Update on Task Force Recommendations

Jan 16, 2020 | Agriculture, Citizen Advocacy, Drinking Water, Water Policy

The Speaker’s Water Quality Task recently shared their recommendations, which are the outcome of 14 public hearings held across Wisconsin.

River Alliance is thankful for everyone who took time to advocate for clean water during this process. Wisconsinites, yet again, testified to the legislature on critical water issues in Wisconsin. We also want to thank all of the Task Force members, especially Representative Novak (Task for Chair) and Representative Shankland (Co-Chair), for the many hours they invested in listening to Wisconsinites during the public hearings.  

There was hope that the recommendations from the Task Force would address our biggest water problems by tackling the sources of pollution. For example, River Alliance, and many others, asked for the CLEAR Act to address the rapidly emerging issue of PFAS “forever chemicals.” We asked for a big investment in removing lead lateral pipes. We also asked for actions to help farmers improve their water stewardship. 

The Task Force has proposed 13 pieces of legislation. We are still reviewing the details of each proposal, but some clearly stand out as steps in the right direction, while others are surprising steps backward. 

At this time, all 13 proposals are out for co-sponsorship and await bill numbers and hearing dates.

Positive Steps

Let’s start with the positive steps forward. We are pleased to see support to help farmers invest in water-smart agriculture. Proposal LRB 4717 has several programs to support farm water stewardship. 

(Note: LRB refers to Legislative Reference Bureau. Legislative proposals have LRB numbers until there are given bill numbers.)

This proposal includes:

  • Staff at DATCP to coordinate a managed grazing program,  
  • A new cover crop insurance program to encourage farmers to plant cover crops (to help prevent polluted runoff), 
  • An increase in financial support to Producer-led/Farmer-led Councils, and
  • A grant program to assist farmers who achieve the Alliance for Water Stewardship certification. This certification is an essential part of River Alliance’s Clear Water Farms Program

We are also pleased to see a proposed increase in support for County Conservation staff. They are the “boots on the ground” staff who help farmers assess their fields. County Conservation staff also connect farmers to land and water stewardship programs.

Steps Backward

We have concerns with several of the Task Force proposals because of their potentially negative impacts on water resources. For example, LRB 4806 slows down the already lengthy rule-making process for health-based groundwater standards. Next, LRB 4984 changes priorities for the municipal flood control grant program and allows loss of tax base to be considered in the review process, which could limit removing structures from flood-prone lands. Additionally, LRB 4360 would provide funding for biomanipulation of lakes, which is not a priority strategy to improve water quality. 

As we noted earlier, none of the proposals invest in removal of lead lateral pipes or adequately address PFAS chemicals. This is a large oversight on issues that have a huge negative impact on public health in Wisconsin communities.

As we continue to review the Task Force proposals, we will provide a more detailed analysis of the bills.

How You Can Take Action

River Alliance will send email Action Alerts to make it easy for you to weigh in for Wisconsin’s waters. To stay informed, sign up for Action Alerts.

Attend Clean Water Lobby Day, hosted by our friends at Wisconsin Conservation Voters on Thursday, January 30thWe encourage you to attend to talk with legislators about the actions they need to take to protect Wisconsin’s waters. Learn more and sign up here

Note: This is a free event organized to make it easy for you to connect with elected officials on water issues that concern you.

Additional Resources