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Regional EPA Chief Says Water Is A Top Concern

Key To Quality Water Is Compliance, EPA Administrator Says

Cyclist riding along pier on Lake Michigan in Milwaukee
Carrie Antlfinger/AP Photo

The leader of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the Midwest says clean water may be the top issue he hears about from the public.

Robert Kaplan became acting administrator of EPA Region 5 when the previous regional administrator resigned during the water controversy in Flint, Michigan. Kaplan told a Environmental Law and Policy Center conference in Madison this week that concerns about water across the Midwest haven’t gone away.

“Everywhere I go people want clean water. It might be the No. 1 thing we talk about. Even if we’re there to talk about air or some other matter, it always comes back to water,” Kaplan said.

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The EPA continues to try to restore clean water to all of Kewaunee County, where many wells are polluted, Kaplan said.

Three years ago, environmental groups formally requested emergency action by the EPA to address groundwater contamination issues in the northeastern Wisconsin county. A workgroup later issued recommendations for the EPA, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and county officials.

Kaplan said an enforcement order by the EPA or DNR may be needed. “Either federal or state or some combination. But the key thing is to make sure everyone’s in compliance,” Kaplan told WPR during a brief interview.

Much of the contamination in Kewaunee County is thought to come from manure problems linked to large farms known as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. But recent research indicates human waste from sanitary systems is also fouling the water.

Kaplan remains on the job, though recently sworn-in EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt could choose a new regional chief.