La Crosse Co. officials concerned about nitrate levels in private wells

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WEAU) -- After a legislative audit in 2016 brought a troubling trend to the attention of La Crosse County officials, they did some digging on the quality of private wells in the Towns of Holland and Onalaska specifically looking at nitrates.

"Nitrates are naturally occurring but then you also have people are applying pesticides and fertilizer that are going to contain nitrates. As well as septic systems produce nitrates and then you have agricultural practices," said La Crosse County Health Department Environmental Health and Lab Manager Carol Drury.

The county did its own testing in 2017.

They collected more than 540 water samples from both the Town of Holland and Onalaska.

30 percent of those samples came back contaminated, which is more than four times the state average.

"Once we found the contamination of 30 percent of the wells, we notified the residents there. Especially pregnant women and any homes that had children six months of age or less," said Drury.

Drinking water contaminated with nitrates could lead to health problems in children, birth defects and other potential health risks.

A county-wide nitrate task force was assembled in 2017 and they released a report last week calling for action to stop the problem.

"It's going to take a collaboration of people working together. So the Health Department in conjunction with the Health and Human Services committee and then working with realtors and builders in the area. Just informing the people and educating them," said Drury.

The task force made five recommendations including extending municipal water systems in Holmen and Onalaska, as well as requiring green zones in all new subdivisions.

There is no requirement for private wells to be tested, but Drury recommends people test their private wells annually.