WEST POINT — From the very beginning of Gov. Tony Evers’ term, he made his priorities clear by declaring 2019 the "Year of Clean Drinking Water." During his State of the State address in January, he promoted investing millions of dollars to address water quality, from replacing lead service lines to addressing manure contamination in Wisconsin. Many of our communities face challenges that threaten their health and safety due to polluted drinking water. That’s why Democrats are committed to strengthening clean water protections and addressing this public health crisis.
While Evers proposed a bold budget that reflected the voices of the people — who simply want clean and safe drinking water — there is still a long road ahead. Every Wisconsinite should be able to drink water from their tap, but for a lot of people, that is not the reality.
Legislative Democrats recently introduced a list of priorities: “Forward Together.” This agenda includes many of the areas that Democrats will be focusing on this fall, including clean water. Below are the Democrats' top priorities for clean water:
• Replace lead pipes to ensure clean drinking water.
• Promote sustainable water management practices for family farms.
• Help homeowners fix contaminated wells.
• Limit runoff pollution from large industrial farms.
• Prevent toxic PFAS contamination.
The 2019-21 budget invests more than $32.65 million in improving water quality throughout our state. While these investments are essential, there is still more we can do. More than two-thirds of Wisconsin residents use groundwater for drinking water, through a private well or public water system, and it is our job to enact standards and regulations to protect that supply.
One of the ways that the governor invested in improving water quality around the state was through increasing bonding authority for soil and water resource management. While Republicans cut his proposal, he was still successful in increasing bonding by $7 million. This program, which is administered by the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, provides assistance to farmers to implement conservation practices and reduce pollution from agriculture. This protects our natural resources and increases long-term farm profitability.
Additionally, in July, Evers signed an executive order relating to addressing lead poisoning in Wisconsin. This came after Republicans drastically slashed the governor's proposal to address lead exposure and prevent poisoning from the budget by over $21 million, and eliminated $40 million to replace lead water lines throughout the entire state. The executive order directs the state Department of Health Services to address this crisis in a robust and comprehensive way through a multi-pronged approach, and to promote collaboration among departments and community organizations for prevention, treatment, removal and abatement, as well as surveying lead efforts.
There is not a single, simple solution to address our water quality issues. However, I am confident that we will be able to work across the aisle to protect this basic right. Everyone deserves to have access to clean drinking water, regardless of where they live, or where their tap water comes from. There is still a long way to go, but the important thing is that, under Evers, we are moving forward.
Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-West Point, represents Wisconsin's 27th district in the state Senate.
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