Human waste pollutes some Wisconsin drinking water

A steel septic tank is removed from a Door County residence in 2007. Over 20 years ago, steel septic tanks were an inexpensive option for homeowners, but now up to 90 percent are breaking down and require replacement. Door County Assistant Sanitarian Chris Olson says homeowners who installed more expensive fiberglass tanks have fewer problems over time.

Failing septic systems, leaking public sewer pipes and landspreading of septic waste can introduce dangerous pathogens into both rural and urban water systems. Experts say Wisconsin needs tougher laws to protect Wisconsin drinking water from contamination by sewage and septic waste.

Bacteria in state’s drinking water is ‘public health crisis’

About 12 years ago, Samantha Treml, right, then six months old, fell ill after being bathed in well water tainted by manure spread on a nearby frozen farm field. The Tremls moved from their Kewaunee County home after that incident, saying they no longer trusted the quality of their water. Recent tests in Kewaunee County funded by the state Department of Natural Resources found 34 percent of wells had unsafe levels of coliform, E. coli or nitrate.

Hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin residents are at risk of illness from waterborne pathogens in private and public drinking water supplies. Contamination by pathogens is of special concern because unlike pollution by metals or chemicals, pathogens can sicken people after just a single exposure.

As wells go deeper, radium levels rise in state tap water

Former University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point student Jessica Peterson prepares water samples to test for metals at the school’s Center for Watershed Science and Education. Some community water systems in Wisconsin have unsafe levels of radium in their drinking water. Most private wells are considered too shallow to have radium, and the state does not require that they be tested.

As communities grow and pump more groundwater, radium from deep bedrock is contaminating dozens of water systems. The city of Waukesha wants to tap into Lake Michigan to solve its radium problem.