Water Warning. This was a new one to me...somehow it looked so ominous looming in front of Madeline Island, spiritual center of the Ojibwe world. I thought of the Water Walkers who were making their way here, the threats to the water from pig farms and mines, and I was deeply saddened. I saw carloads of people, tourists and families coming for a day at the beach. They would tumble out of the car, walk across the sand…then turn around and go elsewhere. There was no fun to be had here today. I decided to stay though. The Lake had offered unconditional solace, comfort and refuge to me countless times. Now I felt like it was my turn. I walked down to where the Sioux river emptied into the lake, its currents colliding with the incoming waves, stirring and mixing the waters. I sat, as usual, on the sand with my paper and watercolors spread out before me...listening. I dipped out a jar of water and sat with the Lake when other people turned away, the way you’d sit with a sick friend. She was still beautiful…and things would clear up. She’d be back to her old self in no time, right? As I painted with that water, clouds built overhead, changeable as ever. A spot of blue sky peeked through in contrast to all the gray, and I liked to think it was a sign of hope.
I tried calling the number on the sign, which got me nowhere. I wanted to know why the bacteria levels were up. What was the source, or was the sign even legitimate? Finally, stopping at the DNR Fish Hatchery up the road, I found a very nice man who promised to look into it for me, which he did. Yes, bacteria levels WERE up, but no one knew why, and the DNR did not have the staff to even begin to monitor it. I wondered then–how on earth would we deal with a proposed 26,000 – pig factory farm with millions of gallons of liquid manure in the watershed upstream by Fish Creek?
The next day, the sign was gone. That day, I found a man on the beach playing with his dog, as if nothing had happened. He was from Illinois, probably in his thirties and his family had a place up here for a couple of generations. I told him about the sign…he was incredulous. Of course he had always taken it for granted that this place would be a pure and pristine refuge from the Chicago suburbs. He had no idea that someone was proposing putting in a giant pig farm just miles away. I wondered how many people were like him, who in addition to all the local people who loved the quality of life here, loved this place too. What if all of them stopped coming, and sold their vacation homes as property values plummeted? What if the families in their cars decided it was just not worth the trip anymore if the water wasn’t pure and clean? Of course the environment is worth protecting all on its own merit, but it was beyond me why we would shoot ourselves in the foot and jeopardize the most established “industry” in the region–tourism–for a paltry couple dozen jobs? It made no sense environmentally or economically.
Each day since that day, I’ve watched the CAFO issue unfurl, watched the evidence mount with fact after fact of how truly noxious and dangerous it is, frustrated that we seem to have to accept this and regulate it when there is no good reason to have it here. Of coursethere is no law forbidding it…but does having the “right” make it the right thing to do?