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December 21, 2010

Measure to kill viruses in drinking water, others on tap

MADISON - Wisconsin residents - and the 8.5 billion gallons of water that Wisconsin businesses, farms and utilities use every day will be safer in 2011 and beyond, state environmental officials say.p>

A trio of new safeguards adopted by the state Natural Resources Board and approved by the legislature earlier this year are starting to kick in:

"These new safeguards will better protect public health, our groundwater and surface water supplies," says DNR Secretary Matt Frank. "Wisconsin families, our environment, and our economy will benefit now and in the future."

88 percent of systems already disinfect; now all will do so

The disinfection rule, affecting Natural Resources chapters 809, 811, and 810 of the Wisconsin Administrative Code, enables Wisconsin to meet recent requirements in federal Safe Drinking Water Act amendments and responds to recent research about illnesses from viruses in drinking water drawn from groundwater.

Research from the U.S. Geological Survey, Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, and Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation 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. The research ("Assessment of Sewer Source Contamination of Drinking Water Wells Using Tracers and Human Enteric Viruses," (exit DNR) and a related study, "Assessment of Virus Presence and Potential Virus Pathways in Deep Municipal Wells," (exit DNR;pdf) )led the DNR to develop rules requiring that all municipal water systems disinfect their water to kill viruses.

About 12 percent of Wisconsin's 614 municipal drinking water systems do not now disinfect. The water systems can apply for state financial help through DNR's low-interest loan program for drinking water projects.

Standards protect groundwater from contaminants

The second measure added groundwater standards for 15 new contaminants and revised standards for 15 others. Standards are set for the first time for four pesticides, compounds left when pesticides break down, and compounds related to the production of explosives and munitions, including those detected in groundwater near the Badger Army Ammunition Plant.

"Wisconsin relies more heavily on groundwater for our drinking water supply than most other states, so it was important to get these proposals in place," Frank says.

Rules implement Great Lakes Compact

Three rules go into effect next year implementing the Great Lakes Compact, a formal agreement between the Great Lake states, and two Canadian provinces, and the Wisconsin legislation stemming from those agreements.

The Compact commits the states and provinces to manage water in the Great Lakes watershed collectively, including banning water from being "diverted," or piped out of the basin with a few limited and strictly regulated exceptions, and instituting water conservation requirements within the basin.

The rules define who must register and annually report their water use to allow the state to understand how much water is being withdrawn, where, and how it's being used. They also establish fees paid by people who withdraw more than 50 million gallons per year from the Great Lakes Basin, and the $125 fee that the Wisconsin law set for all other water withdrawers.

The third rule, Chapter NR 852, Wis. Admin. Code, establishes the water conservation requirements that will be mandatory in the Great Lakes basin for water users seeking new or increased withdrawals or diversions, and mandatory elsewhere in the state withdrawls that result in a water loss averaging 2 million or more gallons per day in any 30-day period.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Jill Jonas - (608) 267-7545

Last Revised: Tuesday, December 21, 2010

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