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DAWS drinking water study moving forward again for October testing
In Crawford, Richland and Vernon counties
DAWS Study

CRAWFORD, RICHLAND AND VERNON COUNTIES - The three-county coordinating group for the Driftless Area Water Study (DAWS) reconvened after the ‘Safer at Home’ order in March caused postponement of the planned spring 2020 well water testing. DAWS is a study of drinking water quality in Crawford, Richland and Vernon counties.

Dr. Kevin Masarik of the UW-Stevens Point Center for Watershed Science and Education (CWSE) was on hand to update the officials from the three counties about their water testing lab’s capabilities and availability.

“Our lab was always considered an essential service, and so we will be able to support your counties with your well testing effort,” Masarik told the group. “However, with the continued growth in cases of COVID throughout the state, I think it is unlikely that I would be approved to offer in-person education services.”

Masarik said that whether or not in-person educational events could go forward, every well owner would receive educational materials with their well testing results that would help them to understand those results. In addition, Masarik agreed that some sort of virtual education event would be possible. For those without adequate internet to participate in a virtual event, there would also be a phone call-in option available.

Decision timeline

Crawford County Conservationist Dave Troester and Vernon County Conservationist Ben Wojahn reported that they believe their counties remain ready to move forward with an October 2020 testing date. Richland County Conservationist Cathy Cooper reported that funding for the DAWS study is “in the budget,” but that she will need to touch base with Richland County Administrator Clinton Langreck before final confirmation that her county will be able to move forward.

“Due to COVID-related issues, in Richland County, we have to touch base with our county administrator even if it is in the budget,” Cooper reported. “The Land Conservation Committee is supportive of moving forward, and I will know soon one way or another.”

Both Crawford and Vernon counties had moved forward with identifying well owners who would participate in the first round of sampling prior to the ‘Safer at Home’ order going into effect in March. Richland County had been on the verge of sending out invitations to well owners identified in a random selection process, but delayed sending the letters in the spring. Cooper reports that the letters are “ready to go.”

“After the cancellation of the spring testing, we touched base with all the Crawford County well owners that had agreed to participate,” Troester said. “Everyone who had signed up indicated that they still wanted to do it.”

Unlike Crawford and Richland counties which used a ‘random selection process’ to select well owners (about nine from each township) to participate in the study, Vernon County adopted a volunteer, first come/first serve, process to find well owners who wanted to participate. Wojahn was asked about how that process had worked, and if their county currently had enough participants from all townships in the county.

“We did very well in most of our townships, and everyone indicated that they would continue with the project when we were able to reschedule,” Wojahn said. “We still have a few townships where we would like to see a few more participants.”

Those townships include: Clinton, Coon, Forest, Genoa, Greenwood, Hamburg, Harmony, Hillsboro, Jefferson, Kickapoo, Liberty, Stark, Union and Whitestown.

Kevin Masarik told the group that his lab would need a solid commitment about the proposed testing date of Tuesday, October 27, no later than September 15.

“With everything that is going on at the post office, our supply chain for testing supplies seems to have become slower,” Masarik said. “So, to be on the safe side, we will need to implement our sampling supplies distribution plan with that in mind.”

Wojahn asked Masarik if his lab would still move forward with the plan for the October sampling even if all three counties were not able to participate.

“If any of the three counties wants to move forward, then we’ll do it,” Masarik responded.

As far as a planned second round of sampling in spring of 2021, Masarik told the group that it would probably be best to wait until after the holidays to try to set that date.

“We just don’t know what is going to happen with the COVID-19 pandemic going into the fall and winter,” Masarik said. “If we wait until after the holidays, I think we’ll have a better understanding of the virus picture, and be able to make better decisions.”

Sampling logistics

Dr. Kevin Masarik responded to queries from the group regarding safety measures for supplies pick up and sample drop off being used in other counties moving forward with testing initiatives.

“I don’t think it’s very complicated,” Masarik said. “Other counties are really just adopting a drive-up, pick-up and drop-off strategy, where the location chosen facilitates that option.”

Troester reiterated for the group that the plan would be to distribute sample collection supplies and instructions to participants in early October. Participants would collect their samples and deliver them to the pick up location at specified times on Monday, October 26. Then, the three counties would collaborate to deliver the samples to the lab in Stevens Point by 10 a.m. on Tuesday, October 27. Results from the testing could be expected in a December 2020 or early January 2021 time frame.

Crawford County Health and Human Services Director Dan McWilliams was on the call as Director of Public Health Cindy Riniker was unavailable. He said that he was confident that between the three county health departments, COVID-safe guidelines for pick-up and drop off could be made available.

Masarik told the group that if the decision is made to distribute the sampling supplies via mail, then if their lab was responsible for the distribution, they would need to add on a fee for shipping.

“At this point, with the changes that appear to be rolling out with the U.S. Postal Service, we will need to evaluate what that charge would need to be closer to the time,” Masarik said. “In the past, we’ve added on five dollars, but I don’t know if that amount is going to cover it going forward.”

Cathy Cooper said that Richland County would choose to hand out the sampling supplies in-person to avoid incurring any additional costs. Crawford County UW-Extension Educator Jessica Spayde agreed with Cooper that given COVID-related budget constraints, this could be the preferred method.

Kevin Masarik told the group that CWSE has sample collection training videos that the counties could use to educate participants on the sample collection process, as well as written materials that accompany the sampling kits. He said that staff from the lab would also be available to answer questions via phone calls as-needed.