DRIFTLESS - Following an August meeting with the scientists running the Southwest Wisconsin Geology and Groundwater (SWIGG) study, the coordinating committee of the Driftless Area Water Study (DAWS) continued to grapple with what methodology they will use in their study. The DAWS study will be similar to SWIGG, but will cover Crawford, Vernon and Richland counties.
The biggest question facing the group is whether the samples taken in the two basic rounds of initial testing would be randomly selected or the result of citizen self-selection on a first-come-first-serve basis.
“We are worried that if we don’t go with the random selection process, that we won’t get a good geographic distribution in our county,” Richland County Conservationist Cathy Cooper said. “We know that there are problem areas in our county near the Wisconsin River, and in other areas in the county we are completely lacking in water quality data.”
Richland County Supervisor and Land Conservation Committee member Melissa Luck said that the funds for the water testing are still included in their budget as it moves through the final approval process. She also said that their committee is leaning toward the random selection. She stated that they plan to get the list of possible wells to sample from their septic system list, and that Dr. Mark Borchardt of the USDA-ARS Lab in Marshfield would use his program to generate the list of randomly selected wells.
“However, we have decided in Richland County that we are fine with the other counties choosing to select their samples in a different way,” Luck reported. “We think that the most important thing is that the samples all be taken and processed at the same time.”
Vernon County Conservationist Ben Wojahn expressed that he considers this to be an “excellent compromise.” He said that his county plans to spend the $12,000 in Ho Chunk funds approved by the county for well testing. He expressed that it is his hope that as time goes by, funds for further well testing will become available from the State of Wisconsin.
“We already have two watersheds that have or will have sampled wells - Tainter Creek (Franklin Township in Vernon County and Utica Township in Crawford County) and the West Fork Kickapoo – so we will be able to focus on all the other areas in our county,” Wojahn said. “Tentatively our plan at this time is to allow well owners to volunteer, with a cap of total samples from each of our townships.”
Valley Stewardship Network’s Tom Lukens reported that the West Fork Neighbors Association plans to sample about 40 wells on October 21. The Tainter Creek Watershed Council’s Chuck Bolstad reported that they will take about 50 samples on November 5. The two will both send their samples to the lab at UW-Stevens Point, and discussed collaborating on a date for UWSP to make follow-up presentations to reduce UWSP’s travel time.
Crawford County Conservationist David Troester reported that he is unsure at this time what method the county will use to select wells for testing.
“On the one hand, I like the idea of random selection to increase the scientific rigor of the study, on the other hand I like the idea of people who are interested in testing to be able to choose to do so,” Troester said. “If we take the randomized approach, then we probably won’t ask for a co-pay, but if we go the self-selection route then we may ask or $25 or $30.”
Troester reports that money is very tight in Crawford County, and he is unsure whether the County Board will approve funding for the study.
Co-pays for sampling
Richland County does not plan to ask water-sampling participants for any sort of co-pay, while Crawford and Vernon counties do. Vernon County will likely request a 50 percent subsidy, and Crawford County has not yet decided what co-pay they will ask for.
The tests will be for the basic ‘Homeowners’ test through UW-Stevens Point, which will basically sample for coliform bacteria and nitrate. There was broad agreement that all three counties could also allow well owners to have the ‘Metals’ test done, but they would be responsible for paying the additional $55.
Because there are almost twice as many total private wells in Vernon County as there are in either Crawford or Richland counties, they will sample twice as many wells as the other two counties.
The first sampling is tentatively planned for the end of April or beginning of May in 2020, pending confirmation of a date with UW-Stevens Point. Vernon County will collect approximately 200 samples, and Crawford and Richland will each collect 100 samples. The testing will be repeated with a different set of wells, most likely in November of 2020.
The SWIGG study in Grant, Iowa and Lafayette counties started with two rounds of testing like what is planned for DAWS. However, once those initial two rounds of testing were completed, the SWIGG study also called for a series of four, seasonal, microbial source-testing samples. This phase of testing, currently in progress, is designed to identify the source species for any contamination from a fecal source found in samples previously shown to be contaminated with either coliform bacteria or nitrate.
In addition, the SWIGG study also calls for an analysis of well construction information for the sampled wells, as well as looking at the underlying geology where the wells are located.
These additional phases of the study add a lot of cost. Crawford, Vernon and Richland counties are holding off on that phase of the study for now.
“We can always follow up and conduct the microbial source testing later,” Luck said. “Especially, if funding becomes available from the State of Wisconsin.”Wojahn suggested that the counties could collaborate on completing some of the work themselves, such as researching well construction and underlying hydrogeology. He suggested that the three counties could consider collaboration on hiring an intern to perform some of this research.