Evers wants nearly $70M in bonding to address water quality

Tony Evers will call for allowing state environmental and agricultural officials to borrow nearly $70 million more over the next two years to combat water pollution and replace lead pipes in his first state budget, following through on his pledge to attack drinking water contamination during his first year in office.
Evers is expected to unveil the full two-year spending plan on Feb. 28 but gave The Associated Press a broad preview of his water quality initiatives.
It’s unclear how the proposals will go over with Republicans who control the Legislature.
State agriculture officials would be allowed to borrow another $3 million over two years to fund grants to farmers for building infrastructure that reduces pollution from agriculture.
Evers also wants to spend an additional $300,000 on studies on water pollution management and implementing new manure-spreading restrictions the DNR enacted last year along Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan shoreline, where porous Silurian bedrock allows contaminants to seep into groundwater more easily.
"Increased funding for northeast Wisconsin’s (Silurian bedrock) areas would help farmers implement the new performance standards," she said in an email.
A November survey by the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Geological Survey found 42 percent of 301 randomly selected wells in Iowa, Grant and Lafayette counties exceed federal standards for bacteria.
Replacing a single line can cost thousands of dollars.
Evers pointed to the problems in his State of the State address last month, declaring 2019 the year of clean drinking water .
Republican reaction to Evers’ declaration in his speech was guarded.

Toxic coal ash pollution in Illinois raises drinking water concerns

Coal ash repositories at 22 operating and defunct coal plants in Illinois have contaminated groundwater and water bodies with toxic heavy metals and other elements at rates higher than legal limits, in some cases exponentially so, according to a new analysis by four environmental groups.
The environmental groups compared the levels of metals reported in groundwater to Environmental Protection Agency safe drinking water standards and other federal health standards.
But other coal ash impoundments are in populated areas where people rely on wells, like Joliet southwest of Chicago.
Under the federal rules the groundwater monitoring results could trigger required cleanups by the companies.
Environmental groups are calling on the state of Illinois to complete state coal ash storage rules that have been in the works since 2013 but not finalized.
Contamination across the state High levels of metals were found in groundwater near plants including NRG’s operating Waukegan plant on the shore of Lake Michigan north of Chicago; Vistra/Dynegy’s closed Hennepin plant just downstream on the Illinois River from popular Starved Rock State Park; Vistra/Dynegy’s closed Vermilion plant on the Vermilion River in central Illinois, the state’s only federally designated wild and scenic river; and NRG’s Lincoln Stone Quarry about 40 miles southwest of Chicago.
The environmental groups are especially worried about the pollution since companies plan to permanently close a number of the coal ash impoundments, and the groups worry that current federal and state rules do not do enough to ensure adequate monitoring and remediation in the future.
It’s operated under strict permit limits and the oversight of the Illinois EPA, and no groundwater associated with the quarry affects any sources of drinking water.” Environmental advocates have long questioned whether monitoring requirements were adequate, and say the new reporting requirements of federal coal ash rules help them keep better watch on the situation.
The report by environmental groups criticizes the way the rules monitor whether a coal ash impoundment has caused contamination.
But the environmental groups complain that the upgradient sites considered as background or control data are in some cases too close to the plant and could also be contaminated from coal ash dumped in the past.

Contamination Found in Water Near Illinois Coal Ash Dumps

Analysis based on testing mostly conducted by energy companies shows that water near all but two coal plants in Illinois is contaminated with toxic waste.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency said 10 of the sites pose a danger to drinking water supplies of nearby communities.
The Waukegan plant, formerly owned by Commonwealth Edison (ComEd), has two unlined coal ash ponds onsite, along with an unlicensed landfill.
“We need stronger rules that provide permanent protection with a financial guarantee, and give the public a voice in these decisions.” Analysis of Industry-Supplied Data Nonprofit groups who produced the report based on industry-supplied data from 24 coal plants include the Environmental Integrity Project and the Sierra Club.
The groups are asking J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat and the state’s governor-elect, to require coal plant owners to set aside money to clean up their coal ash pits.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) earlier this year revised its rule on coal ash disposal.
The changes also gave utilities more time to clean up ash ponds, until October 2020, instead of the original April 2019 date.
In October, the Hoosier Environmental Council in Indiana, along with five other groups, filed suit in an effort to force the Trump administration to uphold the rules ordering utilities to clean up ash ponds by April 2019.
Many Illinois coal plants have disposed of coal ash in a process where it is mixed with water and then pumped into unlined pits.
The EPA in its technical studies to develop the CCR rule found that closure-in-place or closure-by-removal of coal ash were the best options to protect human health and the environment.

Aldermen urged to ‘learn from Flint’s nightmare’ and replace lead service lines

The City Council was urged Monday to “learn from Flint’s nightmare” by slapping a 1 percent tax on the sale of high-end property to help homeowners defray the cost of replacing lead service lines that carry water into Chicago homes.
The most alarming testimony came from Felicia Chase, a geologist and water specialist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, who “saw first-hand the devastation that widespread lead poisoning can have on a community” during five deployments to Flint, Michigan.
Chase talked about kids allowed to drink rationed amounts of bottled water because the water from their kitchen sinks was poisonous and about the family of five that haunts her to this day.
That family’s youngest child was a toddler with rashes all over his body, the worst one on his scalp.
“She kept asking me if her child was gonna be OK. She asked me if her child was gonna have long-term effects from this lead in her drinking water.
“I urge you take steps to prevent lead poisoning from the lead pipes that transport our drinking water from Lake Michigan to us in Chicago.
No U.S. city has more lead service lines than Chicago.
That’s where the tax comes in.
“We need to find some way to help these seniors who can’t afford these service lines.
Or, let the city do the work and share the cost over five to 10 years, through an additional fee on the property tax bill.

Before Foxconn got access to millions of gallons of Lake Michigan water, Wisconsin quietly gave small village even more

Both bids to tap into Lake Michigan were tests of a decade-old, congressionally approved pact intended to make it almost impossible to pump water outside the natural basin of the Great Lakes unless it is added to certain products, such as beer and soft drinks.
But as debates about the Foxconn and Waukesha water diversions continue to roil the region, it turns out Wisconsin gave another city permission nearly a decade ago to send significantly more Lake Michigan water beyond the subcontinental divide that separates the Great Lakes basin from other parts of the Midwest where water flows toward the Mississippi River.
Pleasant Prairie, a fast-developing community just north of the Illinois border, started with a daily limit of 3.2 million gallons when regional leaders approved the Great Lakes Water Compact in 2008.
Two years later, records show, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources boosted the city’s allotment of lake water by another 7.49 million gallons a day — almost as much as the controversial Waukesha diversion approved in 2016 and a little more than the bounty of Lake Michigan water secured for the Foxconn factory earlier this year.
While the village’s average daily withdrawal from Lake Michigan was just 2.49 million gallons in 2017, dramatically increasing the amount of water allocated for Pleasant Prairie sets the stage for future development in the Interstate 94 corridor between Chicago and Milwaukee.
I’m not sure we want a situation where a state is unilaterally increasing a water diversion by millions of gallons a day without any public notification.” At least one other expert questions whether giving Pleasant Prairie access to more lake water violates the spirit, if not the actual language, of the Great Lakes compact, which officials began negotiating during the early 2000s after an Ontario firm unveiled plans to ship 158 million gallons a year from Lake Superior to Asia.
State officials said they followed all proper procedures when expanding the Pleasant Prairie water diversion to more than 10 million gallons a day.
In response to questions from the Tribune, the Wisconsin DNR said state law required the agency to base the village’s allotment of Lake Michigan water on the size of its sewer service area “and the projected land use and build out within that area.” Details were included in documents filed with a panel created to oversee the water compact, the agency said.
“Neither the compact nor Wisconsin’s implementing statute required public hearings,” the agency said in a statement.
Michael Pollocoft, who was Pleasant Prairie administrator when the state gave the village access to more lake water, told the Tribune in an interview that he recalled being told the area needed to have water and sewer plans in place for the next half-century.

Meetings set on Waukesha water pipeline routes

Meetings set on Waukesha water pipeline routes.
WAUKESHA — The Great Water Alliance, a new program designed to carry fresh water from Lake Michigan to Waukesha, treat it, and return the same amount, is hosting community open houses regarding the pipeline alignments today and Thursday.
The public is encouraged to attend this first series of meetings, meet project team members, review return flow route alternatives, and discuss the program.
“We’ve been meeting with the leaders of our partner communities and want those who reside or do business in those communities to know more about our proposed plans for constructing these pipelines and how they may affect them.” Under terms unanimously approved by the eight Great Lakes governors and two Canadian premiers, Waukesha may access up to 8.2 million gallons a day of drinking water from Lake Michigan and return the same amount to the lake.
Current plans call for constructing a pipeline to carry Lake Michigan water through the communities of Franklin, Muskego, and New Berlin to Waukesha for use as the city’s water supply.
A second pipeline will return treated water to an outfall point in Franklin that empties into the Root River, ultimately flowing back to Lake Michigan.
Three route alternatives are being considered.
Construction is expected to begin in early 2020 with completion in 2023.
• From 5:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday June 28, at Muskego High School, Room 243, W185 S8750 Racine Ave.
Residents can examine maps of the three alternative routes and offer comments, learn more about why Waukesha is making use of Lake Michigan as its drinking water source, and how the highly treated water will improve the health of the Root River.

US Steel plant in Indiana spills contaminated wastewater into Lake Michigan

US Steel plant in Indiana spills contaminated wastewater into Lake Michigan.
The Environmental Protection Agency confirmed that the wastewater contained hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen.
It is not clear for how long the spill occurred or how much wastewater spilled.
US Steel reported that it shut down all production processes, isolated the affected piping for repairs, and added sodium trithiocarbonate to the wastewater to convert and aid in removing the toxic compound.
Save the Dunes Executive Director Natalie Johnson questioned a delay in alerting the community, which came many hours after the spill occurred through the report first issued by the NPS on the beach closures.
Current EPA maximum containment level (MCL) is 100 parts per billion (ppb) in drinking water.
However, the EPA is still waiting on the release of a final human health assessment to begin the process of adjusting its policy on chromium levels in drinking water; this assessment is most likely stalled due to chemical industry challenges, such as from the American Chemistry Council, which contends tat studies “show no adverse health effects” at the current 100-ppb limit.
The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization that specializes in research and advocacy in areas of toxic chemicals and human health, indicates that more than 200 million citizens in all 50 states drink water contaminated with the compound.
Chicago drinking water contains levels of hexavalent chromium at 0.23 ppb, which are 11 times higher than the more stringently recommended maximum contaminant level.
According to federal records, the Portage plant is one of six facilities on the Southern shore of Lake Michigan that legally released a combined 1,696 pounds of the metal during 2015.

U.S. Steel chemical spill closes beaches, EPA measuring environmental damage

U.S. Steel chemical spill closes beaches, EPA measuring environmental damage.
Low levels of the chemical hexavalent chromium, which is a carcinogen, were found in Lake Michigan, near the mouth of Burns Waterway, Sam Borries a branch chief for Region 5 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s emergency response program.
The park closed public access to West Beach and the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk Tuesday afternoon in light of the spill, which an EPA official said occurred Tuesday morning within 100 yards of Lake Michigan.
Officials in Ogden Dunes also closed their beach because of the spill and Indiana American Water Company, which provides drinking water to the community, shut down its plant there and is using its plant in Gary as a backup for the time being.
The beaches and water will be independently tested and monitored to determine when they are safe to reopen, Rowe said, adding the National Park Service has staff on the scene to closely monitor the situation and will provide more information as it becomes available.
"EPA will now get the lab work to determine if there is any contamination of our resources.
"Once the investigation is done, that will be determined," Borries said.
"It certainly reduces the impact by changing it into something else," Kelly said.
The town is instead getting its water from the Borman Park water treatment facility in Gary, Joe Loughmiller, the water utility’s external affairs manager, said in a statement.
"My office will continue to stay in close contact with the EPA, the IDNL, as well as with U.S. Steel and other federal, state, and local entities, as we gather information and work to remedy any impact from the discharge."

Wauwatosa’s Hartung Park receives award for water management

Wauwatosa’s Hartung Park receives award for water management.
Hartung Park in Wauwatosa was awarded as a Green Luminary green space by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District April 10.
The park near the intersection of West Keefe Avenue and Menomonee River Parkway opened in 2010 at the site of the old Hartung Quarry that supplied rocks used to construct area buildings.
The MMSD website describes Green Luminaries as spaces that "help protect our rivers and Lake Michigan by adapting practices that harvest rainfall for other uses or mimic nature by draining it into the ground to reduce water pollution."
A release from Wauwatosa Mayor Kathy Ehley’s office said the Green Luminaries Award acknowledges the work done by the collaboration of the city of Milwaukee, city of Wauwatosa and a group of volunteers who worked together over the past 14 years to make the park what it is today.
"It’s transformed from a quarry to a landfill and now a park that uses green infrastructure to help keep water pollution out of Milwaukee-area rivers and Lake Michigan," MMSD Public information Manager Bill Graffin said.
The Green Luminaries Award, given monthly, acknowledges projects, big or small, which ultimately help protect our rivers and Lake Michigan through storm water management, according to a news release.
The projects are led by people who recognize the need to innovate and create lasting good works that connect people and prosperity to the environment.
Wauwatosa Alderman Jason Wilke and Hartung Park Neighborhood Association Board member Mary Richter accepted the award at the MMSD board meeting.