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Groups Say Water Quality Task Force Necessary, Overdue

The Southwest Wisconsin Groundwater and Geology study examines whether there is contamination in drinking-water wells, and what might be causing it. (PublicDomainPictures/Pixabay)
The Southwest Wisconsin Groundwater and Geology study examines whether there is contamination in drinking-water wells, and what might be causing it. (PublicDomainPictures/Pixabay)
January 7, 2019

MADISON, Wis. – A new water quality task force has been proposed for Wisconsin after a recent study showed widespread health concerns about drinking water wells in several counties.

For about a decade, conservation groups had warned Gov. Scott Walker and fellow Republican Party leaders that much of the state's well water may be contaminated with pathogens and toxic nitrates.

The latest self-funded study by three counties – Grant, Iowa and Lafayette – found 42 percent of 301 randomly-selected wells exceeded federal health standards for bacteria.

Scott Laeser, water program director for the environmental advocacy group Clean Wisconsin, helped coordinate funding for the study, and says he's happy to see some action being proposed.

"It's good to see that this round of sampling seems to have upped the urgency a bit and prompted pretty immediate action,” he states. “We don't know much yet about what this task force will do, and who will be on it."

After years of pressure from local residents and the federal government over water contamination issues, Walker approved an administrative rule last February with stricter standards for manure disposal in 15 eastern Wisconsin counties.

But dairy farmers pushed back, delaying implementation of the rule indefinitely.

While he's grateful to see State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos call for the formation of the water quality task force, Laeser says all the interested parties should contribute to finding solutions.

He says that includes the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which declined to participate in the study.

"What we really need to see is a science-based and collaborative effort that involves not just the Legislature, but involves the DNR, other state agencies, and the many stakeholders in the state that care about clean water," Laeser stresses.

Laeser warns the southwestern counties where wells were tested could represent a larger, statewide problem.

His group and the state recommend that anyone with a private well have it tested at least once a year.

Around one-quarter of Wisconsin's population drinks water drawn from more than 800,000 private wells.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - WI