FAQs

Q?What can I do as an individual to help protect the groundwater in my community?
A.

There are many ways individuals can help to protect our valuable groundwater:

•Use fertilizers and pesticides in a safe and responsible manner. This applies to both home and farm use. Apply at or below recommended application rate, be careful when mixing, and always store and dispose of these materials properly.

•Best management practices (BMPs) have been recommended to help reduce groundwater contamination by pesticides and fertilizers. For more information, check with your agricultural extension agent, the DATCP, or the Nutrient and Pest Management (NPM) program at the University of Wisconsin Madison.

•Use household and automotive products safely. Be careful during use and observe any special requirements for handling during disposal. A number of products should not be washed down the drain or flushed as a method of disposal. Many communities hold Clean Sweep programs to ensure these products are being disposed of properly. Ask your local officials about the availability of a Clean Sweep program in your area.

•Recycle or initiate a recycling program in your community. This reduces the overall waste volume which must be disposed of.

For more information on groundwater protection contact:

Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection 801 W. Badger Road, P.O. Box 8911 Madison, WI 53713 (608) 266-2295

Department of Health and Social Services 1414 E. Washington Ave., Room 96 Madison, WI 53703 (608) 266-1251

Department of Industry, Labor and Human Relations 201 E. Washington Ave., Room 141 P.O. Box 7969 Madison, WI 53707 (608) 266-3815

Nutrient and Pest Management Program 1535 Observatory Drive, U. W. Madison Madison, WI 53706 (608) 262-4326

Wisconsin Geological & Natural History Survey 3817 Mineral Point Road Madison, WI 53705 (608) 262-1705

Q?What should I do if a well on my property isn’t being used?
A.

Unused wells can be a safety hazard and a conduit for groundwater contamination and should be properly abandoned. The state well code contains requirements for properly filling and abandoning unused wells. You can get additional information from local well drillers or DNR Drinking Water specialists.

Q?How will I pay for well replacement?
A.

Normally, homeowners insurance doesn’t cover well replacement costs. You should, however, contact your insurance agent to be sure.

The State of Wisconsin has a program titled the Well Compensation program administered through DNR. This program will pay for up to 60% of the cost of a replacement well. There is an upper income limit of $45,000 for any benefits. The program benefits are increasing In 1995 to a maximum of 75% of costs of replacement and an income limit of $60,000. Contact your local DNR Water Supply specialist, prior to replacing your well, for more information.

Q?Are home water treatment units and water softeners effective in removing harmful contaminants from well water?
A.

Water softeners are effective primarily in removing hardness and radium. Other types of home treatment devices may be effective in removing other contaminants. Currently, a large number of treatment devices have been approved by DILHR for a wide list of contaminants and a defined range of effectiveness for each treatment unit. For more information, contact your local DNR Drinking Water specialist.

Q?What if someone else pollutes my drinking water supply?
A.

It is often difficult to trace a single source of groundwater contamination without extensive investigation. But, if you believe someone is contaminating the groundwater and possibly your drinking water, keep a complete record of the situation. Contact your local DNR Drinking Water specialist for advice and possible assistance. Further groundwater sampling and hydrologic study may be necessary to determine the source of contamination and the steps needed to correct the problem.

If you can identify the source of groundwater contamination and prove negligence, you may want to initiate a private lawsuit to recover damages. The State Attorney General or local district attorney may bring suit if someone is endangering your rights in individual cases.

Q?If my well is contaminated, who can give me advice on corrective action?
A.

Different contaminants require different actions. Some can be carried out by the well owner; others require professional expertise. Contact a local well driller or pump installer, or your local DNR Drinking Water specialist for advice on your particular contamination situation.

Q?How often should I have my well tested?
A.

You should have your well tested for bacteria at least annually, or sooner if changes in taste, color or odor occur. It is recommended that you have an annual nitrate test if you are pregnant or have children under six months of age.

Q?How can I have my well tested for bacteria, nitrate, or other compounds?
A.

You can have your well tested for nitrate or bacteria by a private lab, university, county or local government health department, or the State Laboratory of Hygiene (SLOH). The SLOH toll free number is 800-442-4618.

Q?How can I be sure my community’s water supply is safe?
A.

Contact your local water utility. They can advise you on the monitoring and analysis performed on your water supply. Ask if your system has a wellhead protection plan in place or is considering one. A wellhead protection plan is a proactive protection plan to identify potential contamination sources, outline management approaches, provide contingency plans, and define public participation in order to protect groundwater for present and future.

Q?Who pays to clean up contaminated groundwater?
A.

Complete groundwater cleanup is seldom possible and is always expensive. The general rule for payment is to determine the party responsible for the contamination and require them to pay for cleanup. If a responsible party can’t be found or is unable to pay, then the state or federal government may be forced to accept the cleanup costs. Thus, we all pay indirectly through our taxes or higher product costs.

Q?What are the most frequently found contaminants in Wisconsin groundwater?
A.

There are a number of naturally-occurring contaminants in Wisconsin groundwater. The more common ones are: arsenic, radon, bacteria, parasites, viruses, iron, manganese, hydrogen sulfide, sulfate, chloride, barium, lead, zinc, copper, radium, uranium, and fluoride.

Some of these (radium, radon, bacteria, parasites, viruses, arsenic, uranium, and lead) pose a health risk if present a high levels. This list is not an all inclusive listing of possible contaminants.

State health officials have also identified a number of human-made contaminants that are showing up in the groundwater supplies. They are: nitrate nitrogen, atrazine, arsenic, benzene, toluene, alachlor, Trichloroethylene (TCE), bacteria, parasites and viruses, and chloroform All of these compounds are a health concern when present in concentrations above established health advisory levels

Q?Is it possible that my well water is making me or my livestock sick?
A.

Waterborne disease is possible. Anytime you or your livestock become ill, you should contact your physician or veterinarian. If a physician believes your water supply may be causing the illness, he or she should contact the local health department, local DNR Drinking Water specialist or the Wisconsin Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS).

Q?Can I drink water that exceeds health advisory guidelines?
A.

It is not recommended that you drink water exceeding the health advisory guidelines, but the choice is ultimately yours. The health advisory guidelines are generally based on a lifetime of exposure to the risk, so limited or short term exposure generally will not cause acute or chronic illness. The effect on any person will depend on the type and degree of contamination, the amount of water consumed and the person’s resistance to that contamination, which depends on age and other coexisting health problems.

Q?What if my water suddenly has a strange odor or taste?
A.

Without sampling and analyzing the water, it’s often impossible to tell precisely why it has a strange odor or taste. If you notice a sudden change in your water, there may be reason for concern. Sudden changes occur for a number of reasons, such as large rainfall events flushing contaminants into or through the groundwater system faster than the natural cleansing processes can handle. Contaminants from distant sources may also move into your well through normal groundwater flow.

Q?Why isn’t every private well in the state tested?
A.

The State of Wisconsin doesn’t have enough staff or the money to test every well in the state. There are about 750,000 private wells in Wisconsin. Each well owner is responsible for their individual well. Current regulations require that every newly drilled private well in Wisconsin be tested for bacteriological contamination. It is recommended that new wells also be tested for nitrate. Depending on location, local environmental health departments may require further testing.

Q?What State agencies protect the groundwater?
A.

A number of state agencies have authority under Wisconsin statutes and administrative rules to regulate activities that can affect groundwater quality. For example, the Department of Industry, Labor and Human Relations (DILHR) regulates underground petroleum storage tanks and septic systems. The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) regulates pesticide and herbicide mixing sites and application, animal feed lots, and fertilizer storage, handling, and mixing. The DNR regulates wastewater treatment systems, landfills and hazardous waste disposal sites, and spills.

Q?Can the fertilizers, oil and gas I use around the house contaminate the groundwater?
A.

It is possible to contaminate your well, or that of a neighbor, by improper use or disposal of chemicals. Normal use or following label instructions should not cause groundwater quality problems. Avoid heavy lawn chemical applications near a well. Avoid spraying on the well casing or cap. Avoid misuse or over-application. Studies have concluded that excessive use of lawn chemicals and fertilizers have caused groundwater contamination under certain soil and groundwater conditions.

Waste oil and gasoline have been responsible for many contamination incidents. Small amounts of oil or gasoline dripping from vehicles onto the ground surface have not caused groundwater quality problems. Larger amounts, however, have been known to cause major problems, especially when released from leaking underground storage tanks. Certain soil types are more susceptible to contamination. The local hydrologic conditions, well construction and condition of your well also may play a major role in whether it becomes contaminated.