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USDA researcher discusses danger of shallow soil over karst bedrock
Karst Geology
KARST GEOLOGY is a fractured bedrock that allows for contaminants from the surface to penetrate into groundwater. This attribute is made more sever when the bedrock is overlain by shallow layers of soil.

RICHLAND CENTER - Over 45 people attended a water quality event in Richland Center on Thursday, Jan. 16 where USDA Microbiologist Mark Borchardt discussed his water quality research; Richland County Board Supervisor Melissa Luck discussed local policy; Richland Stewardship Project leader Connie Champnoise talked about local water advocacy; and Wisconsin Conservation Voters Government Affairs Director Jennifer Giegerich talked about state policy and action

USDA microbiologist Mark Borchardt’s presentation updated the audience on the Kewaunee County study. How the study brought both farmers and rural homeowners together to take action on the groundwater issues understanding that groundwater is an open access resource. What you do on your property may impact your neighbor’s water.  

The study was able to determine what the risks with drinking water were, and what was causing the contamination in the wells -  agricultural or septic systems. Borchardt emphasized that one of the biggest contributors to groundwater contamination is depth of soil to bedrock. He said that the shallower the soil to bedrock, the more probable the water can be contaminated. 

The Kewaunee County 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

Kewaunee County

Dr. Borchardt’s findings in the Kewaunee County study included:

1.  More septic systems around a well means greater risk for contamination by human fecal microbes

2.  Exceeding 30 acres of agricultural fields around a well is associated with higher concentrations of manure microbes in well water

3.  More cropland around a well means greater risk for contamination by high nitrate levels

4.  Land use is more important than well construction as related to well contamination in the fractured bedrock aquifer of northeastern Wisconsin

Borchardt 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. This study is expected to conclude later in 2020.

What you should know

Dr. Borchardt shared the things that he believes every Wisconsinite should know about their water:

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 mean well owners need to  investigate well and land use;

Positive E. coli test means that the well contains unsafe drinking water

5.  Scientists can identify sources of fecal contamination

6.  Fences make good neighbors – so do groundwater studies

DAWS Study

Richland County Board Supervisor Melissa Luck talked about the upcoming ‘Driftless Area Water Study’ (DAWS) well water testing program for Richland, Crawford and Vernon counties. She said that Richland County plans to collect 100 well water samples in May, and 100 in the fall of 2020. 

In Richland County, randomly selected residents in each township will be given the opportunity to participate in the program free of charge. Letters to those selected and advertising about the program will be done to encourage resident participation.  

Crawford County will also use a random selection process, and hopes, like Richland County, to collect 100 samples in May 2020, and 100 in the autumn of 2020. It is also the hope that the testing will be provided free of charge. Crawford County Conservationist David Troester will have more specific details after the January 22 meeting of the Crawford County Finance Committee.

Vernon County plans to allow residents to volunteer for testing, and effort will be made to ensure that a representative sampling from throughout the county is achieved. Details about cost to well owners is still being finalized.

The first well water sampling will be conducted May 4. 

Richland Stewardship Project (RSP) Leader, Connie Champnoise discussed their work with the Driftless Area Water Study (DAWS) which is made up of County Land Conservationists and Public Health Departments from Richland, Crawford and Vernon Counties. Additional members are the Crawford Stewardship Project, Valley Stewardship Network and Richland County Board Member Melissa Luck. 

The goal of this group is to support a study to determine if water contamination exists and if so, what is causing the contamination. RSP also advocates for legislation and funding for further study of well water issues:

1.  Specifically, for legislation that reflects the specific geology and geography of the Driftless region

2.  Mapping of the karst geology in our state

3.  Increased monitoring and funding for enforcement resources to ensure we maintain the quality of our drinking water

State water policy

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.  

Giegerich said that they are supporting legislation in all of these areas to help strengthen our regulations to protect our groundwater/drinking water. 

Giegerich encouraged people to write and call their legislators to support legislation that will protect our drinking water. To learn more about legislation you can go to their website