Reps. Todd Novak and Katrina Shankland: Everyone in Wisconsin deserves access to clean water

By: Wisconsin State Journal News Staff, Wisconsin State Journal 

After traveling the state for more than a year and hearing from folks across Wisconsin about clean water, we are proud of the hard work and recommendations from the Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality.

As we planned our 14 public hearings, we took care to complete a comprehensive tour that highlighted the geologic variability and contamination issues facing our state. Our public hearings drew hundreds of concerned citizens and more than 70 organizations who shared their experiences and expertise. Our recommendations, released this week, are a result of listening to this vital testimony.

The $10 million legislative package we introduced includes funding for research, assistance to farmers to implement conservation practices, support for county conservation departments, and additional tools for public education, mapping, testing wells and remediating contamination. Our recommendations provide support for important existing programs while also investing in new and innovative ideas, such as creating an Office of Water Policy and launching a new program to help farmers reduce nitrogen application to prevent groundwater contamination.
While this legislative package is a substantial and much-needed first step, this is the beginning of an important conversation on how we can guarantee clean water to everyone in Wisconsin. It is our intention to continue this work next legislative session.

Our state’s geography is diverse, and our approach to water quality must be as well. At almost every public hearing, we heard overwhelming support to fund our county conservation staff. These workers are the boots on the ground, serving on the front lines of conservation. They work to develop relationships with producers and assist in implementation of best practices at the county level. Our recommendation is to fully fund the state’s commitment to these important positions.

The task force also heard from farmers who understand that clean water is vital not only to our health, but also to the agriculture industry. Unfortunately, the current farm economy leaves few resources to be invested in conservation. Our recommendations provide resources directly to farmers to expand producer-led watershed groups and to access cover-crop insurance so these crops are more viable.
Our economy is reliant on water. Demand for a workforce that can understand and anticipate water issues and manage solutions is vital as we work to protect our water resources. An investment in the University of Wisconsin System to build capacity for undergraduate degrees and fuel research on water will put Wisconsin in the driver’s seat as a leader in developing our freshwater workforce.
Everyone deserves access to clean water, and these bills are an important step forward. We still have work to be done. We look forward to advancing these proposals through the legislative process and presenting them to Gov. Tony Evers for his signature. To view the full task force report, go to