not expecting, a question that throws you for a loop. Earlier this month, after fielding questions about how old I am and if I know any famous people, a student raised her hand and asked “why do you do it?”

I must have paused long enough for her to realize I wasn’t sure what she meant, so she added “why did you want to be a Senator?” And the answer that immediately came to mind was to help. So that’s what I told her. “Like the Girl Scouts,” she replied. I didn’t have lots of time to think about it at the time, as other students had more questions for me to answer. But she was right.

This week offered me another opportunity to both think and talk about what it means to help. On Wednesday, Representative Mary Felzkowski and I hosted a “Troop Meeting” at the State Capitol in honor of 105th anniversary of the founding of the Girl Scouts of America. Over those 105 years, Girl Scouting has helped millions of girls and women build the courage, confidence, and character to make the world a better place.

The continued influence of Girl Scouting is evident by the strength of the Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Alliance, which represents 56,000 girl members and 17,000 adult volunteers. Girls from every part of the state came to Madison to celebrate and receive awards for their accomplishments. I was proud to join with Representative Felzkowski and other colleagues to welcome these young women to the Capitol.

As I was thinking about what I would say, I remembered the words of the Girl Scout motto that I recited as a young girl back in Cleveland. “Be Prepared. A Girl Scout is ready to help out wherever she is needed. Willingness to serve is not enough; you must know how to do the job well, even in an emergency."

Ready to help out wherever needed. Those are good words to live by. Words that are just as important today as they were in 1947 when the Girl Scouts adopted the motto. I have often talked about my admiration for the men and women who got us through the Second World War and rebuilt our country after the Depression.

I learned this week that the Girls Scouts also helped the war effort. Instead of selling cookies, they sold special calendars and war bonds, tended victory gardens, and scrapped metals and fat to be reused.

We are lucky we live in much safer times. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating the Girl Scouts in some way on March 12th – support a local troop by buying an extra box of cookies, take a moment and encourage a young girl you know, find a way to help someone who needs it.

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