Local schools keeping watch on drinking water

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Gazette staff
Friday, October 2, 2009

Officials at local schools that use drinking water from wells are confident in the safety of their drinking water.

The Associated Press last week reported that thousands of U.S. schools have tested positive for contaminants in drinking water over the last decade.

A handful of Rock County schools and one school in Walworth County were included in the list.

All of the local schools on the list use wells rather than municipal water.

None of the local schools have had a violation since 2007.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources oversees water testing. The schools must be tested regularly for coliform bacteria, nitrates and a full battery of other contaminants.

Some tests are quarterly and others are annual, water testers reported.

Local schools on the list are:

Rock County Christian School
Address: 5122 S. Driftwood Drive, Janesville
Violations: Tested positive for nitrates in 2001. Tested positive for coliform bacteria in September 2004.
Status: The school has not had a contaminated test since it drilled a new well, elementary school Principal Linda Hutson said.

Hutson was not sure of the date the well was drilled, but the last bad test was in 2004, according to the Associated Press report.

“The new well has made a very big difference for us,” Hutson said. “It was expensive but worth it.”

Hutson is the certified water tester. The certification requires classes, a test and continuing education, she said.

The DNR has been a strong partner in water monitoring, she said.

“I have found the DNR to be very encouraging and excellent educators,” Hutson said. “They encouraged me to get my own licenses rather than be frustrated by someone else’s testing.”

Rock Prairie Montessori School
Address: 5246 E. Rotamer Road, Janesville
Violations: Tested positive for coliform bacteria in July 2006.
Status: The school has not had any positive tests for coliform since 2006, said Martha Carver, the head of the school.

Carver had read the Associated Press report with interest both as the head of a school with a well and as a homeowner with a well, she said. Well contamination is a problem that’s not widely known among property owners, Carver said.

In addition to regular well testing, which is done by a staff member, the school avoids herbicide and pesticide use on its property, Carver said. The well is located on a high point on the property, and the school has native plants that help reduce storm water runoff, she said.

Woods School
Address: N2575 Snake Road, Lake Geneva
Violations: Tested positive for coliform bacteria in September 2008.
Status: Wayne Rowehl, director of building and grounds at Woods School, said the 2008 sample probably was accidentally contaminated. When the sample tested positive, a second sample was tested to confirm the result. The second test came back negative.

Rowehl said there are several opportunities for a sample to become contaminated.

“Even if you slightly touch the edge of the bottle, you could contaminate it,” he said. “It’s so easy to get a bad sample. You never know if you’ve done it or someone or something before you did it.”

Rowehl said the water at the school has been clean since the violation a year ago. Three tests for bacteria since then have come back negative, he said.

Consolidated Elementary School
Address: 4838 N. County F, Janesville
Violations: Tested positive for coliform bacteria in September 2006.
Status: After the test came back positive, the Milton School District provided bottled water to students and staff for about a week, said Deena Olson, school secretary. It ordered a water treatment and then had the water retested. The second test came back negative.

No one reported symptoms from drinking contaminated water, she said.

The school, which draws its water from a well, didn’t identify what caused the positive test and has not had any problems since then, said Dianne Meyer, district business manager.

Townview Elementary School
Address: 2442 W. Beloit Newark Road, Beloit
Violations: Tested positive for nitrates in 2002, tested positive for coliform in November 2003 and in August and October 2007.
Status: The Turner School District has spent thousands of dollars testing and chlorinating water at the rural school, and the matter has been up for discussion again at the school board building and grounds committee, Administrator Dennis McCarthy said.

In addition to the violations listed above, the well has tested positive for iron-based nuisance bacteria, McCarthy said.

“The water is safe to drink, but it’s hard to tell that to parents,” McCarthy said.

Instead, the school provides bottled drinking water out of coolers, he said.

The district could end up having to drill a new well that would cost $80,000 to $90,000, McCarthy said.

Woodland Christian School
Address: 4324 E. Bingham Road, Janesville
Violations: Tested positive for coliform in October and November 2004, February 2005, December 2006 and April 2007.
Status: The Gazette was unable to reach the school for comment.
Coliform bacteria

Coliform, including fecal coliform and E. coli, are bacteria that mostly are not harmful to people. They are natural and common inhabitants of the soil, lakes and rivers, as well as the digestive tracts of humans and animals.

For water systems that collect 40 or more routine water samples per month, no more than 5 percent of samples can test positive for coliform in a month. For systems that collect fewer than 40 samples, no more than one sample can test positive for coliform in a month.


Common sources of nitrate contamination include fertilizers, animal waste, septic tanks, municipal sewage treatment systems, and decaying plant debris, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Web site.

Infants under the age of 6 months are at risk of developing “blue baby syndrome” from nitrate poisoning. Babies and pregnant women should not drink water contaminated with nitrates.

The standard for safe drinking water is 10 ppm.

More information
Visit www.dnr.state.wi.us.

Last updated: 11:50 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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