Adapted from an article by Steph Adams, Clean Water Coalition Coordinator at River Alliance of Wisconsin
After years of committee reports, negotiations, public hearings, and heated discussions, the State Legislature is on the verge of passing comprehensive administrative rules for the reduction of “non-point” pollution. If passed as anticipated in the coming weeks, Wisconsin will have some of the most stringent regulations governing runoff-related pollution in the country. These new rules are essential for achieving higher water quality under the Clean Water Act. Reports in recent years have indicated that 40% of our streams and 60% of our lakes are impaired by non-point pollution, causing algae blooms, beach closures, and fish kills.
The primary hurdle to achieving widespread consensus on the rules is contention over whether to obligate farmers to maintain a 20- to 35-foot vegetated buffer between their fields and water bodies. Counties, municipalities, lake associations, conservationists, sporting groups, scientists, farmers, and environmentalists have voiced support for buffers, which are one of the most effective means of preventing sediments, pathogens, nutrients, and pesticides from being dumped or running off into water bodies. Vegetative buffers prevent erosion, provide habitat, maintain water temperature, and reduce flooding. They are an essential part of conservation systems.
In fact, vegetative buffers are already a popular conservation practice with many farmers who have taken advantage of numerous federal and federal/state programs that provide funding for buffer installation. At stake is the potential loss of federal funds for voluntary buffer strips if landowners were forced to create vegetated buffers on their properties. A simple solution is to begin with voluntary programs, allowing farmers to take advantage of federal funding options, then phase in obligatory buffers once the federal incentives are gone. This will ensure the improvement of water quality into the future.