Saving Our Water: What's the Issue

By: Taylor J.Hale, Stevens Point News 

PORTAGE COUNTY – The Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality released their report on the state’s water issues earlier this month. The bipartisan report written by state leaders showed that over 12 percent of Wisconsin wells are contaminated.

The task force, made up of 16 state representatives and senators, released the report with 13 bills focused on providing grants and funding for municipalities to address current water quality issues and pave a path for cleaner water.


Task force members went on a statewide listening tour to hear input from citizens, scientists, and area stakeholders in 2019 to learn more about water quality problems.

The 13 bills introduced to state lawmakers are part of a $10 million legislative package geared to help collect data on contamination, support farmers seeking to reduce nitrate runoff, aid community conservation groups, and educate the public on water issues.

The report offers recommendations that would help Wisconsinites source water contamination issues and remedy them.

“The bills have short-term, medium-term, and long-term solutions,” said Senator Patrick Testin in an interview with the Gazette. “A short term goal would be providing funding to the DNR Well Compensation program.”

The Well Compensation program would allow municipalities with low funding to test their wells to check for bacteria and contamination.

Other recommendations include supporting the UW-Stevens Point Center for Watershed Science and Education and their efforts to map well and contamination hotspots for developmental use.

Representative Katrina Shankland noted the program could receive up to $900,000 in funding.

Other bills introduce a tax credit system, incentivizing farmers and citizens to reduce their lead and nitrogen usage. Rising PFOS or PFOA levels were also addressed in the report, with a “clean sweep” plan set to gather some of the materials that contain the chemicals before they can reach groundwater.

What causes water issues?

Findings show that water contamination comes from various sources like lead pipes leaching into groundwater, or the agricultural use of nitrates.

Groundwater protection standards are in place throughout the state, but many chemicals and bacteria still seep into regional watersheds, especially in areas with sandy soil, like central Wisconsin.

Shankland said that many citizens brought up concerns over high levels of PFOS or PFOA in the water system during the public hearings. The set of chemicals has been used in manufacturing since the 1940s and has been a point of concern for specialists for years. PFOS contamination comes from products that contain the chemicals that seep into groundwater.

Firefighting foam is known to contain PFOS and has caused a spike in PFOS levels in Wisconsin.

What does the report mean?

The report is a foundation for building a safer, cleaner water system in Wisconsin.

Shankland added that if the new bills were passed into law, municipalities could utilize the grants and funding within the next two months, meaning local leaders could access these new tools to find ways to overcome existing watershed and drinking water issues.

Testin said that the report aims to work with farmers and locals to find a way to move forward by providing new tools and grant programs.

The bipartisan report shows that state leaders see water quality as a significant public health issue, regardless of political standings.