Wisconsin lawmakers agree on water quality legislation

By: Benjamin Yount, The Center Square

Republicans and Democrats at the Capitol said on Tuesday that they expect a sweeping package of clean water legislation to pass the Assembly before lawmakers leave town on Thursday. 

"The bills include innovative ideas and proven practices to help protect the quality of our water and for future generations," Rep. Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville, told reporters on Tuesday. "We need to remember this is just the beginning. The challenges with water quality did not start overnight, they started decades ago. So this is going to take some time. This is just the beginning."

Novak and other members of the State Assembly will vote on 13 suggestions from the Assembly's Water Quality Task Force. Among the ideas is a new Office of Water Policy, and more state spending on conservation and well water treatment. The package of legislation also looks to study nitrate and lead contamination, as well as manure contamination in some private wells in parts of the state. There is also a proposal to deal with PFAS pollution across the state. 

Democrats at the statehouse are on board with most, if not all of the proposals. 

But, in what has become common at the Capitol this year, there is a huge disagreement over who should get the credit. 

"I think it's important to recognize that if Gov. Tony Evers had not declared 2019 the Year of Clean Drinking water we would not be here," Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, said at a statehouse news conference. "I give all the credit in the world to Gov. Evers for bringing science back to the state's Department of Natural Resources, for leading on science, and for making water quality one of his most important agenda items in 2019, 2020, and beyond."

"This was not started by Gov. Evers," Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester said. "I do want to thank him for also calling this the Year of Clean Water. But this was started by Rep. Travis Tranel and Rep. Todd Novak because of a concern in their districts."

Novak said despite whatever disagreement over credit, and a few lingering disagreements over specifics in some of the legislation, he expects most of what passes the Assembly to become law. 

"The governor has been briefed on all the water bills," Novak said. "He's been involved, through his departments, with the process of moving these bills. I think any bill that would get to his desk, I am pretty sure he will sign."