Bills to Watch: Riparian Rights, Water-pollution Credits

AB-551 / SB-501

Riparian rights on navigable waterways

This bill states that the owner of land that abuts a navigable waterway is presumed to be a riparian owner (one who lives or is located on the bank of a body of water) and is entitled to exercise all rights afforded to a riparian owner – such as reasonable use of the waterway – unless those rights are specifically prohibited by the land’s deed. 

The bill is a response to a 2018 Wisconsin Supreme Court decision that ruled that landowners whose deed does not explicitly grant access to the water bed of flowages may not erect and maintain a pier. This bill essentially overturns the Supreme Court decision. The bill is available for scheduling after unanimous approval by the Committee on Natural Resources and Energy.

AB-113 / SB-91

Water-pollution credits

This bill would create a marketplace for credits that wastewater-permit holders could purchase to increase their pollutant discharges. The credits are produced when nonpoint sources – typically farms – employ practices to improve water quality. Wastewater facilities and other firms that serve as point sources of pollution can then purchase those credits through a third-party central clearinghouse instead of reducing their own levels of pollution. 

The program is intended to provide a revenue stream for farmers and improve water quality in a time of low commodity prices while giving communities an option when faced with multi-million-dollar wastewater treatment plant improvements. The Senate passed the bill Feb. 18.