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Mandela Barnes

Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes particpated in a panel discussion at UW-Stout on Monday to discuss water quality.

Water quality and steps to improve it continue to be an important issue in Dunn County.

Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes participated in a panel discussion at UW-Stout on Monday discussing local water issues and steps local conservationists and stakeholders are taking to improve the quality of water in the county. The panel was moderated by Sen. Patty Schachtner.

For Schachtner is was an opportunity to bounce ideas off local experts on the issues and have a conversation what action is being done locally. Every day is a day in the classroom and an opportunity to learn, she said.

“As a parent, as community member and as a grandparent, clean water is our future. It has to be a priority,” Schachtner said.

Governor Tony Evers declared 2019 as the year of clean drinking water. This has allowed the state to address some of the issues revolving contaminants in the water in the state, Barnes said. The state created two new positions and funded a state model to address issues related to polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS are a groups of human-made chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1950s, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Barnes said $14 million was invested in the latest budget for lead testing and reoccurring lead poisoning in some neighborhoods.

“All of us, including leaders at the state capital have a responsibility to protect our natural resources, but we have to do it in a fair, equitable and just way,” Barnes said.

As the chair of the climate change task force, Barnes plans to take the issues discussed and shared throughout the state to world-wide leaders at United Nations climate talks in Madrid, Spain in December.

The panel also featured UW-Stout professors Scott McGovern and Tina Lee, President of the Tainter Menomin Lake Improvement Association Liz Usborne, Dunn County Health Department Director KT Gallagher, Tom Bilse of the Friends of the Red Cedar Basin and Bill Hogseth of the Wisconsin Farmers Union.

Gallagher said that 50 percent of respondents to the county’s health assessment needs survey said a healthy environment was a weakness for the county. Results of the survey coincide with the view of surface water in the county, Gallagher said.

More than half of county residents get their drinking water from private wells. There isn’t a requirement for testing the ground water coming out of these private wells, Gallagher said.

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“Often times people don’t know their private risk of the water that is coming out of their tap,” Gallagher said.

Through UW-Stout’s LAKES Research Experience for Undergraduates program students view how land use run off impacts the lakes. Sediments and phosphorus running in the watershed is leading to conditions for carp and phytobacteria, Lee said. The program researches the best way of determine the root cause and how to stop it.

Students have documented how much the housing market, tourism and local business could be impacted by cleaner lakes, which would lead to more recreational use of the water.

“That has to be a collective effort with all land owners on board, with county government strong enough to enforce regulations and help landowners get better practices with the community that benefits or is impacted negatively, getting them on board and participating,” Lee said.

Hogseth said agriculture is a significant source of phosphorus and nitrogen in the watershed. The farmers union’s goal is to promote practices that reduce contamination through cover crops, reduced tillage and waterways. Less than 20 percent of farms are using these practices, Hogseth said.

The key to adopting these practices is engaged citizen leaderships. Hogseth said area farmer-led watershed councils are providing that leadership. Farmer to farmer learning is powerful, he said.

“We trying to create spaces where they can collaborate with one another, where they can learn from one another and where they trust one another to exchange information and consider the adoption of new practices,” Hogeseth said.

These issues haven’t gotten the attention that it should have, Barnes said. Different areas of the state facing different issues regarding water quality and Barnes said its important the state doesn’t use one approach to attempt to solve the issue. That’s why, Barnes said, it’s key to people with real world experience to the table to hear their voices.

“I encourage you to continue to use you mind, your voices and your energy to make sure we are doing everything that we can do to keep water safe for everybody,” Barnes said, “because together all of us who make our respective communities a place where everybody has the opportunity to thrive.”

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