Clean Water Update June 2020

As I write this up-date we are experiencing an unprecedented health pandemic in our county and state.  I hope you are well, practicing social distancing for those you love and for those who serve us, the medical staff, the grocery workers, public health officials and first responders.


Below are updates on the Speakers Task Force on Water Quality, Driftless Area Water Study and notes on a presentation by USDA microbiologist Mark Borchardt.


Speakers Task Force on Water Quality


Last year was designated the Year of Clean Water by Governor Tony Evers. Assembly Speaker Voss created a taskforce to learn about clean water issues, holding hearings around the state. As the project coordinator for the Richland Stewardship Project I testified at the first hearing in Lancaste

r about our specific concerns about water quality in the Driftless Area, our unique Karst geology, recent flooding issues and possible well contamination from agricultural runoff and septic systems.


The Speakers Task Force on Water Quality – conducted public hearings at the Capitol from State Departments regarding water quality as well as the public hearings around the state.  The Task Force on January 8, 2020 submitted a report to Speaker Robin Voss as well as the following bills to the Assembly:


  • AB 801 – Funding a University of WI freshwater collaborative
  • AB801 – Supporting the Center for Watershed Science and Education, creating a hydrogeologist position, funding research on phosphorous recovery and reuse, creating grant programs for counties to test wells and provide public education, grant rule-making authority and making appropriation
  • AB 799 – Creating an office of water policy and making an appropriation in the UW system housed in the WI Geological and Natural History Survey of the Division of Extension WU-Madison
  • AB 797 – Prohibiting the sale and use of coal tar-based sealants and high PAH sealant products beginning July 1, 2021
  • AB 796 – Creating a pilot grant program for farmers to reduce nitrate loading, funding research for nitrate loading reduction methods.
  • AB 795 – Funding for one fulltime position in the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to serve as a coordinator for managed grazing initiatives.
  • AB 794 – DNR to provide public notice of the list of groundwater substances. This list of substances that are detected in or have a reasonable probability of entering ground water resource that are of public health or welfare concern and to rank the substances based on their risks to public health or welfare.
  • AB793 – DNR activities listed in DNR rules are eligible for municipal flood control grants will not be listed in priority order. Scoring should consider cost effectiveness of the proposed activities.
  • AB 792 – Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to provide clean sweep guidelines for PFAS (firefighting foams) for collecting from state, cities, villages, towns and counties
  • AB 791 – Grant program administered by Department of Safety and Professional Services to provide grants to persons and or businesses that are served by failing septic tanks to delay elimination to June 30, 2023 from June 30, 2021.
  • AB 790 – Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to increase funding to provide for county conservation staffing
  • AB 789 – Changes to well compensation grant program administered by the Department of Natural Resources. Eliminates restrictions of only wells contaminated by nitrates if is used only as a supply for livestock, is used at least 3 months of each year and contains nitrates in excess of 40 parts per million. Bill eliminates restrictions making wells contaminated only by nitrates eligible for the program.


All of these bills were passed by the Assembly and sent on to the Senate in February 2020.  The State Senate has not taken them up. Due to the coronavirus, the State Senate has postponed its final regular legislative session for the year. They are still planning on meeting sometime this year to take up these bills.


Please contact Senator Marklein and let him know how important clean water is to our community and urge him to support the bills out of the Assembly.


To read the report and or the proposed bills please go to the Speakers Task Force on Water Quality:




Driftless Area Water Study


In 2019 the Driftless Area Water Study (DAWS) group was formed by Richland, Vernon and Crawford Counties. Our goal is to determine if water contamination exists and if so, what is causing the contamination.


Richland Stewardship is a member of (DAWS), made up of County Land Conservationists and Public Health Departments from Richland, Crawford and Vernon Counties. Crawford Stewardship Project, Valley Stewardship Network and Melissa Luck Richland County Board Supervisor on the Land Conservation Committee.


DAWS worked to develop a coordinated well testing program that would conduct two well water test collections in May and the other in October of 2020 in the three counties.


Richland and Crawford County would conduct a random sample of at least 100 wells in May and October to build a baseline of 200 wells sampled in each county.  Vernon County would also conduct two collections in May and October as well on a first come first serve basis of up to at least 200 wells per collection.  Vernon has a larger population and 400 samples would be more representative of their county.


Due to the corona virus it was determined to postpone the May collection of samples. New dates to be determined.


League of Conservation Voters


On January 16, 2020 USDA microbiologist Mark Borchardt presented on his work in Kewaunee County and the SWIGG study.   The presentation was organized by the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters and held at the Brewer Library in Richland Center.


Mark updated the audience on the Kewaunee County study.  He talked about how the study brought both farmers and rural homeowners together to take action on the ground water issues understanding that ground water is an open access resource.  What you do on your property may impact your neighbor’s water.  The study was able to determine the risks and what was causing the contamination in the wells whether it was agricultural or septic systems. One of the biggest contributors to ground water contamination is depth of soil to bedrock, the shallower the soil to bedrock the more probable the water can be contaminated.


The research objectives were to:

  1. Estimate county-wide contamination rate for nitrate and indicator bacteria as related to depth-to-bedrock
  2. Determine source of fecal contamination using viruses and fecal markers
  3. Identify risk factors for private well contamination using statistical models



  1. More septic systems around a well means greater risk for contamination by human fecal microbes
  2. Exceeding 30 acres of ag fields around a well is associated with higher concentrations of manure microbes in well water
  3. More crop land around a well means greater risk for contamination by high nitrate
  4. Land use is more important than well construction as related to well contamination in the fractured bedrock aquifer of northeastern Wisconsin

Mark also provided an update on the Southwest Wisconsin Groundwater and Geology (SWIGG) Study. Counties participating are Grant, Iowa and Lafayette. Analysis of data and findings are the next steps.

SWIGG Study Results
Wells sampled Total coliform E. coli High nitrate* Total coliform or high nitrate
SWIGG November 2018 301 34% 4% 16% 42%
SWIGG April 2019 539 16% 2% 15% 27%
Statewide 1997a 534 23% 3% 7%
Statewide 2013b 3838 18% 10%
Statewide 2017c 401 8%

*High nitrate is NO3–N > 10 mg/L


What Every Wisconsinite Should Know:

  1. Your well water quality depends on how you and your neighbors use the land – groundwater is shared.
  2. Summarizing groundwater quality by convenient government boundaries i.e. township or county, masks local hotspots of contamination
  3. Nitrate contamination of groundwater has health relevance for all ages, not just infants
  4. Positive coliform test = investigate well and land use;

Positive E. coli test = unsafe drinking water

  1. Scientists can identify sources of fecal contamination
  2. Fences make good neighbors – so do groundwater studies

Wisconsin Conservation Voters Governmental Affairs Director, Jennifer Giegerich discussed the issues impacting the state from high nitrate concentrations in the water, fecal contamination, lead in municipal water laterals to homes and a new area of concern, PFAS.  They are supporting legislation in all of these areas to help strengthen our regulations to protect our ground water/drinking water. Ms. Giegerich encouraged people to write and call their legislators to support legislation that will protect our drinking water. To learn more about pending legislation you can go to their website









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