Midwest Environmental Advocates is a nonprofit environmental law center that works for healthy water, air, land and government for this generation and the next. We believe that every citizen has the potential to make a difference.

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Citizen Voices Matter: In Columbia County, Wisconsin

As a resident of Columbia County, Wisconsin, John Domino enjoyed fishing for largemouth bass, bluegill and northern pike on Tarrant Lake. Life in Wisconsin made John’s dreams of living in a peaceful life in nature a reality.

“My family’s life here is so different from where I grew up in Illinois,” said John. “We love being outside, seeing the birds, letting our dogs run. But most of all, I’m completely drawn to the water.”

Tarrant Lake had suffered a lot of problems. Two dam failures in four years, silt build-up that clogged springs feeding the lake, and an invasion of swamp willows and cattails inspired John and members of his community to donate their time and resources to establish a lake preservation committee. The committee advocated for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Army Corps of Engineers to approve plans for a dredging project and to build a stronger dam.

The lost-cost success story became a model for transformative cooperation between the state and local efforts to improve a Wisconsin lake. Once they closed the dam’s gate, the lake filled in and the fish restocked. People came back to fish and wildlife returned to the natural area.

“Things changed when the DNR permitted an ethanol plant’s wastewater discharge into the lake,” said John. “It doesn’t take a degree in science to know it was time to stop fishing in the lake when I saw wastewater discharge that was orange and milky. And the amount of zinc, chlorine and arsenic being discharged just undid all of our work and investment.”

John was one of the local residents who sued the DNR over the pollution problems and eventually – after several years of time and expense – the ethanol plant capped its discharge pipe and stopped discharging. But John sees other echoes of how the DNR is either unable or unwilling to consider the cumulative and downstream impacts of pollution when issuing permits.

“Whenever the DNR doesn’t take the impacts on wildlife when it permits pollution, it hurts all of us,” said John. “Maybe it’s in the lake where you go fishing, or the pond where the dog likes to swim. Our restoration efforts help here and there, but the DNR has the power to help entire watersheds. If the DNR won’t follow the law, the EPA needs to correct it.”

 

John Domino is a resident of Rio, Wisconsin and is a plant pest disease specialist for the state of Wisconsin. An avid outdoorsman who loves to fish, camp and hunt, John believes that all people and animals have the right to play, drink and frolic in clean, healthy lakes, rivers and streams.

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.