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Fecal matter found in most private wells tested in SW Wis.

MILWAUKEE (AP) — The majority of private wells in southwestern Wisconsin are substantially polluted with fecal matter as concerns intensify over the pollution of rural drinking water, according to a new study.

Results from the independent study, released Aug. 1, suggest that 32 of 35 wells — or 91% — contained fecal matter from humans or livestock, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

“As a researcher of groundwater for 25 years now, I continue to be amazed by the level of fecal contamination in Wisconsin groundwater,” said Mark Borchardt, a research microbiologist for the U.S. Agricultural Research Service.

The work was led by Borchardt, others in his agency and the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey. Monetary backing came from various counties, agencies and local groups. Additional testing has already been scheduled for early August.

During testing in April, it was discovered that some of the wells contained illness-causing pathogens such as salmonella, rotavirus and cryptosporidium.

The results from Grant, Iowa and Lafayette counties are the latest from a series of investigations revealing an assortment of deficiencies in well water.

These conclusions, and other test results, underscore the possible vulnerability of Wisconsin groundwater from agricultural practices and faulty septic systems.

Wisconsin figures suggest about one-quarter of the state’s people get their water from more than 800,000 private wells.

On July 31, Gov. Tony Evers proposed new rules aimed at farmers and their use of manure and fertilizer. The regulations would mostly concern regions prone to contamination by nitrates, another source of groundwater pollution.

But those measures will require authorization by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

In the meantime, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, of Rochester, set up a water quality task force in February to help draw attention to groundwater. Vos has since then been holding hearings throughout Wisconsin.

Vos set up the task force after Borchardt’s group released results from an early round of testing.

In that first round, 42% of the 301 wells that were looked at showed evidence of having a total coliform or nitrate level that surpassed the state’s health standard. In a second round, 27% of the 539 wells looked at had a total coliform or nitrate level that exceeded the state standard.

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