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Wisconsin Assembly to vote on bills fighting water pollution

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A bipartisan, $10 million package of more than a dozen bills designed to combat groundwater contamination in Wisconsin is slated for approval in the state Assembly on Tuesday.

The bills contain the recommendations from a water quality task force called by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to address growing concerns about groundwater contamination in the state. There is increased tension between environmentalists and farmers over the contamination of wells, the spreading of manure, the growth of large animal-confinement centers and the use of fertilizers.

The proposals up for approval Tuesday tackle the issue from several angles, including expanding conservation efforts, bolstering research and instruction, and improving state laws and regulations.

Democrats generally support the plan, but argue Republicans aren’t doing enough to stop groundwater pollution. More needs to be done to prevent contamination as well as cleaning up pollution, said Democratic state Rep. Chris Taylor, of Madison, during debate on the bills in the Legislature’s budget committee last week.

“We have got to be much more aggressive,” Taylor said. “We’ve got to stop the manure from running into people’s water in the first place and that is where (Republicans) have failed.”

She called the proposals “little baby steps.”

Republican Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, of Clinton, said the bills are a good start that would lead to more.

The proposals would establish a new water-policy office; increase the number of county conservation workers; increase grants for owners of wells contaminated with manure or fertilizer to rebuild or replace them; increase money to study water quality; add a state agriculture staff member who devotes his time grazing techniques for livestock to allow grasses to replenish; and make grants available to farmers who grow crops that require little fertilizer.

Once approved by the Assembly, the bills will go to the Senate, where it’s unclear how much support there is. Time is running out for the Senate to act. It was expected to be in session Wednesday and then just one day in March before adjourning for the session.

Any proposals that pass both chambers must be signed into law by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who has made improving water quality a priority.

Under Evers, the state Department of Natural Resources has started studying water quality in southwestern Wisconsin, informing residents of the dangers of lead poisoning, setting restrictions on manure and fertilizer in places prone to groundwater pollution and developing standards for pollutants found in industrial products known as PFAS. These are also known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down naturally and can accumulate in the body. Studies have shown the chemicals can increase the risk of cancer, weaken the immune system and affect cholesterol levels, childhood behavior and the ability to get pregnant.

One bill up for adoption would set up a state-run program to quickly collect and dispose of firefighting foam, one of the sources of PFAS.

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