Journal Times editorial: Bipartisan action on state's drinking water is welcome



Gov. Tony Evers has declared 2019 “the year of clean drinking water.”

His declaration doesn’t make it so, of course. But it’s a statement of purpose, a signal that our water supply will be a key policy area in his first year in office. In his State of the State Address on Jan. 22, the governor promised to work to replace lead pipes across the state and improve well water.

That’s good news from the state’s executive branch. It was matched this week by good news from the legislative branch.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, on Monday announced the 16 members of the Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality. The chair is Rep. Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville, the vice chair is Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point. There are Republicans and Democrats among the other 14 members; four of the 14 are state Senators “because of the great importance of the issue being studied,” Vos said in the news release announcing the task force membership.

Wisconsin has struggled with groundwater contamination for decades, the Associated Press reported Sunday. A survey conducted by county health departments between 2007 and 2010 found 47 percent of nearly 4,000 wells used by low-income families with pregnant women or young children had levels of contaminants that exceeded water quality standards. A third of the wells in Kewaunee County tested in 2015 had unsafe levels of nitrates and bacteria. A November survey by the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Geological Survey found 42 percent of 301 randomly selected wells in Iowa, Grant and Lafayette counties in southwest Wisconsin exceed federal standards for bacteria.

Meanwhile, at least 176,000 Wisconsin homes and businesses get water through lead service lines. Lead from the lines can flake off into the water and cause permanent brain damage in children.

We don’t want anyone to have lead or other contaminants in their drinking water.

“Increasingly, we have a large number of Wisconsinites, whether you are in rural or urban areas, thanks to a variety of contaminants, are concerned about turning on the tap and drinking the water,” Todd Ambs, deputy assistant secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, said Monday in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report.

Mr. Ambs raises an important point: Drinking water quality is a rural issue, a suburban issue and an urban issue in Wisconsin.

“Wisconsinites deserve to have safe, clean and healthy water,” Vos said. “We’re beginning this essential work by gathering input from across Wisconsin. I’m pleased these legislators have agreed to take part in this statewide, collaborative effort.

“The goal is to take input from everyone; stakeholder groups, individuals and local officials. Every important solution starts with robust conversations.”

Agreed, Mr. Speaker.

Access to clean water is not a partisan issue. Everyone — whether man, woman or child; Democrat, Republican or independent; liberal, conservative or moderate — needs clean water.

We’re glad to see bipartisan support for action on the issue coming from Madison.

“Wisconsinites deserve to have safe, clean and healthy water. We’re beginning this essential work by gathering input from across Wisconsin. I’m pleased these legislators have agreed to take part in this statewide, collaborative effort.”Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester