Door County

The Wisconsin Center for Investigate Journalism has an ongoing series about the condition of Wisconsin’s water supply, with three main topics, one of which is entitled, Failure at the Faucet. I’ve mentioned the full series before. See, Water Watch Wisconsin.

Reading that series – the work of many journalists over many months, is astounding.  One would think that the series was describing an undeveloped and impoverished place, far from Wisconsin or America. In fact, the series focuses on conditions in  our own state.

Consider their latest story,  Human waste pollutes some Wisconsin drinking water.  Veteran journalist Ron Seely describes the problem:

Manure has been blamed for much of the bacteria and viruses that pollute Wisconsin drinking water, but contamination from human waste is a problem, too.

Failing septic systems, leaking public sewer pipes and landspreading of septic waste can introduce dangerous pathogens into both rural and urban water systems.

In June 2007, 229 people were sickened by a norovirus in Door County while eating at a restaurant. Seven were hospitalized as a result of a pathogen known for spreading illness on cruise ships. The source: a leaky septic system.

In 2012, a microbiologist published research that linked widespread gastrointestinal illnesses in 14 Wisconsin communities to viruses in the public water systems. Further research showed the contaminants were likely coming from leaking municipal sewage lines….

He doesn’t stop there – his story and the full series are a catalog of statewide pollution.

Now not every community has these problems (any more than every community has Waukesha’s problem of radium contamination in some wells).

These problems are problems, so to speak, when an environment cannot manage safely or cheaply the results of human activity.  These environments are more fragile – and thus more expensive to maintain – than initial, overly-optimistic projects assume.  Even wealthy communities face these same, physical problems.  Door County, for example, is a desirable area with high property values, but that’s no immunity from the risks of contaminants.

Producing more waste, or bringing more waste into an environment, produces costs initially ignored but later impossible to ignore.  That’s not speculation: it’s the actual experience of Wisconsin communities.