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Great Lakes Article:

Cuts leave pollution program Ďa paper tigerí
The Associated Press
02/17/04

MADISON - Funding and staff shortages have stalled the stateís program to curb runoff pollution nearly two years after it became law, conservationists say.

The program is aimed at cleaning up the soil and agricultural chemicals running into the stateís lakes and streams.

The law was supposed to provide money and technical advice to farmers, but state budget cuts and staff shortages have left many counties unable to implement the new rules.

"Itís more or less a paper tiger," said Joe Van Berkel, Sauk Countyís conservation director.

A survey by Wisconsinís River Alliance recently found people are uncertain about whether the program will work because of difficulties with both funding and implementation.

"We are moving forward as resources allow," said Russ Rasmussen, director of the Department of Natural Resourcesí watershed management bureau. "But we have little in the way of resources."

The law outlines a set of rules for controlling runoff pollution from farm fields and barn lots. Critics had warned before the law took effect in the fall of 2002 that budget and staffing problems would make it unworkable.

Estimates put the programís cost at $65 million a year, including money to reimburse county conservation agencies for their oversight and enforcement of the program. The estimate also covers money to help farmers pay for conservation practices.

The state, as it worked to eliminate a deficit, allocated $27.6 million for the program in the 2004-05 budget period, according to the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

The agriculture department, which provides money for county staffing grants, and the DNR, which pays for cost sharing, had to cut money for the programs.

The agriculture department cut the funding to help counties hire additional staff from $9.3 million to $8.8 million, said Nick Neher, the agencyís agricultural resources management administrator.

Bonding for the DNRís program to help pay farmers was cut from $19.2 million to $9.5 million, Rasmussen said.

The cuts mean the state will provide eligible counties with a flat payment of $85,000, Neher said. Other counties will receive money left over from the voluntary runoff pollution project that preceded the new rules.

The law calls for helping counties pay for 100 percent of the salary for one staff member, 70 percent for a second and 50 percent for a third. Most will see nowhere near that support, said Barb Thompson, Grant Countyís conservation director.

Thompson said she does not have enough money or staff to visit farmers to talk about conservation plans or to take enforcement action.

"Unless people have staff to go out and police this thing, it is not effective at all," she said. "If we get a complaint (about pollution), weíre going to have to call the DNR. But they donít have the staff either. So itís back to square one."

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