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DAWS study coordinating group met in Gays Mills
well water testing
WELL WATER TESTING has become an increasingly top-of-mind topic in Southwest Wisconsin. Citizens, responding to the situation in Kewaunee and La Crosse counties, as well as recent results from the SWIGG study in our area are increasingly aware that groundwater aquifers are a shared re-source.

CRAWFORD, RICHLAND AND VERNON COUNTIES - Members of the Driftless Area Water Study (DAWS) coordinating council met in Gays Mills on Monday, July 8. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss plans to conduct a well water testing study in Crawford, Vernon and Richland counties.

The group of committed county conservation and public health professionals, and non-profit environmental advocacy groups were joined by invited guests Robert Nigh of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau, State Representative Loren Oldenburg, and Chuck and Karen Bolstad of the Tainter Creek Watershed Council.

The DAWS group reviewed a tri-county application for an Environmental Health Tracking grant available from the State of Wisconsin Department of Health Services, next steps for updating their county boards, working to design the study and securing funding for the study.

Crawford County Health Officer Cindy Riniker was leading the process to write and submit the grant on behalf of the three counties. The main reasons put forth in the grant for why the funds are needed are the low rates of well water testing in the three counties and the data coming out of other well water testing which suggests that the three counties could have problems with groundwater quality.

The group agreed that, if received, the $10,000 would best be used to promote public awareness of the need for well water testing. Representative Oldenburg stated that he would be willing to write a letter of recommendation in support of the counties being awarded the grant.

Study funding

Crawford County Conservationist David Troester reported that he and Crawford County Health Officer Cindy Riniker had appeared before the Crawford County Board in the past to update them on the progress of the DAWS group. He said that they plan to continue doing so. The group agreed that this might be a good approach in all three counties.

Representative Oldenburg reported that he is hopeful that once the State of Wisconsin Speaker’s Water Quality Task Force has concluded its series of public hearings around the state, there would be some action coming out of that.

“I’m hoping to see some good leadership come out of the Task Force to put forward some good bills with some money behind them,” Oldenburg said. “However, the legislature will not be back in session until October.”

All three counties are, or will soon be, going through their 2020 budgeting process. The outcome of those processes will determine how much of the funding for the study will be available from the counties.

Other testing

Tom Lukens of Valley Stewardship Network and the West Fork Neighbors Watershed Council reported that their group would be going forward with well water testing in October of 2019. Testing will cover an area in the West Fork of the Kickapoo River from Bloomingdale to Liberty. They plan to test for bacteria and nitrates, and to send their samples for analysis to the lab at UW-Stevens Point.

Chuck Bolstad of the Tainter Creek Watershed Council reported that their group would consider conducting their fall of 2019 testing at the same time or around the same time as the West Fork group. Doing so could create certain efficiencies and also yield a potentially more useful data set.

Design and outreach

Vernon County Conservationist Ben Wojahn reported that the group would hold another meeting in August with scientists who will help to provide input on the design of the DAWS study.

The group discussed different approaches to recruiting well owners to be part of the study. The merits of inviting specific well owners in order to achieve optimal geographic representation versus just throwing it open to the general public to let any who are interested participate on a first-come, first-serve basis were discussed.

Connie Champnoise of the Richland Stewardship Project made the point that one of the key audiences to reach with well testing information will be senior citizens who own wells. Champnoise made the point that seniors are a potentially more vulnerable population, and may also be group experiencing financial barriers to testing their wells.

Farm Bureau’s Robert Nigh made the point that children are another potentially vulnerable population, and that testing and outreach through the schools might be a good avenue to explore. 

Nigh also emphasized that the counties should continue to focus on ensuring that all Private Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (septic systems) be brought up to code. He said that this is important to eliminate them as a potential source of groundwater pollution.