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Citizen Voices Matter: In Door County, Wisconsin

Talking to Dean Hoegger about his love of the water, you’d think he lived on the beach in California.

“I love living in Door County and enjoying the surrounding waters of Green Bay and Lake Michigan,” said Dean. “Whether swimming, snorkeling, sailboarding, surfing or kayaking, there are so many beautiful places to enjoy the beaches and water activities."

However, over the past 35 years, Dean has witnessed more and more green and smelly algae blooms, dead fish and beach closings due to bad water conditions. He describes his experience with algae blooms as “paddling through pea soup.”

His concerns about the state of water quality in Green Bay – as well as the groundwater-fed drinking wells in his region – spurred Dean to become a leader of the Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin. Dean has done everything in his power as an informed citizen. He has written letters to his legislators, coordinated clean water policy conferences, given community presentations to advocate for sensible regulations of the sources of pollution in the Bay. Dean feels that only the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources can regulate the sources of pollution on a complex, watershed-wide scale. But that takes staff, science, studies and clear direction from the state legislature.

“Green Bay has had many decades of industrial pollution and the Clean Water Act really helped our state address those problems,” said Dean. “But CWAC advocates for issues that are at the forefront of the public’s concerns today. In our community, it’s the huge growth of industrial-scale agriculture that people are concerned about.”

Dean lives near the shoreline of the Bay and witnesses the formation of an extreme dead zone each summer when nitrogen and phosphorus contaminate surface waters. Dean and his neighbors experience first-hand effects of the dead zone, including but not limited to unacceptable odor from algae blooms and dead fish that pile up on the shoreline. He is distressed that increasing media coverage of the dead zone is not yet translating to meaningful DNR actions to improve water quality.

After the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency put the DNR on notice in 2011 about the ways the state was out of compliance with the federal Clean Water Act, Dean hoped that Wisconsin might start to return to its historical leadership of protecting rivers, lakes and drinking water.

“There has been so little meaningful response from the DNR to the EPA’s list of ways water pollution controls are broken in our state,” said Dean. “And our organization has had to spend time, money and energy to fight for piecemeal advances in the courts. Our local complaints have largely been ignored.”

After recent state budget cuts further stripped the DNR of science staff and funding for environmental law enforcement, Dean is afraid that the state with continue to ignore complaints about murky water and contaminated drinking water wells, preventing  the change needed for real protection of water and public health.

“We need the DNR to use its power to comprehensively deal with watershed-wide pollution problems, and the state legislature to empower the DNR with greater authority to prevent non-point pollution,” said Dean. “It can’t keep approving industrial-scale agriculture operations and renewing pollution permits without looking out for the health of the Bay and our drinking water. If the DNR won’t do this, we need the EPA to step in.”   

 

Dean Hoegger is a retired, thirty-year educator who serves as President and Executive Director of Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin. He enjoys recreating in the waters of Wisconsin and is dedicated to protecting those waters for the enjoyment of all citizens.

He signed the Petition for Corrective Action to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to encourage the State of Wisconsin and its Department of Natural Resources to fully comply with the Clean Water Act.