On Jan. 3, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos promised to create a state water quality task force after a study was released which found that 42% of tested wells in southwest Wisconsin were contaminated with E. coli, nitrates and other contaminants. Vos’ promise follows formal requests from state lawmakers representing areas struggling with water quality issues related to agriculture and faulty septic systems.
According to the Wisconsin State Journal, three counties funded the study–conducted by a U.S. Department of Agriculture microbiologist, a U.S. Geological Survey biologists and the state geologist–after the state’s Department of Natural Resources opted not to participate. Overall, the initial study found 42% of 301 randomly selected wells in Iowa, Grant and Lafayette counties exceed federal health standards for E.coli and nitrates. A second round of testing is scheduled for the spring to determine if the contamination is likely caused by dairy or swine manure, or from faulty septic systems, as reported by Wisconsin Public Radio.
“We look forward to working with everyone to find real solutions to these problems,” said Scott Laeser, water program director at the nonprofit Clean Wisconsin, the nonprofit that solicited the Department of Natural Resources aid. “Unfortunately, this data reinforces an emerging pattern of underappreciated and under reported well water contamination across the state, from northeast to central Wisconsin, the La Crosse area, and now southwest Wisconsin.”
Approximately one-quarter of Wisconsin’s population relies on well water for their drinking water, with more than 800,000 private wells in the state. While well tests by independent homeowners have shown high rates of contamination in southwest Wisconsin for the past 25 years, the new study provides stronger evidence by sampling random areas.
“I agree that the recent reports of water contamination in private wells in southwestern Wisconsin are disturbing,” Vos said. “Every Wisconsinite should have access to safe, clean drinking water.”
Vos will announce members of the state water quality task force in the next few weeks.