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Water water everywhere, but how much to drink?

Perceived low water in wells, lakes concerns county residents, but it could be cyclical

In a state with as many apparent large bodies of water as Wisconsin has, lack of the life-giving liquid seems a remote possibility.

After all, two of the largest of the Great Lakes border the state on the east and north, and the western boundary rests on one of the largest rivers in the country and another substantial waterway.

Even with Lakes Superior and Michigan and the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers all around and plenty of lakes and streams in the interior, there is still concern about available groundwater in St. Croix County.

Most of the fresh water on earth is tied up in the ice pack, said Patrick Collins, run-off management specialist at the DNR's Baldwin office. "Only 2 percent is underground," he said.

He said some wells have gone dry and the level of Bass Lake has dropped over the last 10 years, which is a cause for concern among residents.

"We don't see a serious shortage of groundwater in the next decade," said Collins. "The important thing is protecting it from contaminates."

Mick Foster, an owner at Martell Well Drilling in Somerset, said that the most noticeable drop in water is around the lakes. "The water around the lakes is dropping, but you can see stumps," he said indicating the cyclical nature of the water level in area lakes.

"We have had to go around and set some pumps deeper in the well. It's sporadic around the area," Foster said. "Some well depths are 500 feet down and some are 40 feet."

Foster, who has been in a well driller for 30 years, said part of the cause for concern is "people have been used to high water for so long."

Kevin Masarik, outreach specialist for the University of Wisconsin-Extension Service at Stevens Point, said that of an average 32 inches of rain and snow melt runoff in the county, 20 inches is evaporated and used by plants and about 10 inches goes into ground water. The additional one to two inches is runoff.

Masarik was part of the panel on groundwater basics for concerned residents in the town of St. Joseph May 12.

"Most of the water level in rivers and streams comes from groundwater," he said during a recent telephone conversation.

"In Wisconsin, I don't think we will ever run out of water, but there are localized areas where groundwater is an issue," said Masarik.

A well may go dry for a couple of reasons, said Masarik.

The water level may have dropped below the depth of the well or below the level a pump is installed.

The well may not produce adequate water because the screen is plugged allowing water in from the surrounding aquifer into the well.

A different problem from a dry well is when the well can't keep up with the demands of the user. This situation is caused by the well pumping faster than water can be brought out of the geologic material below or an increase in water demand from sprinkler systems, filling swimming pools and the like, he said.

Residential wells typically do not pump enough water to affect groundwater direction flow, Masarik said.

High-capacity wells used in agricultural irrigation have an effect on groundwater. These high-capacity wells are capable of pumping 70 gallons per minute or more than 100,000 gallons a day, creating a depression that affects groundwater flow direction.

"High-capacity wells pull a lot of water out," said Collins, "and 90 percent of the water used for irrigation is lost."

But so far the number of high-capacity wells in the county is at a critical level at this time.

A rise in population creates an increased demand on well water.

An article in the June 2004 issue of Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine by Lisa Gaumnitz, Tim Asplund and Megan R. Matthews illustrated the issue in southeastern Wisconsin.

"Statewide water use has increased 33 percent in the last 15 years and water tables are plummeting in many urban areas," the article said, pointing out that in southeastern Wisconsin in three counties to the west and north of Milwaukee County, population grew by an average 206 percent from 1950 to 1990, and groundwater use rose 79 percent.

A report from the U.S. Census Bureau said St. Croix County's population increased 26.7 percent between 2000 and 2006 and was ranked 81st among the 100 fastest growing counties in the country.