Drinking Water

Safe, clean drinking water is what we expect when we turn on our faucets. Wisconsin is a water-rich state, but the quality of its drinking water is sometimes open to question. It's vital that we all work to prevent new contamination and to clean up past problems that damage our drinking water supplies.

Currently, several Wisconsin lakes and rivers are too contaminated to be used as drinking water sources, including the lower Fox River in northeast Wisconsin. Many other communities have to carefully filter and treat their surface waters to make them safe for drinking.

In some localities drinking water drawn from underground aquifers is contaminated with bacteria, viruses, nitrates, and pesticides because of insufficient topsoil to filter contaminated rainwater. Livestock manure, human sewage, fertilizers, and pesticides are common sources of contamination. In some areas of northeast Wisconsin contaminated surface runoff can directly enter underground water supplies through fractured rock outcroppings, sink holes, quarries and abandoned wells.

To make matters worse, large areas of northeast Wisconsin suffer from naturally high levels of toxic minerals and contaminants - such as arsenic, lead, fluoride, iron and radium - in certain layers of the underground aquifer. When these toxic layers are drilled through or pumped, the contaminants can spread into clean aquifer layers resulting in wider groundwater contamination problems.

Figure 1:

Unfortunately, efforts to treat water can also result in new health threats. Chlorination of drinking water supplies virtually eliminates most disease or bacterial contamination but creates traces of several toxic byproducts in drinking water - such as chloroform, chloramines, trihalomethanes and other chlorinated organic compounds. Fluoridation of drinking water is used to prevent tooth decay, but it may also have unintended and unhealthy side effects. Some government agencies have decided the benefits are worth the risks, but there is disagreement among experts whether tooth decay prevention is worth the risk of elevated health risks like arthritis, bone disease and cancer.

The Department of Natural Resources has been informed that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will no longer accept drinking water sample results where the holding time exceeds 30 hours for total coliform/E.coli. The samples are collected for the compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act. This means that analyzing laboratories will need to invalidate samples (not analyze them) when the time from collection to analysis time is greater than 30 hours. Therefore, the water supplier will have to resample.

These are serious problems, but most can be addressed.

Drinking Water Links

Drinking Water and Groundwater - Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources – http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/drinkingwater/

Drinking Water Issues - Wisconsin Dept. of Health and Family Services - https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/water/index.htm

The Water Quality and Health Council - http://www.waterandhealth.org/

Water Resources of the United States - U.S. Geological Survey - http://water.usgs.gov/

Center for Disease Control Drinking Water Fact Sheet - https://www.cdc.gov/pictureofamerica/pdfs/picture_of_america_drinking_water.pdf

© Clean Water Action Council

P.O. Box 9144

Green Bay, WI 54308

(920) 421-8885

Office location:
A307 MAC Hall, UW-Green Bay
2420 Nicolet Drive
Green Bay, WI 54311