Much work remains to be done, but if plans stay on track, UW-Rock County and UW-Whitewater officially will merge by July 1, UW-Whitewater Chancellor Beverly Kopper said Monday.
Addressing the Janesville City Council, Kopper shared an update on the UW System’s restructuring plan, which calls for four-year campuses to absorb two-year campuses. Under the plan, UW-Whitewater would absorb UW-Rock County.
Not literally, of course. UW-Rock County would remain at its current location, but its students and staff would become part of UW-Whitewater. Students working on degrees at UW-Rock County would earn diplomas from UW-Whitewater.
The biggest hurdle the campuses must overcome is accreditation. Once that’s finalized, there will be little in the way of the merger, Kopper said.
UW-Rock County has entertained the idea of adding student housing to its campus. That’s still possible under the pending merger, though Kopper couldn’t offer specifics.
“I would be very excited about there being a residence hall on the Rock County campus,” she said.
As officials from both campuses began discussing the merger, Kopper said she was “delighted” to find both campuses have similar core values when it comes to student success, affordability and commitment to serving surrounding communities.
Councilman Jim Farrell asked if the merger would affect students’ ability to transfer to other universities or for UW-Rock County students to attend classes in Whitewater.
Kopper said officials are seeking ways to not only maintain those opportunities, but expand them.
She said she hopes four-year programs could come to UW-Rock County and create more options for high school students, online students and nontraditional students such as veterans.
Rock County owns and maintains UW-Rock County’s buildings and land, but officials have set up a committee to look at how the colleges would be governed to meet both campuses’ needs, Kopper said.
The merger is a response to declining enrollment across the UW System. While declining enrollment isn’t unique to the UW System or the state, officials hope merging will make the colleges more efficient and solve problems, Kopper said.
“From the beginning, we really wanted this to be a collaborative effort, certainly a partnership,” she said. “I am very excited about this. I see a lot of opportunity for more partnerships.”
Also Monday, the council indefinitely tabled an ordinance that would have added a $20 city fee on top of the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin’s $35 fee to reclaim a lost pet.
The fee would have been billed to any Janesville resident who reclaimed a pet from the humane society after the society informed the city of the transaction.
James Hurley, humane society assistant executive director, said the ordinance would discourage residents from reclaiming lost pets.
Councilman Tom Wolfe made a motion to defeat the ordinance with the hope city and humane society officials would collaboratively brainstorm ways to increase pet licensing. If more Janesville pets were licensed, the city would get more money to offset animal control costs.
Councilman Rich Gruber made a motion to instead table the ordinance, which passed 4-3.
Rock County residents are at risk of unsafe drinking water as nitrate levels in groundwater continue to rise, said Rick Wietersen, environmental health director at the Rock County Public Health Department.
More than 30 percent of private wells exceed the health advisory level for nitrates, according to the health department.
Nitrate contamination has become a top priority for the county, said Josh Smith, county administrator.
The county formed the Nitrate Work Group in 2016 to plan a multiyear study on contamination, Smith said. The study would identify funding for further action.
Nitrate contamination is one of the county’s public safety issues that would face funding cuts if the town of Beloit incorporates into a village, according to a county board resolution opposing the town’s incorporation.
Rock County would lose $1.08 million annually if the town incorporates, according to the resolution. The county board is scheduled to vote on the resolution Thursday night.
The health department has monitored nitrate levels for about 20 years, Wietersen said. Levels have increased gradually over time, to where the county believes a change in land use needs to be implemented.
Nitrates are found naturally in groundwater from the decay of plant materials, Wietersen said. Natural decay accounts for nitrate levels of less than one part per million.
High nitrate levels are caused by fertilizer and manure run-off into groundwater, Wietersen said.
Nitrate levels are considered hazardous at 10 parts per million, Wietersen said. At 20 parts per million, water is considered undrinkable.
Blue baby syndrome, a result of lack of oxygen in an infant or fetus, is the leading health concern from nitrate-contaminated water, Wietersen said.
Residents with private wells should test their water regularly for nitrate, Wietersen said.
If nitrate levels climb above 10 parts per million, residents should consider installing water treatment systems, Wietersen said.
The Nitrate Work Group is a partnership between the health department, county land conservation department, county planning department, UW Extension and UW-Whitewater, according to the health department.
All residents in Rock County are affected by rising nitrate levels, Wietersen said.
Rural areas of the county present higher risk for nitrate contamination, according to a map from the health department. Rural land between Janesville and Beloit and some areas of western Rock County show the greatest risk.
Land cover and fertilizer use, septic system nitrate leaching, irrigation and soil properties are the risk factors used to determine areas with the highest risks of contaminated groundwater.
Local • 3A, 7A
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Nation/World • 6B
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