Driftless Area Water Study discussed at county board meeting

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By Ted Pennekamp


Land Conservationist Dave Troester, County Nurse Cindy Riniker and State Representative Loren Oldenburg gave a presentation about the upcoming Driftless Area Water Study during the county board meeting Tuesday morning.

Troester said Vernon, Richland and Crawford counties will be conducting the study, the main goal of which is to increase well testing in each county. Well testing has increased in Crawford County in the past year, but Troester said they would like to see it increase even more so that everyone can be assured of having healthy drinking water.

“It’s a pretty big deal, and people are becoming more aware of it,” said Troester regarding the Driftless Area Water Study. He said the three counties will need to decide how in-depth the study will go, which, in turn, will give a better understanding of how much it will cost.

The study will involve testing wells for nitrates and bacteria, and whether those nitrates and bacteria are caused more by human waste or farm animal waste. More in-depth analysis could involve studying the well structures and the karst geological features and water tables of the counties. The testing will be done on a volunteer basis on the part of well owners, but could also be done on a grid sampling basis, said Troester.

Troester said he has budgeted $37,500 for Crawford County’s portion of the study in case the study becomes more in-depth. The total study would be about $150,000, with Vernon County paying half and Crawford and Richland counties each paying about one-fourth. The cost to each county was based upon each county’s population, said Troester.

“This is a really important topic,” said Troester, who noted that Governor Tony Evers has declared 2019 the “Year of Clean Drinking Water,” and, thus, state funding might very well be available for the study.

Representative Loren Oldenburg said there is a Water Task Force traveling throughout the state discussing the issue with county officials and other interested parties.

“This is a good opportunity to get some funding,” said Oldenburg, in noting that he is quite confident the three counties will get grant money for the study.

“It’s vital for our human safety, and we also need good water if we are going to get people to move here,” said Oldenburg.

County Nurse Cindy Riniker said people are becoming more aware of the importance of getting their wells tested, but the educational effort needs to continue.

Board member Don Stirling commended Troester, Riniker and Oldenburg for their efforts regarding the study.

“This is really important work,” said Stirling.

The Driftless Area Water Study is proposed for 2020. The three counties will collaborate with the health departments, and land conservation departments in each county, as well as with local non-profit organizations such as the Crawford Stewardship Project, and farmer and landowner led groups. Testing and analysis will be performed by the UW–Stevens Point Water and Environmental Analysis Laboratory.

A Wisconsin Environmental Health Tracking Grant is being applied for, which would be for $10,000.

Two rounds of testing are being considered, likely in the spring and fall of 2020. Testing could possibly be conducted in the fall of 2020 and spring 2021 if there are setbacks. There will be public informational events before and after the testing is done.

The Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey at UW-Madison as well as the Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture may also become involved in the study.

In other business, Gina Holtz, who plans to settle permanently with her family in Marietta Township, asked the board to consider enacting a moratorium so the county can have time to study the hog CAFO proposed in the township. Holtz also asked the board to consider having an evening special meeting so that area residents can express their concerns to the board.

The Marietta Town Board has already enacted a moratorium on the issue.

“We need to study the economic impact and the impact to health and water quality,” said Holtz. Facility citing issues also need to be addressed, Holtz said.

“We need to get ahead of this,” said Holtz. “We also need to study other counties that have similar karst geology, and that have contaminated wells.”

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