By Joe Bachman
Residents from Wood, Portage, Adams and Waushara counties spoke to Wisconsin Democrats over groundwater concerns in the area on Thursday night at Saratoga Town Hall.
Senator Julie Lassa, Senator Mark Miller, Representative Katrina Shankland, and Representative Cory Mason were present to hear residents voice their concerns over responsible groundwater management. This includes the ongoing battle between the town of Saratoga and Wysocki Farms, who recently purchased 7,000 acres of property in Saratoga for future production of a mega farm.
Saratoga residents have stated concerns about contaminated water from animal waste as well as what two high capacity wells that are proposed to the area may do to the water supply. The proposed CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) would generate around 55 million gallons of liquid manure and 25 million gallons of solid manure every year, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
“Water knows no boundaries — not town, county or state, for that matter,” said resident Rhonda Carrell, who is outspoken against CAFO’s coming to the area. “We have to be responsible for what’s going into our water, whether it’s quality or quantity — if we continue to tap with high capacity wells, we all pay the price.”
The four democrats have authored legislation called the Water Sustainability Act, which creates a better process for managing state water resources. This bill will be introduced in the next legislative session with support from members of the community, many of whom spoke in Madison regarding groundwater issues.
“The fact is that this has been an issue for a number of years, and in order for us to come up with a solution, we need all of the stakeholders at the table,” said Senator Lassa. “We’re now really starting to hear from people all across the state that groundwater is an issue, be it quality, quantity, or both.”
According to Representative Shankland, everyone has a stake in the ongoing issue of groundwater quality.
“Water is a basic right — in Portage county, for example, some residents had nitrates in their water and they can’t drink it — and if you have a private well that you can’t drink water from, you’ve got big problems,” said Shankland. “We need to work more on education and ensuring that everyone knows to test their wells — the first step is to engage every citizen and hear from them directly, and that’s why we’re here tonight.”
Overall, over 20 residents from all over central Wisconsin voiced their concerns directly to the panel, and the clear message echoed from all members present is that voices of the residents need to be heard by more state officials.
“Your voice is important,” said Shankland. “If you’re in agriculture, if you’re a property owner, if you’re an angler, if you care about our public lands, or a homeowner in general — a taxpayer, this is your issue — it affects you, regardless if it hasn’t come to you, yet, it will, eventually.”
Concerned residents were encouraged to contact state legislators, local elected officials, and to engage as much as possible in local government.