[Press release from the Town of Lincoln]
On Wednesday evening the Town of Lincoln in Kewaunee County previewed the report on ground water mapping and contamination susceptibility that they commissioned in 2015 from Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey and the University of Wisconsin-Extension. The finished product will provide town leadership with scientific data regarding the flow and presence of underground aquifers which provide the town residents with their drinking water. The series of maps includes the data showing where the Town’s lands are most susceptible to groundwater contamination.
“We have gotten to the point”, said Town Chairman Cory Cochart, “that we had to take the matter into our own hands. The health and welfare of our residents is at risk, and it’s the Board’s responsibility to protect that.”
The Town invested just shy of $40,000 on the project and received another $20,000 from Kewaunee County’s Land Information Services Department toward the overall project cost. The two-year project included the researchers’ study of well construction records, walking miles of the Town’s land using ground-piercing radar to obtain depth-to-bedrock measurements, and reviewing LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) records to identify karst features, possible fractures and sinkholes.
Mike Parsen, the UW hydrologist who led the study, said that over a dozen historical sources were reviewed and four types of field tests were added to obtain the most accurate picture of the town’s soil depths and contamination susceptibility. Beyond that extensive research “We reviewed over 1,700 well construction reports and extended a three-mile buffer around the township to get the most detailed account for Lincoln,” Parsen said in his report to the town.
The announcement comes a week after a USDA Researcher announced the findings of a two-year study to better understand the source of the groundwater contamination in the county. While the lead researcher shared his amazement at the amount and type of pathogens they found, the hydrogeologist assigned to the study, Maureen Muldoon, commented that the area’s aquifer acts more like an underground river moving contaminants much more quickly than she sees in traditional aquifers. Cochart said “with all that has been proven recently by the scientific community, it’s become apparent that business as usual just presents too much of a health risk to our residents. The groundwater mapping study will allow us to make fact based decisions.”
This is not the only project the Town has undertaken in response to the severe drinking water contamination. The Town has been working with Stonehouse Technologies out of Milwaukee since 2015 to find solutions for residents whose drinking water has been rendered unusable by bacteria or nitrate contamination.
The Town and Stonehouse are installing five whole-house water filtration systems as part of a pilot program that will test the effectiveness and usability of such a unit in Lincoln.
Company president Hensley Foster said, “The goal is to remove the contaminants so that people can drink, bathe and use their water like a normal family.” The study begins with determining exactly what contaminants are in the water in Lincoln and when they appear. Filters are designed to remove the specific problem, tested in a laboratory environment and then installed in the home. A microchip reports real-time results from the homes to the scientists in Milwaukee and lead scientist Moe Mukiibi travels to the homes three times a week to check the systems personally. Said Mukiibi, “I have a single goal. It’s to get clean water to these people. I have traveled all over the world designing systems like this, and for me it’s always about the families, plain and simple.”
Cochart explained that the homes were selected for the study each presenting a different problem needing to be solved.
“We needed to get answers on multiple levels; from the cost of a system that would remove what we have in our water, to the logistics of installation in a variety of homes, to the ability of our residents to actually maintain it,” Cochart said.
The program, funded by the town, is currently in month four of the 12-month pilot study. According to Cochart, “Stonehouse has been extremely gracious in making this happen, but we just couldn’t wait any longer for the State or the Federal help, we were facing too many roadblocks with them, so we did it ourselves. Many towns aren’t in the position we are, so hopefully they will be able to use everything we’ve done to help their residents too.”
Since 2012 the Town of Lincoln has been the epicenter in the battle over clean water. Home to three large industrialized farms know as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO), which house more than 12,000 dairy cows, more than 40 percent of the wells tested in the town of just over 900 residents have had their wells contaminated by bacteria and or nitrates. The recent USDA research concluded that the vast majority of the problems result from agricultural practices in a geologically sensitive area. Muldoon stated during her presentation, “I cannot think of a hydro-geologically worse place than northeast Wisconsin to put a lot of cows.”
“We’ve had Board members on task forces, Plan Commission members on the DNR workgroups, we’ve had residents testify at the Board of Natural Resources, we’ve met with our State Assemblyman and at the Federal level we’ve met with former Congressman Ribble and Senator Tammy Baldwin,” Cochart said. ‘We’ve been actively working on solutions for a number of years. It’s great to finally have the scientific data we can use to make wise decisions for the future of our Town.”