Kewaunee Co. drinking water solutions needed

by Mark Redsten, originally posted on March 12, 2016


The mishandling of the Flint, Mich., water supply directly challenges one thing we take for granted in the Midwest: clean, plentiful water. And as much as we want to believe that our water will always be clean and safe for all, it’s not.

With the national spotlight on drinking water contamination, it’s disappointing to acknowledge that Wisconsin has its own water crisis escalating in Kewaunee County. Here, unsafe levels of bacteria and nitrates have been detected in 30 percent of the county’s private drinking water wells. In a state that prides itself on having clean, safe and abundant water, this is unacceptable.

Sadly, places like Flint, Toledo, Ohio, and others have shown us what happens when we jeopardize our drinking water; Kewaunee is no different. Citizens here are experiencing sickness, rashes and other health issues, and they are burdened with the economic struggle of relying on bottled water for their daily needs. Strong scientific evidence suggests this contamination is linked to spreading too much manure on the local landscape; this is especially troublesome with the county’s Karst topography, where a thin layer of soil over porous rock allows contaminants like nitrates and bacteria to easily seep into the groundwater and residents’ drinking water.

We know the cause, the consequences and the solutions. Yet, there has been a failure to act.

The DNR’s recent announcement of forthcoming stakeholder group recommendations still leave Kewaunee County residents without access to safe, clean drinking water. In October 2014, our group joined with other local and state organizations and called on the Environmental Protection Agency to step in with three simple tasks: Help Kewaunee County citizens obtain clean drinking water, determine the source and extent of the contamination and hold the responsible parties accountable. Sixteen months later, Kewaunee residents are still seeking clean water.

In part, the DNR’s hands are tied. Their state funding has been cut, and the legislature continues to limit DNR’s authority to manage our state’s water resources; proposals to increase groundwater protections in places like Kewaunee County or to provide additional funds for well compensation programs have failed this session. Quite simply, we are letting the people of Kewaunee County — and Wisconsin — down and the consequences are severe: people become sick, homeowners cannot use their tapwater, economies suffer and quality of life plummets.

Kewaunee is the latest victim of a fundamental, systemic problem in our state, and surely won’t be the last. Because we can no longer wait for the state to act, we need the EPA to step up. Additional resources and oversight from the EPA would provide much-needed support to quickly implement workgroup recommendations, especially those aimed at providing immediate relief for citizens who need clean drinking water.

The state’s recklessness with Kewaunee County’s water resources and the health and safety of its residents qualifies Kewaunee to join Flint, Toledo and others on the list of drinking water crises in the U.S. This is unacceptable, and the time for responsible oversight and action has come. The people of Kewaunee County deserve better. They deserve clean and safe water.

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