Nitrate contamination is rising in Central Wisconsin

Recent studies have shown that nitrate contamination is increasing in Wisconsin’s rural private wells.

High nitrate levels pose a significant threat to private wells and businesses across our state, particularly in rural areas. Nitrates, introduced mainly through agricultural runoff, fertilizers, and industrial activities, can infiltrate groundwater, leading to elevated levels in drinking water sources. This situation creates significant health risks, especially for more vulnerable people like infants, pregnant women, and the elderly.

The good news is there is help available.

The Wisconsin Department of Revenue has announced the availability of grants through the Wisconsin DNR for Wisconsin residents to treat contamination in their private wells.

Can nitrate affect my health?

Elevated nitrate levels in drinking water can lead to methemoglobinemia or “blue baby syndrome,” reducing blood oxygen levels. Prolonged exposure is linked to increased cancer risk, thyroid disorders, and neurological issues, affecting people of all ages.

Health Effects of Nitrate:

  1. Decreased Blood Oxygen:

    • Causes bluish skin and symptoms like weakness, rapid heart rate, fatigue, and dizziness.
    • In infants, it may lead to “blue baby syndrome.”
  2. Brain and Spine Defects:

    • Affects brain and spine development in unborn babies.
  3. Thyroid Disease:

    • Reduces iodine uptake, impacting thyroid hormone production.
  4. Colon Cancer Risk:

    • Studies suggest an increased risk of colon cancer with high nitrate levels.

Is my well at risk?

Map showing regions of Wisconsin with high nitrate in groundwater

Nitrate contamination is common in many Wisconsin regions due to factors like soil type and land use. (See map for high-risk areas) The following contribute to elevated nitrate in drinking water:

  1. Agricultural Practices:

    • Runoff from excessive fertilizers and manure in agriculture.
  2. Industrial Activities:

    • Industrial operations and wastewater discharges with nitrate compounds.
  3. Septic Systems:

    • Leaks or malfunctions in septic systems release nitrates into the ground.


There is help for nitrate contamination

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) provides funds of up to $16,000 for eligible landowners, renters, or Wisconsin business owners to replace, reconstruct, or treat contaminated private water supplies that serve a residence or non-community public water system wells. The program aims to improve access to clean drinking water across the state.

To qualify, applicants must meet income eligibility, and the contamination must be documented by a state-certified test laboratory. Learn more about the grant program.