WISCONSIN — Wisconsin lawmakers on Monday plan to bring legislation that would give residents the right to camp, even atop water, as part of a push to address the state’s worsening lake-related crisis.
The proposal is a first step in an ongoing effort by state legislators to address a crisis that has driven nearly 2 million people from their homes, displaced thousands of others and led to the closure of more than 30,000 miles of shoreline and a dramatic decline in Lake Michigan.
In a news release, the Republican-led Senate and Assembly called the bill a “tipping point” for the state to start making progress in its efforts to reverse the lake-based death tolls and the associated social and economic impacts.
“Lake Michigan is the most toxic water in the world and is an economic engine that generates more than $3 trillion in economic activity in Wisconsin every year,” said Sen. Kevin Sievert, R-Milwaukee.
“The state needs to act now to protect this beautiful and fragile ecosystem and ensure that the next generation of our children will not have to endure the death toll.”
Sievert is among a number of Wisconsin lawmakers who have introduced similar legislation in recent years, often as a way to help alleviate public pressure to improve the lake.
But while Sievert’s proposal may be the first time a state lawmaker has brought a similar measure to the House floor, others in the state Legislature have introduced measures in recent months to further limit the use of water for recreation.
“We are looking at a time when the world is changing and that includes the Lake Michigan ecosystem,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Republican from the Green Bay area.
“This is one way to try to address that and also protect the environment.”
The bills have faced challenges from both Democrats and Republicans who say they’re unnecessary and would only exacerbate a crisis.
Wisconsin is the sixth most polluted state in the country, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
But it’s also the fourth-largest in the U