New bill designates $10 million in assistance for residents with nitrate contamination

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(WSAW) -- A new Wisconsin bill is expected to be voted on in the Committee on Natural Resources and Energy in a few days. The recently introduced bill would provide $10,000,000 over two years in grants to provide aid for residents and counties affected by high levels of nitrate contamination.

Thousands of people in Portage, Wood, Adams, and Juneau counties are having to buy bottled water, do numerous well testings, and purchase systems to fix the problem of dangerous nitrate levels. These efforts can cost homeowners hundreds or thousands of dollars. There are grants available to residents, but only a handful of people actually qualify for the assistance.

"We want to give homeowners some short-term relief and receive up to $2,500 in grant dollars to ensure that they can go to their tap and have clean water," republican senator Patrick Testin said.

He and republican representative Scott Krug are two of several authors of Senate Bill 137. The bill would allocated $10,000,000 from the state's general fund to the Department of Health Services over the next two years. Most of that money would be used as grants for residents, providing up to $2,500 for residents who find nitrate levels above the limit the EPA deems as safe, or 10 parts per million. Residents would apply for the grant money through DHS and the money would have to be spent to cover costs for well testing, installation of an appropriate filtration system, replacement of the well with a well that complies with the requirements stated in the bill, replacement of the water supply.

A smaller portion of the grant money, $500,000 worth, would be allocated for grants for counties that apply to participate in the water testing program.

"Some (counties) have kind of dabbled on the edges where they though hot spots were, testing wells here and there, this will give them an actual chance to really run a comprehensive program to figure out where everybody's at as far as their numbers for nitrate," Rep. Krug sad.

For those with levels beyond easy-fix solutions, Krug and Testin said the water task force is work on solutions.

"We want to be at the table as we discuss the long-term goals to try to ensure that we're balancing the needs of our natural resources here in the state, but we also make sure that our ag community can continue to thrive and grow and find that right balance moving forward," Testin said.

Testin has been working with his fellow senate members and said he is hoping this bill will be on the senate floor in early June. He and Krug said more bills around this problem will come out of the water task force as they are developed.