Army Remedy for Groundwater Falls Short

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The public will soon have the opportunity to comment on a proposal which will affect water resources near the Badger Army Ammunition Plant for decades to come.

The Army has set up a straw man in which the decision to continue active groundwater cleanup is connected to new drinking water supplies.  In its December 2011 submittal to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the military proposes to build a rural water system but only if it is allowed to abandon a massive groundwater pump-and-treat system that captures toxic pollutants at the plant boundary.

“The offer to build the municipal system should not relieve the Army of its responsibility to achieve cleanup,” said Laura Olah, Executive Director of Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger (CSWAB).  “The proposed municipal water system will eliminate the high cost of private well testing for the Army but it should not be used to leverage a premature shut-down of groundwater cleanup remedies that are protecting the Prairie du Sac municipal water system and the river.”

“A key question is the relationship between the major groundwater contaminant plume that is flowing south of Badger to the capture area of Prairie Du Sac well #3,” said Peter Taglia, a professional geologist hired by CSWAB to review the Army’s proposal.  “The extent of a shale formation and the flow of groundwater in this area have not been studied sufficiently to justify shutting down the cleanup system.”

Between 1942 and 1983, soil pits at the Propellant Burning Ground were used to burn waste propellants and waste process chemicals. The hazardous waste site is the source of a 3-mile groundwater contaminant plume containing high concentrations of solvents and the explosive DNT.  The plumes travel south of Badger, discharging to the Lower Wisconsin Riverway in the Village of Prairie du Sac.

“The contaminated groundwater plumes have not stabilized and continue to evolve,” Taglia added. “Groundwater models that have been used by the Army predict that these plumes will migrate towards Prairie Du Sac well #3 when the groundwater treatment system is abandoned.”

Two additional groundwater contaminant plumes containing primarily DNT are affecting rural areas east of Badger.  These plumes have also reached the river.  In the rural town of Merrimac, the Deterrent Burning Ground plume is discharging to wetlands and springs at Weigand’s Bay.  The Central Plume is flowing to Gruber’s Grove Bay in the rural town of Sumpter.  The proposed remedy for these plumes is dilution.  The Army would continue environmental monitoring but pollutants would be allowed to migrate with groundwater and discharge to surface water.

“The installation of a rural municipal water system will provide drinking water but does not address the ultimate fate of contaminants to the Wisconsin River,” Olah said. “The Army’s proposal does not provide sufficient assurances that ecosystems will be protected.”

The Army’s remedy would provide municipal water for more than 10,000 acres of land in and near Badger.  The plan requires that all rural residential wells and all agricultural livestock wells are closed and abandoned.  No new wells would be allowed due to the risk of contamination.  The Army has offered to pay well closure costs.

Officials with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said that a formal public comment period could start as early as next week.

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