Groundwater research projects leverage DNR

Wisconsin State Farmer


Six research projects geared toward answering priority questions about Wisconsin's groundwater quality and quantity will receive funding from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for 2017.

The projects, selected through a joint process conducted by DNR and the University of Wisconsin Water Resources Institute, cover projects ranging from an early detection method for groundwater contamination to a new test that uses viruses to identify sources of waste in groundwater.

DNR recommends you test your well water every year to make sure it's safe for your family to drink.

The projects are being conducted under the auspices of the Groundwater Coordinating Council, which was created by the Legislature in 1983 to maximize the effectiveness of research efforts among various levels of government and the university.

"Ninety-five percent of Wisconsin's 11,470 public water systems rely on groundwater, so protecting groundwater quality and quantity is critical for public health, the economy and environment," said Steve Ales, deputy director for DNR's Bureau of Drinking Water and Groundwater. "The joint research conducted through the Groundwater Coordinating Council avoids duplication of effort while providing answers to critical questions about our groundwater resource."

The 2017 joint research program, which also includes review by public and private sector scientists and potential information users, includes six projects funded by DNR and three through the Water Resources Institute.

Of the DNR-funded projects, two address both pathogens and nitrate; two address groundwater quantity; one addresses pathogens individually; and one addresses nitrate individually. First-year costs for the research total $300,986.

DNR funded projects include:

  • A Kewaunee County research project conducted by UW-Oshkosh scientists that seeks to predict the timing and determine the sources as well as remedies for drinking water well contamination. The research will cover both pathogens and nitrate and will involve development of an automated well sampling method.
  • A statewide project will attempt to develop a model that distinguishes natural variability in lake levels from fluctuations caused by groundwater withdrawals. The project is being led by UW-Madison researchers.
  • A project in Eau Claire County will assess sources of elevated nitrate and the potential for local source reduction. The effort is being led by UW-Eau Claire researchers.
  • Previous research has indicated that some types of viruses are more closely associated with certain hosts than bacteria, leading to an effort that will examine viruses as a means of identifying the source of contamination in drinking water wells. UW-Madison researchers will lead this effort.
  • A project in Ozaukee County will examine the effects of septic system density on groundwater quality. UW-Madison researchers will lead the effort.
  • Efforts to better manage groundwater in Wisconsin's Central Sands region will get a boost from additional data gathered through an expanded monitoring effort. The expanded monitoring will be led by a team from UW-Stevens Point.

In addition to focusing on high priority topics such as pathogens, nitrate, groundwater quantity and quality, Ales said project evaluators considered the extent to which the projects provided opportunities for training students as the next generation of water managers.

"With the guidance of leading scientists and agency managers, these projects offer effective training opportunities that will open doors to new professional opportunities for students while expanding the base of knowledge needed to make informed resource management decisions," Ales said. "These projects are designed to address real challenges in communities across the state and provide new tools to protect and enhance our water resources."

For more information, visit and search "Groundwater Coordinating Council."