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Wisconsin battles flooding and algae blooms as climate change takes its toll

Of note: This week we focus on water — the floods affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin residents, and stories that explore climate change and the growing problem of algae blooms on Lake Superior and elsewhere. The first report highlighted below was published shortly before the flooding and pointed out vulnerabilities. We also offer a look at a state senator’s appraisal of Wisconsin’s handling of a wide variety of water issues, including pollution caused by farms.

WisconsinWeekly is produced by Dee and Andy Hall, a couple who founded the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. Dee is the managing editor and Andy is the executive director.

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Climate, policy changes pose risk of major flooding on Madison’s Isthmus

Wisconsin State Journal — August 5, 2018

As Wisconsin faces wetter weather and heavy rains become more common, University of Wisconsin emeritus professor Ken Potter wanted to determine what might happen to Madison if it was hit by a storm like the one that hit Sauk County in 2008. His analysis found that the accumulated water would have overtopped the Tenney dam and flooded out of the Yahara River. He points to continued development and weakened wetland protections as causes.

How a 30-year rain event became a 100-year flood

UW-Madison Center for Limnology (blog) – August 29, 2018

An analysis by University of Wisconsin Assistant Professor Daniel B. Wright indicates that the storm that the historic flooding that hit Madison and other parts of the Yahara watershed last week was due more to where the rain fell than to how much fell. The study notes two features of the Madison area that made it especially vulnerable: the artificially high water levels of Lake Mendota (which keep it from holding rainwater) and the urban and suburban infrastructure (roads, parking lots, etc.) which sends water downstream.

Algae bloom in Lake Superior raises worries on climate change and tourism

New York Times – August 29, 2018

Scientists are monitoring bodies of water across the country for algae blooms, a phenomenon that can threaten water supplies, kill wildlife, and sicken humans. Now, reports The New York Times, Lake Superior has joined the watchlist “after the appearance this summer of the largest mass of green, oozing algae ever detected on the lake.” Scientists are still trying to determine what causes algae blooms, but they generally agree that they’re tied in part to warmer and more extreme weather, such as that brought on by climate change.

Sen. Robert Cowles: State leaders are advancing water quality in Wisconsin

Wisconsin State Journal – August 29, 2018

Our “Failure at the Faucet” series, which began in 2015 and continues today, revealed that Wisconsin has widespread drinking water problems that put hundreds of thousands of residents in peril. In a column this week, state Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, describes the steps – from laws to audits to funding – that Wisconsin has taken in recent years to protect the state’s water supplies. “Of course,” he adds, “work on improving and maintaining water quality is never over.” Previously from WCIJ: Failure at the Faucet series

In other news:

9 years after a UWM staffer fell from her office chair, a court takes on her worker’s compensation claim

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – August 29, 2018

A University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee staffer has been fighting for worker’s compensation benefits for nearly a decade after she fell from her office chair in 2009. Following the accident, an MRI revealed a degenerative spinal disc disease, and she underwent two surgeries. While her doctor claimed the surgeries were necessitated by the fall, the University hired another doctor, who said that her injuries had healed and surgeries weren’t necessary. Eight years and multiple rulings later, the Labor and Industry Review Commission has sided with the University. Previously from WCIJ: Injured Wisconsin workers face higher hurdles when seeking compensation

There’s a new global ranking of gun deaths. Here’s where the U.S. stands

PBS News Hour – August 28, 2018

A new study from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation compares gun fatality statistics for countries across the globe. Among the findings: half the fatalities occur in just six countries, and those countries make up just 10 percent of the world’s population. The second country on the list? The United States, due in large part to high suicide-by-firearm numbers. This year, Congress authorized the Centers for Disease Control to study violent deaths, so we may soon know more about the problem. Previously from WCIJ: Precious Lives series

The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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