Let Nature Help Protect Our Drinking Water

As we celebrate World Water Day in March, it’s good to pause and remember that water is a fixed asset. If we keep it clean and use it wisely, it will continue to meet our current and future needs for drinking water, recreation and energy as well as the needs of the many other animals and plants with which we share our planet.

In the past year, the impact of pollutants from agricultural lands and urban areas on groundwater in Door and Kewaunee counties has made headlines.

While other parts of Wisconsin also face challenges in dealing with groundwater contamination, the situation is particularly acute in our area because of the unique geology. Thin soils and an extensive network of cracks in the bedrock mean that every drop of water that hits the ground here, and any pollutants it is carrying, can end up in our drinking water.

There are many things we can do to minimize the risk of contaminating our groundwater. Good manure-handling practices on farms, minimizing the use of fertilizers and pesticides on lawns, and directing water away from sinkholes, fractures and wells are all important steps we can take.

Another very important thing we can do is protect our forests, wetlands and other natural lands, especially in those areas where the soil is very shallow. These habitats are nature’s first line of defense in protecting water quality. They help capture rainwater and snowmelt and filter out pollutants before the water is absorbed into the ground or flows to our groundwater, lakes and rivers. It’s a vital service that nature provides for free.

These same places are also home to songbirds, rare dragonflies, lady’s-slipper orchids and the many other plants and animals that make Door County the most biologically rich place in Wisconsin.

State government, local municipalities and nonprofits like The Nature Conservancy have successfully worked with local citizens to protect forests, wetlands and other natural areas in the county. One of our key partners for the past 25 years has been the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, Wisconsin’s premiere program for funding the protection of our lands and waters.

There is currently a proposal in the 2015-2017 budget to stop the Stewardship Program. If enacted, it would put important land acquisitions out of reach for more than a decade, if not forever.

From our spot here in Door County on one of our magnificent Great Lakes, it’s tempting to take our clean water for granted. But in this unique and fragile environment where we live, if we want clean water, we all have a role to play. We need to take personal action when we can, support groups working to protect our lands and waters and let our elected leaders know that, even in tough budgetary times, we need to keep the Stewardship Program working for the people of Wisconsin.