Walker’s Wisconsin – Water

Water. In Wisconsin, every aspect of our lives is connected to water. Groundwater provides drinking water for 70 percent of Wisconsin citizens, supplies water for industries and businesses in 97 percent of Wisconsin communities, sources nearly all crop irrigation, and sustains springs, lakes, and rivers. Anglers, paddlers, and families recreate on and enjoy our lakes and rivers. In Walker’s Wisconsin, water has been neglected and abused.

Lead and manure contaminate our drinking water, toxic algae blooms in our lakes, and streams and lakes are drying up. And Walker signed into law new threats – sulfide mining and the rollback of even more wetlands protections. Walker’s policies have put our fish and wildlife at risk, but they have also endangered our public health, safety, and our children’s futures.

1. Walker welcomed industrial acid mining back to the state

Senator Tom Tiffany loves toxic mines, and he has Governor Walker’s ear. Last year, Walker signed Tiffany’s Industrial Acid Mining Bill (2017 Act 134) – a law that repealed the gold standard Prove It First mining law which required mining companies to prove they would not pollute Wisconsin’s waters. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, metallic sulfide mining is America’s most toxic industry. It inevitably creates acid mine drainage, which seeps into surface and ground water carrying things like arsenic, lead, and sulfuric acid. Now, mining companies are at the gate looking to strip Wisconsin land, pollute its rivers, and leave taxpayers to pick up the cost of pollution. Acid mine drainage lasts for thousands of years. Ancient Roman-built mines still create new toxic pollution in the United Kingdom today.

2. Walker trashed recycling

Wisconsin has always been a leader in the push for better recycling programs. In 1990, Wisconsin was one of the first states in the country to pass mandatory recycling laws and, as a state, we have a nationally recognized recycling system. In his first budget, Walker attempted to eliminate state recycling requirements and all funding for municipal and county-run recycling programs. Fortunately, after the citizens of Wisconsin fought back, the Joint Finance Committee came to see the error of Walker’s ways. In a rare occurrence, the committee tossed out Walker’s recommendation and restored recycling. Still, support for recycling to local governments was cut from $32 million to $20 million. Today, Wisconsin’s prized recycling laws remain intact – no thanks to Walker.

3. Walker signed the Death by a Thousand Straws bill into law

Walker signed the Death by a Thousand Straws bill (2017 Act 100), which limits the ability of the DNR to address groundwater over-pumping in critical areas. The bill grants “forever” permits for high capacity wells that are tied to the land. There are entire lakes and streams that are drying up in central Wisconsin due to over-pumping by these high capacity wells. Walker’s law will exacerbate an already severe problem. It will be more difficult for local communities to address serious groundwater problems and will lead to more lakes, rivers, and drinking water wells drying up.

4. Walker reduced the ‘boots on the ground’ fighting run-off pollution

In his 2015-17 budget Walker tried to reduce staff funding to county soil and water conservation departments by $800,000, falling well short of the program’s required $9,379,800. County soil and water conservation departments provide essential testing and monitoring services across Wisconsin. These departments assist farmers with designing and constructing manure storage facilities, help establish conservation cropping practices, and aid in nutrient management planning. The county departments also help landowners find cost-share funds for conservation work. Without full funding for county conservationists, Wisconsin communities lose their first defense against water pollution. While the Joint Finance Committee increased funding by $675,000 per year, the funding was still $1 million short of its required budget.

5. Walker praised frac sand water thieves

In 2014, Walker visited the frac sand mining company Hi-Crush’s new facility in Trempeleau County where he praised them for “maintaining a positive relationship with the Wisconsin communities surrounding their facility.” He also said that we can “balance our strong commitment to maintaining clean water, clean land, and clean air with an operation investing in Wisconsin.” It was an ironic visit since Hi-Crush essentially stole water. The facility paid $52,000 in penalties for operating two high-capacity wells on its site without state permits and operating one well at a higher pumping rate than its permit allowed. Of course, the company’s executives donated $10,000 to the Walker campaign.

6. Walker’s DNR protected polluters who poured human waste on fields

Under Walker, polluters are being let off the hook for illegal activity. In 2012, Herr Environmental was treating fields with 300 percent more human waste than their permit allowed, endangering 40 nearby drinking water wells. They even cooked their books to show that they were in compliance. The company was a known bad actor.  It had a $240,000 fine for previous environmental offenses. The top Department of Natural Resources investigator called the most recent violations among “the worst he’d seen.” Yet, Herr Environmental received the lowest fine possible. Walker’s political appointees overrode the DNR experts’ recommendation to pursue legal action against the company through the Department of Justice. The owners of Herr Environmental – Richard and Jody Herr – are donors to Scott Gunderson, who was a top political appointee in the Walker DNR at the time. Gunderson urged DNR staff to drop enforcement proceedings against the company. The Herrs have also donated to Governor Walker, Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, and her husband, Rep. Joel Kleefisch, who interceded on behalf of the Herrs.

7. Foxconn Edition: Walker betrayed the Great Lakes Compact, selling out the world’s largest freshwater resource

It wasn’t enough for Walker to hand Foxconn a check for $4.5 billion of our tax money, it wasn’t enough to allow Foxconn to trample on our wetlands – now he’s giving away our Great Lakes water. The plan would allow the City of Racine, which sits inside the Great Lakes basin, to divert seven million gallons of water per day – that’s equivalent to 875 tanker trucks – to Mount Pleasant, a township that’s only partially in the basin, known as a “straddling community.” There, Foxconn will consume 2.7 million gallons a day to manufacture flat screen TVs. Under the compact, diversions are meant to provide water for uses such as municipal drinking water and groundwater replenishment for family wells. This is the first time a state in the compact has been so brazen as to actually suggest a diversion almost exclusively for a private company’s manufacturing needs. The Great Lakes hold 90 percent of America’s freshwater, that’s 20 percent of the world’s supply. The diversion of Great Lakes water for private industry use is an unprecedented affront to the Great Lakes Compact.

To be continued…

There’s so much more to learn about the damage Walker has done to Wisconsin. Every two weeks – until Wisconsin has a new governor – new items will be added to the Walker’s Wisconsin pages. Sign up for emails to get a heads up when we do. Check out more of Walker’s Wisconsin!


  1. https://www.wpr.org/northern-wisconsin-lawmaker-wants-repeal-mining-moratorium-law
  2. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2015 “Toxic Release Inventory.” https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/documents/complete_2011_tri_na_overview_document.pdf
  3. (1) Gaumnitz, Lisa, et al. “A Growing Thirst for Groundwater,” Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine, June, 2004
  4. https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/politics/2017/11/22/scott-walker-gop-have-eased-many-environmental-regulations-and-made-cuts-key-programs/792918001/
  5. https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2017/proposals/au7/asm/bill/ab1
  6. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jan. 29, 2018: www.jsonline.com/story/news/2018/01/29/racine-seeks-state-ok-tap-up-7-million-gallons-lake-michigan-day-foxconn-mount-pleasant/1071211001/
  7. Wisconsin DNR, 2017: dnr.wi.gov/topic/WaterUse/Racine
  8. City of Racine Diversion Application, 2018: dnr.wi.gov/topic/WaterUse/documents/Racine/RacineDiversionApp20180126.pdf