First, the bad news. The year 2017 was a disaster for the environment as both the Scott Walker and Donald Trump administrations worked to undo decades of progress protecting our outdoors.
But there is some good news. Local governments across the country are stepping up to safeguard our natural resources in light of the failure of state and federal government. Here in Dane County, 2018 ushers in a budget which makes conservation a priority.
The budget adopted by Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and the County Board stands in a stark contrast to the environmental neglect of the Republicans in charge of the state Capitol in Madison and the White House and Congress in Washington, D.C.
The county budget, which took effect on the first of this year, emphasizes cleaning up our waterways, expanding outdoor recreational opportunities and addressing the climate crisis.
Dane County’s lakes are our gems – central to our identity as the Four Lakes region. Yet anyone who has swum in, floated on or relaxed alongside those lakes knows that they are all too often choked with excessive weeds and algae. Fortunately, Parisi’s budget advances a major and science-based effort to clean up our lakes.
The reason we have weed-choked and often-smelly lakes in the summer is the excess phosphorus that pours into the lakes and spurs excess growth of unwanted algae and weeds.
Under the budget, the county will aggressively aim to reduce both the phosphorus runoff from present activities as well as pollution that leaches into the lakes from nutrient-laden sludge that was deposited in stream beds over the past century.
Much progress has been already achieved in reducing phosphorus runoff from farms and cities. Agriculture, still a big industry in Dane County, has reduced annual phosphorus pollution by 27,000 pounds. The new county budget will seek to continue that trend by implementing the best technologies and practices to further reduce runoff.
To address the problem of age-old phosphorus deposits in the stream beds that continue to discharge pollution to the lakes, the county in undertaking a “Suck the Muck” program to remove those phosphorus deposits before they can pollute our lakes.
The county budget also will fund an effort to make the lakes more attractive and usable now, since it will be some time before the long-term effort to reduce the pollution problems completely resolves the situation. Popular beaches will be equipped with systems to filter the water in swimming areas.
The county budget also seeks to enhance outdoor recreation. Even though Dane is the second most populous county in the state, we still have abundant opportunities to enjoy our outdoors by biking, hiking, paddling, fishing, etc. The budget will fund restoration of the Sugar River, a gem for fishing and boating. Trails will also be expanded across the county for bikers and hikers, including an extension of the new and very popular trail across Lake Waubesa to McFarland. Bike lanes will be added to numerous county highways as well.
While Trump denies and Walker ignores climate change, Dane County is joining local level governments across the country that listen to the scientists and take the threat of global warming seriously.
The county government has set a goal of running operations on 100 percent clean energy, and this budget takes some steps to meet that goal, including having county vehicles run on gas created by decomposition of waste at the landfill and installing solar panels on county buildings.
Despite what’s happening with Trump and Walker, I’m convinced that the people do not want to go backward on environmental protection. It’s good to see Dane County going forward.
Spencer Black represented the 77th Assembly District for 26 years and was chair of the Natural Resources Committee. He currently serves as a director of the national Sierra Club and is an adjunct professor of urban and regional planning at UW-Madison.
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