Water Quality Task Force Meets in Milwaukee

The Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality met earlier this month in Milwaukee to discuss lead in drinking water, among other issues. (Agenda).

Task force members began the day with a tour of the UW Milwaukee School of Freshwater Science. Legislators then heard from several presenters, starting with the Department of Health Services (DHS) and Department of Natural Resources (DNR). DHS provided background on childhood lead poisoning issues in Wisconsin and their efforts to reduce it, including blood testing, grants to inspect water, and enforcement of lead regulations. DHS’s Lead-Safe Homes program uses both federal Medicaid and state GPR funds to reduce lead hazards in the homes of children and pregnant women on Medicaid. DHS noted eliminating lead from plumbing will require long-term investments. DNR then briefed the committee on their efforts, which also include testing and reducing lead-containing water in homes.

Next, the task force heard from representatives of the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) focusing on water and the environment. ACEC estimated that Wisconsin will need over $14 billion in water infrastructure investments by 2040 and asked the task force to consider funding for infrastructure beyond levels allocated in the 2019-21 state budget.

After ACEC, the Milwaukee City Health Department and Milwaukee Water Works presented to the committee on their water quality testing efforts. Milwaukee Water Works discussed the city’s water treatment process and their work on replacing lead service lines in the city. Milwaukee Water Works also discussed efforts at their Water Quality Laboratory, noting they monitor for 45 PFAS compounds at their treatment plants and throughout distribution. (PFAS are manufactured chemicals found in many everyday products, including nonstick pans, cleaning products, paints, and firefighting foam.)

Later in the day, Milwaukee Riverkeeper discussed their water quality initiatives, which include support for several bills from this legislative session and the previous session addressing lead contamination. The organization also suggested more funding for infrastructure upgrades and replacements, groundwater cleanup, and pollution enforcement. Milwaukee Riverkeeper argued even more funding is necessary to study and clean up PFAS compounds, as well as other emerging contaminants.

Also presenting at the meeting were MillerCoors, which discussed their sustainability efforts, and Milwaukee Water Commons, which noted the impact of water quality both in the City of Milwaukee and across the state.

The next Water Quality Task Force meetings are scheduled for Aug. 28 in Green Bay and Aug. 29 in Marinette. At these meetings, the task force will discuss topics including wetlands and PFAS.

The task force plans to continue meeting across the state before presenting legislative recommendations in the fall. Previous meetings:

July – Sturtevant, Tomahawk & Stevens Point

June – La Crosse & Mauston

May 29 – Janesville

May 8 – Lancaster

April – Madison

March – Madison