By: WORT News Staff and Jade Iseri-Ramos, WORT News
Today, state legislators introduced a package of bills to improve water quality in Wisconsin.
Throughout 2019, the Water Quality Task Force conducted 14 hearings across the state and worked with dozens of organizations. Now their bills will invest state dollars into programs they say are working and create new policies where they say improvements are needed.
Representative Todd Novak of Dodgeville chaired the special committee. He calls the bills a 10 million dollar investment into water quality.
“Any one who has traveled our great state understands our geography is variable and diverse because of this our approach to water quality must be as well ,” Novak explains. “What works in one region might not work as well in another. It is also important to remember, this is a problem that has been decades in the making and will not be fixed overnight.”
Novak says the package has the support of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who created the task force last year.
The bills would bring extra funding for wetland restoration and land conservation. The bills would also allocate money to clean up toxic man-made chemicals known as PFAS. Some bills would also help rural homeowners get money to replace or fix their contaminated wells and old, dysfunctional septic tanks.
Representative Katrina Shankland of Stevens Point is the vice-chair of the task force. She says it is important that state lawmakers address the issue of clean water now.
“Wisconsinites rely on this vital resource as a pillar of our economy from agriculture to tourism as well as our health. No one in Wisconsin should be unable to access clean and safe drinking water, but unfortunately it all too often a reality due to growing issues of continuation,” Shankland argues. “No one should have to use bottled water as they brush their teeth or make their coffee, but this is the sad reality for people in Wisconsin.”
The bills include multiple ways to help farmers prevent manure runoff, a prime driver of water contamination. One bill would expand crop insurance for farmers. The goal is to incentivize the planting of more crops than farmers typically would, so that the extra crops absorb manure that otherwise contaminate water systems.
Two other bills would add resources to help farmers manage their land, and yet another bill would curb the pollution of stream beds by prohibiting the sale and use of coal tar-based sealants, like those used in some driveways.
The bills would also create a state Office of Water Policy to centralize monitoring of water pollution. . Currently, three state agencies share that task. And another bill would add a hydrogeologist and beef up a water contamination prevention program at UW-Stevens Point, an area where Rep Shankland says nitrate levels in nearby wells are high.
Representative Shankland says that the bills are the beginning of the discussion, not the end. She, along with Representative Novak, met with Governor Evers earlier this week.
“I think our mutual goal is to get bills that support clean water initiatives for the people of Wisconsin and get them clean water through and through. I think the governor is probably still reviewing the bills. But overall, I think we are interested in the same topics are are looking forward to working together,” Shankland says about the bipartisan support.
Evers declared 2019 the Year of Clean Drinking Water. Today, he released his own report. That report outlines state government accomplishments and recommendations to address toxic PFAS chemicals, manure spreading, and lead service lines.
The Water Quality Task Force’s 13 bills are now circulating the assembly.