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Thursday, May 30, 2024

 In a 13-bill package, Wisconsin takes initial steps to provide clean drinking water to its citizens, but organizations think there needs to be a more “comprehensive fix.”

Lawmakers pass plan to clean up Wisconsin water, yet receive criticism

The State Assembly passed a bipartisan, 13-bill plan to address Wisconsin’s water quality crisis on Feb. 18 to ensure that Wisconsin has money specifically saved to provide clean and safe water. 

The legislation was introduced in late January by a bipartisan group of legislators, now known as the Task Force on Water Quality, to transfer nearly $10 million from general funds to a protected clean water fund.

Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, one of the leading members of the Task Force on Water Quality, celebrated its passing and helping provide Wisconsin residents with clean water. 

“Everyone should be able to drink water from the tap, and the bills we passed today will help families fix their contaminated wells and failing septic systems,” Shankland said

According to WPR, of the 13 bills passed, — 10, of which, received unanimous support — highlighting the bipartisan goals to provide much needed funding to improve water quality in a variety of ways.

The bills create more grant programs to address water issues like agricultural runoff and group water testing. Another aspect of the package gives residents more education and to coordinate water management throughout the state. 

Shankland is pleased with the passage of the bills but says she, “call[s] on [her] colleagues in the State Senate to take up these bills as soon as possible and treat them with the urgency they deserve.”

Following the passage of the bills, the Wisconsin Water Alliance released a statement in support of the package.

“[We] applaud the State Assembly’s bipartisan passage of water-related bills,”  WWA President Dan Ellsworth said. “This is a positive first step toward addressing issues that are diverse both geographically and across industry.”

Not all organizations have been as happy with the water plan. 

The Wisconsin Conservation Voters, an organization dedicated to "protecting Wisconsin’s environment,” felt the bills were inadequate. Ryan Billingham, communications director of WCV, said the organization was disappointed legislators did not follow more of their proposed solutions. 

“We have a water quality checklist which we distributed to the media and also to all of our lawmakers at the State Capitol,” Billingham said. “Those have our explicit expectations and only one of those expectations that we put out were met in a complete form and that’s the ‘SCHOOLs bill.’”

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The SCHOOLs bill now requires testing for lead in schools, daycares and summer camps and to correct any problems that are unveiled in the testing.

WCV believes not only that the other bills are inadequate for addressing the water crisis in Wisconsin, but also one of the bills — AB 794 — included is a “poison pill” that will be detrimental to the improvement of water quality.

According to WCV, AB 794 would, “interfere with the state’s ability to create groundwater standards based on data and science.”

Billingham thinks AB 794 would allow polluters greater sway in the process for setting groundwater standards, which would limit strides made by some of the proposed legislation. 

“There are bits and pieces in here that we support, but if you look at this overall, it’s not a comprehensive fix to the problems that need to be addressed to protect our health, to protect Wisconsinites across the state,” said Billingham.

WCV is preparing for a more “comprehensive fix,” along with many State Senators, who are looking to get the CLEAR Act — a bill to address the issue of PFAS in Wisconsin’s environment — passed in the next voting session.

“There are still these threats all across the state that affect people, affect our economy, and affect our public health,” said Billingham. “What people should expect is completely clean water that can come out of our taps.”

Even Shankland — who championed the passage of the bills by the Assembly — feels the bills are a building block as Wisconsin needs to give resources to replace lead pipes, contaminated wells and broken septic systems. 

“Our work is far from over, and I look forward to continuing to champion clean water in the Legislature,” Shankland said in a statement.

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Emma Grenzebach

state news writer

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