MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A new legislative task force formed to deal with water pollution began its work Wednesday by learning about the wide range of contaminants in Wisconsin waters and state agencies’ recommendations for cleaning them up.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos formed the task force in January after a study showed wells in Iowa, Grant and Lafayette counties exceed federal standards for bacteria originating from animal or human waste or a toxic fertilizer residue. The task force held its first meeting Wednesday morning.
The committee’s co-chairman, Republican Rep. Todd Novak, outlined the panel’s charge at the outset, saying the group will visit 11 sites around the state over the summer to learn about each region’s water pollution and work to produce legislation by the end of the summer.
The task force invited officials from the state Departments of Natural Resources, Health Services and Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to speak. The panel did not take any comments from the public.
DNR Environmental Management Division Deputy Administrator Jim Zellmer walked the panel through a slide show detailing hydrological cycles in Wisconsin and the different contaminants afflicting state waters, including lead, nitrates, bacteria, arsenic, radionuclides, phosphorus and emerging contaminants, including polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, from fire-fighting foam.
According to his presentation, nitrates are the most widespread contaminant in drinking water. About 10 percent of private wells and about 300 small public water systems currently exceed nitrate standards. Sources include fertilizer runoff, animal waste, septic systems and wastewater.
He also warned the panel that high-capacity wells are lowering water levels in aquifers and connected lakes.
Committee members sat quietly during the presentation.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has declared 2019 the year of clean drinking water. His state budget calls for allowing environmental and agricultural officials to borrow nearly $70 million more over the next two years to combat water pollution and replace lead pipes.