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Demitrius Kigeya, a sophomore at Madison Memorial High School, is a high academic achiever, plays on the school soccer team and is actively involved in the school’s Black Student Union. He says some of his classmates do not expect him to do well in school because he is black.

Wisconsin’s black-white achievement gap worst in nation despite decades of efforts

Students like Demitrius Kigeya thrive in Wisconsin despite the worst black-white achievement gap in the nation. The state ranks the worst in the nation for the difference between how well black and white students perform, the likelihood that black students will be suspended from school and the difference between black and white student graduation rates.

Veteran journalist hopes to keep government accountable

Dick Record witnessed first-hand what he says is the “deterioration” of government transparency during his 40-year journalism career in Wisconsin. Record’s concern over this trend motivates him to steadfastly advocate for open government. It is the reason he supports the nonpartisan and nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. “The deterioration of openness has been somewhat appalling in the last few years, particularly because we just don’t have the freedom that we used to,” said Record, a veteran news anchor and station manager in Madison and La Crosse. “It seems like people in public office and state and local government are hiding stuff from us, and for no good reason.”

In recent years, reporters and the public are facing increasing problems with long wait times and high costs for records requests, difficulty obtaining legislative drafts, and improper denials of records, among other setbacks that diminish government accountability.

Mary Jane Koch stands near the site of her family’s former summer cottage on Lake Wisconsin. For decades, the Badger Army Ammunition Plant dumped its waste into the lake, an impoundment of the Wisconsin River. The Army has since removed tons of heavy metals from the lake and has proposed building a public water system to provide clean drinking water to area residents.

Costs, water pollution remain at closed Badger Army Ammunition Plant

Decades of toxic waste disposal at the Badger Army Ammunition Plant — including pouring millions of gallons a day of polluted water into Lake Wisconsin — have contaminated some nearby residents’ drinking water and raised concerns about the long-term effects on their health. But help may be on the way.

Nitrogen-based fertilizers applied to corn and other crops in Wisconsin is partially to blame for unsafe levels of nitrate found in wells around the state, researchers say.

What is nitrate?

Nitrate is a compound naturally found in plants and in vegetables and can be found in groundwater, depending on how much fertilizer and manure is applied to fields.

Sauk County farmer Jim Goodman, seen here at the farmers’ market in the village of Dane, said he believes Wisconsin’s nitrate problem has been exacerbated by “too many animals in too small a space” and the government’s failure to enforce pollution laws. Goodman is an organic farmer who uses nitrogen-fixing cover crops and manure rather than artificial fertilizers.

Going organic: One farmer’s fight against contaminants in the groundwater

In the early 1990s, Jim Goodman and his wife began to worry about how the chemicals they were using on the farm might affect their children. The fourth-generation Wisconsin farmer decided to make the shift away from conventional farming at his Sauk County operation. Now certified organic, the farm includes 120 head of cattle on pasture, including 45 milk cows, and 300 acres of crops.

Land use is a factor boosting the level of nitrate in the water in Wisconsin. In the Upper Midwest, millions of acres of grassland — which leaches little nitrogen into aquifers — have been converted into fields of corn, soy and other crops since 2008, according to University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers. Here, a farmer harvests corn near Blair in Trempealeau County.

Nitrate in water widespread, current rules no match for it

Levels of nitrate, one of the Wisconsin’s top drinking water contaminants, are increasing. Nitrate comes primarily from fertilizers, including manure, and puts infants and expectant mothers particularly at risk. A projected 94,000 households are drinking private well water with unsafe levels of nitrate. And many of them don’t even know it since few private well owners conduct regular testing.