Milwaukee Riverkeeper
Press Release

Senate schedules last-minute vote on water privatization bill tomorrow despite widespread public opposition

AB 554 is a bill that threatens drinking water for millions of Wisconsinites and opens the door to corporate control of Wisconsin’s water utilities.

By - Feb 15th, 2016 05:03 pm
No Toxic Water. Photo courtesy of the Overpass Light Brigade.

No Toxic Water. Photo courtesy of the
Overpass Light Brigade.

MILWAUKEE – Today, we just learned that Senate Republicans have added AB 554, the controversial water privatization bill, to the Senate agenda tomorrow for debate and passage. AB 554 is a bill that threatens drinking water for millions of Wisconsinites and opens the door to corporate control of Wisconsin’s water utilities. No municipality has requested this bill, which would make it easier for public water utilities to privatize operations. It was introduced at the behest of a private company called Aqua America, looking to move into the Wisconsin market.

In addition, the Wisconsin League of Municipalities has withdrawn their support for this bill. In a legislative update published today, they reported: “Last week, the League’s Board of Directors voted unanimously to change the association’s position on AB 554/SB 532, modifying the process for selling municipal water utilities, from support to oppose. The bill changes the referendum requirement for selling a municipal water utility from mandatory to optional. The League initially viewed the bill as restoring policy decision making to elected municipal officials, but after giving the issue further review the board concluded the process in current law for selling a water utility should remain in place. The board believes that a mandatory referendum is preferable and better recognizes the extraordinary public investment municipal taxpayers have made in municipal water utility assets.”

Cheryl Nenn, from Milwaukee Riverkeeper explains, “Currently, we have a safeguard in our State law that requires a public referendum before any utility can be sold or leased to a private entity. As part of this, our Public Service Commission also does an analysis before that referendum looking at the value of the utility to ensure that if a sale goes through that the taxpayers are getting a good “price” so to speak. This bill would remove these protections and make it easier for private water companies to sway local municipalities or utilities to privatize. This legislation benefits the private water industry while removing the transparency and accountability that allows citizens and local elected officials to ensure safe drinking water. “

“Providing clean, safe drinking water and safe treatment of sewage is one of the most important functions of government. Maintaining public control of utilities provides a greater level of transparency and accountability that only comes with oversight by an electorate. New Jersey passed a similar type of legislation in February; as a result, people throughout the state have fewer public processes to ensure public control of their water utilities,” said Kimberlee Wright, Executive Director of Midwest Environmental Advocates.

Milwaukee Riverkeeper is urging the Senate to vote against AB 554 on what is an election day. Water privatization schemes are being rolled back across the country due to increased water cost, decreased quality of drinking water, and diminished accountability and transparency to ratepayers and voters.

Milwaukee Riverkeeper urges State residents to contact their Senator by phone today or tonight or to voice concerns to their State Senators here.

About Milwaukee Riverkeeper

Milwaukee Riverkeeper’s mission is to protect, improve and advocate for water quality, riparian wildlife habitat, and sound land management in the Milwaukee, Menomonee, and Kinnickinnic River Watersheds. We envision a future in which people from all walks of life can enjoy the healthy waterways of the Milwaukee River Basin.

Milwaukee Riverkeeper advocates for compliance with environmental laws and is licensed by the Waterkeeper Alliance, a network with over 266 organizations worldwide dedicated to clean water and healthy communities. For more information about Milwaukee Riverkeeper, visit

Mentioned in This Press Release

Recent Press Releases by Milwaukee Riverkeeper

Milwaukee Riverkeeper

Milwaukee Riverkeeper annual report on river health shows drop from 2017 to 2018

Historic rainfall levels in 2018, land-use practices, failing infrastructure and other human activities, in both urban and rural parts of the Milwaukee River Basin, ultimately led to the decline in grade (C- to D).

Celebrate the Removal of the Estabrook Dam

Please join us for an evening by the river and across from the former dam site.

Volunteers Prepare for the Much-needed Milwaukee Riverkeeper® Spring Cleanup

The Spring Cleanup event is the first community-wide effort to improve river health and water quality for 2018.

4 thoughts on “Senate schedules last-minute vote on water privatization bill tomorrow despite widespread public opposition”

  1. Paul Fiegel says:

    The Walker administration has now begun what the Koch brothers plan has been all along, to control the water of the state of Wisconsin.
    Water is going to be the precious resource much as oil has been. The Koch brothers are making the grab at the states water for future sale to other states such as Kansas.
    This has to stop.
    Why are not state Democrates fighting for the people of Wisconsin?

  2. David Ciepluch says:

    Water belongs to the citizens of Wisconsin in accordance with the 1787 Northwest Ordinance, and Wisconsin’s Public Trust Doctrine and mountains of case law. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is legally assigned to hold the water in trust for citizens and is the guardian.

    Of course we know with our least educated GOP elected officials think about laws as they blow their nose all over them. They have taken an oath of office to abide by the US Constitution and laws but offend them on a minute by minute basis. According to the US Constitution’s 10th Amendment, the states primary role is protection of the health, safety and welfare of citizens. Private business has no such role or oath.

    Absolutely no to this bill. All GOP elected officials should resign for breaking the law and their oath of office.

  3. Rich says:

    @Paul Fiegel, do you have evidence that shows a Koch connection to this bill?

    Reporting here on UM ( states the main company behind the initiative was “Aqua America” ( Of course, the Koch’s (or anyone else for that matter) probably won’t make their association very public, so in that case, let’s stick to the facts.

    FWIW, the crew behind this is: Introduced by Representatives August, Zepnick, Sanfelippo, Murphy, Kleefisch, Knodl and Skowronski; cosponsored by Senator Lasee (

    BTW, not disagreeing, this is still bad for WI.

  4. Judie Moyer says:

    NO! NO! NO!
    to passing AB 554 now or ever. Wisconsin is not for sale.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us