7 Investigates: Some Wood County homeowners unable to drink well water

Published: Jul. 17, 2018 at 8:43 AM CDT
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Dozens of people in Wood and Juneau counties are left in limbo -- told they can no longer drink their well water with no solutions in sight. The well water survey done this spring found nearly half of the homes tested, had dangerously high nitrate levels.

The Lochners are just one example. "We don't cook with it, we don't brush teeth with it, we don't drink with it, dogs don't drink it," Mark and Robyn Lochner said. "It's the only thing we do is shower and bathe with it."

While the water looks clear at the Lochner's home in Nekoosa, the tap from their private well is flowing with nitrates.

"Whenever we go to other people's houses and you can drink the water from the tap it's like, 'oh wow, this is kind of nice, wish we could do that!" Robyn Lochner said.

Elevated levels of nitrates usually come from pesticides, herbicides or fertilizer.

Wisconsin's undrinkable limit is 10 milligrams per liter of nitrate. Homes in Port Edwards, Nekoosa, and Armenia had levels three to five times beyond that.

“It used to be just blue baby syndrome is what we were concerned with, but now we realize there's a lot more to nitrates than we ever dreamed. There's a lot more studies going on and coming up with a lot of links to other potential diseases such as diabetes, thyroid disease, certain cancers,” Wood County Environmental Health Supervisor Nancy Eggleston explained.

To get more information, residents packed the Necedah Town Hall Tuesday night.

A lot of data, so far, shows agriculture is likely the source of the problem, but scientists researching these wells say more tests need to be done to determine a definite source.

"This is a challenging problem and it's possible that even with The current recommendations with how to manage our landscapes, that it might not be good enough to protect everybody's water quality. I'm not saying that's right, I'm saying the tools that we have in place, I think often times the agency folks are probably at their limit in terms of what they're able to do from encouraging wiser-land use management," said Kevin Masarik with the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point.

This means, even if specific farms are named as a source, there may not be much that can legally be done to hold them accountable.

This makes it difficult for homeowners like the Lochners who have been protesting a large farm owned by the Wysocki families. Golden Sands Dairy is still hoping to build a 5,300 cow dairy operation in Southern Wood County. Last month, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the family had the permits to go ahead.

Even with the supreme court's approval, residents say they're still concerned for what the potential farm expansion means for their drinking water.

The next step in the process is more testing. EPA testing results came in Tuesday, but the interpretation of what those results mean likely won't be available until early August.

NewsChannel 7 reached out to the Wysocki Family of Companies but didn't hear back.