North of Wausau is a little dead end called Granite Heights Road. That’s where I grew up, along the Wisconsin River. It was a beautiful place to enjoy rural Wisconsin, especially swimming and fishing in the river. However, there was a time when I was young that we couldn’t eat the fish we caught because the river was too polluted. My parents always made us take a shower right when we got out to wash away a layer of scum that clung to our bodies. I don’t seem to have any lasting damage from the pollution, but it’s certainly not what we want for our environment or our kids.
We’ve improved the quality of our water in Wisconsin since the days of my childhood. Here in Marathon County, local and state government as well as industry has worked closely with citizens, and improved our water and environment substantially. For example, between 2001 and 2010, the state of Wisconsin provided 220 farmers in our county with the education and technical assistance to utilize managed grazing. Implementing this agricultural technique not only reduced dairy farming’s contribution to water contamination but also helped farmers increase profitability.
However, the last six years demonstrate that water quality remains an issue here in Wisconsin. Years before the Flint water tragedy came to the forefront of American politics, central Wisconsin confronted its own water crisis. That little dead end road I grew up on is just up the river from Brokaw, where the village has foreclosed largely because of the expensive water delivery system that was built to replace polluted groundwater.
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