Wisconsin enjoys an abundant supply of water. Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, the Mississippi River, and myriad other surface water sources make water prevalent across the northern state.
Unfortunately, this does not mean all this water is pristine enough to ingest or bathe in. Large swathes of livestock inhabit many areas of Wisconsin and wells in these areas can quickly become contaminated with salmonella, E. coli, and other viruses born in manure.
Private wells make up the majority of truly dangerous water problems. Public supplies are often threatened by naturally occurring issues like sediment buildup and problems caused by mineral absorption.
Municipal water supplies are not immune to more daunting issues, however. Wisconsin has gone back and forth on its requirements for water treatment inclusive of disinfection. This has led to viruses identifiably causing gastrointestinal issues in those who consumed certain public water supplies. Over 60 public systems in Wisconsin choose not to disinfect their water.
Common Water Problems by City
Each city faces its own problems with water quality, even when sharing a common source. This can be caused by random natural influences and different water treatment programs or methods.
Milwaukee River Basin Aquifer
Deep Sandstone Aquifer
Sand and Gravel Aquifer
Well over half of the water used by residents of Milwaukee comes from Lake Michigan. This massive water supply gives almost 900,000 residents of the city water to drink, bathe, and wash clothes and dishes with.
The water flowing from Milwaukee taps is hard water. This occurs when naturally occurring minerals are absorbed as the water travels from source to tap. Typically, municipal water treatment does not effectively address this issue.
Hard water is not dangerous to consume. However, it does have some inconvenient symptoms for those who bathe in it. Dry skin and an excessively itchy scalp are common complaints from those showering or washing in untreated hard water.
Limescale buildup results when hard water comes to rest in appliances, taps, and faucets. Initially, this buildup can be minimally invasive but eventually can cause plumbing backups and inefficient appliances if left unchecked.
This is a perfect example of two very different water supplies having common issues. Madison uses water brought up from a deep sandstone aquifer that rests far below the surface. Milwaukee, as seen above, draws its water from a source directly on the surface.
As these supplies are so different, it would lead you to believe they experience unique problems. Not really. Madison experiences hard water just like Milwaukee does.
Water seeps into the aquifer from snow and rainfall by making its way through layers of materials like dirt, stone, and sand. This creates a natural filtration process that can remove many unnatural contaminants.
The water does absorb a lot of mineral content along the way down to the aquifer and back up through the wells. This leads to hard water. Dry skin, limescale, and soap scum are all symptoms of a hard water problem.
La Crosse, Wisconsin pulls water from wells reaching down over 170-feet to an aquifer below the city. This naturally occurring supply produces millions of gallons of water a day for La Crosse residents.
Water is naturally filtered as it travels from the surface down to the aquifer. However, sediment and mineral absorption continue to occur. This can lead to a couple of problems that are passed on to residents using the water.
Sediment buildup in the water supply can make its way into the system and end up causing some issues for the customer. Notably, staining of sinks and laundry can occur if water is overly discolored by sediment.
Mineral absorption leads to a condition called hard water and sometimes also ends up discoloring the water supply. Hard water causes dry skin, limescale accumulation that can cause inefficient appliances and can create soap scum.