This article originally appeared in the Fall 2020 WaterWays newsletterDownload a PDF of the full Newsletter

By Allison Warner, Policy & Advocacy Director 

As you know, almost everything we love about Wisconsin depends on clean water, and yet Wisconsin’s waters and communities are at risk. Farming, fishing, boating, swimming, and clean water for drinking—not a day goes by without needing water. But, you also know that too many Wisconsinites cannot drink, swim in or eat fish caught in our waters. Clean water is essential for the entire state, including our economy, but not enough is being done.

We need a new way to make change.

For years and years, Wisconsinites like you have been asking elected leaders to take action to clean up and protect our waters. We applaud Governor Evers and the legislature for focusing on water issues recently. Last year was both the Year of Clean Drinking Water and the year the Speaker’s Water Quality Task Force (WQTF) traveled across the state to hold public hearings.

There’s not a community in the state that isn’t facing some water issues that impact water quality and water quantity. These issues impact everyone, from farmers, to young children, to business owners.

At the WQTF hearings there was testimony from:

  • Farmers about the innovative practices they want to continue to implement to increase their stewardship of the land and water. Other farmers shared the horrific stories of their animals getting sick and dying due to the PFAS levels in their water.
  • Business owners who lose customers when toxic blue-green algae blooms stink up their lakes and leave green slime on their boats.
  • Families that can’t drink their water because of the amount of lead, nitrates, bacteria, or PFAS in their tap water.

The proposals from the WQTF fell short and the Senate never took action on the legislation that was put forth. The new calendar year will provide an opportunity to introduce new legislation to address the top water quality issues raised during the WQTF hearings.

It is time to elevate these issues to the level of priority they deserve. Our leaders need to know that we believe clean water is a right that all Wisconsinites deserve and that we want meaningful actions now. We know from our work across the state and our many partners that access to clean water is a bi-partisan issue. River Alliance is launching the Clean Water Now campaign to empower Wisconsinites to raise the volume on critical water issues.

Clean Water Now

The Clean Water Now campaign is a county-level, non-binding referendum to show unity around the pressing need to address critical water issues. It is an opportunity to let Wisconsin’s policy leaders know that having clean water is an issue that voters across the state want them to provide. County by county—on ballots in April 2021 and beyond— Wisconsinites will demand Clean Water Now.

The referendum question is simple: Should the State of Wisconsin establish a right to clean water to protect human health, the environment, and the diverse cultural and natural heritage of Wisconsin? The answer is: YES!

This campaign is also about protecting the diverse cultural and natural heritage of Wisconsin. Think back to your childhood memories and family traditions. Many likely involved the waters of Wisconsin. The 12 tribal nations in Wisconsin are deeply connected to the waters in Wisconsin. Their cultures require access to clean water for ceremonies, sustaining wild rice, fishing, and more.

Farming is also part of Wisconsin’s heritage. Being good stewards of the land and water is what many farmers aspire to do. They know their cows and other livestock need clean water and their families do too. Many farmers are implementing practices like cover crops to help reduce their impact on our waters.

We know people across Wisconsin will say “Yes!” with their votes. When they do, the powers that be will all have more reasons to ensure that our water is truly cherished. Clean Water Now will help bring more people into our movement to ensure decision makers make water a top priority in Wisconsin.

Support the Campaign

Start by going to to learn more about this effort. From the website you can sign up for Clean Water Now updates and let us know if you want to be a local leader in your county.

Our goal is to have the referendum on the ballot in several counties in April 2021. If you think your county board would support putting this question on the ballot we’d love to hear from you right away. Please reach out to me, Allison Werner, if you have questions about the Clean Water Now campaign: [email protected].