Sounds pretty darn gross, does it not? Imagine going to your kitchen faucet for a glass of cold, refreshing water one morning and instead getting a glass full of something that smelled like… a barn.
As nasty as that sounds, for some folks that actually happens.
MORRISON, Wis. — All it took was an early thaw for the drinking water here to become unsafe.
There are 41,000 dairy cows in Brown County, which includes Morrison, and they produce more than 260 million gallons of manure each year, much of which is spread on nearby grain fields. Other farmers receive fees to cover their land with slaughterhouse waste and treated sewage.
In measured amounts, that waste acts as fertilizer. But if the amounts are excessive, bacteria and chemicals can flow into the ground and contaminate residents’ tap water.
In Morrison, more than 100 wells were polluted by agricultural runoff within a few months, according to local officials. As parasites and bacteria seeped into drinking water, residents suffered from chronic diarrhea, stomach illnesses and severe ear infections.
“Sometimes it smells like a barn coming out of the faucet,” said Lisa Barnard, who lives a few towns over, and just 15 miles from the city of Green Bay. ( source )
One would suppose that local and state health officials examined all of the evidence and looked at the situation from multiple angles before allowing, and in some cases encouraging, farmers to make use of the cows’ waste products they did, but Mother Nature can always find a way to get around the best made plans of men.
Most people know that natural disasters such as floods contaminate drinking water pulled from wells but many do not think about things like farm runoff… which can occur at pretty much any time of year and will typically contain nitrates, nitrites, coliform bacteria and a host of other ‘nasties’ that people ought not consume.
In 2006, an unusually early thaw in Brown County melted frozen fields, including some that were covered in manure. Within days, according to a county study, more than 100 wells were contaminated with coliform bacteria, E. coli, or nitrates — byproducts of manure or other fertilizers.
Some residents did not realize that their water was contaminated until their neighbors fell ill, which prompted them to test their own water. ( source )
As the old phrase goes, “Sh#t rolls downhill.” In cases like this, though, the sh#t runs downhill and into people’s wells.
Well Water Testing
Nothing takes the place of professional water testing performed by a certified water testing laboratory. Period. At-home and/or do-it-yourself water test kits serve as ideal screening methods for water contamination only.
With that said, please take a look at the following test kits designed for testing well water:
The WaterSafe brand of home water test kits also released a Well Water Test Kit recently.
For more information on the effects flooding can have on well water, please see an earlier Water Testing Blog entry called “Well and Ground Water Testing in Flood Zones“.