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Manure and drinking water

Livestock manure may infiltrate drinking water wells from field application, spills and weather events. Manure may contain fecal bacteria, viruses and nitrates that can cause acute illness, especially in sensitive populations such as infants, women who are or may become pregnant, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.

Know your risk

The following factors will help you determine if your well is at risk for manure contamination.

  • Well location – Manure-contaminated wells are often located near farm fields, barnyards or feedlots.
  • Well casing depth and construction – Wells that have shallow or damaged casing are more likely to be affected than deeper cased wells.
  • Geology – Areas with sandy soils, fractured bedrock or geologic conditions known as "karst" (such as northeastern Wisconsin) are especially vulnerable to contamination.

Signs of manure in drinking water

Some manure impacts may result in a change in the color, odor or taste of your water. The only way to know for sure if your drinking water contains fecal bacteria is to have a water sample analyzed by a certified laboratory [PDF]. For more information, visit Identify your water's symptoms.

Signs of manure impacts to your water include:

  • water smells like manure;
  • water is brown, yellow or foamy; or
  • a water sample is positive for E. coli bacteria, which means there are fecal impacts.

Next steps

If you observe manure contamination of your drinking water:

  1. Stop using your water.
  2. Contact the private water supply specialist for your area.

If manure contamination is confirmed in the drinking water supply, a response team, including the local health department, is notified. Financial and drinking water assistance is also available from the following programs.

Assistance for private well owners

State programs

DNR Well Compensation Grant Program - The DNR Well Compensation Grant Program provides funding to lower income individuals for replacing, reconstructing or treating private water supplies that are contaminated with livestock waste.

DNR temporary supplies of emergency water - When private well water is contaminated by fecal bacteria from livestock waste, the DNR may be able to provide temporary emergency drinking water supplies to the affected landowner or renter.

Note: The DNR is not authorized to use state funds to provide temporary emergency water supplies when private wells are impacted by nitrates or by fecal contamination that is not related to livestock.

Federal program

Household Water Well Loan Program (currently available ONLY to residents of Kewaunee and Door counties) - A federal loan program [PDF exit DNR] supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Great Lakes Rural Community Assistance Program (RCAP).

Local program

Peninsula Pride Farms (currently available ONLY to residents of Kewaunee and southern Door counties) - A local program offered through Peninsula Pride Farms [exit DNR] will pay for bottled water and well inspections for homeowners with E. coli-contaminated wells in Kewaunee and southern Door Counties, and will cover some of the costs for a water treatment system if it's necessary.

Last revised: Tuesday May 02 2017