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Green County looks to create baseline for well contamination
Water Faucet

MONROE — Green County has joined just one other Wisconsin county in an attempt to create a baseline database for well contamination.

Through a partnership with University of Wisconsin-Extension, a groundwater study will span five years, testing 240 participants’ well water composition throughout different portions of the county.

Groundwater Education Specialist Kevin Masarik, who will be one of the people testing the water samples, said only Green and Chippewa County are “at the forefront,” because the two are the sole entities looking to create an awareness of groundwater contamination throughout the state among 72 total counties.

He noted that the project is tentatively slated to begin July 1 with letters sent out to specific property owners with requests to take part in the study. Testing will likely take place in the fall, he said.

“We’re looking to distribute it in a way that allows us to understand how soil, ground cover and other factors influence water quality,” Masarik said.

Testing will be simple for participants to complete. Samples are collected best through untreated water, like from outside taps, Masarik said. Though he noted any faucet with treated water can still be used because nitrates and other contaminants will not be eliminated through that process.

Nitrate levels will be tested due to their impact on health and how levels are the result of land use. The federal standard for nitrates in drinking water is limited to 10 parts per million. Anything higher results in restriction of oxygen in the bloodstream, which is especially harmful for infants, pregnant women and young livestock. Chloride naturally occurs in the ground, Masarik said, and similarly to nitrates it can “leach pretty easily past the root zone.” It is generally associated with fertilizers and septic system cleaners. The tests will also note the levels of affluent from water softeners and road salt and track alkalinity.

The study is part of a series of recommendations from the Livestock Facility Siting Group formed after public concerns over possible contamination and the susceptibility of groundwater within the county. Concerns were sharply raised after an application from a large-scale livestock facility called Pinnacle Dairy in Sylvester Township, which hosts 5,800 cows and spans 127 acres of farmland along County FF and Decatur-Sylvester Road, and worry over whether runoff from the farm would result in contaminated groundwater as it has in other portions of the state.

The Green County Board of Supervisors approved funding for the study at their April meeting. The funding transfer for the Groundwater Quality Trend Data Project in Green County was completed after recommendation by the Finance and Accounting Committee, with supervisors approving nearly $18,000 be moved from the general fund to the Green County University Extension Account. According to meeting minutes, Supervisors Russ Torkelson and Jeff Williams voted against the resolution. 

The project was proposed by the Center for Watershed Science and Education. Total cost of the project will be nearly $98,000, with an annual expense of roughly $18,000 from 2019 to 2024. 

“Everybody could benefit from this,” Masarik said, noting that neighboring counties will also see the positive side of the study because counties close together generally share similar topography. He added that the study will help identify trends with targeted, but a more budget-friendly method to help better understand well water composition in Green County. 

Participants will remain the same throughout the five years of the study to ensure data reflects accurate numbers. The inconsistencies created through changing each year would lessen researchers’ understanding of contamination levels, Masarik said. They will also be relying heavily on wells which have documented construction, which means structures pre-1980s and older will be less likely to be included in the study. 

Masarik said if tests reveal a well exceeds acceptable levels of contamination, researchers will work with property owners to explain what options they have to maintain their health. No one will be forced pursue any changes, but part of their job is to focus on education, he added.

 “We want people genuinely interested in learning and taking part in the study,” Masarik said. “This can help provide some transparency.”