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Land and water plan ready for comments

Land and water plan ready for comments Land and water plan ready for comments

The Marathon County Environmental Resources Committee on Tuesday last week completed a review of a 10-year Land and Water Resources Management plan and agreed to send it to December public hearings. The plan, needed for the Conservation, Planning and Zoning Department to obtain conservation funding from the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and the Department of Natural Resources, calls on the state legislature to impose targeted performance standards on county farmers to meet Wisconsin River Basin Total Daily Maximum Load (TMDL) phosphorus loss goals.

The standards would include a maximum annual loss of 2.5 pounds per acre of phosphorus and a required 35-foot tillage buffer around every waterway.

Currently, county farmers must follow statewide performance standards, which limit phosphorus loss to six pounds per acre per year. County farmers must respect a five-foot tillage buffer.

To date, committee members have not voted on the plan, nor have they expressed opinions on the proposal in public.

Supervisor Sara Guild, committee vice-chair, said, however, members did get a “very powerful” demonstration of no-till agriculture and other conservation-minded methods of farming at a recent education session held at the UW-Marshfield agricultural research station.

County land and water program director Paul Daigle said passing the plan would, in itself, not require farmers to change any of their production practices. He said he envisioned committee members debating over the next several years whether to make the targeted performance standards, if approved by the state legislature, mandatory or only implemented through voluntary efforts.

“We will have a policy discussion over the next few years,” he said. “The plan doesn’t describe how it will be implemented.”

Committee chairman Jacob Langenhahn, town of Marathon, said it might take time and effort before an approved plan would prove successful in the field.

“It will take some trial and error,” he said. “A lot of things have to fall in place for the plan to be successful.”

Committee members discussed at length how to get public feedback during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Daigle told committee members his department would make both the plan and education videos available online. He said paper copies would be distributed to county library branches. Daigle said, further, the county could send postcards out to producers encouraging their input on the plan.

The county director said the committee had only a few months to review and take action on the plan. The committee needed to act, he said, to send the plan to the full county board and have it before the Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Board by February in order to qualify for future state funding.

Committee members said they would try and approve a public engagement plan to get feedback on the proposal at their Nov. 3 meeting.

Jacob Langenhahn