Conservatively Speaking

State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents parts of four counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, and Walworth. Her Senate District 28 includes New Berlin, Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners, Muskego, Waterford, Big Bend, the town of Vernon and parts of Greenfield, East Troy, and Mukwonago. Senator Lazich has been in the Legislature for more than a decade. She considers herself a tireless crusader for lower taxes, reduced spending and smaller government.

How safe is Wisconsin's drinking water?

Despite tremendous flooding in southern Wisconsin during June 2008, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reports state public water systems exceeded federal drinking water standards. The DNR has issued, “Safe Water on Tap: 2008 Annual Drinking Water Report.”

During 2008, the DNR reports 96.4 percent of Wisconsin’s 11,446 systems (11,037) served safe water. How safe was the water? The systems produced water that, according to the DNR “did not have a single water sample in which a regulated contaminant exceeded a standard. That exceeds the national goal of 95 percent.”

A total of 409 systems, or 3.6 percent tested high for one or more contaminants. Smaller systems, including those for motels, restaurants, parks, taverns, churches and campgrounds accounted for about 68 percent of the violations.  People did not get sick because of the violations. However, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), they were exposed to an unreasonable risk of illness.

The reports states that during 2008, “The most violations resulted from elevated bacterial levels. A total of 353 public water systems serving an estimated 80,000 people exceeded the maximum permissible level of coliform bacteria, a 3.1 percent unsafe rate, which is the same rate as in 2007. Coliform bacteria are microscopic organisms that can be found in human and animal waste, in soil, on plants, and in runoff. Coliform bacteria in water is an indicator that other bacteria, viruses and parasites that can make people sick may also be present. Such contaminants are a concern because people can get sick after just one exposure – one drink – to water containing some kinds of microorganisms. Conversely, systems can usually address the problem quickly.”

Arsenic levels were the second most common violation followed by radium. However, radium violations are on the decline. During 2008, 111 community water systems were serving water that exceeded the radium standard for at least part of the year compared to 42 during 2006 and 31 during 2007.

In the future, the state’s aging water supply infrastructure will need to be addressed. The

DNR’s 2008 Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment puts the price tag in Wisconsin at $6 billion to fix pipes, pumps, and treatment systems. Here’s how the DNR breaks down the price tag:

• About two-thirds of Wisconsin’s needs ($4 billion) are for distribution and transmission needs.

• Our 20-year treatment needs total $1.054 billion.

• Wisconsin’s large community water systems, those serving populations greater than 50,000 people, estimate nearly $2 billion in need; community water systems serving 3,300 to 50,000 people estimate needs at $2.8 billion. Small community water system needs are estimated at nearly $1 billion, and noncommunity water system needs at about $400 million.

Our drinking water could be even safer and public confidence even higher without the continued large discharges of raw sewage into Lake Michigan. I repeat my view that a sizeable portion of Wisconsin’s allotment of stimulus funding be targeted toward cleaning up and repairing our water systems.


You can read the DNR report here.

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