Imagine a Wisconsin without nitrate contamination

Oct 21, 2021 | Agriculture, Drinking Water

On Thursday, October 21, municipal water utilities, businesses, and environmental organizations observe “Imagine A Day Without Water” to highlight the value of clean water to families, communities, and our economy. 

River Alliance imagines a Wisconsin that isn’t facing our own water crisis. One facet of Wisconsin’s water challenges that state leaders should treat as an emergency is nitrate contamination of drinking water wells in rural communities. Agricultural pollution is the source of nitrates in families’ drinking water. 

According to the 2020 Wisconsin Groundwater Coordinating Council Report to the Legislature, more than 42,000 private wells in the state exceed safe levels of nitrates. Tens of thousands of people in the state do not have reliable access to safe drinking water in their homes. Chronic nitrate consumption is linked to thyroid disease and cancer, and pregnant women and infants are particularly at risk of nitrate poisoning.

“Whether we protect clean water and public health is a choice,” says River Alliance’s Clear Water Farms Director Michael Tiboris. “It’s something that everyone in the state wants, but our state’s leadership has failed to deliver.”

We know voters want state leaders to make policy and budget decisions that protect human health, the environment and the diverse cultural and natural heritage of Wisconsin. On Election Day in April 2021, Marquette County (73%), Portage County (77%) and Wood County (76%) approved referendums on the value of water.

Farmers value clean water as well. “Soil health and clean water is our wealth,” says Kevin Mahalko who operates an organic grazing dairy in Gilman, Wisconsin, “if people will support it we can make a living and protect water at the same time.” 

“It’s a good start if state leaders choose to fund compensation for families who need well water testing and replacement,” said River Alliance Executive Director Allison Werner. “But we need a comprehensive approach that includes stronger policies to prevent agricultural pollution and supports the farmers who are leading on water stewardship.”

For more on the national campaign, visit