Groundwater Coordinating Council releases recommendations to protect groundwater resources

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
An irrigation system waters corn plants growing in a Wisconsin farm field.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource's Groundwater Coordinating Council gave recommendations to the state legislature on ways to protect and preserve the state's groundwater resources.

One of the recommendations was to support research on conservation plans for alternative cropping methods and nutrient management practices that minimize the loss of natural soil nitrogen to groundwater. The council also recommended creating a program to help develop and implement those plans on Wisconsin farms.

Groundwater can be contaminated with pesticides and nitrates in areas dense in agricultural operations, the council said, and alternative methods would protect groundwater from contamination.

The council additionally recommended establishing groundwater enforcement standards for the detection of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which have contaminated some of Wisconsin's drinking water. The council noted that more research should be done on where the substances come from and how they impact our health.

PFAS are manufactured chemicals used in many industries, including the electronics and construction industries, and are often found in air, soil and water. The effects of PFAS on humans are not entirely known, although studies have linked them to reduced fertility, compromised immune systems and obesity, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. A Centers for Disease Control study found that traces of PFAS are found in 97% of Americans' bloodstreams.

The legislature should work on ways to increase awareness of proper waste disposal practices to improve water quality, the council recommended, including the risks and costs of each method. They made the recommendation in light of viruses and microbes being found in municipal and domestic water wells. The council said these pathogens should be researched to find out where they come from and what threats they pose to human health.

The report also highlighted the importance of applied groundwater research to further study how to protect and preserve the state's groundwater resources from further harm, and called for increased funding to address some of these concerns, especially those surrounding PFAS contamination.

"The Council supports the sustainable management of groundwater quantity and quality in the state necessary to ensure that water is available to be used, while protecting and improving our health, economy and environment now and into the future," a press release said.

Nearly three-quarters of Wisconsin residents rely on groundwater as a primary source for drinking water, according to the press release. Groundwater is also important to the economy as we use it to irrigate fields, water cattle, feed trout streams and springs and process many commodities.