CRAWFORD COUNTY - Crawford County Conservationist David Troester reported to members of the Soil and Water Concerns Committee on Thursday, Feb. 14, that he had met with the Richland County Conservationist Cathy Cooper to discuss possible avenues to conduct well water quality testing in their two counties.
“The ball is definitely rolling, and there is the possibility that Crawford, Richland and Vernon counties will be able to collaborate in an initiative similar to the SWIGG program currently underway in Grant, Lafayette and Iowa counties, “ Troester reported. “However, in Crawford and Richland counties, our major barrier is finding funds to pay for testing.”
Troester reported he had heard from Vernon County Conservationist Ben Wojahn that the Vernon County Board had approved $12,000 from their Ho Chunk payment to use for the well testing.
“Vernon County has lots of acres of Ho Chunk land, and they get $1.2 million every year, whereas Crawford County only gets $65,000,” Committee Chair Henry Esser said. “The Ho Chunk payment for Crawford County has already been allocated to economic development.”
Troester responded that he had made the Crawford County Finance Committee aware that “well water testing is becoming a higher profile citizen issue, and there is a lot of interest in pursuing testing in Crawford County.”
Governor Evers budget
According to Hope Kirwant with WPR.org, county officials dealing with groundwater contamination in Wisconsin say they’re hopeful new statewide initiatives will help them better understand the problem.
Governor Tony Evers announced he was directing the state Department of Natural Resources to allocate $75,000 to the Southwest Wisconsin Groundwater and Geology (SWIGG) study in a statement released on Wednesday. The SWIGG study focuses on private wells in Grant, Lafayette and Iowa countries. An initial round of testing found 42 percent of tested wells were at unsafe levels of bacteria or nitrates, a compound linked to a variety of health problems.
Evers has said he hopes to make 2019 the ‘Year of Clean Drinking Water.’ He also announced last week that his 2019-2021 state budget would include additional grant money to replace or treat contaminated private wells.
Under Evers' budget, the state's Well Compensation Grant program would have $2 million to help low-income families replace or treat contaminated wells. That's $1.6 million more than the program's current funding.
Evers also said he would update the program's eligibility standards for nitrates and arsenic.
The office of Wisconsin State Senator Jennifer Shilling responded to an inquiry about whether the funds proposed in Governor Evers budget under development would be available to other counties in southwest Wisconsin to pursue well water testing, or to help citizens in other counties who had already discovered problems with their well water, and who met the income guidelines, to repair their wells.
“We don’t know all the specific details yet of what the governor is proposing for well water testing or whether it will provide assistance to counties in Senator Shilling’s district,” Kate Constalie from the Senator Shilling’s office responded. “Governor Evers will be providing his budget address on February 28.”
Grace Colas, Communications Director for DATCP Secretary Brad Pfaff responded to a similar inquiry.
“We don’t know yet what the Governor's plans are for these particular counties or programs in his budget,” Colas said. “Our expectation is that these kinds of programs would likely be administered by DNR, rather than DATCP.”