This blog’s primary purpose is to help people learn about events and initiatives related to sustainability in Central Wisconsin. On a regular basis we post great stories in recent sustainability news, including topics of interest on the local, Wisconsin, national, and international level. In addition, we work with the many organizations and individuals working on sustainability issues in Central Wisconsin to gather and post a calendar of events. Follow our blog on an ongoing basis, and/or sign up for a monthly reminder.
By Sandy Bauers, GreenSpace, April 13, 2014
Got fleas on your cat? Ticks on your dog? In deciding on a treatment – and yes, you do want to treat these little varmints – not all chemicals are equal. Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced an agreement with two companies to take pet collars containing the chemical propoxur off the market.
After an assessment, the agency found “unacceptable risks to children” the first day after the collar is put onto the pet. Here’s the rub: The products won’t actually be gone until 2016, if then. Read the full article.
From Energy On Wisconsin Newsletter, April 2014
Between 2000 and 2013, the number of Wisconsin ENERGY STAR certified buildings has increased from 43 to 582, according to a new report titled Leaders in Efficiency: Energy Star Buildings in Wisconsin. The report, released by Cool Choices—a Madison-based nonprofit organization—in partnership with the Great Plains Institute and the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council, found that 91 percent of all ENERGY STAR certified commercial buildings in the state are k-12 schools, retail stores, and office buildings.
Improving energy efficiency saves money and reduces the environmental and health impacts of fossil fuel use. Buildings that measure and track their building’s energy and water usage with the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager tool use an average of 35 percent less energy, saving building owners money. An EPA study found a 7 percent savings over 3 years in 35,000 buildings that benchmarked their buildings using Portfolio Manager.
Nationally, more than 40 percent of the commercial market uses ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager. More than 20,000 buildings performing in the top 25 percent of buildings of their type nationally have achieved certification. Portfolio Manager is used in more than 5,200 Wisconsin buildings. Milwaukee and Madison areas have the most volume of buildings with ratings and Sun Prairie, Appleton, and Sheboygan have the most Energy Star buildings per capita. While Wisconsin Energy Star certified buildings represent nearly 72 million square feet of floor space, this is less than 5 percent of commercial building floor space in the state. The study found that buildings 100,000 square feet and smaller account for 65 percent of the certified buildings. Notably, 56 percent of schools in Wisconsin are Energy Star certified, representing more than half of the certified buildings, 44 of which are Milwaukee Public Schools. Menomonee Falls, WI-based Kohl’s Corporation, Target, Sears, and J.C. Penney are the leading retailers achieving ENERGY STAR certifications for their stores.
From Vernon Electric Cooperative website, March 18, 2014
Vernon Electric Cooperative (VEC) is bringing community-owned solar to Wisconsin. In partnership with national community solar developer Clean Energy Collective (CEC), VEC will provide any member in its service territory the opportunity to own individual panels in a new locally-sited, utility-scale solar PV array. This is the first community-owned solar facility under construction in the state of Wisconsin.
The Vernon Electric Community Solar Farm, a 305 kW, 1001-panel clean power facility will be built at VEC’s headquarters in Westby. Through CEC’s model, any member of VEC can purchase panels from the shared farm—as few as one or enough to completely offset the energy demands of a home or business. Credit for the power produced will be provided directly on their monthly utility bills.
“We are excited to begin construction of the first community-owned solar program in the state of Wisconsin,” said Vernon Electric’s CEO, Joe McDonald. “We know this will be a valuable local energy solution for our members.” Read the full article. Learn more about community solar in the Guide to Community Solar.
By Lucy Ptak, CLUE Student Office Assistant, April 2014
With spring just around the corner we can expect April showers to bring May flowers. This means it’s time to start landscaping and planting to have an amazing outdoor space to enjoy in the warmer months. Many people just have grass and a small flower garden but why not take it a step further this year and design and plant a rain garden.
Rain gardens are fantastic for landscaping because they slow down the water streaming off the hard surfaces. The rain absorbs into the ground instead of creating puddles that attract mosquitos. Rain gardens absorb the water and hold it for a short time then allow the water to naturally infiltrate the ground slowly. Rain gardens should be placed in a shallow, constructed depression where they will receive runoff from hard surfaces like a roof, a driveway, or a sidewalk. Native plants and grasses are best when planting a rain garden as they are deep-rooted and will grow and mature over time. Some native plants in central Wisconsin include prairie grasses, wildflowers, ferns, and mosses. To learn more about rain garden planning and installation, read Rain Gardens: A How-To Manual for Homeowners.There is a full list of native plant nurseries by county on the Wisconsin DNR website.
As part of the Wisconsin Lakes Partnership Convention this year, Nick Homan and Rob Bursik will be holding a rain garden installation on April 26 from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. This workshop is hands on, teaching participants the ins and outs of rain garden installation and basic storm water management. Homan and Bursik will work with participants to put the lessons into action and plant a large-scale rain garden at the site of the Wisconsin Farm Technology Days event, which will be held in Plover in August. To find out more about the Wisconsin Lakes Partnership Convention and to register for the workshop, visit the convention website.
By Institute for a Sustainable Future, April 2014
New report provides local food purchasing strategies for restaurants, hospitals and colleges
The Institute for a Sustainable (ISF) released A 20% by 2020 Local Purchasing Toolkit – a Report to Support Local Food Purchasing, a new report which includes the first regional directory of producers currently supplying the largest institutions and restaurants in our region. The report includes strategies to help restaurants and institutions market their commitment to local foods, and to motivate food distributors to support regional producers and food businesses.
Consumers are interested in making sure their values are accurately reflected in their food choices, driving adoption of transparent metrics and benchmarks by leading businesses. In a recent study by University of Minnesota- Duluth professor David Syring, 88% of respondents look at tables to see where a product is made or grown. In a report by the National Restaurant Association, the top restaurant menus trends for 2014 focus on local sourcing, hyper sourcing (restaurant gardens), and environmental sustainability.
Learn how one community found a unique way to share stories about local impacts of climate change and find out how you can be a part of applying their model to Central Wisconsin. On Wednesday April 16 at 6 p.m. in the Portage County Annex Building (1462 Strongs Avenue, Stevens Point), Cathy Techtmann, UW-Extension environmental outreach specialist, will share her experiences working with a team developing a climate change display, about environmental and cultural impacts in the Lake Superior region. The resulting display is housed at the Great Lakes Visitor Center in Ashland, Wisconsin.
Their approach, the “Gikinoo’wizhiwe Onji Waaban” (Guiding for Tomorrow) or G-WOW, provides an integration of science and cultural knowledge to explain how climate change is affecting both the environment and people. Following Cathy’s presentation the audience is invited to discuss opportunities for creating a locally-based display for Central Wisconsin. Free and open to everyone!
This presentation is brought to you by the G-WOW Initiative, a partnership between the University of Wisconsin-Extension and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, US Forest Service, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, and the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program, and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Learn more about G-WOW on their website.
By Lynn Markham, CLUE, April 2014
As a deep winter’s snow and ice is melting and running to our lakes and rivers, we start thinking about whether flooding is a concern. The National Weather Service has a flood risk portion of their website that states “Moderate flooding is expected in southern Wisconsin…as a result of water in the current snowpack and the deep layer of frozen ground coupled with expected seasonal temperatures and rainfall.”
The Wisconsin-specific webpage gets more specific, listing which communities have a 50 percent or greater chance of different levels of flooding during April-June 2014. On April 2, 2014 those communities were:
- Portage (Wisconsin River): Greater than 50 percent chance of MAJOR flooding
- Galesville (Black River) and Dubuque (Mississippi River): Greater than 50 percent chance of MODERATE flooding
- Many other communities shown as yellow dots on map: Greater than 50 percent chance of MINOR flooding
Books and Articles about Past Floods in Wisconsin
Below are a few books and articles about how runoff from melting snow and big storms can impact homes built near rivers, and how wetlands can lessen flooding. These readings are written to be kid-friendly and helpful for adults.
- With Growing Hope: A Study of the August 2007 Kickapoo Flood in the Village of Gays Mills: A three-page case study about this Wisconsin flood and how the community responded. Published in the Land Use Tracker newsletter starting on page 9.
- Flood!: Great story about how a family is affected and stressed when their house near the Mississippi is flooded. Read more.
- Wetlands: Soggy Habitat: Focuses on many of the benefits wetlands provide – including reducing flooding – with great illustrations. Read more.
- Great Midwest Flood: In the summer of 1993, propelled by unrelenting rain, the Mississippi and Missouri rivers climbed higher than anyone could remember. In clear and graceful language, this book chronicles this slow-motion disaster and the super-human effort to try to contain it through the use of levees, reservoirs, and sandbags. The informative text provides careful explanations of flood management techniques, and is spiced with colorful stories of evacuation and clean up. Read more.
By Kris Rued-Clark, Hoopla, April 2014
Like a thread that is woven throughout the fabric of the campus, sustainability joins together many separate elements of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Sustainability determines the direction of countless conversations, choices, and activities. Faculty, administration, staff and students find a commonality in addressing issues of sustainability. So deeply woven is this environmental ethos that individuals commonly state that it is part of the campus culture.
The fact that the university hired a full time Sustainability Coordinator speaks volumes. Students voted to increase fees in order to support green initiatives through a newly established Green Fund. The most recently built student housing, the Suites@201 Reserve, has achieved the impressive LEED Gold certification. The Princeton Review placed UW-Stevens Point on its Green College Hnor Roll for the third year in a row. This year, UWSP is the only school in Wisconsin to make the exclusive list. Best.Colleges.com named it one of its Greenest Universities. [....]
“This campus does really good things when it comes to being sustainable,” says Chris [Brindley, building and grounds supervisor]. The only way it works is getting buy-in from all these entities: students, custodians, grounds, the chancellor, and residents.”
Read the full article (starts on page 9).
By Lee Bergquist, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, December 5, 2013
Wisconsin farms this year generated the largest volume of manure spills since 2007, including an accident by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s flagship research farm in Columbia County that produced a mile-long trail of animal waste.
Livestock operations have spilled more than 1 million gallons of manure in 2013, according to the state Department of Natural Resources’ records. Records don’t show a clear trend in the frequency or size of the spills, but officials say there is a growing practice by farmers and their neighbors of reporting mishaps. Officials also say that regardless of the precautions taken, accidents are not uncommon.
Manure contains an array of contaminants, including E. coli, phosphorus and nitrogen, that can harm public waterways and drinking water. Read the full article.
By Fabien Tepper, Christian Science Monitor, March 28, 2014
The latest step in the White House’s new Climate Action Plan is a new plan to curb methane, a far more potent trapper of heat than carbon dioxide. The plan relies heavily on cooperation with oil, gas, and dairy industries.
The White House announced on Friday a cross-agency strategy to reduce emissions of methane, a potent heat-trapping gas that seeps into the atmosphere from four major sources: oil and gas extraction, cattle and dairy farming, coal mining, and landfills. The administration’s latest effort to curb domestic climate change contributions sidesteps Congress but promises friendly cooperation with the industries most responsible for methane emissions. It is part of the long-term executive Climate Action Plan (CAP) announced last June. [....]
Agriculture: In June, in partnership with the dairy industry, the USDA, EPA and DOE will jointly release a “Biogas Roadmap” outlining voluntary strategies to accelerate adoption of methane digesters and other cost-effective technologies to reduce U.S. dairy sector greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020.
Read the full article.
By Nathan Sandwick, Portage County UW-Extension, April 2014
Come to the kick off for “A Point and a Pint” happy hour series on April 25 at 6:00 p.m. at Kristin’s Riverwalk, 1140 Clark Street, Stevens Point. Torbjörn Lahti will spark ideas and conversations among participants of this happy hour by giving a short talk, drawing upon experiences that have made him a world renowned leader in sustainable development. A planner and economist, Lahti is the founder of the Swedish eco-municipality movement and has worked with over 100 municipalities in providing eco-municipality education and assistance. He co-authored the award-winning book The Natural Step for Communities: How Cities & Towns Can Change to Sustainable Practices (New Society Publishers, 2004), and presently co-directs the Institute for Ecomunicipality Education & Assistance.
This event is the first in a series of Friday evening happy hours intended to promote learning, networking, and enjoyable conversation on topics related to community development. The event itself is free and open to the public; participants may purchase their own food and drinks at Kristin’s Riverwalk. People are encouraged to arrive early (between 5:30 and 6:00), settle in, and begin to order their food and drinks before the short talk begins. If you have questions about the event or suggestions for future topics, contact Nathan Sandwick.
From Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters press release, March 2014
How we can make smart choices for our environmental future? Water and energy are two of today’s biggest environmental and social challenges. A thriving Wisconsin depends on clean and abundant water, and on energy sources that meet our needs, but don’t make climate change worse. How are we doing on meeting those challenges? Find out at the Resilient Wisconsin Day Forum on Tuesday, May 6 at Union South on the UW-Madison campus.
Join us for a day-long discussion of resilience, hosted by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters. Panel discussions will explore advances in energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable energy that can shape a greener future, and look at opportunities for safeguarding our state’s freshwater ecosystems.
- Starting a fruitful conversation on climate change
- Using values and norms to communicate water issues
- Improving approaches to integrated water management
- Examining food, water, and energy connections
For more information and to register, visit the event website. Registration is $45 general public / $35 Wisconsin Academy members / $20 students. All registrations include lunch. Register now to secure your place at the forum and take advantage of early bird rates. Prices increase after April 11, 2014.
From Organic Processing Institute, March 2014
The National Organic Program (NOP) of the USDA has finally released the data for their 2013 list of certified organic operations (it usually comes out in January). This list is a tremendous resource, because it is a searchable database. Processors can use this list to identify possible sources of a key ingredient they might need, or to connect with processors in a quest to find a co-packer.
Use it to sort for a specific state, and you can see how many certified operations of any kind (farms, processing facilities, distributors, and storage) there are in that state. Read the full article.
From Wisconsin Ag Connection, March 19, 2014
As spring approaches, warming temperatures, snow melt, residual frozen ground and rain events all create conditions that can affect private wells and drinking water. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, flood waters and runoff contain bacteria and other contaminants that can affect water supplies and cause water-borne illness. Wells located in pits, basements and low-lying areas are especially susceptible to contamination. Even without obvious signs of flooding, a well can become contaminated.
“Now is the time of year for well owners to watch for signs of flooding and to notice any change in the color, smell or taste of their drinking water,” said Liesa Lehmann, private water section chief for the DNR. Read the full article.
By Joe Ancel, Choose to Reuse, March 17, 2014
In spite of all the snow on the ground, spring is almost here and that means it is time for some spring cleaning. In your basement and garage, you probably have several items that are taking up space and are in good working condition. Rather than throwing these items in the trash, make it possible for someone else to use them. Here in central Wisconsin there are several municipalities that have a program called Choose to Reuse. This program allows residents to bring items on a scheduled day to a designated location. Then community members are invited to look through the items and take items they want for free.
Locally, Choose to Reuse was started in 2009 in the Town of Rome, Adams County, as a way to keep usable items from being discarded. Considering increasing environmental concerns, this seemed like a sustainable, positive, and easy program for area residents. By recycling items at no charge, these items went to a new home, providing enjoyment for their new owners. Since then the program has expanded to other municipalities in central Wisconsin.
Scheduled 2014 Choose to Reuse days in central Wisconsin include the following: Town of Grant (Portage County) – May 17, Town of Grand Rapids (Wood County) – May 17, Town of Seneca (Wood County) – May 17, and Town of Saratoga (Wood County) – June 21. Items that are typically accepted are items in good working condition that someone else can use and items that can be easily repaired or used for parts. These items include indoor and outdoor furniture, small working appliances, lawn care items, household goods, bicycles, seasonal decorations, knick-knacks, office equipment, books, CDs, DVDs, VHS tapes, records, clothes, etc. Any materials classified as hazardous waste (e.g. paint, DDT, prescription drugs) are NOT accepted. Some events allow items such as tires, televisions, and computer monitors to be dropped off for a fee. Check with your local municipality for more details on their Choose to Reuse program.
If you do not have a program in your area, the Citizens for a Clean, Green & Welcoming Community in Wisconsin Rapids have put together a booklet on organizing a Choose to Reuse program. This booklet can be found at this link. Essential ingredients in starting a program include dedicated volunteers, promotional materials (brochures, fliers, posters), and communications with local governing body and contracted recycling/waste vendor. Whether participating in an existing Choose to Reuse program or starting a new program, the benefits are huge – reduction of materials going to the landfill by reusing and recycling usable items.
From Farmshed, March 14, 2014
Central Rivers Farmshed is hosting a free to the public CSA Open House on Thursday, March 20th from 6-8pm at the Greenhouse Project (1220 Briggs Court, Stevens Point). This is a great opportunity to learn what Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is and how to get involved. Meet our local CSA farmers, learn more about their farms and maybe even sign up for a share! Both weekly veggie box shares and other types of shares (meat, coffee, etc.) will be available. Farms will also have local goods available for purchase. Participating Farms: Auburndale Food Cooperative, Bice’s Quality Critter Ranch, East Slope Farm, Gravel Road Farm, Last Chance Carrell, Liberation Farmers LLC, Rose of Sharon Homestead, Vespertine Gardens, Whitefeather Organics, and more!
What is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)? The CSA model has its roots in 1960s Japan. It is a partnership between producers and community members, known as shareholders or members, who invest in a local farm by paying for a full season’s worth of produce in early spring before the growing season starts. This benefits growers by providing income for the farm’s operating expenses, and in return members receive a weekly share of the harvest throughout the growing season. Shares are typically distributed through central pickup sites or at the farm. For more information about the event or about Central Rivers Farmshed, please visit www.farmshed.org or call the Farmshed office at 715-544-6154.
By CLUE, March 2014
Every year the Wisconsin Lakes Partnership hosts a statewide lakes convention in March. This year’s convention will be held in Stevens Point from April 24-26. Sign up to attend the full event, or register for individual workshops ($15 each). Learn more on the event website.
Below is a small sampling of workshops and tours related to community sustainability that may be of interest to community members and local government officials:
Using Shoreland Zoning to Protect Waterfront Property
Thursday, April 24, 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Becky Roberts and Lynn Markham, Center for Land Use Education, will present this workshop discussing ways to protect your property through shoreland zoning. Come to this workshop to learn about new shoreland zoning standards under NR 115; links between shoreland property values, water quality, fisheries and wildlife; and the role of local officials and citizens in influencing local land use decisions. The workshop will discuss the role of the county board, plan commission or zoning committee, and zoning board of adjustment in making zoning decisions. Shoreland property owners and new, aspiring and veteran officials are encouraged to attend.
The Natural Step: A Systematic Approach to Community Sustainability
Saturday, April 26, 1:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Torbjörn Lahti, planner and economist, is the founder of the Swedish eco-municipality movement, and has worked with over 100 municipalities in providing eco-municipality education and assistance. In this workshop, Lahti will provide an overview of the Natural Step and give examples and ideas for putting sustainability into practice. He is the author of My Journey with the Ecomunicipalities: How to Change the World through Local Action (2012). The book presents the Ecomunicipality 5.0 concept, which provides tools and methods for starting a participative sustainable community development program that combines the strengths of grass-roots bottom-up processes with the structure of top-down institutional support systems.
UW-Stevens Point Campus Sustainability Tour
Saturday, April 26, 1:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Dave Barbier, UW-Stevens Point Campus Sustainability Coordinator, will provide a tour demonstrating how the university is working to become a more sustainable and environmentally friendly. The tour will include the newly completed LEED Gold residence hall, parking lots that yield zero stormwater, green roofs, rain gardens that reduce the effects of polluted runoff, solar panels, innovative waste management systems, and more.
Rain Garden Installation
Saturday, April 26, 1:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Nick Homan, Lakescape Solutions, and Rob Bursik, Dragonfly Gardens, will present this hands-on workshop demonstrating the ins and outs of rain garden installation and basic storm water management. The workshop will be held on site at the Feltz Family Farm in Stevens Point, WI. This is the location for the 2014 Farm Technology Days event. You will learn the initial steps to prepare and design a rain garden, then we will put those lessons into practice, and plant a large-scale rain garden and see how our native plant species work in this application.
By Brian Bienkowski, Environmental Health News, March 7, 2014
Researchers at Oregon State University outfitted volunteers with slightly modified silicone bracelets and then tested them for 1,200 substances. They detected several dozen compounds – everything from caffeine and cigarette smoke to flame retardants and pesticides. “We were surprised at the breadth of chemicals,” said Kim Anderson, a professor and chemist who was senior author of the study published in Environmental Science & Technology.
Beginning with Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong, the cheap, colorful, rubbery wristbands have been a popular fad over the past decade in promoting charities and other affiliations. Read the full article.
From the Energy On Wisconsin newsletter, February/March 2014
The City of Monona is a recent Wisconsin case study of a successful third-party solar installation. The city, at no up- front cost, just installed 156 kW of solar PV arrays on roofs of 4 municipal buildings, reported Janine Glaeser, Monona’s Facilities Manager, at the Energy On Wisconsin meeting February 26. “These systems generate approximately 30% of the buildings’ electricity use and are estimated to save the city $9,000 a year in utility bills. This puts the city half way to its 25 by ’25 energy independent community goal by producing 217,700 kWh of renewable energy annually and eliminating 187 tons of carbon dioxide a year” she said.
The city worked with Solar Connections, a Madison-based company, to put the project together. The city entered into a solar service partnership agreement and leased it roofs to Falcon Energy Systems (FES) for 6 years. FES, out of Denver, CO, is the investor and gets the federal tax credits. Monona buys renewable energy credits (RECs) from Falcon rather than electricity at a cost less than MGE’s current electricity rate. Full Spectrum Solar of Madison, WI did the installation and will service the equipment. The panels came from the Minnesota firm TenKsolar. The systems are interconnected by Madison Gas and Electric. According to Jeff Ford, Senior Market Analyst at MGE, who spoke at the meeting, MGE monitors the energy use and electricity output of those buildings every 15 minutes and shows the balance of amount generated over amount consumed on the monthly bill.
Wisconsin’s interconnection rule (PSC 119), which sets forth the terms and procedures for connecting customer-sited electric generation equipment to the utility grid, does not address the issue of third-party ownership of renewable energy systems. In more than 20 states in the U.S, consumers and businesses are allowed to enter into arrangements that allow third-party companies to install solar systems on customers’ property and sell electricity generated by these systems back to the customer. Customer-sited installations in those states have grown as a result increasing clean energy generation and creating jobs.
Solar energy systems require an initial investment to purchase and install. Nonprofit entities such as local governments and schools are not eligible for the federal tax incentives that are available to businesses as system owners. With third-party ownership, the business, not the consumer, finances the cost of the system and takes the tax advantage, lowering the cost of the system; and, the consumer purchases the power at a contract ed rate, often lower than the local utility rate.
From Sustainable City Network, March 3, 2014
The U.S. Department of Energy issued a final rule for strong new efficiency standards that will take a big bite out of the energy consumption of the refrigerators and freezers used in supermarkets, convenience stores, restaurants, and commercial kitchens. The significant reductions in energy use that will be seen with the new standards are made possible by the availability of technologies including LED lighting and occupancy sensors, high-performance glass doors, and high-efficiency motors, which all provide big efficiency gains.
DOE estimates that commercial refrigerators and freezers meeting the new standards sold over thirty years will reduce U.S. electricity consumption by about 340 billion kWh and save businesses $12 billion. The new standards will also reduce CO2 emissions by 142 million metric tons, which is equivalent to the annual emissions of 30 million cars. Read the full article.