MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is making emergency bottled water available when private wells in rural parts of the state are contaminated by livestock manure, responding to concerns raised by environmental groups and others in the wake of a spike in problems in recent years.
Environmental groups that have clashed with the DNR over its response to contaminated wells, especially in northeastern Wisconsin where there are a lot of large cattle operations, praised the department Tuesday for taking action to start the program. The department quietly updated its website in April with details about how to obtain the clean water.
"This relief has been a long time coming and we're glad the DNR finally stepped up to address this public health threat," said Sarah Geers, attorney with Midwest Environmental Advocates, a public interest law firm. "Our primary concern has always been getting emergency supplies of clean drinking water to residents suffering with manure-contaminated wells."
That group, Clean Wisconsin and others have been pressuring the DNR to make clean water temporarily available when wells are contaminated.
DNR spokesman Jim Dick said in a statement that the department did a "thorough and comprehensive review of what we could do" and that several programs worked together to come up with the new initiative.
The department wanted to get the program running before the spring farm spreading season begins and to help private well owners in Kewaunee County whose water is contaminated, Dick said. The department has been providing information to Kewaunee County through its conservation office for distribution and other stakeholders, he said.
One-third of the wells in Kewaunee County tested positive for salmonella or rotavirus last year.
The Algoma School District in Kewaunee County has been offering free, filtered water to about 70 families since January 2016 and since September the Peninsula Pride Farms group has been providing free water to residents in the county with tainted wells.
Under the program, if the DNR determines a well has been contaminated by manure the affected people could receive a temporary supply of state-funded bottled water. Details on who qualifies and how to access the program are on DNR's website.
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