Cuts leave pollution program Ďa
The Associated Press
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
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
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
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."