If area residents accept a proposed municipal water supply system, the military has announced that it will ask the WDNR for permission to shut down a huge groundwater extraction system that currently stops toxins from flowing into groundwater and the nearby 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.

At a public meeting on Wednesday, Badger Army Ammunition Plant officials told members of the Restoration Advisory Board that cleaning up the aquifer will no longer be necessary if it is not being used as a source of drinking water. However advisory board members and the audience voiced concerns about potential impacts to the river and the rare species that live there.

Many of the contaminants found in groundwater at Badger, like the explosive DNT, are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms. Recent groundwater test results show that concentrations of DNT inside the plant are 44,000 times higher than recommended health advisory levels for drinking water. If cleanup stops, these contaminants will all flow to the river. 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.

A major source of the contamination is the Propellant Burning Grounds, a hazardous waste disposal site located in the southwestern portion of the plant. A groundwater plume containing carcinogenic solvents and DNT has moved south past the installation’s boundary and is discharging to the Wisconsin River just below the dam at Prairie du Sac. Groundwater remediation started in 1990 with the construction of a pump and treat system. It was expanded in 1996 and continues to operate today.

The Army has proposed building 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. Army contractors said that a new well and 75,000-gallon water tower could be located near Weigand’s Bay in the town of Merrimac.

If residents want the new water supply system, that’s for these folks to decide. However it will require our collective vigilance and participation to assure that the federal government does not use this project to leverage other decisions that could negatively affect our community and our environment.