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Water quality issues in rural SW Wisconsin somewhat different than in city of La Crosse

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A report out Thursday said 42 percent of 301 random wells in southwest Wisconsin were contaminated.

Some of that can be blamed on farm waste or runoff, while the makeup of soil in rural areas also can make contamination easier.

Cities such as La Crosse, however, have more control over water quality than farm areas do.

The manager of La Crosse’s water utility, Bernie Lenz, said La Crosse tap water is tested 60 times a month and goes through processing to keep it clean.

“We haven’t had a positive bacterial test since 2015 and that was as a result of maintenance work we did on a well,” Lenz said.

In northern areas of La Crosse County, however, a well-water alert was issued two years ago because of excess bacteria and nitrates in some wells.  

Lenz looks at the differences between the soil in La Crosse and what might be found in many farm areas.

“Fine soils over bedrock where the contaminant can get through that soil, into the bedrock and directly into the wells,” Lenz said. “We have a 170 feet of sand to the wells, so a lot of that stuff is filtered out, cleaned out in that.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is forming a water-quality task force, following the water quality study.

The contaminated wells were found in Iowa, Grant and Lafayette counties, and exceeded federal standards for bacteria that can come from animal or human waste or for a toxic fertilizer residue.

The survey was conducted in November by the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Geological Survey.

A native of Prairie du Chien, Brad graduated from UW - La Crosse and has worked in radio news for more than 30 years, mostly in the La Crosse area. He regularly covers local courts and city and county government. Brad produces the features "Yesterday in La Crosse" and "What's Buried on Brad's Desk." He also writes the website "Triviazoids," which finds odd connections between events that happen on a certain date, and he writes and performs with the local comedy group Heart of La Crosse. Brad been featured on several national TV programs because of his memory skills.

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