Wisconsin lawmakers introduce bipartisan bill targeting water pollution | local government

Even though attempts to regulate agricultural pollution have failed, Wisconsin lawmakers have advanced rare bipartisan legislation aimed at improving water quality.

The Legislative Budget Committee voted unanimously on Tuesday to advance companion bills that would provide up to $1.4 million a year to help farmers keep fertilizer on and off their fields. of lakes, rivers and groundwater and fund a new position within the University of Wisconsin system to monitor groundwater quality.

Based on recommendations from a 2019 water quality legislative task force, the bills broadly target nitrate, the most prevalent contaminant in Wisconsin groundwater and a contributor to algal blooms poisons that can kill fish and close beaches.

A pair of separate bills would expand eligibility for well replacement grants to include wells contaminated with bacteria or nitrates.

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“No single approach can solve our water pollution problems,” said Sen. Rob Cowles, a Green Bay Republican who sponsored the Senate bills. “But concerted efforts like these can have a noticeable impact on the state’s agricultural producers, rural residents, and those who enjoy recreation on Wisconsin waters.”


The bills are moving even as the Department of Natural Resources recently scrapped a two-year effort to implement new manure and fertilizer regulations in areas vulnerable to groundwater contamination. The agency announced in November that it could not complete the rule-making process within the timeframe given to the Legislative Assembly.

About 1.7 million people in Wisconsin rely on private wells for drinking water, and the Department of Health Services estimates at least one in 10 Wisconsin wells has high levels of nitrate, which is considered unsafe, especially for pregnant women and infants.

Fertilizers and farmyard manure are the main sources of nitrate pollution, although faulty septic systems can also contribute to the problem.

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Specifically, the bills would fund grants of up to $50,000 to help farmers find creative ways to “optimize the application” of commercial nitrogen fertilizers and create a $5 crop insurance rebate. $ per acre to offset the cost of planting cover crops, which help hold soil and nutrients in place.

“The idea behind this bill is to reward farmers who want to experiment with nitrogen loading, while helping them absorb any risk that comes with changing their business practices of nitrogen application,” the agency said. Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point.

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The legislation has broad support from agriculture, conservation and public health groups, though some conservationists say they don’t go far enough.

River Alliance executive director Allison Bender called them “a step in the right direction” but called on lawmakers to adopt the performance standards proposed by the DNR.

“This collaborative, scientific process is nearly complete,” Bender said. “Lawmakers should approve these rules if they really want to reduce the impact of nitrates on our waters.”

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state Chamber of Commerce and the Wisconsin Dairy Alliance are wary of a provision that would fund a fourth hydrogeologist to help develop groundwater data for the geological and natural history survey of the Wisconsin.

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Under the bill, companies could use external “peer review” committees to block and modify proposed rules and prevent Wisconsin state scientists from even recommending health standards for groundwater.

Craig Summerfield, director of environmental policy at WMC, warned that Gov. Tony Evers could use his broad veto powers to ‘radically’ change the bill and that additional groundwater data could be used ‘as new justification. to impose new regulations.

“While a single post may seem innocuous enough,” Summerfield said, “the dairy industry and in particular our members have already spent a great deal of time and resources correcting the record to combat biased research.”

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