While an article published in the June 24 edition of the Wisconsin State Journal reported rising nitrate levels in some Madison suburbs’ drinking water, Waunakee Utilities Manager Tim Herlitzka said this village’s water is safe and frequently tested.
The State Journal article referenced a report from the Environmental Working Group, which reveals levels of contaminants in water tested in communities across the nation and finds some in the Madison suburbs rising.
But the EWG report references a peer review study finding that just .14 parts per million is a healthy guideline.
That’s far under acceptable standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Natural Resources, which set the maximum contaminant level at 10 parts per million, or ppm. Waunakee’s nitrate levels have been under half that level.
Herlitzka said Waunakee’s drinking water has averaged about one-third of the maximum EPA contaminant level for the past 27 years.
“We continue to feel water we provide for our customers is safe,” Herlitzka said. “We’ve dedicated our careers to that.”
In fact, nitrate levels have deceased since 2017, when tests revealed them at 4.9 ppm. The levels dropped to 3.7 ppm in 2018 and were 4.7 in 2019, according to Herlitzka.
In an email to the Tribune, Herlitzka said, “We can expect drinking water to contain small amount of some contaminants, but it’s important to point out that this does not necessarily mean there’s a health risk.”
In the mid to late 1990s, one of the wells at Division and Main streets did have nitrate levels exceeding the maximum contaminant level, Herlitzka said. The utility extended the casing on the well to draw water from deeper in the ground, resulting in decreased levels of 2.97 ppm for that well.
Nitrates can come from fertilizers or septic tanks, Herlitzka said. He noted that during heavy and frequent rainfalls, fertilizers can seep through rock formations and soak into the groundwater. The village does have a wellhead protection ordinance in place to protect wells from exposure to septic tanks, gas stations or other contamination sources.
Waunakee Utilities tracks the averages of contaminants, and Herlitzka said they have not fluctuated greatly.
“I don’t think there’s a significant jump from year to year,” he said. “This is good news for the community. Our water is safe.”