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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Treating fish farms like factory farms is bad for the health of our water

Jan 22, 2016

Wisconsin state legislators have proposed Senate Bill 493 and its companion Assembly Bill 640, a law that would exempt the aquaculture industry’s requirement to follow laws that protect our water. In part, the proposal uses the guise of agriculture to give a pass to dangerous pollution.  Do we really want to expand exemptions from clean water laws to another industrial agriculture sector?

As a veterinarian I know something about animal-based agriculture. I know that the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and the Department of Natural Resources’ shared oversight of industrial livestock facilities has not prevented contamination of drinking water wells in Kewaunee County with E-coli and other dangerous bacteria. Nor has it prevented unsafe levels of nitrates or poisons like Atrazine in water wells across Wisconsin. An excellent series on the state of our drinking water by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism highlighted alarming statistics on the extent of private wells with water unsafe for human consumption.

At a time when we continue to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to restore our degraded public waters from polluted runoff, invasive species and wetland loss, our legislature shouldn’t be promoting additional industrial pollution by giving a pass to an industry with a terrible track record for harming native fish populations through disease and nutrient pollution.

As a lifelong angler, I’m deeply concerned about the growing dead zone in Green Bay, formerly one of the most productive fisheries in the world. Both SB 493 and AB 640 put those of us who spend time on our public waters at risk by exempting structures supporting industrial aquaculture from liability should we be harmed.

The special interests that benefit from weakening science-based standards put clean water and public health at risk. These are the same interests that influenced the drastic cuts to DNR science staff and hobbled remaining staff by limiting their autonomy to make decisions based in science and law.

None of us alone have the capacity for science needed to manage our natural heritage with future generations’ interests in mind. Wisconsin needs an effective and responsive government to ensure our grandchildren have clean water, essential to both their health and economic opportunities.

I urge people who care about our public waters to contact their state legislators to let them know you want them to vote for water and public rights.

Dave Clausen

Amery, WI

Former Chair, Wisconsin Natural Resources Board

Current board member, Midwest Environmental Advocates

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel also published this Op Ed on January 21, 2016.

/ tagged: government, agriculture, public trust doctrine