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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fair Thee Well Alicia Rae

Rat recently swam over to Milwaukee and from the harbor watched as the Alicia Rae, the last working commercial fishing boat in Milwaukee, left Milwaukee for good.

Lake Michigan has been evicting commercial fishers for many years. The lake’s ecology keeps changing with the continued introduction of invasive species mostly by way of ballast water in large Great Lakes shipping vessels. It’s difficult to blame just one culprit since the story of various species invading Lake Michigan waters and the resulting rise and fall of dominant fish populations is beginning to read like a volume on European history.

But if Rat were to point a pointy-clawed digit at today’s main offender, I would come up 900 trillion digits too few, for those quagga mussels sure are prolific little buggers. I should say prolific little morsels, but my poor belly hurts just looking at them all.

Dan Egan wrote a bittersweet piece in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about Dan Anderson, the captain of the Alicia Rae, and his story of leaving the Lake Michigan fishery behind. Or as Dan put it, “The lake left me. It’s gone.”

The rivers that Rat calls home, like Lake Michigan, could use some help battling invasive species, and someone could really lend a paw to help battle all that oppressive algae that’s been blooming this summer. (Not to mention my fur; it’s startin’ to stink!) After all, we wouldn’t want to read stories of businesses people dependent on rivers saying things like, “The river left me. It’s gone.” Would we?

Photo: Satellite view of an algae bloom in Castle Rock Lake on the Wisconsin River. Courtesy of UW SSEC and WisconsinView

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Wiscosnin DNR B-slapped by federal agents

That's BUREAUCRAT-slapping, just so we're clear here. Rat's use of crude vernacular is against its code of rat ethics.

But the bureaucrat-slapping of the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources by fellow bureaucrats of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is remarkable, for the no-nonsense thoroughness of the communique, and for the fact that it was even written.

On July 18, the EPA's Chicago office informed the DNR that it has found "numerous apparent omissions and deviations" from how DNR is supposed to enforce clean water laws.

In fact, EPA slapped DNR a total of 75 times for various omissions and deviations. In effect, EPA is telling DNR: "You are blowing off federal law and we're not happy about it." Some examples:

  • EPA tells DNR that it is too restrictive in who they allow to make a legal challenge of a water permit. They point out that Wisconsin lacks clear-cut ways for the public to participate in DNR's water pollution enforcement process.
  • EPA tells DNR that it can't let the state's transportation department off the the hook from controlling erosion at road construction sites: "Wisconsin cannot simply exempt DOT projects from [stormwater] permitting requirements."
  • EPA contends DNR is letting the fox of municipalities watch over the hen house of their own stormwater programs.
There are 72 more.

EPA asks DNR to respond to this letter by mid-October. For scores of these deficiencies, its communique asks the agency to "include a plan, with schedule and milestones," for how DNR will comply with federal law. EPA is even asking for new administrative rules and statutes for some of these deficiencies. (Guess EPA hasn't been hanging around Wisconsin in recent months, where old environmental laws are being gutted, and new ones have as much chance as a rat at a cat convention.)

This EPA letter indirectly stems from a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling last spring which said, in effect, that the DNR didn't have to carry out certain provisions of federal clean water laws unless the EPA specifically ordered it. This appears to be that order.

The rat-paw prints of fellow river rats at Midwest Environmental Advocates are all over this opus from EPA. EPA cannot be dictated to, of course, but MEA has been sure to keep EPA apprised of the slippage we all have observed over the years in Wisconsin DNR's consistently and evenly enforcing clean water laws.