Gov. Tony Evers proposed Wednesday allocating $2 million to help private well owners remediate contaminated drinking water wells.
The $1.6 million boost in funding to the Well Compensation Grant Program continues the governor’s initiative to “make 2019 the year of clean drinking water in Wisconsin,” as he announced in his State of the State address.
The Associated Press reported on Sunday that Evers will allow the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and the Department of Natural Resources to borrow almost $70 million over the next two years to address groundwater contamination and replace lead pipes.
“Contaminated water poses harm to rural and urban residents, impacting public drinking water systems, private wells, schools, day cares and businesses,” Evers said in a statement. “A scientific approach is critical to first understand the breadth of Wisconsin’s water quality problem, and how it impacts different communities, so that we can successfully implement the best solutions.”
Forty percent of Wisconsin residents get their drinking water from private wells, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health and Human Services.
Nitrates are one of the most common drinking water contaminants in private wells. Nitrate contamination is caused by runoff from fertilizers, septic systems, and manure storage and spreading.
Infants are particularly sensitive to nitrates, which they ingest when contaminated water is used to reconstitute baby formula. When consumed, nitrates can cause a potentially fatal disease in infants called methemoglobinemia, or blue-baby syndrome, that limits red blood cells’ ability to carry oxygen throughout the body. Some research also suggests that excess nitrates can cause gastrointestinal cancers in people and mice.
A 2017, La Crosse County Health Department survey found that 30 percent of the more than 540 wells they tested in Onalaska and Holland contained nitrates above the federal standard of 10 milligrams per liter. Sixty percent of the wells tested contained nitrates at 5 milligrams per liter or higher.
The Well Compensation Grant Program helps private well owners and renters treat their contaminated well water, or reconstruct or replace their wells. The program covers contamination from chemical sources, including metals, pesticides and volatile organic chemicals such as those found in gasoline, industrial solvents and paints. It also covers contamination from bacteria, arsenic above 50 micrograms per liter and nitrates above 40 milligrams per liter. The federal drinking water standards is 10 micrograms per liter for arsenic and 10 milligrams per liter for nitrates.The proposal also includes a new feature that provides assistance for families making below the median income. Well owners would pay a $250 deductible and the Department of Natural Resources would cover 100 percent of costs up to $16,000.Carol Drury, La Crosse county environmental health and lab manager, said the additional funding was a step in the right direction.
However, Drury said it was also important to address how to prevent nitrate pollution in the first place. That means locating sources of contamination, looking at land-use impacts and implementing nutrient management plans, she said.
Evers will also put $75,000 toward the Southwest Wisconsin Groundwater and Geology study to better understand the interplay between geology and groundwater in Grant, Iowa, and Lafayette Counties, where 42 percent of wells tested above federal standards for nitrates in an initial survey.