The nearly 900,000 rural, private well owners whose water does not receive the same testing or oversight as public water supplies often know little about their drinking water. But a new interactive mapping resource, called the Wisconsin Well Water Quality Viewer, is helping to change that.
The new viewer, available at www.uwsp.edu/cnr-ap/watershed/Pages/wellwaterviewer.aspx allows people to obtain previously unavailable information about groundwater quality in the areas where they live.
“Much of the data accessible in the Wisconsin Well Water Quality Viewer is the result of UW-Extension’s community drinking water programs for rural landowners over the past 25 years,” says Kevin Masarik, groundwater education specialist with Cooperative Extension and the UW-Stevens Point. “By combining private well water data, we have been able to paint the most detailed picture of private well water quality ever created in Wisconsin.”
The interactive viewer generates color-coded maps that show levels of health-related substances such as nitrate and arsenic in the water. Other maps may indicate no health concerns, but suggest a greater likelihood of taste, color or odor issues. Still other general water quality tests show how qualities such as pH or water hardness vary throughout the state or within a particular county. Areas without any color are locations where insufficient data exists to characterize water quality.
The viewer, developed by David Mechenich of the Center for Watershed Science and Education, can help homeowners and community leaders get a better understanding of what water tests they should consider using. Community leaders can use the viewer to identify areas where widespread groundwater contamination exists or where is a lack of groundwater quality information.
“Knowing more about groundwater quality allows well owners to make better decisions regarding their well water,” says Masarik. “The information generated by the viewer is one more piece to help homeowners make these kinds of choices.”
The interactive mapping tool allows people to:
• View maps that represent average concentrations of water quality users at the county, township or section level.
• Generate tables summarizing information for a county, town or other area, such as a watershed.
• Print maps of the information to use in presentations or to share with local communities.
• Adjust map colors to accommodate those who have trouble viewing certain color combinations.
The viewer is not a replacement for water testing, Masarik notes. “Testing is still the only way to determine the types and amounts of contaminant in water supplied by a private well. The hope is that the viewer encourages people to test wells on a more regular basis-particularly in communities where problems occur.”