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w i s c o n s i n ’s b u r i e d t r e a s u r e
Walking on water .....................2
Using groundwater ...............3-6
How a well works .....................5
Understanding the resource..............................7
Wisconsin’s aquifers ..............8-9
Threats to groundwater ....................10-18
Groundwater and land use in the water cycle (poster)...........16-17
Protecting the resource .....19-24
How to protect the groundwater you drink and use ...................25-28
Where can I get answers to my questions about groundwater?...............29
How safe is my drinking water? ................30-31
Catching trout in crisp clear streams, shooting the rapids in a canoe, lazingaround the lake in an inner tube, quenching your thirst on a hot summerday — none of these activities would be possible without groundwater.For most of us in Wisconsin, the water we drink, wash with, float on and
fish in comes from right below our feet. Groundwater is Wisconsin’s invisible re-source — our buried treasure. “Groundwater: Wisconsin’s buried treasure” wasfirst published in 1983 to educate citizens about the resource we use every day butcan’t see. Later versions of the publication highlighted actions state agencies andindividuals were taking to safeguard groundwater. In 2006, we look back at theprogress made and look forward to new challenges in protecting the ground-water resource. It seems fitting that we return to the original title for this new ver-sion of “Groundwater: Wisconsin’s buried treasure.”
Perspectives on groundwater
In 1983, the only option state agencies had for stopping groundwater polluterswas litigation under public nuisance laws. The Environmental Protection Agencyhad set health-based drinking water standards for only 16 harmful substances.State agencies were learning more and more about where and how groundwateroccurred and about how vulnerable the resource was. Our state’s pioneering“Groundwater Law” was passed in 1984 and laid a plan for state agencies to worktogether for groundwater protection.
Fast forward to 2006: Wisconsin haslimits for over 100 pollutants thatthreaten groundwater; a new “WaterQuantity” law to regulate use; andgroundwater flow has been studied in almost every corner of the state. Read onto learn about Wisconsin’s groundwater,how state and local government agencieswork together to protect this precious resource, and how you can help.
Project coordinators: Natasha Kassulke and Laura Chern
Graphic design:Waldbilling & Besteman
Cover Design:Dan Wiese, Waldbillig & Besteman
Front Cover Photos:(left to right): DNR Photo, Robert Queen, DNR Photo, DNR Photo, (cover) DNR Photo
Water drop graphics:Jeanne Gomoll and Dan Wiese
© 2006 Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine,Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Subscribe at www.wnrmag.com
Words in boldface appear in the glossary onpage 32.
WALKING ON WATERGroundwater in Wisconsin is indeed a treasure. But like allour natural bounties, it is a treasure whose high value must
be sustained not by accident but by purpose. — 1983, “Groundwater: Wisconsin’s buried treasure”
wis cons in ’sbur ied t rea su re
Wisconsin’s buried treasure 3
When it comes to water,there’s no place like Wis-consin. We are water-rich. Between the mighty
Mississippi River and the Great Lakesof Michigan and Superior, there aremore than 15,000 lakes, 7,000 streamsand five million acres of wetland. Andthat just scratches the surface. Belowour feet Wisconsin has a buried trea-sure — 1.2 quadrillion gallons ofgroundwater. It’s hard to grasp justhow much water is stored under-ground unless you look at how muchwe use every day:
state to a depth of 100 feet!
Getting a clean glass of water isn’t as easy as turning on the tap!
In Wisconsin, the quality and quantityof groundwater varies from place toplace. The difference is caused by acombination of geology, varyingprecipitation and use. Cities andtowns in the north central and north-eastern third of Wisconsin receive themost precipitation in the state, butthey are underlain by crystalline
bedrock, a type of rock formation no-torious for yielding only small quanti-ties of water. Even though there maybe plenty of rain, finding enoughgroundwater to supply municipalitiesin these regions can be difficult.
Groundwater levels have beengoing down by hundreds of feetaround some of Wisconsin’s growingmetropolitan areas
At last estimate, there were morethan 850,000 private wells in the
state. In areas where water movesthrough aquifers very slowly, privatewells can still yield enough water forresidential use. You can drill a holejust about anywhere in Wisconsin andfind water. But is this water drink-able? Groundwater can be contami-nated in several ways, which you’llread about here. But you’ll also readabout how you can take action athome to protect Wisconsin’s buriedtreasure.
The worth of water
In Wisconsin, about three-fourths ofus draw nearly 205 million gallons ofgroundwater daily at home to slakethirsts, scrub pots, boil spaghetti andshower. Per person, that’s 55 gallonsof groundwater per day.
How do you use Wisconsin’s ampleburied treasure? Take a look at thefaucet diagram on page 4.
Fifty-five gallons of groundwater
Wisconsin is water-rich
Pure, healthy groundwater is vital to ourpresent, past and future economies. (above)An artesian well at the Nevin Fish Hatchery.(right) A Beloit mineral spring 1873-79.
Each year about 29 trillion gallonsof water fall as rain or snow on Wis-consin’s 36 million acres. Plants andanimals consume some, some returnsto the atmosphere through evapora-tion and transpiration by plants,and some flows into rivers, lakes andstreams. The rest becomes groundwa-ter by seeping through the soil andinto groundwater aquifers.
If you could somehow pour all thewater below ground on top, you’dneed to trade in your ranch house fora houseboat: Wisconsin’s bountifulgroundwater could cover the whole
Municipal drinking water (all uses)
Irrigation (summer only)
– USGS statistics estimates
per person per day may not seem likemuch, but there are hidden costs forexcessive water use. Your communitymay have to install new wells or waterand sewer pipes to accommodate in-creasing demand. Pumping morewater from private or public wells re-quires more energy, which costs more
(above) Personal water use averages 55 gallons per day. That does not includegroundwater used in water parks oragriculture. (right) A spring bubbling up in Middleton.
money. Treating used water (referredto as “wastewater”) to stringent stan-dards of purity strains every budget.
It’s used to fight fires, clean streets, fillthe local pool, sprinkle golf coursesand parks, drench shade trees, supplycommercial customers and satisfy theneeds of thirsty residents at home orat bubblers (drinking fountains, tonon-Wisconsinites) around town.Ninety-seven percent of Wisconsin’scities and villages count on ground-water to provide basic water-relatedservices often taken for granted.
The top counties and main users: • Dane County (Madison) area, 48
million gallons per day;
• Waukesha County (City of Wauke-sha), 27 million gallons per day;and
• Rock County (Janesville and Beloit),20 million gallons per day.(USGS statistics estimates)
The average daily cost to a familyof four in 2005: between 26 and 35.2 cents — an increase of only a few cents since 1983, when “Ground-water: Wisconsin’s buried treasure”was first published.
A fluid economy
Water is vital to Wisconsin’s economichealth. It’s part of countless manufac-turing processes, from metal fabrica-tion to paper production to leathertanning. Some of our most importantindustries — fruit and vegetable pro-cessing, cheese-making, dairy farming,meat processing and brewing — needpure, clean groundwater to make the
goods for which Wisconsin is famous.Big operators aren’t the only ones
who need this valuable resource. Con-sider your local laundromat, car wash,water bottlers, restaurants, health
(left) Rain and snowmelt that seep throughsoil recharge groundwater and are dischargedto lakes, streams, rivers and spectacular sightslike Amnicon Falls.RO
How a well worksWisconsin has had well regulations since 1936 and today is recognized as a national leader in well protection.
Well drillers and pump installers must be licensed by the DNR to make sure wells are properly constructed andlocated.
This figure shows one of many types of private wells constructed in the state. A pump is set inside a drilled and“cased” well at a depth well below the level of groundwater. When the pump turns on, water is drawn through open-ings in the casing and pushed through pipesto a pressure tank inside a house. The pres-sure applied by the tank insures pipes will befilled with water when you open the tap.Large municipal wells work in a similarmanner, but at a much larger scale. Largewater towers use gravity to provide the pres-sure needed to make water flow into distrib-ution pipes and finally to homes.
To protect public health, private and publicwells must be located far from sources of con-tamination. For example, a new private wellcannot be installed within 250 feet of awastewater land application site or within1,200 feet of a landfill. For more informationon rules governing wells, check out the DNRDrinking Water and Groundwater webpagesat: dnr.wi.gov/org/water/dwg/
clubs, hairdressers...scores of servicesand products we use daily depend ongroundwater.
Food processing soaks it up: pro-cessing one can of corn or beans
requires nine gallons of water. Cars,fast or slow, also guzzle it up: six gal-lons of water are needed to produceone gallon of gasoline. And to manu-facture that car and put four tires onit takes 39,090 gallons of water!
Commercial and industrial compa-nies draw over 106 million gallons ofgroundwater each day from theirown wells and use about 150 milliongallons more provided by municipalwater systems, according to the USGS.Groundwater is a silent but importantpartner in Wisconsin’s economy because it provides more than one-third of Wisconsin’s business and industrial water needs.
Wet and wild
Thousands of tourists visit Wisconsineach year to enjoy the state’s fabulouswater resources. They spent an
Wisconsin’s buried treasure 5
Submersible pump with below-ground discharge
Pipe mustbe kept
Distance shall complywith NR 812.07
estimated $11.8 billion in 2005 alone.That’s a lot of fishing, boating andswimming. What most see is a favoritefishing hole, a secret pond with an ex-panse of cattails perfect for observingherons, or those wild rapids waitingto devour the raft or roll the kayak.What visitors don’t see is the ground-water flowing into those water bodies. After seeping through the soiland rock, groundwater discharges inlow places where the water table
The demand for groundwater rises as farmersinstall irrigation systems to increase theirchances for a strong crop, especially duringtimes of limited rainfall.
Agricultural irrigationIrrigation well locations
meets the land surface — streams,lakes and wetlands.
Take a short test: A dairy cow produc-ing 100 pounds of milk daily slurps 50gallons of water each day to wet herwhistle. There are roughly 1,235,000dairy cows in the state. On averagethey each produce 17,800 pounds ofmilk per year. How much water willthey drink in a year?
If you said over 10.9 billion gallons,you pass. For extra credit, how much of
that water was groundwater? Ninety-six percent? Good guess!
Wisconsin’s farms use about 100million gallons of groundwater a dayto water stock, maintain a high levelof sanitation in the milk house andprovide all-around cleanliness on thefarm. Dairy farmers know that bring-
ing a quality product to marketmeans starting with quality ma-terials — wholesome, nutritiousfeed and pure, clean water.
The demand for groundwateron the farm continues to rise asincreasing numbers of farmersinstall irrigation systems to makethe risky business of farmingmore certain. In 1969, Wisconsinhad an estimated 105,526 acresof irrigated farmland. Accordingto the U.S. Department of Agri-culture, that figure now has risento over 390,000 acres.
Irrigation equipment usesabout 182 million gallons ofwater per day during the grow-ing season, almost all of itgroundwater. On average, eightypercent of irrigation water isconsumed — it is used by plantsand not returned immediately tothe soil under the fields.
Much of Wisconsin’s irrigatedacreage is in the relatively flat 10-county Central Sands area, where thepotato is king. The tuber grows well inthe sandy, loose soil, which needs lessplowing and seedbed preparationthan heavier soils and makes for aneasy harvest. Water quickly seeps intothis permeable soil and drains away almost as fast, allowing the plant rootsto breathe and prevent rot. But thesandy soil doesn’t hold water well, soirrigation is almost essential to ensure agood crop.
While irrigation has helped for-merly marginal lands turn a profit,there is a cost: Excessive irrigationmay leach nutrients, fertilizers andpesticides into groundwater andlower the water table.
Wisconsin’s buried treasure 7
Water might be calledour most recycled re-source. The water youdrink today contains
the same water molecules thatflowed in the Nile during the buildingof the Egyptian pyramids and froze inglaciers when mastodons roamed the earth. Distribution of the earth’stotal water supply changes in timeand space, but the quantity remainsconstant.
Wisconsin receives an average 30 to32 inches of precipitation per year. Seventy-five percent evaporates ortranspires through plants and neverreaches surface water or groundwater.The six to 10 inches that do not evapo-rate immediately or get used by plantsrun off into surface waters or soak intothe ground, depending on local topog-raphy, soil, land use and vegetation.For every inch of water that runs offthe land to a stream or lake in gentlyrolling Dane County, three inches seepto the water table. In the sandy plainsof Portage County, nine inches seepinto the ground for each inch runningoff the land.
Water distribution is governed by aphenomenon known as the hydro-logic, or water cycle, which is kept inmotion by solar energy and gravity.Start with a spring shower. As the rainfalls to earth, some flows downhill asrunoff into a stream, lake or ocean.Some evaporates; some is taken up byplants. The rest trickles down throughsurface soil and rock. This water even-tually reaches the water table — thetop of a saturated zone of soil orrock, called an aquifer. The water contained in the aquifer is ground-water. Groundwater is discharged towetlands, lakes and streams — thelow places where the water table
Understanding the resourceRecycling water
meets the land surface. The sun causesevaporation from these surface wa-ters, and, as water vapor accumulatesin the atmosphere and clouds beginto form, the water cycle begins anew.
On the move
Geology controls the rate of ground-water movement. The size of thecracks in rocks, the size of the poresbetween soil and rock particles, andwhether the pores are connected de-termine the rate at which watermoves into, through and out of theaquifer.
Water generally moves quickly incoarse sand, sometimes as much asseveral feet per day. Openings be-tween the grains are large and inter-connected, resulting in high perme-ability. Very fine-grained material likeclay has many pores where water canbe stored, but the pores are so smallthat moving water through or out isdifficult. Clay formations are relativelyimpermeable— water maymove only afew inches ayear. Perme-ability in lime-stone, on theother hand,primarily de-pends not onpore spaces,but on the size,frequency anddistribution offractures andcracks.
Groundwa-ter is alwaysmoving towarda surface outlet
THE WATER CYCLE
or “discharge” area, following theslope of the water table. In Wiscon-sin, the natural movement is from up-land recharge areas (places whererain or melt water infiltrates theground and reaches the water table)to lowland discharge areas. Mostprecipitation seeping into the soilmoves only a few miles to the pointwhere it is discharged; in the vast ma-jority of cases, it stays within the samewatershed.
Perhaps you’ve wondered whysome streams continue to flow duringdry periods and in winter, whenthere’s no rainfall. Winter streamflow is largely groundwater discharge(called baseflow) that remains at arelatively constant temperature year-round — about 50° F. During the winter, groundwater from the sur-rounding uplands constantly replen-ishes streams, and most lakes andwetlands. That same 50° F ground-water baseflow is the reason streamsstay icy cold in the summer.
Sand and gravel aquifer
The sand and gravel aquifer is the sur-face material covering most of the stateexcept for parts of southwest Wiscon-sin. It is made up mostly of sand andgravel deposited from glacial ice or inriver floodplains. The glacial depositsare loose, so they’re often referred to assoil — but they include much more thanjust a few feet of topsoil. These depositsare more than 300 feet thick in some
places in Wisconsin. The glaciers, formed by the continu-
ous accumulation of snow, played an interesting role in Wisconsin’s geology.The snow turned into ice, which reacheda maximum thickness of almost twomiles. The ice sheet spread over Canada,and part of it flowed in a generalsoutherly direction toward Wisconsinand neighboring states. This ice sheettransported a great amount of rock debris, called glacial drift.
Eastern dolomite aquifer
The eastern dolomite aquifer occurs ineastern Wisconsin from Door County tothe Wisconsin-Illinois border. It consistsof Niagara dolomite underlain byMaquoketa shale.
These rock formations were deposited400 to 425 million years ago. Dolomite isa rock similar to limestone; it holds
groundwater in interconnected cracksand pores. The water yield from a well inthis aquifer mostly depends on the num-ber of fractures the well intercepts. As aresult, it’s not unusual for nearby wells tovary greatly in the amount of water theycan draw from this layer.
Groundwater in shallow portions ofthe eastern dolomite aquifer can easilybecome contaminated in places where
Sandstone and dolomite aquifer
The sandstone and dolomite aquiferconsists of layers of sandstone anddolomite bedrock that vary greatly intheir water-yielding properties. Indolomite, groundwater mainly occurs infractures. In sandstone, water occurs inpore spaces between loosely cemented
sand grains. These formations can befound over the entire state, except inthe north central portion.
In eastern Wisconsin, this aquifer liesbelow the eastern dolomite aquifer andthe Maquoketa shale layer. In otherareas, it lies beneath the sand and grav-el aquifer. These rock types gently dip
Crystalline bedrock aquifer
The crystalline bedrock aquifer is com-posed of various rock types formed dur-ing the Precambrian Era, which lastedfrom the time the Earth cooled more than4,000 million years ago, until about 600million years ago, when the rocks in thesandstone and dolomite aquifer began tobe formed. During this lengthy period,sediments, some of which were rich in
Wisconsin’s buried treasure 9
An aquifer is a rock or soil formation that can store or transmit water. Wisconsin’s groundwaterreserves are held in four principal aquifers: the sand and gravel aquifer, the eastern dolomite
aquifer, the sandstone and dolomite aquifer, and the crystalline bedrock aquifer.
iron and now form iron ores, were deposited in ancient oceans; volcanoesspewed forth ash and lava; mountainswere built and destroyed, and moltenrocks from the earth’s core flowed upthrough cracks in the upper crust.
The rocks that remain today have agranite-type crystalline structure.These are the “basement” rocks thatunderlie the entire state. In the northcentral region, they are the only rocks
occurring beneath the sand and gravelaquifer.
The cracks and fractures storing andtransmitting water in these dense rocksare not spaced uniformly. Some areascontain numerous fractures while otherscontain very few. To obtain water, a wellmust intersect some of these cracks; the amount of water available to a wellcan vary within a single home site. Thecrystalline bedrock aquifer often cannot
provide adequate quantities of waterfor larger municipalities, large dairyherds, or industries.
Many wells in the crystalline bedrockaquifer have provided good water.However, most of these wells do notpenetrate deeply into the rock. Watersamples from deep mineral explorationholes near Crandon and deep ironmines near Hurley have yielded brack-ish water.
to the east, south and west, awayfrom north central Wisconsin, becom-ing much thicker and extending togreater depths below the land sur-face in the southern part of the state.
The rock formations that make upthe sandstone and dolomite aquiferwere deposited between 425 and 600million years ago. The sandstone and
dolomite aquifer is the principalbedrock aquifer for the southern andwestern portions of the state. In east-ern Wisconsin, most users of substan-tial quantities of groundwater, suchas cities and industries, tap this deepaquifer to obtain a sufficient amountof water.
the fractured dolomite bedrock occurs at ornear the land surface. In those areas (such asparts of Door, Kewaunee and Manitowoccounties), there is little soil to filter pollutantscarried or leached by precipitation. Little orno filtration takes place once the waterreaches large fractures in the dolomite. Thishas resulted in some groundwater qualityproblems, such as bacterial contaminationfrom human and animal wastes. Special care
is necessary to prevent pollution.The Maquoketa shale layer
beneath the dolomite was formedfrom clay that doesn’t transmit watereasily. Therefore, it is important notas a major water source, but as a barrier or shield between the easterndolomite aquifer and the sandstoneand dolomite aquifer.
As the ice melted, large amounts ofsand and gravel were deposited, forming“outwash plains.” Pits formed in the out-wash where buried blocks of ice melted;many of these pits are now lakes. Thesand and gravel aquifer was depositedwithin the past million years.
The sand and gravel outwash plainsnow form some of the best aquifers inWisconsin. Many of the irrigated agricul-tural lands in central, southern and north-western Wisconsin use the glacial out-
wash aquifer. Other glacial deposits arealso useful aquifers, but in some places,large glacial lakes accumulated thick de-posits of clay. These old lake beds of claydo not yield or transmit much water.
Because the top of the sand and gravelaquifer is also the land surface for most ofWisconsin, it is highly susceptible tohuman-induced and naturally occurringpollutants.
You name it — gasoline, fertil-izer, paint thinner, antibiotics— if it’s used or abused byhumans and dissolves in
water or soaks through soil, it mayshow up in Wisconsin’s groundwater.New concerns about groundwater arecoming to the attention of local citi-zens and state government. Theseemerging issues include the potentialfor pharmaceuticals, pathogens andviruses to contaminate public or pri-vate wells. A new area of research ex-
Threats to groundwater
As subdivisions replace cropland, commercial lawn fertilizer use in these areas may threatengroundwater.
amines the combined effects of manycontaminants that can occur in anaquifer. For example: What are thehealth effects of drinking water withvery low levels of both pesticides andnitrate?
Activities in urban areas that posesignificant threats to groundwaterquality include industrial and municipalwaste disposal, road salting, and petro-leum and hazardous material storage.
In rural areas, different threats togroundwater quality exist; animal
waste, onsite sewage systems, fertil-izers and pesticides are the primary pol-lution sources.
The “Groundwater and land use inthe water cycle” poster on pages 16 and17 shows how activities on the land interact with the water cycle. Refer tothe poster to see how what we do onthe ground affects groundwater.
Air pollution is water pollution, too
Particles clouding the air from car exhaust, smokestacks and dust from citystreets or farm fields can contribute togroundwater contamination. These par-ticles of hydrocarbons, pesticides andheavy metals settle on the ground, arewashed into the soil by rain, and even-tually trickle into aquifers. Although arain shower may disperse the particlesfrom the air, the rains can carry the pollutants down into the ground as thewater hits land.
Fertilizer and manure storageand application
Protecting water quality and farmprofits is a balancing act the UW- Extension’s Nutrient and Pest Manage-ment Program is trying to perfect. Toproduce good yields, farmers need toapply nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients to their crops. If farmersdon’t account for the nutrients con-tained in the manure they spread ontheir fields, crops may be over-fertil-ized. Excess nitrate plants can’t usewill leach into groundwater and ex-cess phosphorus will run off into lakes,streams and wetlands.
Proper measuring of nitrogen andphosphorus in manure saves farmersthe cost of purchasing extra commercialfertilizer — and also protects ground-water.
Farmers also must be careful about
Wisconsin’s buried treasure 11
where and when they spread manure.Spring snowmelt or excessive rainfallcan lead to fish kills and contaminationof drinking water wells due to bacteriain manure that has run off from farmfields.
As subdivisions replace farm fields inrural areas, lawns replace crops. Over-use of commercial lawn fertilizer is anadditional source of nitrate to ground-water.
Nitrate: a widespread contaminant
Department of Natural Resources scientists looked at nitrate contamina-tion in groundwater and were concerned with some findings. Nitrateoccurs in groundwater in every Wis-consin county; both rural and urbanpopulations are exposed. Solving thisproblem means controlling all sourcesof nitrate to the environment.
According to a DNR survey, Wiscon-sin communities have spent more than24 million dollars to bring nitrate levelsdown to acceptable levels in municipalwells. That cost has been spread outamong 22 municipalities with a com-bined population of 150,000 or more.
On the private well side, presentdata indicate that more than 10 percentof the private well samples analyzedfor nitrate statewide show ground-water contamination above the federaldrinking water and state groundwaterstandard.
Infants under six months and preg-nant women should not drink waterwith nitrate levels above 10 parts permillion — the health-based federal andstate standard. Mixing baby formulawith high-nitrate water threatens infants under the age of six months,because their stomach acid isn’t strongenough to kill certain types of bacteriacapable of converting nitrate to harm-ful nitrite. Nitrite binds hemoglobin inthe blood, preventing oxygen fromgetting to the rest of the body; thebaby may lose its healthy color andturn blue. Methemoglobinemia, or“blue baby syndrome” can cause suffo-cation. Using water with low levels ofnitrate can prevent the condition. RO
Farming practices aim to contain animalwastes and pesticides in the top layers of soil to keep nitrate and chemicals out ofgroundwater as well as reduce nutrient flow to streams.
Other health effects linked to nitrate indrinking water include certain types ofcancer, thyroid problems and diabetes.
Use and misuse of pesticides
All types of pesticides (insecticides,herbicides and fungicides) have beenused in Wisconsin agriculture for a longtime. These pesticides can reachgroundwater when spilled at storage,mixing and loading sites, or when over-applied to fields. “Empty” pesticidecontainers not properly disposed of areanother source of trouble. Just a littlespill of most pesticides can have a bigimpact on groundwater quality. For ex-ample, three parts per billion ofatrazine (an herbicide used widely forridding corn crops of weeds) in ground-water is enough to increase the risk ofcancer for those who drink the water.
Beginning in October 2000 and end-ing in May 2001, the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer
Protection (DATCP) collected and test-ed 336 samples from rural privatedrinking water wells to determine theimpact of agricultural pesticides ongroundwater resources. DATCP ana-lyzed the samples for commonly usedherbicides. Results from the studyshowed over 35 percent of wells testedcontained detectable levels of herbi-cides or their metabolites (compoundscreated when herbicides and otherchemicals deteriorate in soils).
Protecting groundwater from pesti-cide contamination while maintainingfarm profitability isn’t easy — too muchpesticide and the environment suffers;too little and crop yield goes down. Integrated pest management,or IPM, is a pest control strat-egy that uses all appropriate
fills posing a threat to the environmentdue to hydrogeologic setting or pooroperation were required to monitorgroundwater and surface water. Themonitoring data indicated some land-fills and open dumps were causinggroundwater pollution.
Based on the data and current stateand federal regulations, all landfills arenow required to have a composite linersystem (a plastic membrane on top offour feet of compacted clay) and aleachate collection system to keep liq-uid waste out of the groundwater. Mu-nicipal dumps not meeting these designstandards were closed prior to 1993.
Wastewater generated by municipali-ties, industries and farms may be treat-ed or stored in ponds or lagoons. Manysmall communities operate lagoon systems for treating sanitary sewagethrough bacterial degradation of organic material in the wastewater. A manure lagoon on a dairy farm canhold waste until conditions are rightfor field application.
Lagoons are sealed with compactedclay or plastic liners. Nevertheless, bur-rowing animals or soil movement cancause leaks. Routine inspections andmaintenance are necessary to keep la-goons operating properly and to pre-vent contamination of groundwater.
control methods (chemical and non-chemical) to keep pest populationsbelow economically damaging levelswhile minimizing harm to the environ-ment. Here’s how it works: farmers“scout” fields for weeds and pests.After identifying what is present, thefarmer purchases and applies the mini-mum amount of herbicides and insecti-cides only in the areas where weeds andbugs are a problem. Farmers using IPMfind they spend less on pesticides. It’s a bargain for the environment, too.
Thanks to recycling efforts since 1995,each year we divert about 40 percent ofthe Wisconsin-generated solid wastefrom Wisconsin’s landfills. The wasteswe can’t divert are disposed of in prop-erly sited, designed, constructed andmaintained landfills, which preventleachate (the foul liquid that formswhen water percolates through solidwaste) from polluting groundwater.There are 72 highly engineered licensedlandfills accepting solid waste in Wis-consin that do a good job of protectinggroundwater.
We weren’t always so fortunate. Inthe early 1970s about 2,000 dumpswere identified by the DNR. Those lo-cated near navigable waters, withinfloodplains, wetlands or critical habitatwere ordered closed. Remaining land-
Monitoring is one way to identify groundwaterthreats.
Recycling efforts and properly constructed landfills are preventing much of the groundwatercontamination that was seen 35 years ago at landfills.
Some industries dispose of their waste-water by applying it to farm fields or toland specifically operated as a disposalsystem. Most municipalities and some in-dustries also apply sludge produced intheir treatment systems to cropland as anutrient and soil conditioner. The wasteis applied according to how much water,solids and nutrients soil and crops canabsorb. If the system isn’t managedproperly, and too much waste and waterare applied to the land, or if the opera-tor fails to adjust the amount applied toaccount for rainfall, groundwater andwells can be contaminated or the mater-ial may run off to surface waters.
Onsite sewage systems
There are more than 750,000 onsitesewage systems (private onsitewastewater treatment systems) inWisconsin — serving approximately 30percent of all households in the state.Most of these systems are located inunincorporated areas. Here’s how on-site sewage systems work: wastewaterflows from the house to a settlingtank where solids settle out. The liquidcontinues out to an absorption fieldconsisting of a series of perforatedpipes that drain away from the house.The liquid is then absorbed into thesoil. Bacteria in the settling tank breakdown solid waste, leaving a sludgethat needs to be removed periodically
Wisconsin’s buried treasure 13
by a licensed septage hauler or“honey wagon.”
When systems don’t work properly,bacteria, nitrate, viruses, detergents,household chemicals and chloride maycontaminate groundwater, nearbywells and surface water. Even properlyinstalled systems may pollute ground-water if they are not located, used andmaintained correctly. (For tips on main-taining onsite sewage systems, seepage 27.)
Spills and illegal dumping of industrial and commercialchemicals
When paint thinners, degreasers,pesticides, dry cleaning chemicals,used oil, fertilizers, manure and a hostof other hazardous materials trickleinto the groundwater, they create apotential danger to the public and theenvironment.
Accidents happen — over 1,000spills of toxic or hazardous materialsare reported each year in Wisconsin.Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)such as petroleum products accountfor many of the spills in the state. Top-ping the list is diesel fuel. Other sub-stances such as pesticides, paint andammonia, make up the rest. Mostspills occur at industrial facilities orduring transport of hazardous sub-stances. Response efforts focus on containing and removing the haz-ardous material to a proper disposalfacility. This protects groundwater andsurface waters.
An undetermined number of spills go
Quickly containing and removing pollutantsare key to successful spill response efforts. (left) Northeastern Wisconsin manurecontaminated wells 2002-05.
unreported, their presence a secret untilarea wells become polluted. Althoughthere are strict regulations governingtransport, storage and disposal of toxicand hazardous wastes, illegal dumpingcontinues. Problems from past practicesthat occurred before regulations were inplace surface periodically.
The threat to groundwater fromthese toxic products is real. That’s whystate and federal resources are devotedto finding these sites and cleaning themup. Many programs exist to clean upsites, from the federal Superfund pro-gram to address the worst sites in thenation, to the state cleanup programthat includes spill response, leaking
undergroundstorage tanks,the state Super-fund program,and a focus on cleaning up“brownfields”(properties thathave beenabandoned orare underuti-lized because ofactual or per-ceived contami-nation).
Leaking underground storage tanks
People in the environmental cleanupbusiness call them LUSTs; for all of us, itspells trouble. Over the years, many oldleaking underground storage tanksthat used to hold gasoline, diesel andfuel oil have slowly corroded and re-leased their contents into the soil andgroundwater. About 18,000 of Wiscon-sin’s older tank systems have leaked asrust and other factors took a toll on thetanks and dispensing lines. Even smallleaks caused significant groundwatercontamination; it takes only a littlegasoline in water to make it undrink-able. Property owners and their envi-ronmental consultants have cleaned upcontamination at over 16,000 sites dur-ing the past 20 years. New regulationsrequire existing tank systems to be up-graded. This will help prevent futureproblems.
What happens to the old well can de-termine how the new well functions. Ifold wells are not filled properly withsuch impermeable materials as cementor bentonite clay, they provide a directchannel for pollutants from the surface
Have your onsite sewage system inspected once a year and go easy on thesystem by minimizing water use.
Standard onsite system
such as declining water levels, cancause chemical reactions that re-lease contaminants into groundwa-ter. In northeastern and westernWisconsin declining water levelshave caused the release of arsenicand heavy metals. Arsenic is aknown carcinogen and has beenfound at very high levels (up to15,000 parts per billion). Specialwell construction methods haveproven effective in avoiding theproblem, but add greatly to the costof getting a water supply. In someparts of Wisconsin the groundwateris naturally acidic and can corrodepipes and plumbing, leading to ele-vated levels of lead and copper indrinking water. Well owners shouldtest their water periodically to as-sure the water quality is acceptable.
Groundwater contamination can belinked to land use. What goes onthe ground can seep through thesoil and turn up in drinking water,lakes, rivers, streams and wet-lands. Tracking down and stoppingsources of pollution is a lengthy
and expensive process. It’s usually im-possible to completely remove alltraces of a pollutant. Conducting apartial cleanup of an aquifer to a us-able condition can cost a substantialamount of money.
Who pays the enormous cost ofgroundwater cleanup? The owner or facility operator causing the pollutionshould shoulder the cost. But what hap-pens when the owner is bankrupt, outof business or dead? Taxpayers muststep in. Federal and state money is usedfor cleaning up sites and enforcing lawsgoverning waste disposal and haz-ardous material spills.
When it comes to groundwater, pre-vention is the best strategy. This meanslooking at the many ways we pollutegroundwater and finding methods tokeep those pollutants at bay. Landfillsand wastewater lagoons need to besited, designed and operated to pre-vent infiltration to groundwater. Pesti-cides must be applied according to need
to groundwater and other nearbywells. Thousands of old wells nolonger used but still open at the soil surface threaten Wisconsin’sgroundwater. Whenever you see anold windmill in the country, it’s likelythere’s an unused well underneath.Licensed well drillers and pump installers are routinely hired to prop-erly abandon or fill old wells.
Drainage wells draw water off asection of wet ground by piercing aclay layer and allowing surface waterto run directly into groundwater.Drainage wells have been prohibitedin Wisconsin since 1936, but they doturn up occasionally.
When development occurs, rechargeto groundwater can be short-circuit-ed. Rainfall, instead of infiltrating,runs off pavement and collects inlakes, rivers and streams. Stream lev-els become more variable or“flashy,” floods and channel erosionare more common, and groundwa-ter recharge decreases. To put thehydrologic cycle right and preventstream banks from washing out, Wis-consin requires new developments toinfiltrate most of the stormwater fallingon their sites.
Because stormwater from roofs,driveways, parking lots and streets con-tains contaminants such as gasoline,metals and bacteria, it must be cleanedup or pretreated before it is put back inthe ground using engineered storm-water infiltration devices.
Sources of natural contamination
Minerals found naturally in soils androcks dissolve in groundwater, giving ita particular taste, odor or color. Someelements, such as calcium and magne-sium, are beneficial to health. Radium,radon gas, uranium, arsenic, barium,fluoride, lead, zinc, iron, manganeseand sulfur are undesirable ingredientsfound in Wisconsin groundwater. Thelevels of the contaminants depend ontheir concentrations in the aquifer and
An aggressive program aims to locate, replace orremove buried tanks that can leak stored fuels. Fewtanks leak this badly, but even small amounts ofgasoline make water unfit for use in residences,businesses and for animals. Cleanups are expensive.
the amount of time the water or airhas been in contact with them. Radio-activity in groundwater from naturallyoccurring uranium, radium and radonis a concern in Wisconsin. Radioactivecontaminants expose those drinkingthe water to the risk of cancer. Publicwater systems are required to testgroundwater for radioactivity. Recentsampling has detected radionuclidesin some Wisconsin groundwater. Grossalpha activity and radium also havebeen found in Wisconsin water sup-plies. The EPA has drinking water stan-dards for radium and radon.
Most natural contaminants aren’tharmful; the problem is aestheticsrather than safety. Iron and manganeseare found throughout the state. Theystain plumbing and laundry, and cangive drinking water an unpleasant tasteand odor.
Excess fluoride, sulfur, lead and ar-senic are less common and more local-ized. Changes in the aquifer system,
Wisconsin’s buried treasure 15
and label instructions, and fertilizersand manure should be applied in care-fully calibrated amounts to enhancecrops without damaging the environ-ment. With vigilance and care, we canprotect our buried treasure.
Groundwater quantity —enough for all
With 1.2 million billion gallons ofgroundwater, the Mississippi River andtwo Great Lakes, there is no other statethat comes close to having the water resources we have in Wisconsin. YetWisconsin has a growing thirst forgroundwater. There are areas in thestate where streams aren’t running andsprings aren’t flowing because thegroundwater that feeds them is beingpumped dry. In a growing number ofplaces we are pumping groundwaterfaster than it can be replenished.
In the past century, groundwaterhas been drawn down several hundredfeet around Waukesha and Browncounties. In water-rich Dane County,groundwater levels have dropped 60
(left) Portionsof the LittlePlover River, aClass I troutstream, driedup during thesummer of2005 likely dueto increasedwater use anda lack of rain.
(right) The effect on wildlifeand fish will be felt for a longtime.
feet and are expected to drop more asthe population continues to grow.These long-term drops in groundwaterlevels affect fish, wildlife and peoplefrom farmers to factory owners. Localscarcity sometimes pits communitiesagainst one another and the naturalresources we all enjoy.
When a proposed water bottlingplant in Adams County was opposed bycitizen groups in1999, the interest ofpolicymakers and the public in waterquantity issues bubbled to the surface.It became clear that state laws didn’taddress the effect of high-capacity wells
on nearby springs, wetlands or troutstreams. The Big Springs case made peo-ple much more aware of the connectionbetween groundwater, surface waterand human activities.
The Great Lakes Charter
The Great Lakes constitute the largestvolume of unfrozen fresh surfacewater in the world — about 5,440cubic miles. There has been a greatpush in recent years to protect thesewaters. Much of the effort has beenfocused on updating the Great LakesCharter, an agreement signed in 1985by the eight Great Lakes governorsand the premiers of Ontario and Que-bec outlining principles for managingGreat Lakes water resources.
A 1998 proposal to export bulkquantities of Lake Superior water toAsia raised concerns that existing agree-ments were inadequate to protectthese waters. It spurred action in 2000-2001 to develop an annex to the char-ter, which would strengthen it by estab-lishing clear procedures for decidingwhether to approve any proposed with-drawal of Great Lakes waters.
On December 13, 2005 the eightstates and two Canadian provinces announced the Great Lakes WaterManagement Strategy, called Annex2001. The agreement to managewater quantity in the Great Lakesbasin and, with just a few limited ex-ceptions, ban diversions of Great Lakesbasin water, is the first multi-jurisdic-tional agreement of this magnitude inthe world. All 10 governments haveagreed to collectively manage water
continued on page 18
Porous sandstone aquifer
Privatewell Sand & gravel aquifer
Zone of saturation
Livestock wastestorage pit
Artwork by Jim McEvoy
Infiltration Zone of aeration
Direction of groundwater movement
Human induced impacts on groundwater
Creviced limestone aquifer
Direction of groundwater movement
Groundwater and land use in the water cycleGroundwater and land usein the water cycle
Porous sandstone aquifer
Zone of saturation
Sand & gravelaquifer
Zone of aeratio
nicipal sewagetment plant
Creviced limestone aquifer
usage according to the shared goalsexpressed in this agreement. The fun-damental principle is that the mostsignificant fresh water resource in theWestern Hemisphere must be treatedas one ecosystem. Procedures also ad-dress pumping from wells outside thebasin that alter groundwater flow andcapture groundwater originatingwithin the basin.
The United States Geological Survey
is exploring the connection betweengroundwater and the Great Lakes insoutheastern Wisconsin.
The distribution and the amount ofwater pumped from shallow and deeprock formations in southeastern Wis-consin has changed significantly overtime. Groundwater that once flowedtoward Lake Michigan is now intercept-ed by pumping and diverted west,where it is discharged after use to sur-
face waters flowing into the MississippiRiver Basin. This may reduce inflows tothe Great Lakes.
Groundwater is important to eco-systems in the Great Lakes Region be-cause it is, in effect, a large, subsurfacereservoir from which water is releasedslowly to provide a reliable minimumlevel of water flow to streams, lakes,and wetlands that feed into the GreatLakes. Groundwater discharge tostreams generally provides good quality water, which promotes habitatfor aquatic animals and sustainsaquatic plants during periods of lowprecipitation.
Quality is quantity
It isn’t just the amount of water atstake, but the quality, too. In south-eastern Wisconsin, the resulting dropin the groundwater level means wateris now drawn from deeper rock layersthat have naturally occurring radium.The concentration of radium in drink-ing water is high, and the water mustbe treated to protect the health of cit-izens. The cost of treatment is borneby the ratepayers.
We’re beginning to realize thatstewardship of groundwater involvesmore than just keeping it clean. Wehave to conserve. The GroundwaterProtection Act, passed in 2003, at-tempts to control well location andpumping rates to protect troutstreams and other sensitive surfacewater bodies in the state. Regional ef-forts to assess and manage drinkingwater supplies are underway in south-eastern Wisconsin, where use has re-sulted in the most severe drop ingroundwater levels.
Our great-grandparents may haveused hand pumps and buckets, butthey knew how deep their wells wereand they thought about how to pro-tect their drinking water. Today, com-munity wells are located far from ourhomes, and we take it for granted thatwater will pour out of the tap whenwe turn it on. It’s time to ask ourselves,can we have it all — green lawns,swimming pools and quality springs,streams and drinking water?
For each new well drilled, a report detailing soil types, depths to bedrock and groundwaterelevation is sent to the DNR. This information helps map subsoil geology and groundwatermovement.
continued from page 15
Wisconsin’s buried treasure 19
Groundwater protectionemerged as a major concernin the late 1970s as interestgroups — spurred on by
events like Love Canal in New Yorkand the detection of the pesticidealdicarb in some Wisconsin privatewells — debated how to protectgroundwater in an industrial andagricultural society.
On May 4, 1984, Chapter 160 of theWisconsin Statutes was signed intolaw. Dubbed the “groundwater law,”Chapter 160 has been called the mostcomprehensive regulatory programfor groundwater in the country. Allstate agencies involved in ground-water protection must adhere to nu-merical standards that define the levelat which regulatory agencies must actto clean up pollutants in ground-water. These standards are definednot only by public health, but also bythe effect a pollutant can have on theenvironment and public welfare.
One of the most important fea-tures of Wisconsin’s groundwater lawis something that is not in it —aquifer classification. Aquifer classi-fication involves looking at the use,value or vulnerability of each aquiferand allowing some to be “writtenoff” as industrial aquifers not fit forhuman consumption. Wisconsin said“no” to aquifer classification. Thephilosophical underpinning of Wis-consin’s groundwater law is the beliefthat our groundwater is capable ofbeing used for citizens to drink, andmust be protected to assure that itcan be.
The Groundwater CoordinatingCouncil (GCC)
When you think about the diverse
Protecting the resource
Trained lab technicians analyze groundwater for bacteria and chemicals.
Wisconsin’s groundwater law
activities and events affecting ground-water, it’s no surprise the responsibilityfor managing our buried treasure isdelegated to many governmentalagencies. Cooperation is key — andthe GCC is the group turning the key.Since 1984, the GCC has served as amodel for interagency coordinationamong state government officials, thegovernor, and local and federal gov-ernments.
Representatives from the Depart-ments of Natural Resources; Com-merce; Agriculture, Trade and Con-sumer Protection; Health and FamilyServices; Transportation; the University
of Wisconsin System; Wisconsin Geo-logical and Natural History Survey andthe governor’s office serve on thecouncil. The GCC advises and assistsstate agencies in coordinating non-regulatory programs and sharinggroundwater information. Increasingpublic knowledge of the groundwaterresource through public outreach efforts and educational materials is animportant GCC function.
Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
It’s only natural that a resource like
groundwater receives a lot of atten-tion from the Department of NaturalResources. From insuring the wateryou drink is clean to making sure new landfills are properly sited andconstructed, DNR staff is there. DNR’sgroundwater activities include pro-tecting the resource, cleaning it up and making sure public health and environmental standards are setand met.
Protecting groundwater meanspreventing what goes on the groundfrom going into groundwater. Bylooking at soil and rock types, thick-ness of soil and rock layers, and depthto groundwater, DNR hydrogeolo-gists, engineers and specialists canmake decisions about where wastecan be spread, or if a landfill can besafely installed at a particular site.
But looking at the natural environ-ment isn’t enough to predict howcontaminants will move in the sub-surface. The map of groundwater
University of Wisconsin-Extension and DATCP provide farms with information and skills trainingnecessary to maintain farm profitability with an eye on protecting the environment.
Soil, rock and groundwater characteristicswere used to make this map. Other importantfactors needed to determine groundwatersusceptibility include land use, groundwaterflow and location of nearby lakes, streamsand wetlands.
Groundwater contaminationsusceptibility in Wisconsin
New rules for siting large livestockoperations, stormwater infiltrationdevices and farm nutrient manage-ment require separation distances be-tween contamination sources affect-ing private and public wells anddirect conduits to groundwater.
In addition, starting in 2010, Wis-consin’s smart growth laws requirethat local government programs andactions affecting land use must beguided by and consistent with a locallyadopted comprehensive plan to ad-dress community water supplies.
At sites with contaminated ground-water, the responsible party must findand remove the source of pollutionand determine how far contamina-tion has spread. Groundwater moni-toring wells are sunk to collect sam-ples for chemical analysis. When thecontamination boundaries are known,the difficult job of cleaning up thegroundwater begins. Some sites takeyears and millions of dollars to clean
contamination susceptibility in Wis-consin shown above is only one pieceof a very complex groundwater pro-tection puzzle. Land use, groundwa-ter recharge and proximity to surfacewater are also important considera-tions when trying to site landfills orlarge farm operations.
One way to help protect publichealth is to protect the area aroundwater supply wells from sources ofcontamination. Wellhead protectionprograms require municipalities to re-strict land use around new publicwater supply wells and encourageplanning around older wells. Underthe DNR’s Source Water AssessmentProgram, land areas that contributewater to public wells were identified,potential contaminant sources wereinventoried, and the susceptibility foreach public water supply was evaluat-ed. The assessments assist water sys-tem operators in preparing wellheadprotection plans.
Wisconsin’s buried treasure 21
up. In the case of groundwater, a dropof prevention is truly worth a gallonof cure.
Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey(WGNHS)
Since 1854, the WGNHS has catalogedWisconsin’s geology, hydrogeology,soils, biology and other natural re-sources. The state survey is the princi-pal source for maps and recordsabout Wisconsin groundwater and re-lated geology. It supplies countiesand regional planning agencies withinformation to make land use andwellhead protection decisions. Re-search conducted at the survey helpsstate agencies more effectively man-age Wisconsin’s groundwater. A col-lection of well cuttings and rock sam-ples from about 300 wells per year
Groundwater researchverified how quicklynearby contaminantswashed pollutionthrough a sinkhole intogroundwater andseeped out to adischarge area.Pollution spreads wide,deep and quickly wherethe rock is fracturednear the surface.
are housed and described by the sur-vey — “hard” evidence of what’s hid-den below ground. This collectionfrom 44,000 wells has been catalogedin a database and can be viewed atthe survey’s Research Collections andEducation Center in Mount Horeb.County and regional studies of geolo-gy and groundwater are producedfor use by anyone interested in thehydrology of a specific area.
Department of Transportation(DOT)
Salt keeps Wisconsin’s highways safebut can be a source of groundwaterpollution. Because salt is bad for theenvironment and the roads, DOT is al-ways looking for alternatives andways to minimize salt use. Tempera-ture sensors in pavement and remoteweather stations along state high-
ways help keep county highwaycrews prepared to do battle with win-ter storms and predict when pave-ment conditions will require applica-tions of chemical agents or salt.
The Department of Transportationhas construction standards for storingroad salt to contain runoff that couldcontaminate groundwater. DOT workswith DNR and Commerce staff to cleanup groundwater pollution from petro-leum storage tanks and other hazar-dous waste sites along DOT rights-of-way, and where new roads andbridges are planned. DOT also testswayside wells for thirsty travelers.
Department of Health and Family Services (DHFS)
Who do you call to find out if pollu-tants in your well or drinking watersupply are a health risk to you andyour family? Start with your localhealth department. If they don’t havethe answer, the health experts at theDHFS can help you. The DHFS pro-vides health information and adviceon contaminants to individuals, andto state, county and local govern-ment agencies. When groundwaterpollutants affect a community, DHFSstaffers work with residents and par-ticipate in public meetings to let citi-zens know the risks associated withcontaminants in the water supply.
Manure control in barnyards, careful fertilizer and pesticide applications, andtilling methods that minimize exposed soil can reduce chemical, nutrient andbacterial flow from farms to groundwater.
They advise how to best protect fami-lies and drinking water.
DHFS protects groundwater andthe people who drink it by recom-mending standards to DNR for sub-stances in groundwater that cancause health problems. DHFS con-ducts studies on the harmful effectsof chemicals to determine “how
much is too much.” It also works withDATCP to determine how new pesti-cides will break down in groundwaterand what health risks are associatedwith these compounds.
Department of Commerce (Commerce)
Commerce ensures underground andabove-ground storage tanks don’tleak. The agency keeps records onover 72,000 tanks used to store gaso-line, fuel oil and other products. ThePetroleum Environmental CleanupFund or PECFA, is used to reimburseowners for the cost of removing oldertanks and cleaning up petroleum con-taminated sites. Commerce regulatesinstallation, maintenance and aban-donment of new tanks.
Commerce helps individuals, busi-nesses, local development organiza-tions and municipalities revive aban-doned industrial sites or “brownfields”by providing grant money for site assessment and cleanup. Since the pro-gram’s 1997 inception, 1,240 acreshave been revitalized. This translatesinto about 4,600 new jobs at over 100different locations throughout thestate.
Commerce regulates onsite sewagetreatment systems and stormwater in-filtration practices as part of theplumbing code. Restrictions on whereand how onsite sewage systems are in-stalled protect private and public wellsand groundwater from contamination.
Department of Agriculture,Trade and Consumer Protection(DATCP)
Pesticides, fertilizers and nutrients canleach to groundwater, causing humanhealth and environmental risks.DATCP is responsible for regulatingmost aspects of agrichemical applica-tion, storage and cleanup in Wiscon-sin. To promote the proper handling,storage and safe use of farm chemi-cals, pesticide applicators and sellersmust complete a certification pro-gram and be licensed by DATCP. Fieldstaff regularly inspect if storage and
Wisconsin’s buried treasure 23
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Wisconsin has over 390,000 acres of irrigated farmland.
mixing facilities comply with ground-water protection regulations. If a spilloccurs, money and staff are availableto help with the cleanup. The NutrientManagement Program helps preventgroundwater pollution by providingfunding to counties to help farmerswrite nutrient management plans.The Clean Sweep program providesfarmers and homeowners with safeoptions to dispose of pesticides andother hazardous chemicals for free.Businesses pay a portion of disposalcosts for these substances.
University of Wisconsin-Extension
Wise groundwater use is a priority forthe University of Wisconsin-Extension.Traditionally, extension agents andspecialists provided farm families withagricultural tools, information andskills training. Today their role hasevolved into promoting communitydevelopment, maintaining farm prof-itability while protecting the environ-
ment, and conserving natural re-sources. Extension educators provideoutreach to citizens, farmers, schoolchildren and public officials on watertesting, water treatment devices, wiseland use policy such as wellhead pro-tection, and other groundwater top-ics. With offices located in each county,outreach activities can be tailored tolocal needs. Basin educators, located ineach of the state’s major river basins,provide land and water resources out-reach to local communities. Extensionpromotes and assists private and pub-lic partnerships to conserve and pro-tect our water resources.
The Nutrient and Pest Manage-ment Program’s crop plots on workingfarms promote the careful use of ma-nure and pesticides. The Farm*A*Systprogram helps farmers identify andcorrect risks to groundwater aroundfarmsteads. Community DrinkingWater Programs help private wellowners to identify individual waterquality concerns and community-widegroundwater issues.
From university classes on hydro-geology to state fair displays, educationis the most important tool we can useto safeguard groundwater. Collegesand universities offer courses that pre-pare students for careers in hydrogeol-ogy, wastewater management, soil sci-ence and other disciplines vital togroundwater protection. They also con-duct research on groundwater develop-ment, movement and cleanup tech-nologies. Vocational and technicalcolleges offer associate degrees in fieldsrelated to agriculture and water re-sources management. Environmentallysafe methods of farming are taught inUW agricultural “short courses.”
United States Geological Survey — Water Resources Division (USGS)
The USGS Water Division’s job is to keep tabs on groundwater quantityin Wisconsin. Starting in 1946 with just
(above) Research can benefit both surface waters and groundwater.(below) State well codes dictate how to drill and install wells to protectboth water supply and groundwater.
a few wells, the USGS,with the Wisconsin Ge-ological and NaturalHistory Survey, nowcollects water levelmeasurements in over170 Wisconsin wells.Some of the wells aremeasured daily usingelectronic recorders;others are measuredweekly, monthly orquarterly. The dataserves as a startingpoint for evaluatingthe effect new wellsand land developmentwill have on ground-water levels, wetlands,streams and lakes. Forexample, a study in theGreat Lakes Basinshowed groundwaterthat once flowed to-ward Lake Michigan isnow pumped, usedand discharged astreated wastewater tosurface waters withinthe Mississippi Basin.
This may affect surface water flow andfish habitat in tributaries feeding LakeMichigan.
Wisconsin State Laboratory ofHygiene (SLH)
The Wisconsin Laboratory of Hygieneis the main environmental testing lab-oratory for the DNR, DHFS and otherstate agencies. (See pages 28 and 30for information on well testing.) TheLaboratory performs a variety ofchemical and biological drinkingwater tests, ranging from exotic path-ogenic bacteria to potentially cancer-causing chemical contaminants. In ad-dition to extensive testing ofWisconsin’s public water supplies, thelaboratory also offers private wellowners basic drinking water tests suchas an analysis for E. coli. The presenceof E. coli indicates a water supply maybe contaminated with fecal materialand thus presents a health threat.Local commercial laboratories can alsoprovide some well water tests, and theLaboratory of Hygiene partners withthem so high-quality testing is readilyavailable throughout the state.
Well water should be tested periodically for signs of bacteria, nitrateand any chemicals that may be used in your area.
Wisconsin’s buried treasure 25
It’s your turn
You’ve read about what gov-ernment and industry aredoing to guard groundwater.Now, here’s what you can do
Examine your own habits
Everyday activities affect groundwaterquality. Think about the ways you usewater at home. If you’ve always consid-ered pure, clean water to be a cheap,unlimited resource, chances are you’reaccustomed to wasting water andhaven’t been concerned about whatyou pour down the drain.
Common sense goes a long way toward keeping Wisconsin’s ground-water clean and plentiful. Here aresome ways to cut back on water useand protect groundwater:
Conservation is wise use
Use water-saving devices and appli-ances: Since 1992, new toilets manu-factured in the U.S. use only 1.6 gallonsof water — much less than the six gal-lons each flush used to consume. If youhave an older toilet, toilet dams or in-serts placed in the toilet tank retainwater during flushing and can save upto three gallons per flush. A plastic bot-tle weighted with washed pebblesmakes a good insert. Low-flow faucetaerators (for either inside- or outside-threaded faucets) mix water with airand can reduce the amount of waterflowing from your sinks.
Look for and fix leaks: A drippingfaucet can waste 20 or more gallons of
How to protect thegroundwater you drinkand use
water a day; a leaking toilet, severalthousand gallons a year. An inexpen-sive washer is usually all you need to fixa leaky faucet. Adjusting or replacingthe inexpensive float arm or plungerball can often stop toilet leaks.
Drinking water: Keep a pitcher ofdrinking water in the refrigerator toquench your thirst without running thetap.
Bathing and showering: A water-saving showerhead can cut the amountof water used to about three gallonsper minute without sacrificing the feel-ing of a good drenching. Turn off thewater while soaping up during a show-
er to save extra gallons. New water-saving showerheads come with a but-ton to shut off the flow without chang-ing the mix of hot and cold water.Bathers should put the stopper in thedrain before running the water, thenmix cold and hot for the right tempera-ture. Turn off the tap while shaving orbrushing your teeth.
Dish washing: If you wash dishesby hand, don’t leave the water run-ning while washing them. Make surethe dishwasher is full before you turnit on; it takes as much water and ener-gy to wash a half-load as it does towash a full load. And scrape dishes
rather than rinse before loading thedishwasher.
Laundry: Always set the fill level tomatch the size load you are washing.Remember: Full loads save water be-cause fewer loads are necessary. Front-loading washers use less detergent,electricity and water.
Lawn care: A rain barrel is a greatway to save on water and it’s not chlo-rinated, fluoridated or loaded with dis-solved salt, so it’s better for your grassand plants. Consider reducing the sizeof your lawn by planting trees, shrubsand ground covers. Rain gardens areattractive, low maintenance, and re-duce runoff to lakes and streams.
Household toxic wastes: Don’t usehousehold drains as ashtrays, waste-baskets or garbage disposals! Toilets(and kitchen sinks, garage drains andbasement washtubs) are not places todiscard varnish, paint stripper, fats, oil,antifreeze, leftover crabgrass killer orany other household chemicals. Justbecause it’s down the drain doesn’tmean it’s gone! These products mayend up in your water supply, especiallyif you have an onsite sewage systems.Store your toxic products in tightlysealed containers in a safe, dry spot,share them with others who can usethem, or bring them to Clean Sweep
Pesticides and fertilizers can leach togroundwater and cause health andenvironmental risks.
Homeowners can protect groundwater too. Take unwanted cleaners, paints and pesticides to Clean Sweep hazardous waste collection sites.
events in your community; call yourCounty Extension office or DATCP fordetails.
Lawns: Reduce or eliminate the useof lawn pesticides and fertilizers. Asignificant amount of these chemicalscan leach into groundwater. Test yoursoil first to determine if it needs addi-tional nutrients. If you do apply fertil-izer, do it in the first week of May orafter September 15.
Recycle! Reuse or recycle plasticbags and containers, aluminum cans,tin cans, glass, cardboard, newspaper,paper bags and other paper products.Don’t dump waste oil down the drain
or on the ground — bring it to commu-nity collection tanks where it will bepicked up and reprocessed. Recyclingconserves landfill space. Less garbagein the landfill means less harmfulleachate that could contaminategroundwater.
Biodegradable soaps and cleansers:Go easy on groundwater! Use nontoxicand biodegradable soaps and house-hold cleansers. Or try environmentallyfriendly alternatives: Baking soda on adamp cloth to scrub sinks, appliancesand toilet bowls; a mixture of whitevinegar and water for cleaning ceramictile, doors, windows and other glasssurfaces; pure soap flakes and boraxfor washing clothes.
Dishwashing: Use the minimumamount of detergent needed to cleanplates, glasses and silverware satisfac-torily. Choose a non-phosphate auto-matic dishwashing detergent.
Garbage disposals: They’re noisy,use a lot of water and electricity, andincrease the amount of waste in thewater going to the wastewater treat-ment plant or your sewage system.Compost your kitchen waste and useit to mulch yard plants and hold mois-ture in the soil. For more ideas, lookfor the pamphlet “Better Homes andGroundwater” (publication numberDG-070-2004) on the DNR website at:dnr.wi.gov/org/water/dwg/gw/ andselect “Publications.”
Wisconsin’s buried treasure 27
Take care of your onsite sewage system
Even a properly sited, permitted, con-structed and maintained onsitesewage system can pollute groundwa-ter, especially if the soil is highly per-meable or the water table is close tothe surface. You can keep your systemin good working order by followingthese four tips:
1. Be cautious about what you putin. Ordinary amounts of bleaches, lye,soaps and detergents will not harmthe system, but household chemicalslike paint thinner, drain cleaner, sol-vents, gasoline, oil and pesticidesshould NEVER go into an onsitesewage system. Once released in theabsorption field, these toxic productscan leach into groundwater.
Never flush bones, coffee grounds,vegetable peelings, fruit rinds, dispos-able diapers, sanitary napkins, tam-pons, bath oils, cigarette butts orother materials that do not break
Teach children early to build lifelong habitsthat protect resources. (left) A school projectshows how food wastes, leaves and grasssettle down into rich compost. (below left)A lot of household grime can be cleaned upwith less toxic products. RO
down easily into a septic tank. Avoiddumping grease down the drain. It canbuild up in the tank and clog the inletor the soil absorption field.
2. Have your onsite sewage systeminspected once a year. A licensed sep-tage hauler can measure the level ofscum and sludge that has built up. Thetank should be pumped when thesludge and scum occupy one-third ofthe tank’s liquid capacity. NEVER gointo a sewage tank — it may be full oftoxic gases. Hire only licensed septictank haulers to clean out your tank.They should pump through the man-hole, inspect inlet and outlet bafflesfor damage, and service any outlet fil-ters that may be installed. County sani-tarians will have the names of licensedseptage haulers in your area.
3. There are no known chemicals,yeasts, bacterial preparations, en-zymes or other additives for sewagetanks that will eliminate the need forperiodic cleaning.
4. Go easy on your system. Don’t domore than three loads of laundry perday (a dishwasher cycle equals oneload). Minimize garbage disposal use.
Properly locate and construct wells
Wells can be safe, dependablesources of water if sited wisely andbuilt correctly. Here are five points toremember:
1. Ask questions if you plan to drilla new well or intend to purchase prop-erty with an existing well. Talk to yourneighbors: Do they have any problemswith their wells? How deep are wells inthe area? Were there contaminatedwells in the area? How was the conta-mination taken care of? How was theland where you want to drill the wellused in the past? What is its WisconsinUnique Well Number?
Talk to local government officials:What laws govern private water sup-plies? Are housing densities lowenough to ensure enough water foreveryone’s needs? Are there zoningrestrictions limiting certain types ofland use? What current land andwater uses — irrigation, a quarry — inthe area might affect your water qual-ity or quantity?
2. Consult the Wisconsin WellCode. Established in 1936, the Wiscon-sin Well Code is administered by theDepartment of Natural Resources,which sets standards for well construc-
tion. The code lists the distances re-quired between the well and sewagedrain fields or dry wells, sewer lines,farm feedlots, animal yards, manurepits, buried fuel tanks, fertilizer andpesticide storage sites, lakes, streams,sludge disposal and other potentialcontamination sources. Wells shouldalways be located up the groundwa-ter gradient and as far from these po-tential sources of contamination as possible.
3. Hire reputable, experienced, li-censed installers. Only people licensedwith the Department of Natural Re-sources should drill wells. Only peopleholding DNR pump installer licensesmay install pumps. No license is re-quired if you construct your own wellor install your own pump. However,state law requires that the work bedone according to state well code.
DNR maintains a list of licensed welldrillers and pump installers (see it on-
DNR maintains a list of licensed well drillers and pump installers.
line at dnr.wi.gov/permitprimer/water/pumps/). Be cautious of very low bidsthat appear, in comparison to others,to have a low per bag grout cost, or nogrout listed. Make sure the successfulbidder knows that notification is re-quired as part of the contract to drillthe well. Ask to be notified beforegrouting, and be at the site when thewell is grouted. While the grouting is taking place, watch to ensure the cement is pumped into the space between the casing and the drill hole,with the grout filled from the bottomof the casing.
The well driller is responsible forflushing the well, test pumping it, dis-infecting it, collecting a water samplefor bacteriological tests, sending a wellconstructor’s report to the Depart-ment of Natural Resources, and pro-viding the owner with a copy. This document contains a record of the soiland rock layers penetrated by the well;
lists the work performed and materialsused; and the unique well number as-signed to your well so the DNR cankeep a record over time of your wellwater quality. This is important infor-mation to have if your well is ever con-taminated. Reports collected over timein an area give researchers an idea ofwhat’s going on underground.
A pump installer, if different fromthe driller, must disinfect the well andcollect a water sample to check forbacteria.
4. How often should I have mywell tested? Annually test your wellfor bacteria and nitrate, and again atany time a change in odor, taste,color or clarity causes you to suspectcontamination. Check for nitratewhen infants or pregnant women usethe water. (See page 30, “How safe ismy drinking water?”)
5. How do I fill in an old unusedwell? Fill and seal unused wells withconcrete or bentonite, a type of clay. Licensed well drillers or pump installerscan help you close off the old well toprevent groundwater pollution. For acopy of the pamphlet “Well Abandon-ment” (publication number DG-016-2001) go to dnr.wi.gov/org/water/dwg/gw/ and select “publications.”
What else can you do?
Report illegal or abandoned wastesites. Call (800) 943-0003.
Keep up with local land use andwaste disposal issues. Housing, com-mercial development, highway con-struction and landfills may have an adverse effect on groundwaterquality if not carefully planned andconstructed. City, town or county gov-ernments may need to institute zoning regulations or prohibit or re-strict activities that could endangergroundwater. Find out what the landuse issues are in your community andencourage your neighbors to do thesame. Attend community meetingsand let your elected officials and utilityoperators know provisions to protectgroundwater must be the first step inany local land use or waste disposalproposal.
Wisconsin’s buried treasure 29
1. The DNR website at dnr.wi.gov/org/water/dwg/gw/ pro-vides answers to many groundwater questions. Needmore information? Contact the DNR regional office orservice center nearest you. Visit dnr.wi.gov/org/caer/cs/ServiceCenter/locations.htm for a complete list.
2. The Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Surveyhas maps, well construction reports and other infor-mation on aquifers and geology. For a list of WGNHSpublications, write Wisconsin Geological and NaturalHistory Survey, 3817 Mineral Point Rd., Madison, WI53705-5121. (608) 262-1705. Visit the survey’s website atwww.uwex.edu/wgnhs/
3. Your county University of Wisconsin-Extension officecan help plan safe, functional farmyards and ruralhomes. Call or write your extension office for bookletson safe drinking water, groundwater protection, bestmanagement practices for pesticide and fertilizer useand other topics. Look for the address and phone num-ber under the “county” listing in the phone book whitepages, or visit www.uwex.edu/
4. The Department of Commerce has the details on properonsite sewage system operation. Write Department ofCommerce, Division of Safety and Buildings, 201 W.
Public water system owners face many distinct challenges inmanaging a public water supply, among them, providing adequatesupplies to all users, preventing contamination, and planning for asystem’s future needs.
Where can I getanswers to myquestions aboutgroundwater?
Washington Ave., P.O. Box 7969, Madison, WI 53707-7969 and ask for publication SBD-7009, “Is the grassgreener over your septic system?” Visit their website atwww.commerce.state.wi.us/
5. The Department of Agriculture, Trade and ConsumerProtection offers information on best managementpractices and Clean Sweep Program for farms andatrazine prohibition areas. Write DATCP, 2811 Agricul-ture Dr., Madison, WI 53708-8911. (608) 224-5002. Onthe web: datcp.state.wi.us/index.jsp
6. The Central Wisconsin Groundwater Center is a clear-inghouse for information on groundwater issues statewide, with a strong focus on Wisconsin’s Central
Sands area. The center main-tains a database of privatewells tested through the UW-Stevens Point Water andEnvironmental Analysis Lab-oratory, conducts applied research, and offers educa-tional materials and pro-grams. Write CWGC, Collegeof Natural Resources Room224, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Stevens Point,WI 54481-3897. (715) 346-4270. Visit the center’s web-site at www.uwsp.edu/cnr/gndwater
To request a copy of “Bet-ter Homes and Groundwa-ter: A Homeowner’s Guide,”a booklet which providesgroundwater friendly tech-niques for use at home andwork, look online at theDNR website at: dnr.wi.gov/org/water/dwg/gw/ and select “publications” or call608-266-6669 and ask forpublication number PUB-DG-070-2004.
Visit the DNR website atdnr.wi.gov for more infor-mation about drinking andgroundwater protection;choose “drinking andgroundwater” from thedrop-down program menu.Also check the UW-Exten-sion website at cecom-merce.uwex.edu and clickon “water quality” underthe natural resources drop-down menu.
Better homes and groundwaterRO
Many Wisconsinites, urbanand rural, are concernedabout the quality of thewater they drink, with
good reason. Threats to a safe watersupply exist everywhere, the result ofour daily activities. How do you knowif your water is safe to drink?
If your water is supplied by a com-munity public water system, yourwater utility will mail a ConsumerConfidence Report to you each fall.The report will include informationon the source of the utility’s drinkingwater, the treatment used to purifywater, any contaminants that havebeen found in drinking water, andthe potential health effects of thosecontaminants. Reports will also iden-tify where additional informationabout the water supply can be foundand how citizens can become in-volved in protecting water sources.Utilities must annually provide updat-ed reports for their consumers.
Private well owners should havetheir wells tested periodically. Privatelaboratories do tests for chemical con-
Installing a sewage drainage field.
How safe is mydrinking water?
taminants, such as volatile organiccompounds or pesticides. Check theYellow Pages under “laboratories” or“water analysis” or check the websitednr.wi.gov/org/es/science/lc/INFO/Lablists.htm for a certified lab in yourarea. Cost ranges from $30 to $1,000depending on the number and typeof chemicals analyzed and the testmethods.
For a small fee, the State Laboratoryof Hygiene will test your drinkingwater for several pollutants includingbacteria, nitrate or fluoride. For a testkit, call the lab at (800) 442-4618 orwrite the State Laboratory of Hygiene,Environmental Health Division, 2601Agriculture Dr., P.O. Box 7996, Madi-son, WI 53707-7996. Private labs willalso do these tests.
Wells can be disinfected by displac-ing all the water in the well with a mix-
ture of bleach (containing at least fivepercent chlorine) and water or bydropping chlorine tablets or powderdown the well. Contact the DNR Bureau of Drinking Water and Ground-water, at P.O. Box 7921, Madison, WI53707-7921 or call (608) 266-6669 forliterature on private well operation.
If high nitrate is the problem, thewell construction and location shouldbe checked.
Wells can sometimes be deepenedto get past contamination. Inade-quate well installations may be upgraded. Wells located in pits, for ex-ample can be extended above groundand the pit filled in. These are costlyoptions, however; it’s best to have thework done properly in the beginningto avoid problems later. Your DNR private water supply specialist cangive you advice on obtaining a safe
drinking water supply.If your water utility or a lab test
alerts you to the presence of high levels of chemicals in your drinkingwater, you may be advised to drinkbottled water or drill a new well. But what about low levels of con-taminants? Will small quantities of
Wisconsin’s buried treasure 31
Both private labs and the State Lab of Hygiene analyze well water samples.
benzene, a major compo-nent of gasoline, or per-chloroethylene, a chemicalused in dry-cleaning sol-vents, make your water un-drinkable?
The answer is, No. That’s not to say,however, that the water is totally safe
to drink. For instance, the Environ-mental Protection Agency estimatesthat one part per billion of perchloro-ethylene in drinking water could leadto one or two additional cases of cancer in a population of one millionpeople who drink such water over a70-year lifetime.
Drinking water contamination,even at very low levels, should not be taken lightly, nor should the risksbe exaggerated. To keep the risk ofcontamination as low as possible,public agencies and private citizensmust continue to make tough deci-sions on what’s worth the risk andwhat’s not.
Aquifer: A rock or soil layer capableof storing, transmitting and yieldingwater to wells.
Baseflow: That part of stream dis-charge from groundwater seepinginto the stream.
Consumer Confidence Report: Areport, required under the amend-ments to the Safe Drinking WaterAct, which lists contaminants foundin community public well water systems, water treatment methods,devices used and potential health effects.
Discharge area: An area in whichgroundwater reaches the surface. Examples are springs, seeps, lakes orrivers, or by evaporation and transpi-ration.
Dolomite: Calcium magnesium car-bonate, a common rock-forming min-eral. Many rocks in Wisconsin referredto as limestone are actually dolomite.
Evaporation: The process by whichwater is changed from a liquid intovapor.
Geology: The science dealing withthe origin, history, materials andstructure of the earth, together withthe forces and processes operating toproduce change within and on theearth.
Glacial drift: Sediment transportedor deposited by glaciers or the watermelting from a glacier.
Gross alpha activity: Decay of radionuclides in natural deposits. Canbe either radium or uranium.
Groundwater: Water beneath thesurface of the ground in a saturatedzone.
Hydrogeology: The study of ground-water and its relationship to the geo-logic environment.
Hydrologic cycle: The completecycle through which water passesfrom the atmosphere to the earthand back to the atmosphere.
Hydrology: The science encompass-ing the behavior of water as it occurs in the atmosphere, on theland surface and underground.
Impermeable: Having a texture thatdoes not permit water to movethrough quickly.
Infiltration: The movement of waterinto and through a soil.
Leachate: A liquid formed by waterpercolating through soluble wastematerial. Leachate from a landfill hasa high content of organic substancesand dissolved minerals.
Limestone: A sedimentary rock con-sisting chiefly of the mineral calcite(calcium carbonate).
Municipal well: A well, owned andoperated by a municipality, servingmore than 25 people for at least 60days of the year.
Nutrients: Compounds of nitrogen,phosphorus and potassium that pro-mote plant growth.
Onsite sewage system: Used totreat household sewage and waste-water by allowing the solids to decompose and settle in a tank, thenletting the liquid be absorbed by thesoil in a drainage field.
Permeability: The capacity of rock orsoil to transmit a fluid, usually water.
Pesticides: A general term for insec-ticides, herbicides and fungicides.
Private well: A well serving onehome maintained by the owner.
Radionuclides: Any manmade ornatural element that emits radiationin the form of alpha or beta particlesor as gamma rays.
Recharge area: An area in whichwater infiltrates and moves down-ward into the saturated zone of anaquifer.
Runoff: Precipitation not absorbedby the soil.
Saturated zone: The part of a water-bearing layer of rock or soil in whichall spaces, large or small, are filledwith water.
Sludge: Sediment remaining afterwastewater has been treated.
Spring: A flow or natural dischargeof groundwater at the surface.
Transpiration: The process by whichplants give off water vapor throughtheir leaves.
Volatile Organic Compounds: Agroup of common industrial andhousehold chemicals that evaporateor volatilize when exposed to air. Includes gasoline and solvents.
Water table: The level below whichthe soil or rock is saturated withwater, sometimes referred to as theupper surface of the saturated zone.
Watershed: The land area fromwhich surface runoff drains into astream system.
Well: A vertical excavation that tapsan underground liquid-bearing rockformation. In Wisconsin, wells aredrilled to obtain water, to monitorthe quality of groundwater, or to de-termine the depth of the water table.
Wisconsin Unique Well Number: Anumber assigned to individual wells,which allows state agencies and thepublic to track groundwater qualitythrough time. New wells drilled sinceJanuary 1, 1988 are assigned uniquewell numbers.