Our Common Waters Are Threatened
We need actions — and political leaders — to protect the streams, lakes and rivers of Wisconsin.
Our country is facing a tragedy of the commons, allowing our actions to be governed by politics and profit rather than an interest in sustainability and wellness. Milwaukee Water Commons proposes that as we think about communities struggling to access clean drinking water and look at economic growth fueled by the consumption of healthy ecosystems, we must consider the commons. Every commons has two parts: something held in the public’s trust (water, air, language) and the people who engage with and use that commons. The people depend on government to act as trustee of these resources for the good of the people now and for future generations.
Despite the public’s interest in clean water, regulators looking at southeastern Wisconsin have exempted environmental protections and commodified Great Lakes water to support urban sprawl and attract big business. While officers elected to protect the commons wrestle over corporate interests, residents in Waukesha are waiting to hear if they will have access to safe drinking water, children in Milwaukee are convinced they could never swim in their rivers, and families in Mount Pleasant are pushed from their homes for the construction of empty factories.
In the year of clean drinking water in Wisconsin, it is our shared responsibility to protect the commons and demand our government do the same. In 2020 we need leaders who will be champions of the public trust and who support the environmental justice leadership of communities feeling the brunt of climate change and deregulation. The Iroquois Nation taught us that our decisions today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future. It is time we learned from our history and look at protection before restoration.
Brenda Coley and Kirsten Shead are Co-Executive Directors of Milwaukee Water Commons, a nonprofit organization that fosters connection, collaboration and broad community leadership on behalf of our common waters.