An effort to test well water in Dunn County resulted in nearly 1,000 tests being performed, and the effort received recognition in a statewide conservation magazine.
Chase Cummings, Dunn County conservationist, acknowledged that sending county workers to 977 locations to take well samples was ambitious.
“We just made the commitment to spend staff time on it, and it paid off,” Cummings said.
Heather Wood, county water resources specialist, said previous testing had shown spots in the county with water quality issues, but this effort included tests from all parts of the county.
“We wanted to get an idea where there are problems” with water quality, Wood said. “If we are unaware of the problem, we can’t do anything about it.”
The Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association recently featured the Dunn County well water testing project in its quarterly publication, The Note.
As Cummings and Wood explained it, the Dunn County Planning, Resources, and Development Committee, and the Land Conservation Committee, asked them for ideas on how available ARPA funding could be used to improve water quality in Dunn County, an issue that the County Board has made a priority.
They presented various alternatives to supervisors, who picked the most ambitious one that entailed collecting up to 1,000 samples across Dunn County. Cummings said assistance from the Dunn County Public Health Department and the Healthy Environment Action Team was crucial in recruiting the number of participants by providing a mailing to county residents to notify them and initiate interest in the program.
“Groundwater concerns in this county have been pretty significant,” Wood said, and the well sampling project grew out of those concerns.
The samples were tested using the UW-Stevens Point Water and Environmental Analysis Lab that looks for nitrates, hardness (calcium and magnesium), metals, and atrazine and related herbicides, among other compounds. The samples were collected over eight weeks.
Cummings and Wood said that while the so-called forever chemicals PFAS have been in the news a lot, it was not financially feasible to test homeowner wells for them. However, water from each of the town halls in the county was sampled for PFAS. That testing showed 14 of the 22 town hall wells had PFAS in the samples, but the samples were within current health standards.
“We got an idea of what PFAS looks like across the county,” Wood said of the town hall test results.
After each of the 977 samples were analyzed, each well owner received the results with a letter from the county Land and Water Conservation Division, explaining what the samples would be used for and what resources are available if the results indicated contamination that needs to be mitigated.
The letter said: “The data from your water sample will be included in the Dunn County groundwater data set and used to report on general groundwater conditions within Dunn County. Your personal information such as your name, address, and contact information will not be used in any of this reporting.”
The well owner also received a packet to help interpret the sampling results.
While the results are still being analyzed, the county Planning, Resources, and Development Committee did receive some preliminary information in October that showed 128 wells were flagged for arsenic and 113 samples showed nitrate concentrations at or above the 10 mg/L limit considered safe for drinking water.
Cummings and Wood said the County Board will receive a report in early 2024 that analyzes the results for supervisors. The results also will be added to the Dunn County Well Water Quality Map.
“There are a number of different ways to use the data,” Cummings said.
“All the data will be broken down by why they matter and what we are concerned with, and then we will go from there,” Wood said. The next steps will depend on funding and “where we can get the most bang for our buck,” she added.
Cummings said it will be important for local officials to understand the testing results as well because many of the land use decisions that affect water quality are made by local governments and not the county, Cummings said.
“This report can be a tool in the toolbox in the planning process,” he said.