Our nation is watching in horror as the Flint water disaster unfolds, a completely avoidable, unnecessary public health crises that threatens an entire town and the health and welfare of its people. A Republican controlled executive and legislative branch authorized unaccountable emergency managers to swoop in, take over municipalities, and engaging in “cost cutting” measures like switching Flint’s drinking water source from Lake Huron to the Flint river, failing to treat the water for corrosive elements at an approximate cost of $100 a day. This failure resulted in the poisoning of a whole town.
Republican power grabs in Wisconsin have also centered on eroding local control of our most precious natural resource – water. Specifically, on ways to make it easier for private interests to take it, use it and pollute it, while destroying a community’s ability to do anything about it. The Republicans have bills that allow developers to build on lakebeds, remove local governments’ ability to limit polluting industries, and open the door for private companies to purchase public utilities.
Already, the quality of our water is suffering. One-third of Kewaunee County wells are unsafe for drinking, while other wells around the state are contaminated with nitrate, bacteria, arsenic, atrazine, radium, and molybdenum. Lead pipes like the ones in Flint threaten 70,000 residences in Milwaukee, 10,000 in Racine, 8,000 in West Allis, 6,500 in Manitowoc, 7,000 in Kenosha, almost 2,000 in Green Bay and 3,000 in Shorewood. In fact, the children in the Cities of Milwaukee and Watertown, Racine and Menasha have a greater incidence of lead poisoning than the Flint children, as do our the counties of Buffalo, Green Lake, Pepin, Richland and Rock.
The consequences of lead poisoning for young children can be deadly and lead to a lifetime of cognitive and other ailments. That’s why I introduced a bill to make sure that when children have lead contamination, their drinking water and paint in their households get tested in state mitigation efforts.
According to a recent poll from the League of Conservation Voters, the public overwhelming supports government action to keep water safe and clean. 84% of people surveyed said that water pollution is an important priority.
But the desires of actual people seems more and more irrelevant to state policy making. It is telling that several of the bills pending in the Wisconsin legislature that further erode water protections by allowing dredging, pollution, and private development are supported by special interest groups calling the shots – the Koch-brother- funded Americans for Prosperity and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. These groups have spent millions to maintain a Republican chokehold on all branches of our government.
And that is the story of Flint. Once democratic government is gone, like clean water, it can be hard to reverse the devastation that follows. The ramifications for people are catastrophic.