Public Health: More than just shots- Water quality and safety

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Members of the Driftless Area Water Study (DAWS) met on April 12 to discuss a tri-county well testing effort for Crawford, Vernon and Richland counties. Attendees at the meeting included, back row: Crawford County Conservationist David Troester, Eli Mandel of Crawford Stewardship Project, Vernon County Conservationist Ben Wojahn, Sydney Garvalia, Vernon County Public Health sanitarian, Tom Lukens of Valley Stewardship Network, Forest Jahnke of Crawford Stewardship Project and Melissa Luck, Richland County Board supervisor and member of Richland County Land Conservation Committee. In the front row: Richland County Conservationist Cathy Cooper and Crawford County Director of Public Health Cindy Riniker.

By Peyton Meisner

This is a series about the Crawford County Health Department and the array of services they provide.

Crawford, Vernon and Richland counties have teamed up to help fight clean drinking water issues that plague southwest Wisconsin. 

The three counties have formed the Driftless Area Water Study (DAWS) and are currently looking to secure funding to undergo the area’s first expansive groundwater study. 

A recent Southwest Wisconsin Groundwater and Geology Study (SWIGG), finished its first phase of testing of more than 800 wells in nearby Iowa, Grant and Lafayette counties. 

The SWIGG study consisted of two sampling rounds in November and April. In November, the results showed 42 percent of the 301 private wells tested exceeded standards for bacteria or nitrates, while the April test of 539 wells found 27 percent exceeded those standards.

Due to the region’s similar geology and the lack of historical data on private well testing in the tri-county area, Crawford County could be at risk for high bacteria and nitrate levels as well, according to DAWS.

“The use of contaminated water for drinking and/or preparing food can make you or your pets sick,” said Cindy Riniker, Crawford County Public Health director.

The contamination of private wells has been found throughout Wisconsin. Many contaminants do not affect the color, smell or taste of the water. The only way to make sure a well is safe for drinking is to test it regularly. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimates that only 10 percent of private well owners test their water regularly. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, more than two-thirds of Wisconsin residents use groundwater as their drinking water source and more than 40 percent rely on a private well for their drinking water.

High levels of nitrates are common across the state. Testing for nitrates should be done at least once a year, or if the water will be used by a pregnant woman or infant. If levels are above 10 mg/L, women who are or may become pregnant and babies should not use the water for drinking or cooking. Everyone else should avoid the continued use of water for drinking and cooking.

Bacteria contamination is common across the state. Testing for bacteria should be done at least once a year, or if water color, taste or odor changes. If bacteria are present, do not drink the water or use the water for cooking and preparing food. 

Currently, Crawford County Public Health can provide free well water tests to homes with a pregnant mom or baby under 6 months and to residents who have private wells that have been affected by flooding. All others need to contact UW-Extension to obtain a water test kit at a cost.

For more information, visit www.crawfordcountywi.org/health.html or call 326-0229.

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