WISCONSIN RAPIDS — Water is a vital resource in central Wisconsin: Humans need it, much of the economy depends on it and the environment would be barren without it.
But water can also be divisive: It is at the heart of several ongoing controversies in the region, including a proposed mega-farm in the town of Saratoga that would use 33 high-capacity wells and generate 55 million gallons of liquid manure each year, and a legal dispute between the town of Hull and Stevens Point over a municipal well that residents claim lowered the water table.
In an effort to find common ground, Wood and Portage counties are participating in Protect Your Groundwater Day the week of Sept. 7, a national initiative to get citizens thinking about the water they use. Over the past two years, the counties have shared a $10,000 state grant partly aimed at addressing groundwater quality issues.
“Conserving now will guarantee that we have water in the future,” said Gary Garske, a health officer with the Portage County Health Department.
Garske and his counterpart in Wisconsin Rapids, Nancy Eggleston, an environmental health supervisor in the Wood County Health Department, say everyone can help protect groundwater in two basic ways.
First, they say, don’t be wasteful. Americans use nearly 80 billion gallons of groundwater per day — more water per capita than anywhere else in the world — and virtually all of available freshwater comes from underground. Most lakes and rivers, moreover, are connected to groundwater.
Agriculture is the single-largest use of water in the United States, accounting for 53.5 billion gallons of water each day, according to the National Ground Water Association. Public water systems and private household wells use 18.3 billion gallons per day.
Common ways to conserve water include repairing dripping faucets and toilets, installing water-efficient plumbing, and running dishwashers and washing machines only when they are fully loaded.
Second, Garske and Eggleston want people to be conscious of groundwater contamination — whether at home or at work. Common causes of contamination can include poorly constructed and maintained wells, inadequate septic systems and improper use of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Freely disposing of prescription and over-the-counter drugs can also be problematic.
To help avoid those harms, Wood County residents will have an opportunity to freely dispose of hazardous materials and unwanted chemicals at a county “Clean Sweep” event next month. That will occur on Oct. 3 from 8 a.m. to noon at the Saratoga Town Hall, 1116 Highway 73 South. Excess and unused medications also can be disposed at pharmaceutical drop boxes placed throughout Wood County. To learn more about the drop boxes, call Eggleston at (715) 421-8911.
Portage County residents can dispose of hazardous waste from March through November by calling the county’s Hazardous Waste Information Line at (715) 346-1931.
— Jonathan Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 715-898-7010. Find him on Twitter as @jonathanderson.