KEWAUNEE - The availability of federal funds for rural well owners is welcome news but doesn’t go far enough, a clean water activist says.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is making low-interest loans available to Kewaunee and Door county homeowners needing help replacing or rehabbing their wells.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, announced the program last week. She has been pressing the USDA and Environmental Protection Agency for the past year to help with groundwater contamination in the two counties.
The USDA and the Great Lakes Rural Community Assistance Program are making the loans available.
Applicants must own and occupy the home or be in the process of purchasing it. New home construction and community water systems aren’t eligible.
Household incomes can’t exceed $56,439 to qualify.
The program offers a 20-year loan of up to $11,000 at an interest rate of 1 percent.
Lynn Utesch, co-founder of Kewaunee CARES (Citizens Advocating Responsible Environmental Stewardship), called the program welcome news.
His organization and six others around the state have petitioned the EPA to invoke emergency powers to help with the problem.
The county’s large number of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation farms, coupled with the shallow topsoil and karst topography, have contributed to what some water experts call third-world-quality drinking water, Utesch said.
While he called it welcome news, he also was critical.
“Why is it only the low-income who should have their wells compensated, and why is the taxpayer doing it?” he said. “We have the tools and ability to determine who is polluting a lot of these wells, so why is the taxpayer having to pay for cleanup when somebody is polluting the water?
“There should be investigation into why these wells are being contaminated so we can hold those people accountable, to help offset the cost to the taxpayer.”
Utesch said he has a friend whose well is contaminated but who does not fall in the economic range that qualifies him for assistance.
“He found out the cost for a filtration system is $13,000, and there’s no help for him,” Utesch said.
Testing has proven the man’s well was contaminated by cow manure, but “The thing is, he doesn’t have any cows, yet he has to foot the bill,” Utesch said.
Baldwin called the new option “a step in the right direction.” She said she plans to continue to work on addressing the water quality issue.