Well water pump spigot

A first-of-its-kind groundwater quality study in 11 northern Wisconsin counties will focus on what's in the drinking water of private wells. 

The University of Wisconsin-Superior's Lake Superior Research Institute has received a nearly $56,000 grant from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to conduct the voluntary 18-month study. 

"We have in northwestern Wisconsin a really large proportion of people that are on (private) well water. I think we're pretty unique in that way," said Kelsey Prihoda, a researcher with the Lake Superior Research Institute who is leading the study. "Private wells, there's no requirement that they be monitored, as opposed to a public wells." 

The goal is to collect 700 water samples from private wells in the 11 counties. The level of fluoride will be measured in each sample. Prihoda said they want to find out if most of the water contains .7-1.5 miligrams per liter of fluoride which is thought to be a healthy level to consume for good teeth and bone development. 

"If it's less than that, then it actually is conducive to having some sort of a dental cavity, tooth decay sort of thing. So, we would want in that situation to supplement with some sort of a fluoride varnish or fluoride treatment," she said. "If it's above that, that's where you start to see issues on the other end of the spectrum where there are some malformations in the enamel on teeth." 

The study will also look at metal levels in about 10 samples per county — like arsenic, iron, magnesium and aluminum to form a baseline of data that can be used in future groundwater studies in northern Wisconsin. 

"If in the future, there are big industries that come in, or some sort of contaminant level occurrence that would affect our groundwater, we would be able to know what changes had occurred based on human impacts on groundwater," she said.

While this may be the first time the groundwater quality of private wells has been studied in northern Wisconsin, groundwater quality has become a hot button issue in other parts of the state. 

The Lake Superior Research Institute has partnered with the NorthLakes Community Clinic to distribute well testing kits to private well owners and is looking for other health care partners to assist in the study. 

The study started July 1 and the results are expected to be released by December 2019.

Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2018, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.

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