Opinion: It’s time for bold action on water quality, farm support in Wisconsin

Mark Redsten, Clean Wisconsin
Tom Crave, Dairy Business Association
Elizabeth A. Koehler, The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin
Bob Micheel, WI Land+Water 

We live in challenging times, and these days it can feel like we disagree more often than not. There are, however, at least two things that most, if not all, of us can agree on — keeping our water clean and our farms successful. To achieve both here in Wisconsin, we need to do more than agree they are important. We need bold action. 

To kickstart the action we think is needed, our four organizations — Clean Wisconsin, Dairy Business Association, The Nature Conservancy and WI Land+Water — have come together to find common ground on water and agricultural issues core to our missions.  

If not always on the same side, our organizations have been involved in state policy development on these issues for a collective 200 years. Wisconsin has made progress in that time, but not enough. We were disappointed that all the attention brought to the importance of clean water through the Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality in 2019 and earlier this year did not result in meaningful policy changes.  

It’s time to rethink how we protect our water and support our farms. 

We believe the current programs to permit farms and manage unintended agricultural runoff are in need of change. Together our state must also invest more resources in helping people who don’t have access to clean water get it and in helping farmers grow our food with fewer negative environmental impacts. We need to support and encourage innovative farming practices and new cropping systems that improve farmers’ bottom lines and the environment.  

We can work toward a permitting process that supports farms that are meeting water quality standards, and we need to realize a future where every farm in the state is meeting a minimum set of conservation standards. We also recognize that in some sensitive parts of the state, farming practices will have to change more dramatically in order to protect our water resources, and our state needs to help those farmers adapt. 

We must invest in Wisconsin farmers and Wisconsin’s drinking water. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be free, but the results will be worth every penny. We need to support our farmers who already recognize clean water is good business and help others adjust their practices to better protect our water. Every resident in Wisconsin has a right to clean water; if they don’t have it, we have an obligation as a state to help them get it. 

We cannot address clean water or the future of farming in Wisconsin as standalone issues; they are challenges that must be met together. Too often, policy disagreements have resulted in conflict and inaction instead of compromises and improvements. Our organizations are prepared to find common ground, to request bold changes from decision-makers, and to work toward a future where our state has clean water and a thriving agricultural community. 

Mark Redsten is the  president & CEO of Clean Wisconsin.
Tom Crave is the president of the Dairy Business Association.
Elizabeth A. Koehler is the state director of The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin.
Bob Micheel is the president of WI Land+Water.