Nitrate levels in well water stir controversy in Portage County

Contaminated water in Nelsonville is causing controversy and people are speaking out.
Published: May. 4, 2022 at 7:41 AM CDT
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NELSONVILLE, Wis. (WSAW) - Contaminated water in a Portage County village is causing controversy and people are speaking out. Nelsonville has a significant amount of nitrates in its water, some say it’s because of a nearby farm. A family that NewsChannel 7 interviewed is frustrated and concerned about the amount of nitrates in their water. They want the government to step up and take responsibility.

“It shouldn’t be an us against them kind of thing, it’s contaminated water, everybody is dealing with the contaminated water,” James Walker said.

For the Walkers, the increase of nitrates in their water has made life difficult. They don’t use their water to drink or cook with, citing long-term problems.

“There are a number of health issues cropping up in the village and that’s really unfortunate because it’s something that can be avoided,” Walker said.

The Walker’s water well has over 20 parts per million of nitrate in it. The limit is 10 ppm. To help mitigate the issue, they rent a reverse osmosis filter which costs $300 each year, but they say even that won’t work forever.

“The problem with providing RO systems is: number one they don’t work very well if at all if the nitrate level goes above 30. We’re approaching that now,” Marianne Walker said.

A nearby dairy farm in Nelsonville, Gordondale Farms, is being blamed for the high nitrate levels in the wells. A push to monitor the wells is being proposed, and owner Kyle Gordon said he shouldn’t have to pay for it. He said he’s been going by the rules of the DNR.

“If somebody mandates you to do something the way they want you to do them, why would we be responsible when we’ve done what we’ve been bound to do by law?” Gordon said.

Gordon said nitrates have been in the area’s water since the 1970s. If Gordon paid for the monitoring himself, it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. He said the DNR should pay for it if they believe it’s a problem.

“This is a really significant cost [and] realistically the research should be done and needs to be done, but I think it should be done at the expense of the government,” Gordon said.

The Portage County Land and Water Conservation Committee discussed a resolution Tuesday night and heard from concerned community members. The resolution proposes free RO filters for people and for the DNR to take on the cost of the monitoring system. The committee ultimately decided to table the resolution for a later date.

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