A decade ago, the Wisconsin legislature debated and passed — in spectacular bipartisan fashion — a long-needed update to the state’s groundwater law. Both parties acknowledged their work was only half done, but since then partisan rancor has reigned, while the pressure on Wisconsin’s signature natural resource has redoubled. In the latest issue of Milwaukee Magazine I make the case for conservation, science, and public policy to lead us back across the partisan divide.
One of my favorite interviews was with Jon W. Allan, who heads Michigan’s Office of Great Lakes. He was talking about how Michigan had managed to overcome partisan distrust and build a more pro-active groundwater management tool.
The tool is what makes the regulatory process possible, says Allan. The vast majority of users are going to fly through, alleviating the fear of unreasonable bureaucracy. But it’s more than a computer model. Underpinning the tool is the trust that stakeholders built over seven years of intense bipartisan discourse.
Allan led his state’s discussion, co-chairing a commission chosen in equal parts by both houses of the Michigan Legislature and by the governor. The commission’s work required long hours of study, public process and transparency. “You have to build trust on the political side that the science is good. And you have to build trust that the politics will follow,” says Allan.
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