EAU CLAIRE — The Eau Claire County Administration Committee during its meeting Tuesday approved a resolution related to clean water.

The resolution, authored by Supervisor Nancy Coffey, authorizes the county to put an advisory referendum question on this April’s election ballot. The question is, “Should the state of Wisconsin establish a right to clean water to protect human health, the environment, and the diverse cultural and natural heritage of Wisconsin?”

The County Board during its meeting next Tuesday will vote on adding the question to the April ballot. According to a fact sheet from Coffey, vice-chairwoman of the county’s Ground Water Advisory Committee, at least three other Wisconsin counties have approved adding the question to their spring ballot.

Coffey noted that clean water is a topical, relevant issue.

“PFAS have been a really big issue in our city,” Coffey said.

Indeed, several city of Eau Claire wells were shut off last year after slightly elevated levels of PFAS chemicals were detected in them. The wells are located in the wellfield that provides all of Eau Claire’s drinking water.

Known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment, PFAS are a group of human-made chemicals used in a variety of products since the 1950s. They are found in non-stick cookware, fast food wrappers, stain-resistant sprays and firefighting foam.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources sent a letter in August 2021 to the Chippewa Valley Regional Airport suspecting that its use of firefighting foam is a potential contributor to PFAS affecting city wells. Foam was used as a precautionary measure at the airport in April 2021 when an aircraft went off the runway.

An airport consultant submitted its recommendation for investigating PFAS contamination to the DNR in November. The DNR will issue a response to that plan later this month.

Supervisor Jerry Wilkie supported the resolution and noted that “it certainly is timely given our dilemma out at the airport.”

Other business

County Administrator Kathryn Schauf said the county is one of several governments planning to do an affordable housing study of the area. She said a memorandum of understanding is currently being drafted to determine the details and cost of the study.

The study is intended to provide “good information in order to understand where investments may be needed within housing,” Schauf said.

Schauf said the county is developing a digital equity program. She did not go into specifics, since details and costs are still being figured out.

Schauf expects the program will be funded initially with federal COVID-19 relief money from the American Rescue Plan Act but said the program is intended to eventually be “self-sustaining.”

Schauf also said internal requests from county departments for ARP funding should be coming soon to the Administration Committee for consideration.

So far, the county has allocated $5.55 million of the $20.3 million it received from the ARP. It must allocate that money by the end of 2024 and spend it by the end of 2026.