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Local News

Gov. Evers Signs Bill to Expand Watershed Protection Programs

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by Henry Redman, Wisconsin Examiner

Gov. Tony Evers signed a bill on Monday aimed at expanding programs meant to improve water quality in watersheds, lakes and rivers around Wisconsin. 

The bipartisan bill, introduced with support from more than three dozen Democratic and Republican members of the Legislature, would expand eligibility for watershed protection grants offered through the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) and lake and river protection grants administered through the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). 

“Farmers and producers are leading the way on some of our water conservation efforts because they know firsthand the value of clean water and fruitful land,” Evers said in a statement. “I am glad to be signing this bipartisan bill today to expand opportunities for more producers to access this program so we can work together to improve surface water quality across the state.”

Tracking from the Wisconsin Ethics Commission shows the bill was supported by the state’s agricultural lobbying groups, including pro-factory farming outfits such as the Dairy Business Association and the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, as well as conservation groups such as Clean Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association. 

Previously, at least five agricultural producers in a watershed could apply together for grant money aimed at improving the water quality in that watershed through projects aimed at reducing pollution through agricultural runoff. Grants have paid for increased education, cost-sharing and improved runoff control practices. 

Since it was first created in 2016, the producer-led watershed grant program has provided nearly $4.5 million to almost 200 groups, according to DATCP

The bill enacted into law on Monday will expand eligibility to these grants for farmers operating on adjacent watersheds. 

Under the DNR’s lake and river protection grant program, non-profit conservation groups and a variety of government entities were eligible to receive state money to restore or protect the state’s surface waters. According to 2021 DNR data, the surface water grant program provided more than $6 million to 343 projects that year. The new law will add farmer-led watershed groups to the list of eligible organizations.

This story was written by Henry Redman, a reporter at the Wisconsin Examiner, where this story first appeared.

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