Protecting Wisconsin's Groundwater Through Comprehensive Planning
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Learn more about groundwater
 

In Wisconsin, 70% of residents and 97% of communities rely on groundwater as their drinking water source. Protecting groundwater from contamination and overuse is vital to the health of Wisconsin’s people, ecosystems, communities, and economy.

Many Wisconsin communities are facing groundwater stress in various forms and can benefit or have benefitted from groundwater planning. For example:

  • Private well testing and drinking water education programs in Iowa County led to greater awareness, installation of household water filters, greater use of the county's well abandonment program and participation in a comprehensive groundwater study to guide local land use planning.
  • Chemical contamination of a municipal well in the City of Waupaca by a dry cleaning business led to reduced pumping capacity and the city council and local businesses adopted multiple water conservation measures.
  • To facilitate the economic revival of its rural communities by providing incentives for young farmers to engage in high-margin organic farming businesses, Woodbury County, Iowa provides a full rebate of real property taxes for five years to anyone that converts to organic farming techniques that comply with the USDA standards.
  • High nitrate levels in a municipal well in the City of Chippewa Falls led the county board to adopt a county-wide wellhead protection ordinance.
  • Rapid population growth in Washington County led the Town of Richfield to develop a water budget for the town and then adopt a groundwater protection ordinance that applies to water use of new development.
Figure showing how groundwater, streams, and lakes are connected
How groundwater is connected to the land, lakes and rivers.
CLICK TO SEE FULL SIZE IMAGE

Groundwater originates as precipitation that soaks into the land until it reaches a saturated zone underground called the water table.

As the first figure shows, it then generally moves toward surface water bodies, such as lakes, streams, and wetlands. In some places, however, the system works the other way around, and groundwater is recharged from surface water sources.

Wisconsin has abundant quantities of high-quality groundwater, but its quality and quantity depend on our actions on the land surface. Most groundwater contaminants originate on the land surface and are carried downward by rain and melting snow. As the second figure shows, numerous everyday activities can contaminate groundwater, and contaminated groundwater is expensive and difficult or impossible to clean. In addition, paving over or otherwise covering groundwater recharge areas can lead to groundwater quantity problems in the future.

Figure showing potential sources of groundwater contamination

Figure showing potential sources of groundwater contamination.
Image provided by USGS.

Good planning can separate possible polluting sources from groundwater resources, protect recharge areas, and ensure a safe and abundant supply of groundwater for your community’s future.

MORE INFORMATION ON GROUNDWATER

GROUNDWATER IN COMPREHENSIVE PLANNING

  • Groundwater and its Role in Comprehensive Planning, Comprehensive Planning and Groundwater Fact Sheet 1, by the Wisconsin Groundwater Coordinating Council, 4 pp.
    This fact sheet provides some background information on groundwater and discusses its relation to comprehensive planning.

  • Resources to help you protect your drinking water supply, Comprehensive Planning and Groundwater Fact Sheet 2, by the Wisconsin Groundwater Coordinating Council, 4 pp.
    This fact sheet describes what information is needed to address groundwater in comprehensive plans and where to go to find that information.

  • Residential Development and Groundwater Resources, Comprehensive Planning and Groundwater Fact Sheet 3, by the Wisconsin Groundwater Coordinating Council, 4 pp.
    This fact sheet examines the relationship between residential development, particularly development of new subdivisions, and the groundwater resource. It also discusses ways in which impacts can be minimized.

WISCONSIN GROUNDWATER BASICS

  • Groundwater: Wisconsin’s Buried Treasure by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 2006.
    This web site provides easy-to-read information about Wisconsin’s groundwater aquifers, groundwater use, groundwater threats, groundwater protection and sources of additional information.

  • A Water Science Primer, in Wisconsin’s waters, A confluence of perspectives by R.J. Hunt 2003. Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters, Transactions Volume 90, Edited by Curt Meine, 178 pp.
    This primer discusses overarching concepts about water resources including their unique properties, limits, connectedness with one another and the landscape, and moving and changing nature.

  • Groundwater quantity resources by the Groundwater Coordinating Council.
    This list of reports and electronic documents related to groundwater quantity was developed to address the current focus and awareness of groundwater quantity issues in Wisconsin. A good place to begin learning about groundwater quantity concerns in Wisconsin is the two-page publication Groundwater Drawdown.

  • Wisconsinís Groundwater Directory, by the Center for Watershed Science and Education, UW Stevens Point, 2006, 17 pp.
    This web site describes groundwater activities of state and federal agencies and provides contact information.

  • Groundwater and Surface Water: A Single Resource by U.S. Geological Survey, 1998, 87 pp.
    This document describes the interaction of groundwater and surface water, in terms of both quantity and quality, as applied to a variety of landscapes across the Nation. Its intent is to help other Federal, State, and local agencies build a firm scientific foundation for policies governing the management and protection of aquifers and watersheds.

GEOLOGIC AND HYDROLOGIC MAPS

  • Geologic maps by county, region and entire state, by the UW Extension, Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey.
    This web site identifies publications containing geologic maps of areas of Wisconsin.

  • Water table maps by the UW Extension, Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey.
    This web site identifies publications containing water-table maps by county.

  • Hydrologic Investigations Atlas series by the US Geological Survey, 12 atlases.
    This series uses colored maps, figures, and diagrams to show the hydrologic systems in the major river basins of the state. Subjects include the general physical setting, the availability and natural quality of groundwater and surface water, stream flows, water use, and other hydrologic information. These atlases are not available electronically, but most are available from the WGNHS. See page 45 at the link above.

GEOLOGIC AND HYDROLOGIC DATA AND INFORMATION

  • Ground Water Observation Network for Wisconsin, by the USGS Wisconsin Water Science Center and the UW Extension, Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey.
    The Ground-Water Observation Network monitors water levels in approximately 100 wells throughout Wisconsin, and archives their historical water-level data.

  • USGS Ground-Water Data for Wisconsin, by the U.S. Geological Survey.
    The USGS National Water Information System (NWIS) contains extensive water data for the Nation. Public access to many of these data is provided via NWISWeb.

  • Geology of Wisconsin, Survey of 1873-1879, by T.C. Chamberlin, in the Ecology and Natural Resources Collection of the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections, 4 volumes.
    The Wisconsin Legislature mandated a fifth incarnation of the state geological survey in 1873 to conduct a “complete geological, mineralogical and agricultural survey of the state”. The results of this survey is contained in these 4 volumes.

HYDROLOGIC RESEARCH AND MODELING

  • Current hydrologic research projects, by the UW Extension, Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey.
    This web site describes recent and current hydrologic research projects and available products.

  • Current hydrologic research projects, by the USGS Wisconsin Water Science Center.
    This web site describes recent and current hydrologic research projects and available products.

  • Current hydrologic research projects, by the University of Wisconsin Water Resources Institute.
    This web site provides access to publications based on research supported by or through the Wisconsin Water Resources Institute.

  • Current hydrologic research projects, by the Wisconsin Groundwater Coordinating Council.
    This web site provides information about the Groundwater Coordinating Council and access to results of research supported by participating state agencies.

WATER QUANTITY LEGISLATION

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For more information about this site, its contributors, and the data contained herein, click here.

For assistance concerning comprehensive planning, please contact Lynn Markham, UW-Stevens Point.
For assistance concerning groundwater, please contact Charles Dunning, USGS.
Page contact: Webmaster, USGS
Page last updated: January 14, 2008