National Groundwater Awareness Week March 11-17, 2012
When was the last time you thought about groundwater? In fact, do you really know what groundwater is? Or do you just have a vague notion that it is water in the ground?
Most people don't think about groundwater very much. For the record, it's the water that soaks through the top soil and down into layers of sand, gravel, and rock below the earth's surface. It eventually seeps into lakes and rivers.
But it's also the source of well water. In Wisconsin, it's where 70 percent of us get our water for drinking, bathing, cooking, laundry, watering our gardens, filling our pets' water dishes. Our vital dairy industry depends on it -- cows need safe water to produce milk. Our Central Sands vegetable industry relies on groundwater to irrigate crops. Those industries, and other agricultural sectors that use groundwater, provide jobs and support rural schools, roads, and emergency response.
So groundwater is everybody's business. Here at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, our Environmental Quality Section works year-round to protect groundwater from agricultural chemical contamination. That's why we observe National Groundwater Awareness Week.
What we do
Here's a thumbnail sketch of some of our work to keep contaminants out of our groundwater:
Royster-Clark cleanup This Madison plant manufactured and sold agricultural fertilizers for a half century until the owner decided to close the plant. The soil and building materials were contaminated with nitrogen products from the fertilizer. We worked with the property owners over several years to demolish the buildings and excavate the soil while recycling the nutrients present in the soil in an environmentally friendly way. Video Photos
Adell Cooperative Union response A major fire in 2011 at this co-op damaged structures and bulk storage tanks for fertilizers and pesticides, and the chemicals mixed with the fire suppression water. Our staff was present during the emergency response to share expertise about the chemicals present. After the emergency response, we worked with the co-op management and their consultant to evaluate soil and groundwater for an appropriate cleanup response, and to provide advice on their plans to reconstruct the lost buildings and chemical containment structures. Photos
Long-term cleanup project Our investigation at a now-closed agrichemical storage facility found buried pesticide containers that had leaked into shallow groundwater. In 2011, we oversaw the excavation of the containers along with the contaminated soil and water. The nature of the chemicals present required the materials to be sent to a hazardous waste disposal site. Photos
Truck roll-over spill response Last year a truck hauling pesticide containers rolled over as it rounded a curve in Rock Springs, sending the containers down an embankment and discharging the pesticide into a farm field. We coordinated the project to excavate and dispose of the contaminated soil. Photo
Vandalism response A vandal poured an entire container of pesticide around a tree. Rain carried the pesticide downhill, killing the grass in its path. We investigated and assisted the property owners as they excavated and disposed of the soil. Photo
Field monitoring We place monitoring wells around farm fields to evaluate the risk of groundwater contamination where pesticides are used in accordance with label directions. In this way, we can indentify pesticides that may need special use restrictions in order to protect our groundwater resource. Photo
Want more info?
Advice for well owners
Wisconsin water facts