This coming Wednesday, May 29, you have an opportunity right here in Janesville to get your voice heard on a crucial issue: Wisconsin’s drinking water crisis.

On that day, the Legislature’s Water Quality Task Force is making a stop at Blackhawk Technical College for a public hearing. It will take place in Room 1400B at 10:30 a.m. Please attend if you can.

The lawmakers on the task force need to hear your personal stories. They need to hear that you’re concerned about your water quality and the long-term health of your family.

According to the Rock County Health Department, one in six of the county’s 11,000 private wells contains harmful bacteria, and one in three wells contains dangerous nitrates.

It’s also a problem for local schools. The Gazette reported in a March 2018 headline, “Elevated levels of lead found in 40 water sources in Janesville elementary schools.”

This is not just happening here. It is happening across Wisconsin.

Surveys and studies of Wisconsin water show more than 80 water systems—serving 20,000 households—are at risk for lead-contaminated drinking water. One-third of Wisconsin’s private wells have tested positive for pesticides. Just recently, 42 percent of wells in a tri-county area in southwest Wisconsin tested positive for bacteria, chemicals or both.

No level of lead is safe. Children whose blood contains elevated levels of lead are at risk for brain damage and reduced IQs, even increased violent behavior. Nitrates are life threatening to babies and are linked to cancer—as are substances known as PFAs.

Celina Stewart, a mother in Nekoosa, lost her infant daughter to a fatal brain malformation associated with high levels of nitrates. Another Wisconsin mother lost her pregnancy.

Here in Rock County, lead paint remains a major threat for lead poisoning. And dangerous lead pipes are still in homes, with lead laterals serving those homes. In rural areas, nitrates continue to inundate private wells.

This is unacceptable. It is wrong. And it must be fixed now.

Fortunately, our elected officials are finally acknowledging the crisis. Gov. Tony Evers declared 2019 the year of clean drinking water, while Assembly Speaker Robin Vos formed the Water Quality Task Force coming to Janesville. This bipartisan effort is unprecedented in recent history. It’s a once-in-a-generation chance to solve our drinking water crisis.

So on Wednesday, please tell your elected representatives that you expect solutions to the drinking water crisis in the Janesville area and statewide.

Please tell them to approve a clean drinking water budget that saves kids from lead poisoning, protects private wells from dangerous chemicals and bacteria, and gives local communities the resources they need to protect their citizens on their terms.

Please tell them to take direct, bold action now or generations of Wisconsinites—our kids and grandkids—will suffer for their failure.

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Kerry Schumann is executive director of Wisconsin Conservation Voters, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization engaging voters to protect Wisconsin’s environment.

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