The Army has just released a report which asks the public to choose between three alternative solutions to groundwater contamination in and around Badger Army Ammunition Plant. A 90-day clock is ticking to choose either a new municipal drinking water system or continued active steps to clean and protect groundwater, wetlands, rivers and streams.
So how do we pick? A public water system, which would serve residents to the south and east of Badger in the rural towns of Prairie du Sac, Sumpter, and Merrimac, will prompt a phased shutdown of active groundwater treatment systems. The other two alternatives are continued cleanup of groundwater using carbon filtration or bioremediation using naturally occurring organisms.
The Army’s preferred choice, having the lowest cost to the military, is a public water supply system. However we live an agricultural community and successful farming relies on clean groundwater. While a municipal water system will provide drinking water for rural homes, local farms and dairies will continue to rely on their own wells to successfully run their operations.
It is not clear if the Army will assume any long-term responsibilities for testing agricultural wells, replacing affected irrigation and livestock wells, and installation and maintenance of agricultural water treatment systems. We also don’t know if and how farm property values and taxation might be affected.
Existing municipal wells are another consideration. For more than 20 years, the Army has tested the Village of Prairie du Sac’s Well #3 and reports that none of the contaminants associated with Badger have been detected in the village drinking water supply. At the same time, there has been a growing concern about recent trends in groundwater quality north of the village. Concentrations of carbon tetrachloride, a carcinogenic solvent, were recently detected at 65.3 parts per billion in groundwater north of the village at County Z. The groundwater enforcement standard for carbon tetrachloride is 5 parts per billion.
And finally, if the Army stops active cleanup of groundwater, toxins will continue to flow into the wetlands and waterways of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway – a state natural area that extends from Prairie du Sac to the Mississippi River and is one of the most ecologically diverse rivers in the United States. Many of the contaminants found in groundwater at Badger, like the explosive DNT, are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms. Once in the river, DNT breaks down into other chemicals such as 2-amino-4-nitrotoluene which may cause long-term adverse effects in this aquatic environment.
Without question, we need clean groundwater to sustain crop irrigation, livestock wells, agriculture, organic farming, healthy wetland ecosystems and healthy fisheries. We also need clean water for our homes.
The Army is asking us to choose between our drinking water and active restoration of our groundwater, wetlands, rivers and streams. We need a choice that does both.