Nov 11, 2015

Flawed agricultural practices partly to blame for tainted Wisconsin drinking water, watchdog says

Hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin residents, including nearly 17,000 rural residents with private wells, lack safe, clean drinking water, says a study by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, Ron Seely reports for the organization. The study found residents were "at risk of consuming drinking water tainted with substances including lead, nitrate, disease-causing bacteria and viruses, naturally occurring heavy metals and other contaminants."

"The problem persists, and in some areas is worsening, because of flawed agricultural practices, development patterns that damage water quality, geologic deposits of harmful chemicals, porous karst and sand landscapes, lack of regulation of the private wells serving an estimated 1.7 million people, and breakdowns in state and federal systems intended to safeguard water quality," Seely writes. (Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism map)

Last month 16 Wisconsin residents petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency "to revoke Wisconsin's authority to issue pollution discharge permits under the Clean Water Act if the Department of Natural Resources does not correct deficiencies," Seely writes. "The discharge permits are a key mechanism by which Wisconsin limits pollutants, including manure from large farms, that reach the sources of Wisconsin's drinking water."

"Kimberlee Wright, executive director of Midwest Environmental Advocates, the Madison law firm representing the residents, said Wisconsin lacks an adequate regulatory program to protect water, including what flows from residents' taps," Seely writes. DNR spokesman Jim Dick told Seely that the DNR "takes its responsibility to protect Wisconsin's waters seriously and does enforce the Clean Water Act. We are working within the confines of current state and federal laws and rules to do just that." (Read more