New website helps Wisconsin plan for safe drinking water

Wisconsin relies heavily on its groundwater -- 97% of communities in the state and nearly 1 million additional residents with private wells use groundwater for their daily needs. A new website provides easy access to information about Wisconsin's groundwater to assist local governments in protecting this vital resource and to help owners of private wells tap into safe drinking water supplies. The site has been launched in time for National Groundwater Awareness Week, March 9-15...

Mar 10th, 2008

RESTON, VA, March 4, 2008 -- Wisconsin relies heavily on its groundwater--97 percent of communities in the state and nearly 1 million additional residents with private wells use groundwater for their daily needs.

A new website provides easy access to information about Wisconsin's groundwater to assist local governments in protecting this vital resource and to help owners of private wells tap into safe drinking water supplies.

The site, located at http://wi.water.usgs.gov/gwcomp/ can play a key role in learning about local groundwater quality and quantity during National Groundwater Awareness Week, March 9-15.

"Clean, adequate water supplies are an important foundation for healthy citizens and a healthy economy," said Charles Dunning, Assistant Director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Wisconsin Water Science Center. "We are pleased to offer information that is so important to people throughout this state."

"This website gives local governments valuable county-by-county information and tools to help them do a better job of protecting this resource in their comprehensive planning processes," says Lynn Markham, Land Use Specialist from the University of Wisconsin-Extension Center for Land Use Education.

The site incorporates select groundwater data and policy information from 16 federal, state and local agencies. Maps and other easy-to-use formats provide data for each of Wisconsin's 72 counties on sources of drinking water, groundwater-protection policies, money spent on cleanup, groundwater use, susceptibility of groundwater to pollutants and groundwater quality.

Real examples of how communities have protected their drinking water supplies through land use planning are included in the website. Some communities have maintained forested or other natural land uses in groundwater-well-recharge areas to minimize contamination threats.

In other examples, communities have recognized that the quality of their groundwater depends on how food is grown within their community. As a result, they have adopted incentives for farmers to grow organic crops or those that don't require heavy fertilizer use.

"The website is an invaluable tool for the nearly 1 million people in Wisconsin who get their drinking water from private wells," Markham says. "It doesn't tell them what's in their well specifically, but provides very useful information on the general quality of water in their region. This information is important for people to consider before buying land if they plan to drill a well."

While Wisconsin has one of the most comprehensive groundwater protection and research programs in the nation and groundwater standards for more than 130 substances to protect public health and welfare, contamination of groundwater is still a concern.

Up to 40 percent of private wells in some areas of the state show detectable levels of contaminants that present a human health concern. Nitrate, for example, has been found in more than 11 percent of private wells, and pesticides or their breakdown products have been identified in 38 percent of private wells.

The website was developed jointly by the Center for Land Use Education at UW-Stevens Point and the USGS Wisconsin Water Science Center. Funding for this project came from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the UW System through the Wisconsin Groundwater Coordinating Council. Additional funding was provided by the USGS Cooperative Water Program.

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