Hallelujah. In last week’s State of the State address, Governor Tony Ever’s declared 2019 The Year of Clean Drinking Water in Wisconsin. Of course, the Governor is preaching to the choir here in southwest Wisconsin where we recently learned that initial results from our tri-county groundwater study showed 42 percent of tested private wells are contaminated by bacteria and nitrates.
In early January, the state of the water in our region made the front page of the State Journal, and headlines in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Dubuque Telegraph Herald and even the New York Times, as well as the Madison television stations and WPR. While I’d like to be in the media for positive reasons, and we often are, I am thankful that the negative coverage inspired our local Assembly Representatives Travis Tranel and Todd Novak and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to finally move on the creation of a legislative task force to study water quality throughout the state.
This sudden flurry of interest in clean water by the legislature may be partly due to the transition in the Governor’s seat, but is primarily a victory of a free, independent and responsive press. Within hours of the study group’s press release on well test results, the story was in headlines across the state. Many individuals, groups and local elected officials like myself have been raising the alarm and contacting these same state legislators for years about the looming water quality crisis, but in the end it was the press that got it done.
As a Lafayette County Board Supervisor, I’ve been involved in planning the Southwest Wisconsin Groundwater and Geology study for over a year. These early results show how crucial the study is. The next phase will involve tests of another set of randomly selected wells this spring. Then the work of tracing the sources and reasons for the contamination will begin. After that, pending recommendations by the researchers and the state Task Force, state legislators and local elected officials should begin creating policy to protect private wells.
In the meantime, concerned citizens can take action:
Test your well now if you are a rural homeowner. In a geologically vulnerable region like ours, annual well testing should be the norm. Please use a University of Wisconsin lab for the tests so that your results can be recorded, without your address or name, and help create an accurate picture of overall well safety.
Call our assembly and senate representatives and ask them to support water quality studies and protective policy. Ask that citizens, county supervisors and county conservationists sit on the Water Quality Task Force, not just state legislators. My experience in running for a state office showed me just how much money flows to incumbents from business lobbies who want to influence them against making water safety laws. During Sen. Marklein’s 8 years in the legislature, he has received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from lobbies that are actively fighting water quality protections. Citizens and scientists must have a place at the table on the Task Force to counteract the undue influence of these lobbies.
Buy a subscription for 2019 to a few regional daily and weekly local newspapers.
Pay attention to the votes of your local and state representatives regarding groundwater protection as clean water legislation comes front and center. Call your county, city, village and town supervisors to ask what they are doing about clean water.
Get educated. Look for water quality public events happening throughout the region, including the upcoming Nitrate In Groundwater presentation on Thursday, Feb 7, 1-3 p.m. at the Green County Justice Center. Ask your county health, conservation and Extension departments for more events like this. There is a Water Quality Forum in Richland Center on March 16, 3-5 p.m. at Lighthouse Chapel.
Kriss Marion, Blanchardville