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We deserve to know when our groundwater is contaminated

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Few things are more important to protecting public health than clean drinking water. Just ask the people in Flint, Michigan. And unlike in Flint, if our government is aware there is a problem with our drinking water, we would like it if they would let us know. But that isn’t always the case. Back in 2016, La Crosse County health officials worked in vain for months to get information from the DNR about potential groundwater pollution from a local animal feeding operation. Turns out the water had been polluted for years. And in Wisconsin’s Lafayette County, the government threatened to prosecute journalists and discipline board members who reported the results of a groundwater study that showed high levels of contamination. After much criticism, the resolution was pulled. But it is clear that not everyone in government wants us to know when our drinking water is polluted. That is why La Crosse State Rep. Jill Billings has co-authored legislation that requires the DNR to notify counties and citizens when a water-discharge permit holder has violated groundwater quality standards. It would apply not just to farm contamination but would require the disclosure of contaminants from industrial sources as well. Although we may deserve to know when our drinking water isn’t safe, politicians don’t necessarily agree. A similar bill in 2018 failed to pass the Wisconsin legislature. So this bill is hardly a slam-dunk. But clean drinking water is important, and when it isn’t clean, we should be told that.

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