MONROE COUNTY - Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes returned to a meeting of the Monroe County Climate Change Task Force on Wednesday, Feb. 3. This was almost one year since the first time Barnes had addressed the group. His message this time was that flood resilience and opportunities for agriculture are top priorities of the Evers’ Administration’s Climate Change Plan.
“Last year, when I visited Monroe County, I toured the flood control dams that had breached in the 2018 flood,” Barnes said. “That experience made it clear to me how much support communities in Wisconsin need to address the impacts of climate change.”
Barnes emphasized that agriculture will have a key role in helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and engaging in farming practices which can store more carbon in the soil.
“Involvement of the agricultural sector in these efforts is crucial,” Barnes explained. “The measures set forth in the report our group released in December enjoy widespread support from the farming community, which wants to be part of the solutions and the economic opportunities.”
Barnes said that when he and Governor Evers had first taken office, the effort to address the impacts of climate change had been “inactive for the previous eight years.” He reminded the almost 35 meeting participants that in his first year in office, Evers had rejoined Wisconsin in the U.S. Climate Alliance, and established the Office of Clean Energy and Sustainability.
“Our climate change plan for Wisconsin called for a transition to 100 percent clean energy by 2050,” Barnes said. “Now with the Biden Administration’s announcement of an even more ambitious goal of making the transition to 100 percent clean energy by 2035, things can start to happen even more quickly with coordination at the federal, state and local levels.”
Barnes said that too many good ideas seem to stall out in the legislature in Wisconsin. For this reason, efforts at the local level like the one in Monroe County, he said, have been and will continue to be crucial in propelling climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts forward.
“We are going to need widespread support for the Governor’s budget proposals, and also support for standalone legislation,” Barnes said. “It’s going to take a groundswell of support to move this agenda forward and ensure that Wisconsin is prepared to weather the impacts of climate change going forward.”
Task Force report
The Lieutenant Governor led the Governor’s Climate Change Task Force, which held meetings across the state in 2020 to obtain broad citizen input. They released their final report in December of 2020, and now those findings are making their way into the Governor’s biennial budget proposal to be taken up in 2021.
“We worked diligently throughout 2020 with a diverse coalition of stakeholders to bring about our final report,” Barnes said. “The measures called for in the report will lay the groundwork for beginning to address climate change impacts in Wisconsin.”
Key issues in the report outlined by Barnes include:
• establishing an Office of Environmental Justice’
• green job training initiatives
• developing a more sustainable transportation system
• updating state statutes as relates to clean energy
• planning for flood resilience measures in communities
• establishment of a State Resilience Office
• incentivizing more sustainable farming practices
• increasing investments in food programs, connecting farming and food
• increasing funding for producer-led watershed groups
• paying farmers for carbon farming
Marcy West, Executive Director of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, who also sits on the Natural Resources Board, suggested that it might be helpful to create a forum where citizens could express their support for the measures put forth in the Climate Change Task Force Report to their elected representatives.
“Perhaps the Monroe County Climate Change Task Force could invite Representative Loren Oldenburg and Senator Brad Pfaff to an upcoming meeting,” West suggested. “The focus of that discussion is what they can do to support the measures called for in the report in the budget process, in legislation, and how they can support the Governor’s Office of Rural Prosperity in insuring that rural Wisconsin economies will benefit from these initiatives.”
The next meeting of the Monroe County Climate Change Task Force will take place on Thursday, March 4, from 9-11 a.m. The meetings are scheduled to take place virtually until further notice, and information about how to join the meeting online can be found at the Monroe County Land Conservation Department’s website.
In other business, the Monroe County Climate Change Task Force heard updates about the effort to install stream and rain monitoring stations in the Kickapoo River and Little LaCrosse River watersheds; heard about efforts to evaluate stream crossings and infrastructure in the county; and about efforts to buy out properties in the floodplain.
Monroe County Land Use Planner Roxie Anderson told the committee that fundraising efforts to date had allowed for the purchase of three weather/rain monitoring stations for the Kickapoo River Watershed, and two for the Little LaCrosse River Watershed. She said that includes four stations with water level monitors, three with a rain bucket to measure rainfall amounts, and one station that will be outfitted with a camera. The stations will be installed in the spring, as soon as weather permits.
“Our monitoring stations will be connected to the Verizon cellular network, with two-way communication of data,” Anderson explained. “The stations allow for three reporting modes to transmit data – automatic every 10 minutes, hourly, and a low-battery mode, and the station can go for ten days without a solar recharge.”
Anderson said that the water level sensors will be connected to the stream through a 50-foot cable, and will measure water depth changes through measuring water pressure. The rain gauge with a tipping bucket will measure the inches of rain received, but also the intensity of the per hour rainfall amounts. The camera sensor will transmit images of the upstream conditions, with a 60-degree point of view.
Anderson was particularly enthused when explaining how the data from the monitors would be housed and served.
“The data will be served from a platform through an interface managed by the National Weather Service Office in LaCrosse,” Anderson said. “We can set the alert thresholds for almost real-time notifications, and can also send out notifications to a list of e-mails and text messages to a cell phone list.”
Anderson reported that the task force had recently applied for two grants to help fund the project through FEMA and WDNR.
“We have applied for a $40,000 Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities grant though FEMA, and so far that seems to have received a good response,” Anderson said. “In addition, we’ve applied for a WDNR Surface Water Grant for $10,000, and those grant awards will be announced in March.”
The FEMA grant, if received, would be enough to fund 10 additional monitoring stations, Anderson explained. The WDNR grant would be enough to purchase two more stations.
Monroe County Board Supervisor and Town of Ridgeville Supervisor Ron Luethe has been point on working with the WDNR and the Monroe County Highway Department on a comprehensive survey of stream crossings in the county.
“Our focus has been to use currently available state data to evaluate our bridges for their adequacy, and to assess the need for either repairs or replacement,” Luethe said. “We are hoping that our efforts here in Monroe County will result in a template that can be expanded for use regionally.”
Luethe told the Task Force that to complete the work would require a fair amount of labor over the spring, summer and fall. He proposed that the Task Force be allowed to hire two interns to help conduct the countywide inventory. He said that if the funding can be found to hire the interns, the WDNR would oversee their training.
“We want to start with the bridges initially,” Luethe said. “Once that is complete, then we hope to move on to evaluation of culuverts, dry runs, and more.”
Floodplain buy outs
Monroe County Zoning Administrator Allison Elliott reported that she had been working closely with Land Use Planner Roxie Anderson to facilitate targeted voluntary buyouts of properties in the floodplain. The two are pursuing the efforts through funds from Couleecap and Community Development Block Grants, along with funds from WDNR and FEMA.
“So far we have acquired and demolished six structures in the Little LaCrosse River Watershed,” Elliott explained. “We are currently working on three more, and hoping to contract for the demolitions by the end of March.”Elliott said that one of the properties acquired in Leon butts up against a park owned by the village, and will be used to expand the public lands there.