Water is a hot topic in the Town of New Hope, Wisconsin. Those of you that work and live in small communities across the Midwest would recognize the people and the stories as similar to your own. There are farmers, teachers, nurses, mechanics, restaurant owners, bakers, artists, retired folks that own property on the lakes – the mix of people and ideas that make rural communities great. Most of the residents of New Hope Township get their water from private wells. They swim in the lakes and fish for brook trout in the Tomorrow River. They have never had conflicts over water use or quality – until now.
I had the privilege of helping facilitate a recent meeting in New Hope Township. The purpose of the meeting was to bring neighbors together to discuss concerns about water use and quality, and how farming is impacting both surface and ground water.
In every meeting like this that I’ve been in, to a person, there is agreement that we want both profitable, vibrant agriculture and clean water where we live. This meeting was no exception. However, over half the room (the non-farmers) had never heard of a nutrient management plan. They knew very little about the nuts and bolts of managing a dairy farm or producing corn – not surprising since less than 2% of the U.S. population are farming or ranching families. It was easy to see how neighbors could find themselves talking past one another and sitting in County Board meetings on opposite sides of an issue, even though their goals were the same.
As you can imagine, one conversation did not solve the water issues New Hope residents are facing. However, people were in the same room talking with each other, rather than about each other. They were listening respectfully, asking good questions, and learning from their neighbors. They found some common ground, like the need for more consistent and comprehensive testing of drinking and surface water.
In a time when people with the best intentions are so often talking past one another, I was heartened to see them doing the tough job that we all have as citizens – coming together as neighbors to take care of the small patch of ground that we have responsibility for during our short time on this planet.
I know it’s happening in communities across the North Central Region, and would love to hear more of these kinds of stories. If you have one to share, please send it to us and we’ll post some of them in our Network blog.
If you would like to contribute ideas for the future of the North Central Region Water Network, feel free to send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Rebecca Power, Network Director