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July 19, 2011

MADISON - Ninety-six percent of Wisconsin's public water systems served drinking water that met all health-based standards in 2010, exceeding the federal goal, according to a recently released report.

On average, Wisconsin residents pay $4 for 1,000 gallons of tap water; 10,990 of the 11,444 systems, or 96 percent, did not have a single drinking water sample that exceeded health-based standards for monitored contaminants. That equals 96 percent of the systems, and compares to the national performance goal of 95 percent.

"Water utilities, laboratory staff, state staff, water associations, and others deserve our recognition and appreciation for maintaining a strong performance despite shrinking budgets and increasing regulations," says Jill Jonas, who leads the DNR drinking water and groundwater program.

However, Jonas cautioned that emerging concerns with viruses in drinking water and contaminants such as chromium 6 coupled with an increasing need to replace aging infrastructure limit the ability of many smaller utilities to improve the quality of their drinking water.

DNR submitted "Safe Water on Tap: 2010 Annual Drinking Water Report" (pdf) to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to meet requirements under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The report summarizes Wisconsin's public water systems' performance as a whole between Jan. 1, 2010 and Dec. 31, 2010, according to Jonas.

Wisconsin has more public water systems than any other state but Michigan, ranging from utilities serving the state's largest communities, to churches, restaurants and taverns. About 4.9 million of Wisconsin's 5.6 million residents get their drinking water from community public water systems while the rest tap private wells.

Of the 4 percent of Wisconsin public water systems reporting at least one violation of health-based standards, their elevated contaminant levels did not mean that people who drank the water got sick. However, bacterial contamination remained the top concern: 399 systems, or 3.5 percent, had violations, potentially exposing at one time or another an estimated 165,696 Wisconsinites to contaminants that can cause sudden illness.

The second most common violation was elevated levels of arsenic, with 15 systems with violations, followed by nitrate with 13 systems reporting violations. Arsenic can be a naturally occurring contaminant stemming from Wisconsin's geology or can be caused by runoff. Nitrate is a pollutant largely from fertilizer application.

The report details the efforts made by water utilities themselves, laboratories, DNR staff and water associations to help public water systems serve safe drinking water. Those efforts include reviewing hundreds of thousands of water sample results, inspecting all municipal systems to short-circuit problems, providing training, reviewing construction plans for new water systems and improvements to existing facilities, and providing more than $18 million in low-interest loans to 14 communities to complete those construction and improvement projects. Among those communities receiving loans were Oak Creek, Chippewa Falls, Altoona, Reedsburg and Stoughton.

"Wisconsin public water systems provide a great value," Jonas says. "But we're going to have to remain diligent over coming years to make sure that limited resources are focused more and more on preventing contamination because it's the least expensive way of protecting everyone's drinking water."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Lee Boushon (608) 266-0857; Mark Nelson (608) 267-4230

Last Revised: Tuesday, July 19, 2011

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