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November 16, 2010

2010 report on state activities to protect groundwater

MADISON -- Wisconsin research about viruses in groundwater that led to adoption this year of new rules to better protect public health is among the highlights cited in a new report on state activities in 2010 to protect groundwater.

The 2010 Groundwater Coordinating Council Report to the legislature highlights research by scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, and Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation that showed that viruses carried in municipal wastewater can seep out of leaky sanitary sewer systems and contaminate municipal groundwater wells. The viruses are not filtered out naturally as they seep through layers of soil and rock, as previously believed.

That work, and others on microbial contaminants recommended by the council and funded by the Department of Natural Resources, led to new rules requiring that all municipal water systems disinfect their water to kill viruses. The rules go into effect later this year.

"This research has a tremendous state and national impact on drinking water policy, with the result in Wisconsin providing better protection for many citizens who get their drinking water from groundwater."

"Research and monitoring are essential to state agencies developing effective science-based policy to protect the public and to identifying what research is needed is a main duty of the Groundwater Coordinating Council," says Bruce Baker, council chair and administrator of DNR water-related programs.

The Groundwater Coordinating Council identifies priority research issues, facilitates review and selection of research proposals and helps to publicize results. The agencies make the funding decisions and pay the bills, Helmuth says.

The 2010 report also described recent research on arsenic treatment, the effects of nitrates on stream invertebrates, the occurrence of mercury in wetlands, extreme precipitation events and developing new tools for investigating fecal contamination.

The last one was successfully implemented in the last two years by DNR and UW-funded researchers who developed a "toolbox" to help determine whether microbial contamination of groundwater is due to human sewage or animal wastes. The suite of tests has been used around the state when well contaminations have been documented. They help investigators identify what caused the problem so they can more efficiently target cleanup efforts.

The 2010 report also assessed groundwater quality and the major threats to clean water, and includes recommendations(pdf), including evaluating the scope of manure pollution of groundwater, the occurrence and potential human health effects of pharmaceuticals and pesticide breakdown products in groundwater, and focusing research to better understand the links between land use and groundwater quantity and quality.

For the first time, the GCC report is available only electronically to save paper and the significant cost of printing the reports. It allows people to find the information they want more easily, Helmuth says. The report is displayed by chapter instead of as a single document, making it easier to locate specific information on groundwater legislation, groundwater quality, benefits from research projects, and other topics.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Jeff Helmuth - (608) 266-5234

Last Revised: Tuesday, November 16, 2010

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