News Column

Wisconsin Drinking Water Systems Still Top-Notch

July 15, 2014



MADISON, Wis., July 15 -- The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issued the following news release:

Wisconsin public water supply systems continued their excellent record of serving water that met all health-based standards in 2013, a recently released report shows.

In addition, 32 communities received low interest loans or grants from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to help upgrade water treatment plants, pipes and other infrastructure to improve drinking water safety.

"Wisconsin's water systems continued their exemplary performance over the past year while making important progress to safeguard our water for the future," said Jill Jonas, director of DNR's drinking water and groundwater bureau. "This record of achievement reflects an exceptional level of public and private collaboration as operators work to implement the latest science-based practices into their daily system management."

In 2013, 96 percent, or 10,908 of 11,409 public water systems, met all health-based standards. These systems had no water samples exceeding health-based standards for regulated contaminants. That's the same proportion as in 2012 and for most of the last decade.

However, 2013 did bring a concerning increase in the number of systems with an unhealthy amount of nitrate found while testing. In all, 56 public water systems exceeded the nitrate standard in 2013.

Nitrate is found in fertilizer, manure and other wastes and nitrate levels above 10 milligrams per liter in drinking water are a concern for human health. Infants and women who are or may become pregnant should not consume any water that exceeds this standard and all people should avoid long-term consumption of water with high nitrate levels.

Public drinking water systems routinely test for nitrate. If nitrate levels exceed the standard, the smallest public water systems -- motels, restaurants, parks, taverns, churches and campgrounds -- must post a placard indicating that the sensitive population of women and infants should not consume the water. These small system operators also must provide bottled water upon request. All other categories of public water systems must treat their water for nitrate or provide an alternative source if they exceed the standard.

Despite the challenges related to nitrate levels, overall violations for health-based standards remained low; the number of all public water systems with water samples testing high for one or more contaminants was 4.4 percent, or 504 systems. Of these, the smallest systems had the highest number of violations, accounting for about 75 percent of health-based violations. Bacterial violations again ranked as the most common health-based violation, followed by violations for nitrates and radioactivity.

A violation of a maximum contaminant level standard does not mean that people who drank the water experienced adverse health effects. It means users were exposed to what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined to be an unreasonable risk of illness, or that the system failed to treat its water to the extent required.

32 communities receive low-interest loans or grants

In 2013, 32 communities received more than $44 million, primarily in low-interest loans. Low interest loans can provide a cost savings of up to 30 percent to communities, enabling them to address drinking water health risks more quickly and cheaply.

Among the participating communities:

* The Morrisonville Sanitary District No. 1 received $1,054,634 to construct a new well and other facilities to reduce nitrate concentrations in the system.

* Wrightstown received $1,438,421 to replace old transite (asbestos cement) water mains.

* Ladysmith received $4,708,509 to construct a new well, pump station, water mains with a river crossing and abandon existing wells.

* Greenwood received $1,724,482 for repairs and modifications to an existing reservoir and construction of new wells to address microbiological issues.

* Highland received $234,160 to rehabilitate an existing well house, construct a chemical feed room and improve control systems.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act. This landmark law is the primary federal law safeguarding drinking water and the water used every day and in homes and businesses. To learn more, search the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, for "Safe Water on Tap: 40 Years of the Safe Drinking Water Act."

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