A bipartisan bill to create a nitrogen optimization pilot program to aid farmers in reducing nitrogen pollution passed the state Senate Tuesday and will now head to Gov. Tony Evers’ desk. The measure, SB-677 creates a commercial nitrogen optimization pilot program and provides crop insurance premium rebates for planting cover crops, which farmers may use to improve soil health. The bill also creates a new state hydrogeologist position at the University of Wisconsin-Madison extension, tasked with aiding local communities in tackling areas with high concentrations of contamination.

Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) said that she was “thrilled” to hear the bill passed the Senate. Shankland, who co-chaired the Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality, noted that provisions in the bill had previously passed the Assembly. “While they never made it through the Senate due to the onset of the pandemic,” said Shankland, “I was glad to reintroduce this bill with my colleagues across the aisle this session.”

Nitrate pollution is one of Wisconsin’s most common groundwater contaminants. In February, a report by the Environmental Working Group and Midwest Environmental Advocates found that in several counties, applied manure exceeded amounts recommended by researchers to minimize pollution. More than 90% of the state’s nitrate contamination comes from agricultural sources. Direct medical costs for nitrate contamination in drinking water range from $23-80 million per year in Wisconsin.

Shakland applauded the passage of the pilot program bill. “This legislation will provide much-needed support for farmers in taking preventative measures that protect our drinking water, as well as helping local governments find and address contamination where it occurs,” said Shankland. “Everyone deserves clean drinking water — and I’ll keep saying so and backing up my words with legislative action. Today is a great day for clean water.”

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