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Citizens discuss Vos Water Quality Task Force in Platteville

PLATTEVILLE - On a snowy Wednesday evening on January 23, 30 concerned citizens gathered in Platteville to discuss recent results of the Southwest Wisconsin Groundwater and Geology Study (SWIGG), and local needs for the water quality task force announced recently by Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Representative Robin Vos (R-Rochester). 

The group plans to call another meeting when more information is available about the Water Quality Task Force plans.

The initial results of the SWIGG study has shown that 42 percent of sampled wells in Grant, Iowa and Lafayette counties are contaminated with bacteria and nitrate, making them potentially unsafe to use for drinking water.

About 44 percent of residents in the three counties obtain their drinking water from private wells. Of the 301 wells tested in the first round of sampling in November of 2018, 122 were from Grant County. The county’s results showed greater contamination than the three-county average, with 38 percent showing traces of coliform bacteria and seven percent showing a particularly dangerous form of coliform -  E.coli.

Another round of testing will take place in the spring of 2019 with a different group of private wells. Joel Stokdyk with the U.S. Geological Survey Upper Midwest Water Science Center will be the principal investigator on water testing results. In addition, Mark Borchardt, who was the lead investigator in the water-testing project in Kewaunee County, will work with Stokdyk as  aco-investigator. 

Kenneth Bradbury, Wisconsin State Geologist and Director of the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, will be the principal investigator reviewing well construction data, and local topography and geology, to round out the study’s data set and understand the full picture of conditions that surround the results.

After the initial two samples are analyzed, and the correlation established between well construction characteristics and any contamination observed, then the study will take an additional step. The next phase will be aimed at identifying the specific source of the contamination, which the first round of tests will not demonstrate.

Wells which test positive for nitrate or bacteria from the first round, will be eligible for a second round of testing that will determine whether the source of contamination is human, bovine, swine or the result of agricultural chemical applications. Once each season for four seasons, 35 eligible wells will be tested for a total of 140 tests. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction testing will demonstrate the specific origin of any fecal contamination.

The final report is expected to be completed by September of 2020.

Citizen action

The initial SWIGG results were alarming to Donna and Dave Swanson, members of a local citizen advocacy group, Grant County Rural Stewardship. After Speaker Vos announced his intention to convene a Water Quality Task Force, the group called a meeting to obtain citizen input about what they wanted to see as outcomes for the task force, and what kind of citizen participation they wanted to advocate for.

“Based on our conversations with our state legislators, the task force is expected to be expanded to include members from the Senate,” Donna Swanson said. “The task force will include legislators from both political parties, and will hold meetings around the state.”

The members of the group at the meeting agreed that they want to ensure that the voice of citizens is heard in the process. They brainstormed a list of ways that they and other concerned citizens can make their voices heard:

1. Write letters, make phone calls, or send e-mails to the State Representatives and Senators from their district, and to Speaker Vos.

Rep. Robin Vos

P.O. Box 8593

Madison, WI 53708


Sen. Howard Marklein

P.O. Box 7882

Madison, WI 53707


Rep. Travis Tranel

P.O. Box 8953

Madison, WI 53708


For concerned citizens in Crawford and Richland Counties:

Sen. Jennifer Shilling

P.O. Box 1261

La Crosse WI 54602


Rep. Loren Oldenburg

P.O. Box 8953

Madison, WI 53708


2. Send letters to the editors of your local papers:

Platteville Journal

Editor: Steve Prestegard

Grant County Herald Independent – Lancaster

Editor: David Timmerman

Fennimore Times

Editor: Emily Schendel

Republican Journal - Darlington

Editor: Kayla Barnes

Boscobel Dial

Editor: David Krier

Crawford County Independent – Gays Mills

Editor: Charley Preusser

Richland County Observer

Editor: Dawn Kiefer

3. Appear at hearings when they take place in your area and testify.

Desired outcomes

The group at the meeting took up discussion of what they wanted to see as outcomes from the Water Quality Task Force process:

1. Include citizens with contaminated wells on the task force.

2. Ensure that WDNR employees are doing their jobs to enforce the rules around agricultural runoff and pollution.

3. Ensure that scientists are involved in studies of water quality.

4. Extension of the NR-151 ‘Sensitive Area’ rule revision for manure runoff to karstic areas in Southwest Wisconsin.

5. Acknowledgement that every Wisconsin resident has the right to safe, clean drinking water, and that this right will be weighed equally with economic considerations when regulations are enacted and enforced.

6. Adequate funding for state agencies that enforce water protection regulations.

7. Leadership at the state level with adequate funding to identify the root causes of contamination of groundwater.

Grant sinkhole study

The group also discussed another exciting development in the study of the county’s groundwater. That is a study being undertaken by students of the UW-Platteville Geography Department to map the sinkholes in Grant County. The effort will be led by Dr. Lynette Dornak, Assistant Professor of Geography-GIS, with a group of her students in the Spring 2019 semester.

The professor was galvanized to undertake the study with her students after learning of the work by Crawford Stewardship Project (CSP) to map the sinkholes in Crawford County.  CSP’s project results have established that Crawford County is a ‘high sinkhole density area.’

GIS stands for ‘Geographic Information System,’ and is a system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present spatial or geographic data. GIS applications are tools that allow users to create interactive queries (user-created searches), analyze spatial information, edit data in maps, and present the results of all these operations.

Identification of sinkholes adds an important dimension to the study of groundwater quality. Sinkholes are what are known as ‘direct conduits to groundwater.’ This means that contamination travelling into a sinkhole can penetrate through the bedrock and into the aquifer much more quickly than water that travels through a layer of plant roots and soil.

“This project will allow my GIS students to engage in a learning exercise that will help them to refine their skills and also make a real-life contribution to our surrounding community,” Dornak said. “Most counties are now employing their own GIS staff, and the results of our work will create a replicable template that can be used by others to conduct this kind of mapping.”

Dornak explained that the whole process of sinkhole mapping is really a three-part process. Her group will complete the first step, which will be to use their software to create a ‘digital elevation model,’ which will yield a data set. The second step will be for citizen-scientists to take this data, and using Google Earth, identify exact sinkhole location by means of clues such as a brushy areas in the middle of farm fields, etc… The third step is for citizen-scientists to physically go out and verify the sinkholes.

“My programming class will write a script that others can use,” Dornak said. “It is good to make a contribution to something that has practical significance in our community, and some time between the Summer and Fall of 2019, I should have something to share.”

For individuals interested in her results, or students who are interested in her program, Dr. Lynette Dornak can be reached at: 608-342-1680, or by e-mail at