The Water Quality Task Force, a recently formed committee of the Wisconsin legislature, is in the process of holding 11 public hearings across the state to better understand the issues and challenges around water. While we applaud the forming of this task force, we are disheartened and disappointed to learn there are no plans to hold a public hearing in Milwaukee.
Milwaukee Water Commons is in full agreement with the stated mission of the Water Quality Task Force. We support the legislator’s goals to protect a healthy and stable supply of water for Wisconsin residents and industry as well as Governor Evers’ proclamation declaring 2019 the “Year of Clean Drinking Water”.
Wisconsin has challenges across the state with clean water, including potential health risks caused by lead pipes, polluted wells and emerging groundwater contaminants. 47% of wells in Wisconsin do not meet acceptable health standards and thousands of homes in urban areas are serviced by lead pipes.
Milwaukee is the largest city in the state located at the confluence of three rivers and the shores of Lake Michigan. We, like other parts of the state, are facing a serious threat to drinking water in the form of lead service lines that bring drinking water to over 70,000 thousand homes in Milwaukee.
The people of Wisconsin have an expectation that our state will serve as trustees of our common waters for the benefit of all residents. We applaud the efforts of the Water Quality Task Force in traveling around the state to listen to an array of people and communities about these issues; however, by not coming to Milwaukee, a disservice is being done to thousands of Wisconsinites and the voices of some of our most vulnerable populations most impacted by the issue of water quality are being marginalized.
Milwaukee Water Commons works to engage community members in water issues. We have created programming which highlights water stewardship in combination with modeling water responsibility and prioritize including everyone’s voice and perspective in decisions being made regarding our waters. Milwaukee is home to many neighborhood leaders, environmental leaders and community members who have thinking, opinions and concerns about drinking water and they deserve to be heard. They can best articulate the water challenges affecting their neighborhoods and are the key to finding and implementing solutions that work.
Public hearings hold the possibility of positioning our elected officials in the right direction to not only listen but elevate community voices regarding clean water. They build education and are a way for people to engage and connect with the political process and elected leaders. While many feel overwhelmed and left out of decisions that affect their everyday lives, these hearings offer residents a chance to be heard. But for this to happen, they must be community-focused and accessible.
Milwaukee Water Commons calls on the Water Quality Task Force to make lead in drinking water as critical an issue as well contamination, PFAS and algal blooms. We call on the Water Quality Task Force to come to Milwaukee.
Brenda Coley and Kirsten Shead are Co-Executive Directors of Milwaukee Water Commons, a nonprofit organization that fosters connection, collaboration and broad community leadership on behalf of our common waters.