Ground Water Listening Session Held in Saratoga

By Zach Hagenbucher, WSAU Radio 


SARATOGA, Wis. (WSAU) -- The Saratoga Town Hall was filled with active community members Thursday during a ground water listening session organized by state legislators.


The session was organized by Portage County Representative Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) to get feedback from the community affected by water usage and pollution from agriculture in the Central Sands region of Wisconsin.  The area has become a battleground between farmers and citizens over water rights.


Republican lawmakers presented two separate bills that did not meet the Democrats' standards and did not pass.  Democratic Representative Mark Miller (D-Monona) and Representative Cory Mason (D-Racine) authored their own Water Sustainability Act that did not make it to the floor before the legislative session ended earlier this year.


Glenn Coenen is from the town of New Hope and voiced his frustration over the lack of action after decades of studies on the water supply. He said, "How many more studies are we going to have to go through before the reality of it is realized by everybody that's in power? We already know the ground water, and how it flows, and the levels and how they fluctuate." 


Senator Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point) was also present as Saratoga falls in her district. She told the crowd that their concerns have made a definite impact during legislative sessions and that the state hasn't forgotten the issue.


Lassa said, "They're now starting to really hear from a lot of people from all across the state that ground water is an issue, whether it's quality, quantity, or both. And that message, I think, is starting to get through."


Shankland encouraged the community members to also present their case to the organizations that are supposed to represent their interests in Madison.  "If you're a member of an association, whether it's the farm bureau, the Wisconsin Farmers Union, CSWAG, the Wisconsin lake conservation voters, it's very important that you make sure that they are representing your interests at the capitol, because they will sometimes make decisions that don't represent you," said Shankland.


Saratoga resident Rhonda Carrell was paralyzed and had to relearn how to use her limbs after being poisoned in local waters. She also lost her two dogs that she exercised with in the water.


Carrell said, "There's a direct correlation between ground water and surface water and we have to be responsible for what's going in our water, whether is quality or quantity. If we continue to tap with high capacity wells, we all pay the price for that."


Fred Koch of Pine Lake is part of the Central Sands Water Action Coalition, a non-partisan group of activists looking to save the water supply.  Koch himself is a member of the farming industry, and said he's taken the steps to operate his farm and respect the water rights of the population.


Koch said, "It was very expensive for our company. I won't kid you. But how does it help if you're killing off your customers? It doesn't make a lot of sense. Ultimately, we want to be around for a long time."


Republican legislators, including Representative Scott Krug, were not invited to be a part of the session.  Krug will join the Democrats at a DNR presentation Tuesday at UW-Stevens Point to discuss another water issue, a sustainability model for the Little Plover River.