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Great Lakes Article:

DNR takes a strong stand

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


The state and the federal government have gotten a decent handle on controlling pollution from industrial and municipal wastewater plants, "point sources" of pollution released through easily identifiable pipes. But runoff (or non-point) pollution - from lawns, farms, construction sites, roadways, parking lots and roofs - remains a serious threat to the quality of Wisconsin's water.

To counter that threat, the state Department of Natural Resources has come up with the most comprehensive set of rules in the country to protect against non-point pollution. So comprehensive, in fact, that they will affect most state residents in one way or another.

That being the case, residents might want to pay particular attention to the debate and make sure their own voices are heard as the rules move through the Legislature in coming months. But we hope they agree with our assessment that on the overall picture, the DNR seems to have gotten things about right and that too much tinkering by legislators will only muddy the waters.

The new rules would change the way municipalities clean their streets and what residents do with their fallen leaves; how fertilizer is placed on lawns larger than 5 acres; how much salting of roadways takes place in winter; the way construction sites are set up and maintained; the way highway projects are designed; and what small farmers do to control soil erosion and manure runoff.

The rules were put together over four years with input from the public and various groups. Overall, they make for a reasonable package that could go a long way toward bringing non-point pollution under control.

Still, there are some details over which reasonable people will disagree, such as whether farmers should be required to put in buffer zones between their fields and neighboring lakes and rivers. Environmentalists say farmers should be, and will press for such buffers as the rules go through the Legislature.

The DNR dropped a buffer requirement because federal officials have refused to give a straight answer on whether such a requirement would affect a program that provides federal grants for farmers who voluntarily do such things as put in buffer zones.

Given that federal ambiguity, it makes sense to drop the buffer requirement for now and revisit it down the road, when the effects of the federal volunteer program are better known and when federal officials might be a little more communicative.

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