Sauk County farmer Jim Goodman, seen here at the farmers’ market in the village of Dane, said he believes Wisconsin’s nitrate problem has been exacerbated by “too many animals in too small a space” and the government’s failure to enforce pollution laws. Goodman is an organic farmer who uses nitrogen-fixing cover crops and manure rather than artificial fertilizers.

Going organic: One farmer’s fight against contaminants in the groundwater

In the early 1990s, Jim Goodman and his wife began to worry about how the chemicals they were using on the farm might affect their children. The fourth-generation Wisconsin farmer decided to make the shift away from conventional farming at his Sauk County operation. Now certified organic, the farm includes 120 head of cattle on pasture, including 45 milk cows, and 300 acres of crops.

Land use is a factor boosting the level of nitrate in the water in Wisconsin. In the Upper Midwest, millions of acres of grassland — which leaches little nitrogen into aquifers — have been converted into fields of corn, soy and other crops since 2008, according to University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers. Here, a farmer harvests corn near Blair in Trempealeau County.

Nitrate in water widespread, current rules no match for it

Levels of nitrate, one of the Wisconsin’s top drinking water contaminants, are increasing. Nitrate comes primarily from fertilizers, including manure, and puts infants and expectant mothers particularly at risk. A projected 94,000 households are drinking private well water with unsafe levels of nitrate. And many of them don’t even know it since few private well owners conduct regular testing.

Frank Michna buys bottled water for drinking and cooking in his Caledonia home because of high levels of molybdenum and boron in his well.

Safe, clean drinking water eludes many Wisconsinites

Hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin’s 5.8 million residents are at risk of consuming drinking water tainted with substances including lead, nitrate, disease-causing bacteria and viruses, naturally occurring heavy metals and other contaminants, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism has found.

The highly deadly white-nose syndrome has spread rapidly since it was discovered in New York in 2006. The disease has killed millions of bats, including many in Wisconsin.

Feds seek public input on Midwest bat protection plan

In July 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking the public’s suggestions regarding an environmental impact statement for an eight-state Midwestern plan designed to help conserve the habitats of several species of animals, including bats that can be harmed by wind turbines.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources surveys the state's waterways to track everything from fish populations to mussels, as well as overall water quality. Here, DNR technicians Justin Haglund, right, and Aaron Nolan collect live brook trout from Ash Creek in April 2013 in a long-term study on the spread of gill lice.

Wisconsin DNR mulls dissolving science bureau

Internal correspondence obtained by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism confirms discussions about the possible dismantling of the bureau and a reorganization that would move researchers into other agency divisions.
Critics, both inside and outside the agency, say such a reorganization would rob the state of impartial science that should guide critical natural resource management decisions.