Legislator: Wisconsin Should Unlock Funding For Those With Contaminated Wells

Rep. Katrina Shankland, Member Of Water Quality Task Force, Calls Issue Urgent

By Rob Mentzer, WPR

Wisconsin needs to boost the money available to aid those whose drinking water is contaminated and it needs a clean water fund dedicated to helping address pollution. Those were among the recommendations from a state legislator on a task force aimed at protecting Wisconsin's water resources. 

State Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, was one of 16 legislators on the bipartisan Speaker's Task Force on Water Quality. The group held 13 hearings across the state and heard testimony from farmers, scientists, industry groups and people who deal with contamination in their own wells or city water. 

"I've heard so many personal stories," Shankland said in an appearance on the regional WPR talk show "Route 51." "(From) a grandma who is afraid to bathe her grandkids in the water at her home, to people who are living on lakes with such toxic algae blooms they can't even use the lake."

Those stories should compel action, Shankland said. 

The idea of creating a clean water fund is just one of the proposals under discussion by the task force. Shankland said it would ensure state resources to deal with the issue, as opposed to having legislators and the governor deal with it in two-year budget cycles.

Shankland said nonpartisan attorneys are working on creating a set of recommendations from the task force that will focus on several different water contaminants. 

Gov. Tony Evers, who has called 2019 the "year of clean drinking water," last week received clean-water recommendations from agencies in his administration, and he urged legislators to take up several of the proposals.

In rural Wisconsin, contamination of wells can be a major issue. Evers vetoed a provision in the state budget that would have allowed the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to request $400,000 for the well compensation grant because he contended that the funds could not be spent "given the restrictive nature of current eligibility standards." Evers has called for broad changes to the program.  

Shankland echoed those calls, saying the state should provide help to more families. Under current law, the only wells eligible for state grants are those used for livestock, and only for families earning less than $65,000 per year. Shankland is the author of a bill that would raise the family income limit to $100,000, lower the contamination threshold for help and waive the livestock requirement.

That bill has bipartisan sponsorship. 

In the Senate, state Sen. Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Point, is the author of a bill that would create a $10 million program over two years to provide homeowners up to $2,500 to remediate contaminated wells.

The issue of clean drinking water is complex and includes several distinct areas of focus, including: