Party Politics Affecting Progress on Ground Water Legislation

By Zach Hagenbucher, WSAU Radio




UNDATED (WSAU) -- Comprehensive ground water legislation has not been passed through the state government after decades of research.  That may change in 2017, if both parties can agree to terms.




State Representatives Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) and Scott Krug (R-Wisconsin Rapids) represent areas of the Central Sands region of Wisconsin which has been a particular subject of water rights reform between large agricultural developers and homeowners who depend on well water for their water access.
Shankland was part of a Democratic panel that heard from Central Sands residents and other concerned citizens during a listening session near Wisconsin Rapids on Thursday.  Shankland supports the Water Sustainability Act, a bill that was introduced in the last legislative session but did not receive a hearing and will have to be reintroduced in 2017.  She says previous bills did not go far enough to respect the water rights of all parties involved.
Shankland said, "The Water Sustainability Act would ensure that everyone has access to water, and that our Constitutional right to keep our waterways open, navigable, and free would also be respected."
She said, "The legislation we're discussing, Assembly Bill 874 and Senate BIll 239, would unfortunately allow for permanent water rights for some people, but only those who are repairing, replacing, or transferring a well."
Representative Krug was not invited to the listening session, and he doesn't believe the Democrats' bill will be successful without communication between both political parties.  Krug said they've invited anyone with feedback to help edit their bills, but the Democrats have not tried to collaborate on legislation, they've only submitted more of their own.
"If they really want to focus on solutions, sit down together with us, because that's what they accused us of not doing, and just hash it out. Let's figure it out and let everybody into the process," said Krug.
He said, "Those are the bills that are going to get done. The ones that understand that both sides can help in the solution and both sides have a seat at the table. It's not just a 'the four of us come to a place and tell everybody what we're going to do' type of bill that's ever going to get passed."
Shankland believes that Republicans have been consulting lobbyists in Madison over the people affected by the bills they're writing and claims that they've tried to see eye to eye with Republicans on this issue but it hasn't worked.
She said, "I know that Democrats, citizen groups, and water advocates have all wanted a seat at the table. We want a good compromise. We want a real sustainable solution that works for everyone."
Krug is not convinced that Democrats are simply looking for a well rounded bill.  He suspects that their political goals may be getting in the way of getting a solution for the farms and people affected by this battle.
"Any bill that I write during a political season or heading up to a political season, there's going to be guaranteed 100% opposition from Democrats on it. And I wish it wasn't, but it is the way it is right now," said Krug.
"In the Central Sands, as much as we provide food for the rest of the region, the state, and the world, we have to find a balance and a compromise on these issues and not be one-sided on our answers."
Krug and Shankland will both be at UW-Stevens Point Tuesday afternoon for a sustainability presentation from the DNR on another battleground, the Little Plover River.  Sen. Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point), Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon), Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay), and Rep. Nancy VanderMeer (R-Tomah) will all also be part of the discussion.