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Drinking Water Woes In Kewaunee County Trigger Cooperation, Debate

Some Residents Want More Short-Term Help

Chuck Quirmbach/WPR

Citizens in Kewaunee County are asking the state and federal government to supply more drinking water to people with contaminated wells.

About 30 percent of wells fail to meet health standards in the eastern Wisconsin county. Citizen and environmental groups have been putting pressure on federal, state and county agencies to reduce water pollution.

One of the short-term needs is for the Environmental Protection Agency to declare an emergency that would get more people clean water, said Lynn Utesch of Kewaunee Cares during a meeting held by the EPA and Department of Natural Resources in Luxemburg Thursday night.

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“You did it in Flint, you can do it here,” Utesch said, referring to Flint, Michigan where contaminated drinking water has made international headlines. “It’s time for the citizens to actually have clean water provided to them.”

The EPA is working on the problem, said Tinka Hyde, director of the EPA water division in the region.

“That said, it does cost money, and we do have to find that money and figure out how to fund it, who can be eligible,” she said.

Many dairy operators are committed to improvement, said Don Niles from Peninsula Pride, an environmentally conscience farmers group in Door and Kewaunee counties.

Dairy producers are making voluntary changes to try to reduce the amount of animal waste finding its way into local groundwater and rivers, owners of large farms, known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, said at the meeting.

“We feel everybody in the county should have access to clean and healthy drinking water, and we feel the county deserves to be supported by a healthy and sustained dairy industry,” Niles said.

But several speakers said the big farms aren’t doing enough. The EPA needs to stay involved to make sure recent recommendations made by study groups are put in place and cleanup is complete, Kewaunee County board member Lee Luft said.

Luft also wants an ongoing commitment from the DNR. The DNR said more help is coming and the agency is likely to request additional funds in the next state budget.