DNR offering $10M in federal funding to replace contaminated wells

By Chris Hubbuch

A new state program is offering financial assistance to help Wisconsin residents and businesses replace some of the state’s thousands of contaminated wells.

With $10 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, the Department of Natural Resources estimates it can help clean up more than 1,000 wells across the state.

About 1.7 million people in Wisconsin rely on private wells for drinking water, and the state Department of Health Services estimates at least one in 10 wells has high levels of nitrate, a chemical found in fertilizers and manure that is hazardous, especially for pregnant women and infants.

Wisconsin’s Groundwater Coordinating Council estimates more than 42,000 private wells exceed state standards for nitrate. To replace them all would cost more than $440 million, according to the council’s 2022 report to the Legislature.

Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, said the program could be a “game changer,” especially in districts like hers where up to one in four wells are contaminated.

Gov. Tony Evers directed that the ARPA-funded program loosen some of the eligibility guidelines under the state’s existing well replacement program, providing grants to those with higher incomes and lower levels of contamination and dropping a condition that nitrate-contaminated wells could only be eligible if used to water livestock.

“They may qualify under the new requirements,” said DNR Secretary Preston Cole.

Families and businesses — including churches, day care centers and restaurants — with incomes of less than $100,000 are eligible, and the grants can be used for wells contaminated with nitrate, arsenic and some bacteria, as well as concentrations of toxic PFAS compounds that exceed state health guidelines.

The grants can cover up to $16,000 of the cost to reconstruct, replace or cap a contaminated well, install a treatment system or hook up to a public water system.

The DNR says it has received nearly two dozen applications since launching the program on Oct. 3 and on Tuesday announced it has awarded nearly $35,000 to five recipients in Marathon, Portage and Winnebago counties.

The DNR will continue to accept and review applications until the funding is exhausted.

For more information and links to application forms, visit go.madison.com/dnr-well-grants.